In the early hours of June 6, 1944, Albert “Alf” Whitbread and 180 other men flew across the channel in six gliders and took two vital bridges from the German army.

As part of the 75th D-Day anniversary the Watford Observer is remembering Mr Whitbread, who died aged 88 in 2011, for his service in the Second World War.

He was one of the first men to land in German-held France in 1944 and survived the last major battle of the Western Front.

The anniversary today (June 6) will commemorate 75 years since the invasion of German-controlled Normandy, which laid the foundations for the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Mr Whitbread, who lived in Garston until his death, was part of the second group of gliders which landed at Horsa Bridge before taking part in the fighting for Pegasus Bridge.

Watford Observer:

Minutes after landing, the men, made up of the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, sent the message “ham and jam” a code confirming they had captured both bridges.

Due to his and his team’s courage, German soldiers and tanks were unable to reach the five beach landing points for the main allied invasion of France.

Today, Mr Whitbread is being remembered by his family as a war hero. His son Cliff Whitbread said: “He was a hero and a kind father and I’m very proud of him and it’s a shame he’s not here to take part in the 75th anniversary. I know the whole family would be proud of him.”

Speaking to the Watford Observer in 2004, Mr Whitbread said: “We never knew we had achieved anything special.

“People say that the failure to take that series of bridges might have prolonged the war by a couple of years.

“It was just the first thing we did that day and then we moved on into Normandy. It was not until 20 or so years later that we realised how pivotal it was to D-Day.”

Before D-Day

Mr Whitbread was also known as ‘Lucky Jim’.

Born and raised in Twickenham, he later moved to Watford when his father got a job in the Building Research Station in Garston.

He left school to become a machine engineer but was encouraged to volunteer for the army after hearing a patriotic speech on the ratio.

On June 19, 1940, aged 18, Mr Whitbread visited the Edgware recruiting office and joined the Royal West Kent Youth Battalion.

In 1942 In Ireland he heard rumours about a new a newly formed airborne unit and decided to volunteer.

After D-Day…

Mr Whitbread was drafted in to take part in Operation Varsity, the last major battle of the war in Europe.

Varsity was another glider-borne mission, this time to take a bridge over the Rhine which took place on March 24 in 1945.

Almost 1,500 men of the Ox and Bucks died during the operation, and Lucky Jim lived up to his reputation before his glider even landed.

Mr Whitbread said: “They say don't volunteer for anything, but I did and it worked out to my benefit.

“I remember when we were set to get on a glider on the way for the Rhine crossing and it was too full. I was detailed to another glider. They both crash landed.

“All the troops in the first glider were killed. Only three of us got out of the other glider alive, after it broke in half.”

After the war…

Mr Whitbread spent 40 years as an engineer for London Transport, and never took a day off due to illness.

His son said: “He was a general decent guy, and no one had a bad word to say about him and I never heard him raise his voice once not even at me as a child.

“It was only after he retired that he started talking about the war, especially when we went to Normandy a couple times before he died. Mum said he found it hard to get back into civilian life.

“He buried his medals in the garden, I remember digging them up one day. He's been back to Pegasus Bridge twice and the museum was overjoyed, they couldn't do enough for him.

“After the war, he led a peaceful and comfortable life. He wouldn't hurt a fly, there wasn't a nasty bone in his body.”

Mark Whitbread, son, added: “Dad was well known in the neighbourhood and would do anything to help.”