Obituary: William ‘Bill’ Gladden 13.01.1924 – 24.04.2024

100-year-old WWII veteran William ‘Bill’ Gladden, who flew into Normandy on D-Day, died at home in Haverhill on 24 April.

William ‘Bill’ Gladden was born on the 13 January 1924. His parents were both from Yarmouth in Norfolk, but they raised him in Woolwich; his mother having worked in the Arsenal during the First World War whilst his father was a soldier.

In 1942, aged 18, he did his training with the Royal West Kents in Maidstone, before being posted to his first unit, 154 RAC [Royal Armoured Corps] at Livermere Camp near Bury St Edmonds. He volunteered for airborne duties and formed part of the 6th Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment and took part in the Normandy landings.

On 6 June 1944, aged 20, Bill flew into Normandy in a Hamilcar glider carrying a tank and six motorbikes from Tarrant Rushton in Dorset to the Landing Zone east of the River Orne bridge at Ranville.

On 17 June 1944, while Bill was holed up in an orchard with members of his regiment just outside Ranville, he carried two of his fellow soldiers into a barn that was being used as a medical post. Sadly, they did not recover from their wounds, and they were buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Ranville.

On 19 June, two days after carrying his badly wounded friends to the barn, Bill was injured in his right ankle, (while brewing up a dixie of tea), by machine gun fire from a Panzer tank and he was carried into the same barn. Once inside he was given morphine and the necessary medical attention to keep him alive while he awaited evacuation back to the UK.

Bill said:

“When one is wounded a record of events is started in writing on a label attached to their tunic. After my first operation in the field hospital, I came around lying on the grass, still with my scarf and smock on, being as sick as a dog. After a while, I was able to read my label. It read ‘CRS (Camp Reception Station) see as soon as possible. Amputation considered. Large deep wound in right ankle. Compound fracture of both tibia and fibula. All extension tendons destroyed. Evacuate (air, lying).’ But before I could be flown out, a big storm broke, which destroyed much of the Mulberry harbour, so I was put on a tank landing craft, picked up with a convoy the next morning and came over to Haslar Naval Hospital in Portsmouth.”

Bill was luckier than his friends, as he made it back to Portsmouth on 21 June. He spent time in many hospitals and was originally down for amputation, but due to cross-leg flap, tendon transplant, bone and skin grafts, his leg was saved and he spent three years in hospital recovering and learning to walk again.

Bill is survived by his daughter Linda, her husband Kenny, his niece Kaye Thorpe and her husband Alan who cared for him in his later years.

Bill had three great loves, his family, painting and singing and over the years painted hundreds, of pictures and entertained many with his singing.

Bill was a regular on trips with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans to Normandy and the Netherlands as well as to events in the UK.

London Cab driver and Taxi Charity for Military Veterans volunteer Paul Cook, said:

“It was one of the biggest privileges in my life to have known Bill. I will miss him dearly – he was one of our greatest heroes and also my friend. Travel well Bill.”

Dick Goodwin, Honorary Secretary of the Taxi Charity said:

“Bill was one in a million who was adored by everyone he met. He had a wonderful gentle voice and loved nothing more than singing some of his favourite wartime songs. Earlier this year we had the joy of celebrating his 100 birthday in Haverhill and testament to the man he was, the hall was packed with all those who knew and loved him. Stand easy Sir your duty is done.”