Walter's emotional trip to pal's grave

By Mark HeathA D-DAY veteran has spoken of his emotional visit to the grave of a fallen comrade - almost 60 years after the pair played their part in defeating Nazi Germany.

By Mark Heath

A D-DAY veteran has spoken of his emotional visit to the grave of a fallen comrade - almost 60 years after the pair played their part in defeating Nazi Germany.

Walter Wright also returned to the French bridge where he was shot down and struggled to stay afloat before he and his other crew members were rescued.

Mr Wright's trip was funded through the lottery's Heroes Return scheme, which was set up to give veterans the chance to revisit the battlefields where they fought for King and country.

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The 84-year-old ex-RAF navigator, who lives in Ipswich, was one of the first in the eastern region to secure funding through the New Opportunities Fund lottery scheme.

The money helped him visit the grave of his friend Titch Wilkinson, who was shot down and killed just over a month after D-Day, and is now buried in Le Mans cemetery in France.

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“Titch changed crews in order to get married,” said Mr Wright. “Unfortunately, that crew got shot down and he was killed.

“For 60 years I've been wanting to go and visit his grave and then I got this opportunity. It was very emotional and sad.

“He was only 20 years old and he had only been married less than a month. He was a member of our crew and we were all friends.”

A member of the 298 squadron, Mr Wright flew two D-Day missions, dropping off gliders packed with soldiers and ammunitions near the Pegasus Bridge over the River Orme.

“There was an excitement about it because, before we went, General Montgomery and Eisenhower came round and gave us a bit of a pep-talk,” he said.

“I think it was then that we realised just how important what we were doing was. We knew this flight to be something special and the price of failure would be high.”

While the first sortie - which saw his crew drop bombs as a diversion - was a complete success, Mr Wright and his crew were shot down upon their return and were left to fend for themselves.

He recalled: “We had to rely on our Mae West lifejackets and to give us buoyancy we joined arms and played ring-a-ring-a-roses in the water. After almost two hours we were picked up by a passing minesweeper.”

Mr Wright also visited the Pegasus Bridge on his trip, which he made with his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

“The bridge has now been moved to a field and there's a museum there,” he added. “In the museum there was a TV programme about the drop and that brought back lots of memories - but they were bitter-sweet.”

Mr Wright, who flew a total of 30 wartime operations, said the lottery scheme was a “good idea” and stressed people should never forget what happened all those years ago.

“There are lots of young people today who have no idea about what happened over those war years,” he added.

“There was a great sacrifice made and we certainly would not have the freedom that we have today were it not for those who fought and died.”

Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the New Opportunities Fund, said: “Those who survived at the battlefront have a special place in all our hearts.

“Assisting them with lottery funding to revisit the places where they risked their young lives and saw their comrades fall is an important testimony to the enduring value of the freedom for which they fought.”

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