WWII para’s story told in Normandy exhibition

Bob Stoodley, one of the first men to land by parachute during the D Day invasion of Normandy
Bob Stoodley, one of the first men to land by parachute during the D Day invasion of Normandy

The life story of a Chinley war veteran — one of the first soldiers to land in Normandy on D-Day — has been featured in an new exhibition in France.

Bob Stoodley, now 88, is one of 11 veterans to be included in a new display at the Memorial Pegasus Museum.

EXHIBITION: Bob with his wife Joyce at the opening of the exhibition. Photo contributed.

EXHIBITION: Bob with his wife Joyce at the opening of the exhibition. Photo contributed.

Each represent a different unit in the 6th British Airborne Division, and the group were invited to attend the official opening.

Bob, who represented the 22nd Independent Pathfinder Company, was both surprised and honoured to also be presented with a medal on behalf of his unit.

“All 11 veterans, and I was one of them, were given a medal of honour from the French Senate. That was rather nice.

“It is not for me, it is for all those in the Pathfinder Company,” he explained.

D-DAY: preparing to be dropped into Normandy. Photo contributed.

D-DAY: preparing to be dropped into Normandy. Photo contributed.

The Pathfinder’s mission on D-Day was to land before the main forces and set up beacons to guide in the aircraft transporting the paratroopers.

“That night our radar brought in a third of the parachute landings - 2,000 soldiers. Altogether 6,000 landed that night and 2,000 the following day,” said Bob.

Together with his friend Paddy O’Sullivan, he was among the first Allied soldiers to land.

“We ran into trouble almost straight away,” said Bob. “I was wounded and I was a prisoner in a German hospital.”

Until the end of the war Bob remained at the Stalag 4B medical unit before he was eventually liberated by Russian forces and returned to England.

Bob returns to Normandy frequently with his wife Joyce to remember and pay his respects at the graves of his comrades, including Paddy who was killed in the village of Touffreville not far from the company’s landing zone.

“He was a good mate,” said Bob. “Out of the 60 of us we lost 11 on that night.”

After the war, Bob became a mechanical engineer and a successful businessman. He was chairman of a public company specialising in insurance, motor, engineering and transport with a multi million pound turnover.

He also found time to be involved in two expeditions to Everest in 1973 and 1975.

He led a team transporting the supplies overland, non-stop, from London to Katmandu in Nepal.

In addition to the exhibition Bob and the other ten veterans have also been recorded for a film that is shown in the museum.

A documentary is also being created in a joint collaboration between the BBC and a French TV company. It is due to be screened next year.