Captain Bernard Halsall, who died on March 4 aged 89, was an Army pilot and took part in every major glider airborne assault of the Second World War .
Bernard Holt Halsall was born at Southport on March 18 1921 into a moderately well-off Lancastrian family. He and his younger brother Peter were educated at Stonyhurst, where Bernard excelled at medium and long-distance running.
In 1939 he enlisted as an infantryman in the 2nd Battalion, Liverpool Scottish, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Recruits were supposed to own property in Scotland, and before being accepted Bernard was dispatched by the colour sergeant major to deposit a pair of trousers with the dry cleaners Pullars of Perth at its establishment in Castle Street, Liverpool.
Halsall spent the early part of the war in north-east England manning a deception gun which had telegraph poles for gun barrels. But when the Glider Pilot Regiment (GPR) was forming he volunteered, and during his brief training showed a natural aptitude for flying. His Tiger Moth flying instructor had the disconcerting habit of violently hitting the joystick — if it did not fly out of Halsall’s hand, plainly he was holding it too tightly.
Halsall’s operational flying career began in June 1943 with an airborne assault on Sicily by 1st Battalion GPR. The aim was to secure a vital bridge over a river and canal south of the key city of Syracuse. The operation, mounted from bases in Tunisia, involved flying at night below an altitude of 500ft. As a navigation aid, three searchlights were shone vertically upwards from Malta at the appropriate moment.
Of the 2,060 men involved in the operation, only a fraction actually reached the landing zone; most were forced to land some distance away, and many drowned in the sea after their gliders were released prematurely. Halsall, who was commanding a platoon, was one of only eight men left alive on the bridge by 3pm on the second day. They had no choice but to surrender. Within the hour, however, the forward troops of Montgomery’s Eighth Army had taken the bridge, overtaken the retreating Italians and liberated Halsall and his comrades. For his exceptional bravery against great odds, Halsall was awarded an MC.
In the later years of the war, Halsall took part in the D-Day landings, and fought at Arnhem and on the forced crossing of the Rhine. En route to Arnhem, his tug aircraft developed a fault, the glider he was piloting had to be cast off, and he came down in Belgium, close to a small village.
Initially hostile, the locals soon realised that Halsall and his troops were part of the invasion forces; they sheltered them and helped them to return to their units.
Many years later, in 2006, Halsall was contacted by the villagers — including some who had been there on the day of the crash-landing — and invited him to make a return visit, with his wife Constance. The couple were overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of their hosts.
Postwar, Halsall worked as an agricultural merchant in Leicestershire. Over the next 35 years he became a familiar face at local markets and farms; in the 1960s he led a project which pioneered the delivery of bulk fertiliser direct to the field, where it was spread by his specialised teams.
Forced to retire early in 1982 following a heart attack, Bernard Halsall underwent a triple bypass operation, but continued to enjoy playing a full part in family life as a grandfather and great-grandfather.
He is survived by his wife and by their son and daughter.
Courtesy of The Daily TelegraphRead More