A Time to be Born, A Time to Live and a Time to Die.


Denis Edwards - 1924 - 2008


Denis Edwards was born near Sevenoaks, Kent in 1924. Seventeen years old (less four months) he joined the 10th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Young Soldiers Battalion. He was transferred to the Gliderborne 2nd Battalion, part of the 6th Airborne Division.

After service in Normandy, the Ardennes and Germany, he was sent to India ahead of the Division, which never arrived, being diverted to Palestine. He re-joined the Division after hitch-hiking back to the Middle East.

He ended his service in the Parachute Regiment and on demobilisation he pursued a career in Estate Agency, around the Worthing area. Now retired is actively involved with the Shoreham-by the Sea D Day Aviation Museum and acts as correspondent to the survivors of the late Major Howard's Pegasus Bridge Coup de Main Force.

Towards the end of May 1944 we were loaded into large covered lorries. The rear canvas sheet was unrolled and firmly tied from the outside. (This was not an unusual event. If there were German spies in England they would certainly be interested in the activities of Allied Special Forces such as the Airborne or Commando so we were quite used to being concealed from public gaze as we were transported around England in a succession of field exercises and manoeuvres).

After an hour or two the lorry stopped and we found ourselves in a tented camp, heavily guarded and surrounded by high wire fences. We soon realised that this camp was special when, the next day, we were roused from our 7-man Section tents, fallen in and marched the short distance into an internal protected area in the centre of the camp where we entered a large tent in which were stands displaying enlarged aerial photographs and, in the centre, a table upon which stood a very detailed landscaped ground model with two waterways crossed by bridges.

Our force commander, Major John Howard, told us that we had be selected as a special force of 180 men who were to spearhead the invasion of France. The two bridges spanned the Caen Canal and nearby Orne River a few miles inland from the Normandy coast. Our job was to travel in six 30-man wooden gliders which were to be concealed in the midst of a bomber force and released as we approached the French coast; then to dive down through the coastal flak, glide inland and capture these two vital bridges before they could be destroyed by the Germans. (Local intelligence had established that they had been prepared for destruction in the event of an invasion).

The raid was to occur around midnight of 5th/6th June 1944 and we would be the first Allied fighting unit to go into action on D-Day! We spent much of the next two or three days in that tent being briefed on the part that each of our six Infantry Platoons would play. The first three gliders would crash-land in darkness as close to the canal bridge as possible. The other three would land beside the river bridge. The glider in which I was to travel was scheduled to be the first to touch down by the canal bridge but, since, upon release, some gliders may be shot down or land away from the target area, during the few days before the raid we all had to acquaint ourselves with each of the six Platoon tasks – and even individual tasks to be carried out by some men; depending upon the order of landing.

Denis Edwards at the Chateau St Côme in late July, with Major John Howard and "D" Company's snipers. Left to right: "Wackers" Waite, "Pete" Musty, "Nobby" Clarke, John Howard, "Rocky" Bright, "Paddy" O'Donnell, and Denis Edwards. Corporal Wally Parr is not amongst the group, having been wounded earlier in the fighting. Copyright: John Howard.

The day before we were due to take off we were told that Intelligence sources had discovered that both the fanatical 12th Hitler Youth SS and the battle-hardened 21st Panzer Division (who had served under Field Marshal Rommel in North Africa) had moved into the area around Caen just a few miles to the south of our target bridges! Since we had no meaningful anti-tank guns and these two elite German Divisions had around 400 tanks between them I think that most of us firmly believed that we were being sent on a hopeless suicide mission!

On the night of take-off, as I strapped myself into my hard wooden seat I felt like a convicted man who was shortly to be marched to the scaffold and meet the hangman’s rope. My teeth were chattering and I gripped my rifle firmly between my knees to stop them from knocking. To try and bolster what was, probably for many of us, our failing courage, we all began to sing at the top of our voices.

Then a strange thing happen to me. As the glider was pulled along the runway behind its towing Halifax bomber I, still a month short of my 20th birthday, was literally shaking with fright, yet at the very moment that the glider’s wheels parted company with the ground, quite inexplicably my fear vanished. This is something that I have never been able to explain but I believe that at that moment the thought came to me that each of us has a time to be born, a time to live, and a time to die.

This thought was to hold me in good stead during the three months spent in two-man trenches some 6ft long, shoulder width and chest deep as day-by-day friends and comrades were killed or wounded – if the wound was not too severe they were seen as the lucky ones - I just accepted that their time had come and that tomorrow it might well be my turn to die so it didn’t matter whether, under daily bombardment, one sheltered in the deepest trench, if the next bullet, shell or mortar bomb had your name on it there was no way that you could dodge your pre-ordained fate.

