Remembrance Day: D-Day veteran had to ‘learn how to be’ a civilian again

D-Day veteran John Jeffrey in his soldier days

D-Day veteran John Jeffrey in his soldier days - Credit: Archant

As a soldier fighting on Juno beach during the D-Day landings, John Jeffrey did his bit for his country.

D-Day veteran John Jeffrey in his soldier days

D-Day veteran John Jeffrey in his soldier days - Credit: Archant

But he got more than he bargained for in France, when one day he was called to help a woman giving birth – who said she would call her son Johann after him.

Some memories are now fading for 93-year-old John, but he remains proud of a service career which has seen him receive medals such as the 1935-45 Star and the France and Germany Star.

The Hornchurch resident, born in 1921, joined the Army in April 1941. He served all over Britain and was mainly involved in anti-aircraft duties to protect the country from attack.

He said: “We were mobile – if you stay in one place too long the enemy aircraft get to know where you are.

D-Day veteran John Jeffrey in his soldier days

D-Day veteran John Jeffrey in his soldier days - Credit: Archant

“We started preparations three years before D-Day. We did extensive assault courses and two men died – one drowned and the other was accidentally wounded.

“You had to carry all your gear on your back, which was 55 pounds.”

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John landed on Juno beach in June 1944 with his comrades in the 21st Army Group.

He returned to that very spot in 2004 to receive a Normandy medal, accompanied by friend Alan Taylor, the verger at St Andrew’s Church, Hornchurch.

In the Recorder’s October 1 2004 edition, Alan, now 76, said: “He recounted to me his memories of wading through the water and running up the beach on the soft sand, using the beach obstacles as cover so he could get to the sand dunes, which afforded even more cover and which he said saved so many lives.”

The veteran is a member of the Hornchurch Royal British Legion, which has kicked off its fundraising for this year’s Poppy Appeal.

President Dave King, who has been in the role for 20 years, said: “The appeal is going very well. People are very generous this year and they are proud to wear their poppies.

“The appeal supports seven residential care homes caring for more than 450 ex-servicemen, three convalescent homes and a recovery centre in Colchester, funded by the Legion and Help for Heroes.”

The branch, in High Street, collects approximately £55,000 a year.

Dave, 85, who has been a legion member for 40 years, has raised more than £600,000 for the Poppy Appeal in the town since taking charge of fundraising in 1993.

The veteran was conscripted to the Army in 1947 and served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

He then became a committee member of the Hornchurch Legion in 1992, when he retired, and was made an honorary freeman of Havering in 2012.

For John, the appeal is a time to reflect on his own career. He attended a “wonderful” service last month at St Margaret’s Church, next to Westminster Abbey, to mark 70 years since D-Day.

But he is disappointed to have not yet received his Legion d’Honneur medal, offered by the French government to all who were involved in the landings.

John said: “We are all at least 88 now as you had to be 18 to sign up. If they wait much longer we won’t be here – they won’t be able to give them to anybody.”

John was in Munster, Germany, when the war ended and he remained in the Army until January 1946.

He said: “We had to be people again – we had to learn how to be civilians.”