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Ian Kerr-Bonner to take helicopter flight to comrade Des Page's funeral in Maidstone

A Second World War glider pilot will take to the air once more tomorrow as he flies into Maidstone for the funeral of his friend and comrade of more than seven decades.

Arnhem veteran Des Page died last month following an incredible life and career which saw him become a fully operational glider pilot two months before D-Day.

Just six months later, he was landing and coming under enemy fire immediately, before eventually avoiding capture by swimming across the Rhine in a fur coat, that he later had dry-cleaned and returned to its original owner.

Ian Kerr-Bonner will be flown into Maidstone in a Gazelle Squadron helicopter
Ian Kerr-Bonner will be flown into Maidstone in a Gazelle Squadron helicopter

Following retirement, he remained in contact with fellow pilot Ian Kerr-Bonner, 94 - a long-term friend he spoke to for the last time in a phone call just hours before his death on May 15.

The pair made a pledge to attend the other's funeral, but, living in Pembrokeshire with two broken hips had made the prospect of a journey to Maidstone extremely unlikely for Mr Kerr-Bonner.

However, a frantic community effort has resulted in an arrangement to see the veteran flown into Kent in a helicopter so he can say goodbye in person.

Ian Kerr-Bonner, 94, is flying in to Maidstone for the funeral of Des Page
Ian Kerr-Bonner, 94, is flying in to Maidstone for the funeral of Des Page

Members of the Gazelle Squadron, a charity which uses historic aircraft to raise money for good causes at air shows, will collect Mr Kerr-Bonner almost from his doorstep in one of its ex-forces helicopters on Friday morning, before flying to the Vinters Park Crematorium for the funeral in the afternoon.

"We were friends for 74 years and although it's a long way to come, I thought I must make the effort," he said.

"We shared a lot of memories, some of which can't be repeated.

Arnhem veteran Des Page from East Farleigh. Picture: Matt Alexander at PA
Arnhem veteran Des Page from East Farleigh. Picture: Matt Alexander at PA

"They were trying to work out how to get me there because we thought a five-and-a-half hour drive would just be too much.

"Word spread locally about my friendship with Des and I think it touched people because there's not many of us left.

"It's rather fitting to be travelling through the air to get there."

Second World War pilot Des Page (front) from East Farleigh learning to fly in a Tiger Moth
Second World War pilot Des Page (front) from East Farleigh learning to fly in a Tiger Moth

Mr Kerr-Bonner's daughter, Fiona Elliot, has helped look after both friends in recent years and recalls the emotional final phone call between them.

"They spoke and it was as if they were 25 again," she said.

"It is a bit of a swansong, but they were friends for so many years - who are we to deny them that?"

Anyone who knew Mr Page is more than welcome to attend his funeral at 1.15pm at Vinters Park Crematorium in Bearsted Road, Maidstone tomorrow (Friday).

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