A new photographic exhibition is set to honour veterans of the 6th Airborne Division of the British Army during the Second World War.
First in, Last Out – The last men of the 6th Airborne Division opens at the Duxford branch of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) shortly before the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June.
Formed in April 1943, the 6th Airborne Division took part in the Normandy Landings the following year, remaining in the line until the breakout to the Seine in late August 1944. During this time, casualties amounted to one in five men.
The division was later reformed and deployed in the Ardennes as part of the Battle of the Bulge, the failed German counter-offensive against the Allied onslaught in the winter of 1944-1945. It saw further action in the Rhine region and the Baltic in the last spring of the war, before being dispatched to Palestine on internal security duties until the end of the British mandate there in 1948. The unit was disbanded the same year.
Opening on 20 May and running until November 2022, the new exhibition honours members of the division with portraits of 17 veterans in their homes as they reflect on their wartime service and experiences.
The project was conceived by London-based actor-photographer Robin Savage and the Airborne Assault Museum. The museum is co-located at IWM Duxford and traces the history of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces from its inception to the present day.
Commenting on the opening, Savage said: ‘I had the great privilege to spend time with the veterans, photographing them as they shared remarkable stories and personal memories. I want to ensure these people, who all volunteered to brave the most extreme dangers of the war, are never forgotten.’
‘This exhibition is all the more significant, I believe, as it may well be our very last chance to honour wartime Airborne veterans while they are still with us,’ Savage added. ‘It is a thank you for the immeasurable cost and sacrifice paid by these great men, the likes of which we will never see again.’
Jon Baker, curator of Airborne Assault, IWM Duxford said: ‘It’s a pleasure to be working alongside Robin once again. We collaborated back in 2014 on an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. This new exhibition will now see us commemorate the last of the airborne veterans from their consequent operations liberating Europe’.
Along with the portraits, interviews with each of the veterans have been filmed. These will be shared as a documentary at the Airborne Assault Museum in 2024, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
IWM Duxford is Europe’s largest air museum, with a history that dates back to the First World War. More information about the museum and the exhibition, including dates and admission times, are available on its website.