I found this a great comfort in times of considerable stress during the three-month long Normandy campaign, the two months in the snow-filled Ardennes during the so-called ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and the six weeks in Germany as we were involved in a 270-mile fighting advance across northern Germany to meet up with the Russians on the Baltic coast.

(Anyone wishing to learn how I got on after we landed may care to see if their Library has a copy of my book ‘The Devil’s Own Luck’ - From Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic sea as an Airborne Sniper 1944/45 published under the Leo Cooper imprint of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.)

Copyright: Denis Edwards

Last Post.

Roll of Honour

ALLEN, Doug 27.11.06 23 Pln. 'D' Coy
AMBROSE, Bob 5-11-02 22 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Cpl. Wounded & PoW.
ANTON ‘paddy’ 3-7-2000 14 Pln ‘B’ Coy . Pte - Sniper
BARWICK, Pete 7-6-44 22 Pln Sgt ‘D’ Coy
BULLER, Frank Nov 1998 23 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte
BURNS, John 26-11-99 17 Pln ‘B’ Coy.’ Cpl. Awarded MM on Rhine
CAINE, Cobber ? 25 Plan ‘D’ Coy Cpl.
CHAMBERLAIN, Les 25-11-01 25 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte. Pln Medic
CHATFIELD, Albert Nov 03 24 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte - Col. Woods Batman
CLIVE, Felix 7-10-99 22 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte
EVANS, Stan, CdeG 18-09-04 14 Pln ‘B’ Cpl.
GODBOLD Claude? ? 24 Pln ‘D’ Coy Cpl
GOODSIR, Harry 12-1-2000 22 Pln ‘D’ Coy - Cpl
HARMAN, Robert June 2003 24 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte
HOWARD, Major John 5-5-99 Coup de Main force Commander. Awarded DSO
HOWARD, Roy 22-3-99 Glider Pilot,. S/Sgt - No. 6 glider. Awarded DFM
JENNINGS, Jim 28-08-05 23 Pln. Cpl. Aged 94.
LARKIN, Claude July 2003 Airborne Royal Engineers
LARKIN, Cyril Dec 2003 Airborne Royal Engineers
LATHBURY, John Oct 97 22 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte. PoW.
MUSTY, Pete 21-8-98 24 Pln ‘D’ Coy . Pte - Sniper
NEILSON, Capt 2003? Commanded Airborne Royal Engineers
NOBLE, Ted 31-10-98 14 Pln ‘B’ Coy. Pte
OLLIS, Stan ? 25 Pln ‘D’ Coy Sgt
PARR, Wally 03-12-05 25 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Sniper Cpl. Wounded mid july ‘44
ROBERTS, Arthur 13-11-04 L/Cpl. 24 Pln ‘D’ Coy
SHORTER, Tony 2001? In NZ Glider Pilot – S/Sgt. No. 4 Glider that landed astray
SWEENEY, Col ‘Tod’ June 2000 23 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Lt. Platoon Commander. Awarded MC
TAPPENDEN, Tel March 99 HQ Coy. Wireless operator. L/Cpl.
THORNTON, Wagger 1997 17 Pln ‘B’ Coy. Sgt. Awarded MM for knocking out tank
VAUGHAN, Dr John 2-2-2000 Commanded Medic team.. Major. RAMC
WHITFORD, Alf 22-1-98 22 Pln ‘D’ Coy. Pte
WOODS, Eric 8-3-00 17 Pln ‘B’ Coy. Pte.

The Devil’s Own Luck. From Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic sea. An account of my three months in Normandy; two months in the Ardennes and six weeks in Germany as an Airborne Sniper – 1944/45. Published under the Leo Cooper imprint of Pen & Sword Books, Ltd. Hardback copies all sold. Now available as an illustrated paperback @ £9.99. .


In June Colonel David Wood, MBE was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur in recognition of his many years of involvement with both the Coup de Main and Normandy Veterans Association.

Future Activities.

Colonel Tillett confirms that it has been agreed that the 60th anniversary of D-Day was the last OFFICIAL pilgrimage to Normandy and that he will cease to act as coordinator from 30th June 2005. He will arrange for wreaths and crosses for June 2005. The Royal Green Jackets will not be officially involved in future events but later they will be issuing information on the ‘Last Out – First In’ tour of France – Dunkirk/Normandy for June 2005. Colonel Wood will not be in Normandy next June but Major Scott might be available, if required. From now onwards veterans will need to make their own arrangements. However, if someone produces a programme of events, as in the past, I will be happy to circulate details and I understand that early next spring George and Penny Bates will pay a visit to discuss with the local Mayors their thoughts on future activities.

All Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year
‘Ham & Jam’

Produced by Denis Edwards


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