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"It is hard to stand by the graves of your friends": Veteran remembers comrades ahead of D-Day parachute jump

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A 95-year-old from Bournemouth is one of two veterans parachuting into Normandy on Wednesday to commemorate the D-Day landings 75 years ago.

Harry Read was a 20-year-old wireless operator with the Royal Signals who had a battery the size and weight of a toolbox strapped to his right leg when he was pushed out of the plane in the early hours of June 6 1944.

"We could see the most wonderful fireworks display you have ever seen in your life. Until we got into it and it wasn't a fireworks display at all. It was shells and it was machine gun bullets and aircrafts coming down in flames."

Harry Read, pictured aged 19 Credit: Credit: Family handout/PA

"We were jumping from Dakotas which was a gentleman's way of jumping. You went out through a door not through a hole in the bottom of the fuselage.

I landed in water so it was a soft landing. The first thing to do was to get the parachute off me. The second thing to do was to assemble my gun and the third thing to do was to see if anybody was shooting at me."

  • Harry describes the moment he landed in Normandy 75 years ago

"When we came through the swamped area and it got light enough to see what was around us, we saw a substantial number of circles of a parachute canopy. We make the assumption that the chappie had hit the water and it was too deep for him, and he died."

He says 192 men died in that flooded area "which, out of a small fighting force, was a large number".

Last year, Harry jumped 10,000ft out of an airplane at Old Sarum Airfield in Salisbury as a "rehearsal" for the jump this week.

Harry did a rehearsal skydive in Salisbury last year Credit: Go Skydive

"I would be an idiot to have jumped on the 6th June 1944 and my next jump to be something akin to a skydive in front of the cameras of the world on the 75th anniversary. So I said to myself 'you will be smart to have a rehearsal of this' because I'd never done a free fall."

Harry has been presented with the Chevalier medal, by order of the Legion d’Honneur, for the role he played in the operation as part of the 6th Airborne Division.

Among some 280 paratroopers, Harry and fellow veteran 94-year-old John Hutton, will board a Dakota aircraft in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, and fly to Sannerville with the Red Devils, where they will perform a tandem jump and land in fields used as a “drop zone” for the 8th (Midlands) Parachute Battalion, who went on to destroy bridges in a bid to restrict German movements during the missions.

After his own jump on 5th June, the prospect of watching 7,000 troops jump from 36 Dakotas on the 6th to commemorate what happened 75 years ago, he takes a moment before saying: "It is hard to stand by the graves of your friends. It is hard. I think I can get very moved by it. But it was a big price to pay."

  • Watch Harry's full interview with ITV News Meridian's Fred Dinenage below