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Service to mark 70th anniversary of wartime operation

Soldiers past and present remember Operation Varsity Credit: ITV News Anglia

Soldiers past and present joined together in Essex today to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the largest airborne operation of the Second World War.

Operation Varsity saw 40,000 British and American troops land by glider and parachute on 24 March 1945 to successfully secure a bridgehead across the River Rhine, opening the way for the final advance into Germany.

A service at Marks Hall, near Coggeshall in Essex, has marked the anniversary of the mission and particularly the Glider Pilot Regiment's involvement.

The Regiment, which was disbanded in 1957 and absorbed into the Army Air Corps, had 98 pilots killed and 77 wounded on the operation. Of 416 British gliders that took part, most of which took off from airfields in East Anglia, only 88 were undamaged.

Soldiers from 4 Regiment Army Air Corps mark the 70th anniversary of Operation Varsity Credit: ITV News Anglia

Marks Hall was the headquarters of the RAF's 296 and 297 Squadrons, which were based at nearby Earls Colne Airfield.

For Operation Varsity the squadrons' Halifax transport aircraft towed into action 60 Horsa gliders carrying troops from the British 6th Airborne Division.

The estate, now an arboretum, features a memorial in the form of a scale replica of Earls Colne's runway layout.

The annual commemoration is organised by 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, which is based at Wattisham in Suffolk and flies the Apache attack helicopter.

8th Airforce remembered

200,000 Americans were based in the region during the Second World War Credit: ITV Anglia

A project to save the remains of American wartime airfields in the region has been given more than half a million pounds of lottery funding.

The Eighth in the East group will use the money to make sure that the history of US Eighth Airforces bases can be preserved for future generations.

The lottery funding will ensure the memory of the 8th Airforce is preserved Credit: ITV Anglia

More than 200,000 thousand American servicemen were stationed at bases from Suffolk to Northamptonshire during the latter part of the year.

26,000 of them were killed in action over occupied Europe.