D-Day 80th anniversary: Deputy Imam at Jamia Al-Saeed Mosque in Hanging Heaton shares memories of his grandfather - the first British-Indian soldier to parachute out of a C-47 aeroplane in the historic military operation

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It has been 80 years to the day after one of the biggest military operations of the Second World War was launched.

Operation Overlord came to be the name given to the Allied led attack aiming to free the continent of Europe from Nazi occupied control. The objective was to liberate western Europe and to eventually push Hitler's armies back into Germany.

Known famously as the D-Day landings, troops from all corners of the globe were involved in what turned out to be history's largest ever amphibious assault, starting on the beaches of Normandy in France. The date was June 6, 1944 - exactly 80 years ago on this day.

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An equally huge airborne operation was also launched, involving thousands upon thousands of brave young men parachuting themselves out of C-47 transport aircraft behind enemy lines. They were trained paratroopers ready to support the ground attack below on the Normandy beaches.

Pictured clockwise from the top left are 'Subedar' Sain Khan shortly before he died, Imam Hafiz Raza Mustafa holding one of his late grandfather's wartime medals, and a close up image of the medalPictured clockwise from the top left are 'Subedar' Sain Khan shortly before he died, Imam Hafiz Raza Mustafa holding one of his late grandfather's wartime medals, and a close up image of the medal
Pictured clockwise from the top left are 'Subedar' Sain Khan shortly before he died, Imam Hafiz Raza Mustafa holding one of his late grandfather's wartime medals, and a close up image of the medal

One amazing brave paratrooper taking part in those momentous D-Day landings was “Subedar” (Warrant Officer) Sain Khan, whose grandson, Hafiz Raza Mustafa, is the deputy Imam at the Jamia Al-Saeed Mosque on Bromley Street in Hanging Heaton.

Sephoy Sain Khan was one of more than two million men from the British-Indian Army who fought for our freedom during the Second World War. His contribution during the conflict was unique.

Sain Khan came with his battalion from the Indian Sub-Continent to England during the war years where he trained as a paratrooper before the D-Day landings.

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He was later assigned the important duty to act as an Urdu interpreter in the British-Indian Army - and to help train other Indian comrades to parachute out over the French countryside.

Speaking to the Reporter Series, Imam Hafiz Raza Mustafa said: “My grandfather sadly passed away in March 2015 at the age of 100. But he did tell me something interesting about his heroic story just before his death.

“My grandfather, Warrant Officer Sain Khan, was part of a large British-Indian airborne contingent trained to use their parachutes and to jump out over the designated drop-zone areas at Normandy.

“He was only given a few days’ training before the call came for everyone to secretly board their aircraft on the evening of June 5, 1944.

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“Like the other men with him, his heart was thumping as the Allied planes flew across the English Channel.

“My grandfather realised the paratroopers going to Normandy faced the possibility of death in many different ways from many different directions.

“The German anti-aircraft guns were firing intensely at the Allied aircraft. So, the risk of a paratrooper's body getting riddled with bullet holes was high after jumping out of his aeroplane. There was a strong chance of dying in agony even before reaching the actual ground.

“Death was also certain if your parachute ended up getting tangled in the branches of a tree, or if you were unlucky to fall on a field of deadly landmines, or if the parachute got stuck on the roof of a large public building. You were a sitting duck for the enemy in a situation like that with no hope of surviving.

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“But then, there was also the agonising fearful question of would the parachutes work and actually open in the first place?

“At first everyone in his regiment was feeling really nervous. The noise of anti-aircraft guns could be heard outside.

“But then my grandfather very bravely stood up, walked towards the opened aeroplane door, and simply jumped outside without thinking twice.

“My grandfather became the first British-Indian soldier to parachute out of a C-47 aeroplane on D-Day.

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“His brave actions boosted the other men's morale. Every single one of them jumped as soon as they saw my grandfather's courage.

“My grandfather never forgot what he witnessed over the next 24 hours.

“Death was everywhere as he saw explosions, machine gun fire, bombed out homes, snipers, as well as injured men with limbs torn out, not to forget corpses lying everywhere.

“He was however one of the fortunate ones who fought and survived the war and then lived long enough, years after the conflict had ended, to see three major D-Day anniversary commemorations.

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“My grandfather Warrant Officer Sain Khan's soul has now gone to a better place. But his wartime medals shall stay with my family as a cherished possession.”

Imam Hafiz Raza Mustafa added: “It is very sad people do not learn any lessons during wartime.

“The Second World War could have been a conflict that should have ended any future wars. What the politicians quickly forget is how innocent civilians and children suffer when the fighting breaks out.

“My late grandfather fought at Normandy to help create a much better world. Now has to be the time to work towards peace in places like Ukraine and in Gaza, and to honour the legacy of that forgotten wartime generation of British-Indian Army personnel.”

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The British-Indian Army was the largest volunteer force ever to be recruited in British military history.

More than a million men from the rural villages of Punjab, Kashmir and from the North-Western Frontier Province of what was then the country known as British-India fought for Britain during the First World War.

Another two million British-Indian soldiers fought during the Second World War in places such as Normandy as well as in North Africa, and against the fierce Imperial Japanese Army in the tropical jungles of South-East Asia.

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