Bill Gladden: D-Day veteran who flew glider into France and survived being shot by a tank, dies, aged 100

A D-Day veteran, who flew a glider into France and survived being shot by a tank, has died aged 100.

Bill Gladden, from Haverhill in Suffolk, was "one in a million", according to a veterans' charity. He died at home on Wednesday.

He served with the 6th Airborne Army Recce Regiment RAC and was just 20 when he piloted a Hamilcar glider, a large aircraft used to transport equipment, into Normandy carrying a tank and six motorbikes on 6 June, 1944.

His destination was the village of Ranville, near the strategically important Pegasus Bridge.

Eleven days later, he carried two of his fellow soldiers, who were wounded, into a barn that was being used as a medical post.

They died of their injuries and are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Ranville.

Two days after that, he found himself being carried into the same barn after his leg was wounded by machine-gun fire from an enemy tank, while he was brewing tea.

Having been in action for less than a fortnight, he was flown back to the UK with a severe leg injury and spent the following three years in hospital.

In January, his family threw him a surprise party for his 100th birthday and after the crowd sang Happy Birthday, he cupped palms to his sides and mouthed "thank you".

He was a regular on trips to Normandy and the Netherlands, as well as to events in the UK, with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans.

Dick Goodwin, honorary secretary of the Taxi Charity, said: "Bill was one in a million who was adored by everyone he met.

"He had a wonderful gentle voice and loved nothing more than singing some of his favourite wartime songs.

"Earlier this year, we had the joy of celebrating his 100 birthday in Haverhill and testament to the man he was, the hall was packed with all those who knew and loved him.

"Stand easy Sir, your duty is done."

London cab driver and Taxi Charity for Military Veterans volunteer Paul Cook said it was "one of the biggest privileges in my life to have known Bill".

"I will miss him dearly. He was one of our greatest heroes and also my friend. Travel well Bill."

Mr Gladden, who grew up in Woolwich, southeast London, had volunteered for airborne duties and flew into Normandy from the former RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset.

He is survived by his daughter Linda Durrant and her husband Kenny, and his niece Kaye Thorpe and her husband Alan who cared for him in his later years.

Speaking earlier this year at Mr Gladden's birthday party, Mrs Thorpe described the veteran as a "legend".

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She said: "He always says he didn't do much because he got injured, he got wounded. He was only over there for about 12 days then he was three years in hospital.

"He had his ankle virtually blown off, shot off. It was hanging on by the Achilles heel. He was in a bad way."

Mr Gladden was in the building trade before the war and subsequently worked in various jobs in factories and in payroll, Mrs Thorpe said.

She said he loved singing and painting, and had created watercolour artworks from his memories of the Second World War.