Sergeant Denis Cason

Portrait of a Glider Pilot

Elaine Cadman-Cramp with thanks to John Cason





Denis Cason joined Gloucestershire Constabulary in 1947. He served all over the county including Parkend, Hardwicke and Staple Hill. His last posting was to Thornbury in 1963 where he remained until his retirement, transferring to the newly formed Avon & Somerset Force in 1974 after a local government reorganisation. His son John recalls that Denis was basically a country copper: “He was very good with people and well known to the old folks locally, who called him Sarge.” He was still called that for many years after he retired.

Yet during the Second World War Denis led an extraordinary life.




Shortly before his 18th birthday Denis enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment. Being interested in flying he volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1942. This was a newly formed airborne unit responsible for crewing the British army’s military gliders. The men were trained as elite soldiers and had to pass very rigorous physical tests before they were allowed to train as glider pilots, as they were expected to fight with the troops they carried.

Military gliders were used to carry small numbers of troops and their equipment into enemy-controlled territory. Each glider had a crew of 2 pilots and was towed by a cable attached to a powered aircraft. Shortly before the glider reached its designated landing zone, the cable was released. Each flight was a one-way combat mission for  the troops they carried.

A contemporary 1942 Gaumont British news clip about the training of glider pilots indicates that the skills required were careful handling, delicate precision, an ability to judge the correct time to slip the tow rope and knowing how to land in restricted places. But in combat, the reality was that pilots had a short interval in which to pick out a landing spot and to try to avoid other gliders attempting to land and those already on the ground. Not to mention enemy fire or natural obstacles such as trees, walls or ditches.

During his initial training Denis flew Tiger Moths and a Miles Magister. After successfully completing his course he progressed to flying Hotspurs at No 5 Glider Training School, followed by further training at No 1 Heavy Glider Conversion Unit and No 4 Glider Training School. He flew all three of the major gliders – the Waco (Hadrian), the Horsa and Hamilcar – on operations.

Operation Ladbroke – the first landing in Sicily – 9/10th July 1943

In 1943 Denis was shipped out to North Africa. He and his flying partner, first pilot Sergeant Major William Masson, were due to take part in Operation Ladbroke using a Waco CG-4A (Hadrian). But there was one slight issue: neither Denis nor William had learned to fly this type of glider so they had a sharp learning curve! The motto of the Glider Regiment was “Nothing is Impossible” which was just as well considering:

There were NO engines, NO parachutes, NO second chances.                                                                                        Compared to a fighter, the controls of a Waco glider were about as sophisticated as a go kart.                               Scott McGaugh author of “Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin”

Denis and William took off from Tunisia carrying up to 13 troops and their equipment. They faced strong headwinds, the intercom between the glider and the aircraft towing them stopped working and the Waco’s rudder bar came loose a number of times. As they approached the coast of Sicily they also encountered anti-aircraft fire. The landing zone was surrounded by stone walls and vegetation. The glider hit both a wall and a tree on the way down, but no one was injured. Sergeant Major Masson was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal for his efforts. As for Denis, he spent most of the day avoiding Italian patrols before joining up with other members of the ground force.

Operation Dingson 35A – Vannes, Brittany – 5th August 1944

By now Denis was back in England preparing for D Day with B Squadron. At the end of May he and his co-pilot were among ten crews suddenly diverted to form ‘X’ Flight of C Squadron. They were told very little about what would be expected of them, but were flying up to 6 hours a day in Waco gliders.

On 4th August the crews were told that they would be flying French special forces soldiers and their equipment into southern Brittany to cause disruption behind German lines. The gliders were joined by an escort of 32 Spitfires when they reached the Channel Islands. As they approached the coast of Brittany the French soldiers started to cheer as their homeland came into sight. When they dropped their altitude to 200 feet to avoid being detected by German radar Denis was relieved by the absence of any hostile activity. The local Maquis were waiting to greet them when they landed. (The Maquis were part of the French Resistance Movement.)

