World War Two D-Day and Operation Market Garden glider pilot hero dies aged 97

Geoffrey Thompson
Geoffrey Thompson

ONE of the last surviving British Airborne Forces glider pilots who was involved in two of the most significant operations of the Second World War has died aged 97.

Former Staff Sergeant Geoffrey Thompson, of Pocklington, east Yorkshire, died in hospital in York on February 27 after being taken ill at the Wold Haven nursing home in Pocklington, where he had been living since last October.

Mr Thompson was a volunteer glider pilot with Airborne Forces who flew troops and equipment into Normandy in Northern France as part of the D Day operations in June 1944.

He also successfully piloted a glider carrying men and equipment during operation Market Garden at Arnhem, Holland, in September 1944, before joining the battle.

Mr Thompson was in the attic of a house which was shelled and he was badly wounded.

Speaking after his ordeal, Mr Thompson said: “Hand grenades were thrown at us and we had to pick up and throw them back quickly. An 88mm gun was brought up and fired on the house we were occupying, demolishing the gable end. I received shrapnel in the head and arm and temporarily blinded.”

He was taken prisoner of war and endured ‘death marches’ between camps in Germany in the winter of 1944/45. Mr Thompson weighed just over six stone when the camp he was being held at was liberated by American troops.

Mr Thompson said of his time as a POW: “It was an horrendous time. We had barely anything to eat, we were all wounded and the medical supplies were almost non-existent.

“After a while we were put on the ‘death march’ to change camps. We suffered from malnutrition, severe colds, and the soles of our shoes had worn off so we were walking barefoot in the snow.”

Mr Thompson was admitted to Seacroft Hospital in Leeds where he stayed from April to September 1945 and underwent an operation on his left foot to amputate four toes severely damaged by frostbite.

He was an active member of the York Branch of the Parachute Regimental Association since it was formed in 1990.

Branch chairman Donald Marshall, said: “He was a splendid, calm, knowledgeable, friendly guy. Geoff was a good, solid member of the branch. You could always rely on him.”

Mr Thompson was born on November 15 1919 at the North Star Temperance Hotel in Flamborough. He was the eldest son of Robert Thompson, a dairy farmer, and his wife Kate.

He was originally called up to serve with the Highland Light Infantry before being transferred to the Royal Artillery and then volunteering for Airborne Forces with D Squadron, Number One Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment.

He married Joan Mouncer in Norton, Malton, on September 30 1942 and the couple had a daughter, Jacqueline, and son, Richard. His wife Joan died aged 71 in 1993.

After the war, Mr Thompson worked as a shop manager for Walter Wilsons grocery chain until the mid 1950s and then became an insurance agent for Prudential for around five years.

From 1960 to his retirement in 1984 he worked as a sales representative in the confectionery trade.

Mr Thompson’s daughter Jackie Frear, 70, of Pocklington, said: “He used to go over to Arnhem quite a lot for the reunions until about three or four years ago. He was a very sociable person, he got on with everybody.”

His son Richard, 66, said: “He was a wonderful father and the grandchildren all adored him.”

In 2005, Mr Thompson and 40 other veterans were awarded the Chevalier of the Legion D’Honneur - the French equivalent of the OBE - during a ceremony at the French Embassy in London. The award was given to commemorate British soldiers who had taken part in the D-Day operations.

Mr Thompson leaves grandchildren: Sarah, 44; Jonathan, 40; Mark, 41 and Paul 39. He also leaves great grandchildren: Sam, 12; Oliver five; Elsa, 11, Bella, 10; Maggie, four, Thomas aged one and three-year-old Aaron.

Mr Thompson’s family said that all will be welcome at his funeral service to be held at 1pm on Thursday March 16 at York Crematorium.