Flying veteran Jack is airshow’s special guest

Jack Griffiths

Jack Griffiths - Credit: Submitted

A Norfolk flying veteran and former glider pilot who headed the assault on the bridges at Arnhem during the Second World War will be guest of honour at a major airshow this weekend.

Jack Griffiths after escape

Jack Griffiths after escape - Credit: Submitted

Former prisoner-of-war (POW) Jack Griffiths, 92, who still flies gliders at Norfolk Gliding Club's Tibenham airfield, piloted a Horsa glider for a night landing in the attack attempting to force an allied crossing of the lower Rhine in September 1944.

And on Sunday the trained commando, parachutist and member of the elite Glider Pilot Regiment will be at Norfolk Gliding Club's Heritage Wings and Wheels Festival.

Mr Griffiths still regularly flies and has now notched up almost 80 years since his first flight.

But his experience at Arnhem and as a subsequent prisoner of war – almost exactly 70 years ago - was his second serious brush with German forces.

The escaped prisoners at Torgau

The escaped prisoners at Torgau - Credit: Submitted

As an army despatch rider he was part of the army evacuated from Dunkirk earlier in the war.

Orphaned at nine, he started work aged 14 as a telegraph boy with the post office, but he had always wanted to fly after a flight at 13 with Cobham's Flying Circus.

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'I was hooked from then on and wanted to be a pilot,' he said.

After a struggle, he passed exams to get into the RAF and was eventually chosen from the 500 specially-selected volunteers to join the elite Glider Pilot Regiment.

Less than 500 gliders, carrying men and machinery, were used in the assault on Arnhem and he was in the first wave to land near the pivotal Dutch bridge.

But resistance was fierce and Sgt. Griffiths and his group were captured by Nazi forces and sent to Stalag Luft IVB at Muhlberg, near Leipzig.

While there, the POWs suffered appalling conditions and terrible food in a camp surrounded by 16ft fences topped with barbed wire and watched by 200 armed guards.

However, when the POWs realised the allies were getting closer, they decided to make a run for it.

They negotiated a minefield surrounding the camp to make their escape.

'We didn't plan it. We just seized the moment. We didn't come across any mines and then we just ran like hell to a wooded area half a mile away and collapsed, exhausted.'

The escapees managed to meet up with Russian and American troops at Torgau, before heading off to Heidelberg with brandy 'liberated' from a warehouse.

Mr Griffiths went on to fly DC3s in the Berlin airlift before his last job with the army – training military glider pilots at Lasham.

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