In February 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sounded the call to raise an Airborne Force. The Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR) and Parachute Regiment were both formed later that year.

The Glider Pilot Regiment formed in Tilshead on Salisbury Plain at an empty airfield that had been recently deserted by the 225 Squadron RAF.

A public commemorative ceremony is being held in Tilshead at the Glider Pilot Regiment and Parachute Regiment memorials—known as the “Tilshead Stones”—on Saturday, February 24.

Those wishing to attend the commemorations are asked to meet at Tilshead Village Hall from 10am for tea/coffee and biscuits ahead of the service at 11.30am sharp.

GPR pilots were known as ‘total soldiers’, as they were not only expert pilots but could perform the role of an infantry officer capable of leading and fighting alongside the soldiers that they had transported into battle. The regiment’s motto during the war was “Nothing is Impossible”.

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The regiment’s first operation, codenamed Freshman, in 1942, set out to destroy the Rjukan heavy water plant in Norway which was being used to produce the element for an atomic bomb.

Unfortunately, this mission ended in failure and tragedy as both gliders involved crashed in Norway and the soldiers that survived the crash were captured and executed.

Gliders were later used to spearhead the invasion of Sicily in 1943, with many landing in the sea and hundreds drowned.

The regiment carried out the Coup de Main attack in the early hours of D-Day on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, ahead of the D-Day beach landings, to successfully capture Pegasus Bridge.

In September 1944, the GPR participated in the nine-day Battle of Arnhem, where they sustained heavy losses.

The GPR’s ranks were then reinforced with RAF pilots before taking part in the regiment’s final mission- Operation Varsity in March 1945.

Salisbury Journal: Glider used by the Glider Pilot Regiment in the Second World War.


Major General (Retd) N D Sexton CB, patron of the Glider Pilot Regiment Society, said: “80 years ago the Allies were finalising their plans for the Normandy landings and what General Eisenhower described as the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe. Among the more than a million troops committed to the invasion were members of the Glider Pilot Regiment, in existence only since 1941 and one of the smallest regiments in the British Army.

"They flew heavy gliders made of wood, steel and canvas, towed behind Royal Air Force and American tug aircraft on a one-way journey to key points on the battlefield where their cargoes of infantry and other specialists seized critical bridges, vital road junctions, enemy gun emplacements and other facilities ahead of the ground forces.

"Now, with only a score of these old airborne soldiers still alive, family and friends of the GPR will gather at the site of their original training camp at Tilshead on Salisbury Plain to remember their skill and bravery and the ultimate sacrifice paid by such a high proportion of them in the cause of freedom.

"It is our honour and duty to keep the memory of the Glider Pilot Regiment alive.”

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