A COURAGEOUS war hero returned to Manchester Airport for a surprise party to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Peter Davies, from Cheshire, was a Glider Pilot during the Second World War based at RAF Chilbolton in Hampshire.

He flew Hamilcar Gliders as part of Operation Varsity to gain a foothold across the River Rhine into Germany in March 1945.

These gliders were amongst the largest aircraft produced at the time and were designed to carry heavy cargo, including tanks, and deposit them behind enemy lines.

Peter's glider was hit several times and crash-landed, but remarkably he survived.

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RAF Ringway, the name given to Manchester Airport during World War Two, was a key training school for the Airborne Forces, and was the location of the first military glider trials in 1940 – the success of which led to the founding of Peter’s regiment.

Knutsford Guardian: A contingent from 653 Air Army Corps give Peter Davies a guard of honour A contingent from 653 Air Army Corps give Peter Davies a guard of honour

Many years later, after moving to the north west, Peter helped raise funds for a dedicated memorial to his regiment in Manchester Airport’s memorial garden.

The Glider Pilots’ Association set up a committee, with Peter as the treasurer, to raise funds and build the memorial – which was unveiled on April 23, 1997.

Peter, who turned 100 on Tuesday, August 23, was given a guard of honour in the memorial garden by veterans from across the north west, and by serving members of 653 Sqn Air Army Corps from Hampshire, who travelled to Manchester especially for the event.

Airport Chaplain George Lane held a brief service and wreaths were laid for friends Peter lost during the war.

A surprise party was then held at Runway Visitor Park.

Peter, from Bollington, said: “It’s an unbelievable surprise, this must have been the best kept secret going.

“It has been wonderful to see so many faces here to wish me a happy birthday.”

Veteran Kevin Hainey, a friend of Peter’s and head of Motor Transport at Manchester Airport, helped to organise the surprise.

He said: “With the momentous occasion of his 100th birthday approaching, we knew we needed to do something special.

“To celebrate a man who put his life on the line for his country all those years ago and to ensure that we gave him the chance to honour the friends he lost, which is very important to him.

“Their regimental motto was ‘Nothing Is Impossible’ and they proved that time and time again, but they paid a heavy price.”

Chris Woodroofe, Manchester Airport’s managing director, said: “It was a privilege to welcome Peter back to Manchester Airport.

“The Glider Pilot Regiment, which traces its roots to RAF Ringway, made an indelible contribution during the war and sadly, the number of people who can personally remember their sacrifices is diminishing.

“Thanks to Peter’s efforts in establishing a memorial here, they will never be forgotten.

“I’d like to thank all of his family and friends, many of whom are colleagues here at Manchester Airport, for organising his surprise visit, and most importantly I’d like to wish Peter a very happy birthday.”