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Haverhill WWII veteran, 98, returns to barn in Normandy where he almost died



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A Second World War veteran has returned to the barn in France where his life was saved almost 80 years ago.

Earlier this month Bill Gladden, 98, of Haverhill, returned to Normandy with The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, making a very special return visit to the barn thanks to the help of author Neil Barber and photographer Robin Savage.

Bill was a member of the 6th Airborne, Recce Regiment when it flew into Normandy on June 6, 1944 on a glider carrying a tank and six motorbikes, as part of Operation Overlord.

Bill Gladden in the barn in Normandy where he almost died in 1944. Picture: Robin Savage
Bill Gladden in the barn in Normandy where he almost died in 1944. Picture: Robin Savage

He was holed up in an orchard with members of his regiment just outside Ranville.

On June 18, two days after carrying two of his badly wounded friends to a barn, Bill was injured in the leg by machine gun fire from a Tiger tank and he was carried into the same barn.

Once inside he was given morphine and the necessary medical attention to keep him alive while he awaited evacuation back to the UK.

The barn near Ranville. Contributed picture
The barn near Ranville. Contributed picture

Bill was luckier than his friends, who died from their wounds, as he made it back to Portsmouth on June 21.

His comrades are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Ranville.

The injuries to Bill's leg were severe and he spent three years in hospital recovering and learning to walk again.

Bill Gladden at the Pegasus Memorial in Normandy. Submitted picture
Bill Gladden at the Pegasus Memorial in Normandy. Submitted picture

Bill said: “I have been travelling back to Normandy with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans for many years and this year I was very touched that Neil and Robin had spent time finding the very barn where my life had been saved and where I had last seen my injured friends who didn’t survive.

"The current owners of the barn were so welcoming, and I must admit the visit was very nostalgic and brought so many memories flooding back.

"I think part of my tibia is probably still in that orchard - perhaps one day someone will stumble across it!”

Robin said, “The afternoon we spent with Bill taking him back to the barn near Ranville was one of the most special moments I've ever had in Normandy, and I am so pleased we were able to do it for him.

"We thought we might just be able to show him the barn from the outside, but the current owners were so welcoming and invited Bill into the barn and showed us around their home which had been used as a Main Dressing Station during the war.”

To find out more about the support the Taxi Charity offers veterans or to donate please visit HERE