750,000 poppies dropped over White Cliffs of Dover in touching tribute to fallen

The Dakota, a veteran of D-Day, was flanked by two Spitfires as it flew low over the Kent coastline.

Armistice Day 2019
Armistice Day 2019

As the nation fell silent to remember the fallen, a gentle shower of poppies fell over the famous White Cliffs of Dover.

They were carried in a battle-scarred Second World War Dakota plane, which released the 750,000 poppies as it soared above the English coastline.

Down below, hundreds of people packed the Battle of Britain memorial, at the edge of the same White Cliffs that formed a welcoming sight for hundreds of thousands of soldiers returning from Dunkirk in 1940.

The Dakota, a veteran of D-Day, was flanked by two Spitfires as it flew low over the Kent coastline.

Five veterans – including RAF servicemen who served in the Second World War – were aboard to oversee the poppy drop.

The aircraft flew past at an altitude of just 500ft, with the bio-degradable poppies released as it passed over the memorial.

After several passes over the packed crowds below, the three-aircraft formation turned and headed along the coast before heading back to North Weald Airfield in Essex where the Dakota is based.

One of the Spitfires following the Dakota (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Second World War veteran Warrant Officer Roy Briggs was one of those who went up in the Dakota on Sunday.

He served as a wireless operator on Lancaster aircraft with 576 squadron, conducting raids at Plauen and Bremen.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said the touching poppy drop tribute was as much as anyone could do.

The 94-year-old great-grandfather said he spent the flight thinking of a Lancaster crew he knew, who all lost their lives during a wartime mission.

He said: “I am 94 and they are still 20 and 21. They will never be anything else to me.”

Mr Briggs said the flight on Sunday was something of a surprise, revealed just a few days before.

“I couldn’t really believe at 94 I was getting involved in something like this,” he said.

Remembrance Day 2019
Second World War veterans Roy Briggs (left) and George Prichard on the Dakota (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Flight Lieutenant George Prichard, 96, said the Dakota flight was “wonderful”.

He told PA: “It was a great, great day and I was thrilled to be part of the event.

“Something I had never expected I would be doing. Something I shall remember for a very, very long time.”

During the Second World War, Mr Prichard was posted from Tech Signals Radar (Air) Branch to 151 Night Fighter Squadron on Mosquitos.

There he supported action on D-Day and across Europe throughout the Normandy campaign by maintaining crucial radar equipment used on the aircraft.

The vintage Dakota aircraft – known to its crew at the time as “Drag ‘Em Oot” – is itself a veteran of the Second World War and took part in the troop drops on D-Day.

It still has 40 bullet holes in its fuselage dating back to those battles, including a spot near the cockpit where a shell passed clean through both sides of the plane.

Two Spitfires joined the Dakota for the special event (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Spitfires – both Mk IX models – both saw action over Normangy during the war.

They flew from RAF Duxford on Sunday morning to meet the Dakota before the trip to Dover.

Also aboard the Dakota was Royal Engineer Stephen Craddock, who joined the army aged 17 and was posted to Germany, Denmark, Kenya and France.

He served multiple tours of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, patrolling some of the most dangerous areas of the country.

He left the army in 1990, but said everything came crashing down when his brother died in tragic circumstances.

“The box inside my head which I had kept firmly locked for so many years opened and all those memories from my time in Northern Ireland came flooding back,” he said.

“I was having nightmares, night sweats and reliving in full HD the sounds, sights and smells from some of the worst atrocities committed by the terrorists during the troubles. I was diagnosed with PTSD and was in a terrible mental state.”

He began training for the Help for Heroes fundraising bike ride.

Armistice Day 2019
The tribute to the fallen was carried on on Remembrance Sunday (Paul Edwards/The Sun/PA)

He said: “I took part in that ride and it nearly killed me. However, for the first time in many years I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

“I continued training and fundraising and, lo and behold, not only did I get fitter and lose weight, my mental state started to improve.”

Now over a decade later he has raised almost £500,000 for Help for Heroes.

Warrant Officer Class One Paul Clark – now Corps Sergeant Major in the Royal Engineers – has served in Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq and South Sudan.

He could be seen gazing intently out of the windows of the Dakota, silently taking in the sights of the Spitfires flying alongside and the stunning vistas below.

Cps Sgt Major Clark, who has served for 27 years since he joined as a teenager in 1993, said: “It is a chance of a lifetime. It’s a huge honour to be in the same aircraft that delivered guys to Arnhem and Normandy.

“Sitting in the same seats as guys who fought in World War Two – it’s brilliant.”

The event is the brainchild of Kent-based Aero Legends, with proceeds going to the annual Poppy Appeal.

Aero Legends managing director Ben Perkins said: “Commemorations like this are incredibly important to remember those who fought and continue to fight for our freedom.”

He added: “We are very happy with how it has gone.

“The veterans are the reason we are doing this. I hope that the coverage that we have got from this will go some way to raising more support for the charities.”

Aero Legends has 16 Second World War aircraft and has taken part in numerous commemoration events, including recent large-scale flyovers to mark D-Day and the Battle of Arnhem.

It also conducts passenger flights from its base at North Weald Airfield.

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