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A life in the skies - war veteran Jack ‘Griff’ Griffiths dies at 95

PUBLISHED: 12:28 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:25 08 November 2017

Normandy veteran Jack Griffiths from Mattishall, has been awarded the Legion d'honneur by France. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Normandy veteran Jack Griffiths from Mattishall, has been awarded the Legion d'honneur by France. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2015

A former prisoner of war and Normandy veteran who enjoyed more than 80 years of flying, has died at the age of 95.

Jack GriffithsJack Griffiths

Jack Griffiths, from Mattishall, passed away on Sunday but will be remembered by many for his love of flight, as an active member of the Norfolk Gliding Club well into his 90s, his war heroics with the elite Glider Pilot Regiment and for a daring escape from the Nazis during the Second World War.

He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 2015 and was among the veterans who returned to Normandy for the commemorations in June this year.

Orphaned at nine, he had always wanted to fly after a flight at 13 with Cobham’s Flying Circus.

He first joined the army as a despatch rider with the Royal Signals before volunteering for the Glider Pilot Regiment, a unit within the Airborne Forces overseen by joint RAF/Army co-operation. He had to pass tough RAF/Army Selection Board exams but got through and was taught to fly by the RAF.

Jack Griffiths after escapeJack Griffiths after escape

After his first brush with death among those evacuated from Dunkirk, he was involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy in Operation Mallard. His glider carried men from 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry from 6th Airborne Airlanding Brigade. The soldiers went on to destroy bridges over the River Orne.

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

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

The POWs suffered appalling conditions in a camp surrounded by 16ft barbed wire topped fences, watched by 200 armed guards.

An army form stating that Jack Griffiths had been taken prisoner.An army form stating that Jack Griffiths had been taken prisoner.

But when they realised the allies were getting closer, they decided to make a run for it, negotiating a minefield surrounding the camp to make their escape.

“We didn’t plan it,” he said. “We just seized the moment and just ran like hell to a wooded area half a mile away and collapsed, exhausted.”

They were rescued by Russian and American troops at Torgau.

Mr Griffiths went on to fly DC3s in the Berlin airlift before training military glider pilots.

The escaped prisoners at TorgauThe escaped prisoners at Torgau

Tribute to a ‘star’

Mike Hoy, chairman of Norfolk Gliding Club said ‘Griff’ returned to his gliding roots in 1995 when he joined the club, bringing with him a wealth of experience and a lifetimes worth of tales.

He said: “Many members recall the shared flights searching for the ever illusive lift over the maltings and his tales of war time escapades, always delivered in a humorous way.

Normandy veteran Jack Griffiths from Mattishall, has been awarded the Legion d'honneur by France - Photos of Jack in the War. Picture: Matthew Usher.Normandy veteran Jack Griffiths from Mattishall, has been awarded the Legion d'honneur by France - Photos of Jack in the War. Picture: Matthew Usher.

“Club members feel honoured and privileged to have known such a great and wonderful man who gave his time, effort, understanding and stories to all.

“A full and active member to the end, an absolute star who’ll be sorely missed.”

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