D-Day 80: Hucknall vet pilots his own Spitfire as he takes part in Normandy flypast

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Well-known Hucknall vet Graham Oliver had a bird's eye view of the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations in France when he took part in the historic flypast.

Graham flew his WWII Spitfire, accompanied by co-pilot Matt Jones, when it took part in a series of display flights and said it was ‘a privilege’ to be part of the event’.

Graham's aircraft was one of two Spitfires which crossed the English Channel from the south coast to Cherbourg, together with two US Mustangs and a Hurricane, for the Normandy events.

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They joined up with numerous other wartime military aircraft to take off in formations for the special flights.

Hucknall vet Graham Oliver joined other Spitfire pilots in the Normandy flypast to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Photo: SubmittedHucknall vet Graham Oliver joined other Spitfire pilots in the Normandy flypast to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Photo: Submitted
Hucknall vet Graham Oliver joined other Spitfire pilots in the Normandy flypast to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Photo: Submitted
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Graham's Spitfire took part in 65 missions during the war when it was in service, destroying ground targets and damaging German aircraft.

But it fell foul of enemy flak and crash-landed in a field.

The pilot survived and was looked after by the French Resistance.

American Mustang planes joined the Spitfires and a Hurricane in the flypast over the French coast. Photo: SubmittedAmerican Mustang planes joined the Spitfires and a Hurricane in the flypast over the French coast. Photo: Submitted
American Mustang planes joined the Spitfires and a Hurricane in the flypast over the French coast. Photo: Submitted

Graham, aged 61, has officially retired from his veterinary practices, East Midlands Referrals on Nottingham Road and Buckley House on West Street after many years serving the pet owners of Hucknall and surrounding areas.

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But he is still actively involved until a contract with the new owners, international veterinary care providers Medivet, is finalised.

Graham said: "Being involved in the D-Day commemorations was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it is something I will never forget.

"ML 295 – the Spitfire we have restored – had been in service for six weeks and we did a final, last-minute, test flight on the Monday evening.

Graham Oliver took this shot of a fellow Spitfire taking part in the formation flypast. Photo: SubmittedGraham Oliver took this shot of a fellow Spitfire taking part in the formation flypast. Photo: Submitted
Graham Oliver took this shot of a fellow Spitfire taking part in the formation flypast. Photo: Submitted

"Two other WWII fighters – a P51 Mustang with 35 kills and the only surviving Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane – also arrived that evening.

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“There also intended to be an additional Mustang from Rolls-Royce at East Midlands and another spitfire at Goodwood.

"But the Mustang pilot was reported sick and the second Spitfire had a burst radiator.

"On the Tuesday morning, after a detailed briefing, the three functional aircraft set off in formation to cross the channel

Spitfires at sunset after they took part in the flypast. Photo: SubmittedSpitfires at sunset after they took part in the flypast. Photo: Submitted
Spitfires at sunset after they took part in the flypast. Photo: Submitted

"This was a crossing of 70 miles of open ocean and we were wearing life jackets and carrying a life raft, my colleague also having a small air tank and immersion suit.

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“We were delighted to be able to rendez-vous with the Rolls-Royce Mustang over the Isle of Wight.

"Having landed at Cherbourg to refuel and the final Spitfire joined us as we left to do the first display flight of the week, the engineers having performed a minor miracle to return her to airworthiness in time.

“The airfield at Cherbourg was a hive of activity with formations of aircraft constantly taking off and landing.

"The French air traffic officers and police were so enthusiastic and welcoming encouraging Top Gun-type fly-bys of the tower.

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"There was also a large encampment of military vehicles and tents in support of the Dakota troop dropping aircraft.

"These left packed with personnel dressed in period uniforms with old style round parachutes to re-enact the invasion, although one of the first went disastrously wrong with more than 20 parachutists landing in adjacent woodland!

"The highlight of the week was to be able to fly in a 10-ship formation of five fighters and five Dakota on D-Day down along the beaches were so many young servicemen gave their lives to achieve the goal of securing the beach heads.

"The evenings that weren’t spent in late night repairs involved beer and singing in local bars with a real camarardarie

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"All in all, despite being confined to the airfield, a very significant and moving experience with many grown men shedding a tear or two.

“On Friday I flew back early from France via Goodwood to be back at work in Nottingham later that day – completely exhausted and still not having fully processed the event.”

Graham also added that he felt 'very sad' to hear that an RAF Spitfire pilot had died in a crash during a Battle of Britain memorial flight at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire last month.

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