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D-Day veteran travels to Normandy for the 70th anniversary
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90 year old D-Day veteran Alex Reith makes the journey from South Africa to 70th anniversary commemoration in Normandy
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, centred around the date of invasion, 6 June, known as “D-Day”. A series of major commemorations are planned to mark this historic occasion, with events planned in both the United Kingdom, and at various locations along the Normandy Coast in France.
Thousands of people, including Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the Royal Family, will join the commemorations to pay their respects to the Allied troops who fought for the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation in the Second World War. On 6 June 1944, around 4,300 Allied personnel lost their lives serving their country in what would be the largest amphibious invasion ever launched. This week, more than 650 veterans made the journey to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. One of the veterans making the pilgrimage to Normandy is Alex Reith, resident of Margate, KwaZulu-Natal, who on 6 June, 1944, helped pilot his Horsa glider into occupied France as part of the D-Day landings to liberate Europe.
On Sunday, 1 June, British High Commissioner, Judith Macgregor, British Airways and the South African Air Force Association held a departure ceremony for Alex Reith.
Speaking at the departure event for Alex Reith, High Commissioner Judith Macgregor said, “The values, courage and professionalism shown by Service personnel during D-Day and throughout the Second World War remain an inspiration to us all. It is a huge honour to be in such extraordinary company. Seventy years on we look back on that day with awe, with pride, and with gratitude.”
Alex Reith then boarded a British Airways A380 aircraft from Oliver Tambo International Airport to join the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. A far cry to his experience of bouncing around at the end of a 50-foot tow rope when he departed for France 70 years ago.
Today, Alex Reith will join a handful of surviving glider pilots and other veterans to commemorate the D-Day landings, which marked the start of the allied campaign to liberate Europe.
Notes to Editors
On 6 June 1944, Alex Reith was at the vanguard of the allied offensive, when he helped fly a glider carrying a six-pound field gun, a jeep and its crew, into occupied France. Alex Reith was part of Operation Mallard and his orders were to land the glider near Ranville in Normandy. In all some 500 gliders took part in the D-Day landings. Together with his fellow pilot, ‘Masher’ Miles, Mr Reith landed without incident and helped the gun crew unload. The two pilots then set off for the coast. After camping behind enemy lines overnight they made their back through the allied front lines to the Normandy beaches, where they boarded a ship to return to England.
Alex Reith moved to South Africa in 1970 and now lives in Margate. This is the first time he is attending D-Day commemorations. Mr Reith is the only remaining glider pilot to be traveling internationally to the commemorations.
D-Day 70th anniversary: Prime Minister David Cameron’s article