The glider crews were driven to the coast and sheltered by the Maquis for the next few weeks. One day a member of the regional Gestapo, who was said to be responsible for local atrocities, was brought in and tortured by the French. Another day, two women who had fraternised with the Germans were brought in and their heads were shaved. The glider pilots were asked to guard them.

An SOE operative who was camped nearby with a radio transmitter told the pilots that the Germans were offering a reward of 20,000 francs for their capture. When the Americans reached the nearby town of Auray, the pilots linked up with them. Denis and his companions were debriefed, introduced to the US General George Patton and then flown back to England in a Dakota.

Operation Market Garden – Arnhem -17/19th September 1944

The day before the Operation, Denis and his second pilot volunteered to fly to RAF Harwell to collect a Waco glider. They were intending to return to RAF Manston straight away but had to stay the night as the US engineers needed to complete a repair on the glider. The next morning, after an hour and a quarter flight, they returned to Manston and could see all the towing aircraft and gliders lined up on the runway, ready for take-off. As soon as they landed the Waco, they were towed into  position by a jeep. Most of the crews were flying to Arnhem but Denis was told that he was going Nijmegen (11 miles south of Arnhem). When he asked where it was, he was told to ‘just follow the others!’ When he landed he spent his time with the US 82nd Airborne, until XXX Corps reached the area.

Operation Varsity – Wesel – 24th March 1945

After returning to England Denis completed a conversion course enabling him to fly the Hamilcar: this was a glider designed to carry heavy cargo. On 24th March Denis and his second pilot, Sergeant Ray Jenkins, transported a Bren Gun Carrier, weighing around 4 tons, and its 4 crew. As the glider came in to land they hit some power cables, lost the undercarriage, hit a ditch and slid to a halt. A bullet had gone through the cockpit and taken off the end of the second pilot’s cigarette, but aside from that no one was hurt. Denis and Ray had to make their own way to a nearby HQ. On their journey they  dodged wicker baskets being dropped from US planes and saw one of the planes shot down. They also saw American paratroopers hanging from nearby buildings by their snagged parachute harnesses. They had been killed as they dropped. Denis and Ray dug a narrow trench and decided to take it in turns to sleep, while the other kept watch. They both ended up falling asleep. They were woken up the following morning by the sound of another soldier being removed from a nearby trench – he had been killed in the night when a German patrol stumbled on his position.

Out of 1,300 Glider Regiment pilots – 229 were killed and  500 were taken prisoner during the Second World War.     

Denis was one of fewer than ten glider pilots who survived to fly four missions.

On the day Denis returned from Operation Varsity he met his future wife, Ruth, at a local dance; they were married for almost 60 years. After being demobbed in 1946 Denis took a job in an office. He found this very boring so he quit in order to join Gloucestershire Constabulary. Denis enjoyed this new line of work and was always seen as tough but fair. He served 30 years as a police officer.

Denis was very proud of being a member of the Glider Pilot Regiment and attended annual reunions whenever he could. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 86 years, having lived a truly extraordinary life.

Acknowledgements: this article came about through the reminiscences of 91 year old former Police Sergeant Ron Evans. Even though Ron only served with Sergeant Cason for a year at Thornbury, Denis made a big impression on him. With thanks to ‘Brotherhood of The Flying Coffin’ author Scott McGaugh for his quotation and to Archives Officer Sue Webb for connecting me with John Cason.

Main Sources

  1. Telephone conversations with John Cason and material provided by him relating to his father.
  2. Glider Pilot Regiment Society website
  3. You Tube: British Gaumont news clip of the training of glider pilots (1942)
  4. Quote from Scott McGaugh author of ‘Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin’



This page was added on 14/02/2024.

Comments about this page

  • A nice write up about one of the few GP’s to fly 4 operations

    By John Mail (14/02/2024)
  • Sgt. Denis Cason ‘C’ Sqn. Glider Pilot Regiment was one of the brave few chosen for an elite unit which was at the forefront of the liberation of Europe during WWII.

    By Rob Ponsford (14/02/2024)

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