A CEREMONY was held to commemorate lives lost in the largest successful airborne operation in history.

Veterans, families and members of the community gathered at former RAF headquarters, Marks Hall in Coggeshall, to commemorate the 74th Anniversary of Operation Varsity on Sunday.

Operation Varsity was an Allied airborne assault over the Rhine River at Wesel, Germany, on March 24, 1945.

A daring collaboration between British and American airborne divisions, it played a vital role in the final attack on Germany, known as the Rhine crossings.

Some 43 gliders flew from Earls Colne Airfield as part of the giant airborne armada of 1,300 British and American aircraft.

Trustees and staff of Marks Hall welcomed George Eliot, a veteran of the campaign who took off from Earls Colne Airfield.

Many representatives from the Parachute Regiment Association and the Glider Pilot Regiment Society also gathered to pay their respects and to lay tributes.

The service looked back on the force of 440 gliders of the Glider Pilot Regiment, towed by 440 tug aircraft of the Royal Air Force, who took off from airfields across East Anglia, including Earls Colne.

Their contribution towards the invasion of Germany was to capture and hold the town of Hamminkeln, along with three vital bridges.

Due to the concentrated anti-aircraft defences and the drift of smoke screen laid to cover the land offensive nearby, many of the gliders failed to reach their allocated landing zones.

Of the 402 gliders that reached the battle area, 37 were destroyed by fire, 102 glider pilots were killed and a further 102 were wounded.

Kath Cockshaw,

director at Marks Hall, said: “This is a very important day on the calendar here at Marks Hall.

“The event is an incredibly moving occasion and reminds us all of the bravery shown by those who took part.

“The Second World War played a significant part of the history of Marks Hall, and we are always delighted to welcome veterans and their families back here.”