ALMOST 73 years ago, he set sail in the greatest invasion fleet ever seen.
Yesterday, John Jenkins was back by the sea again – but this time to meet friends rather than foes.
The 97-year-old former Royal Pioneer Corps sergeant major was guest of honour as a new D-Day pop-up museum opened at Portsmouth International Port.
John was assisted in ribbon-cutting duties by children from Solent Junior School – after enjoying chatting to the pupils about his experiences and answering their questions about the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
‘It was so good to meet them’ he said. ‘They asked a lot of great questions — the girls wanted to know what we had to eat over there, while the boys were more interested in how many men I had killed!
‘But they had a good knowledge of what we went through.
‘I told them that, in one word, it was terrifying and it is so important that, with so few of us left now, young people learn about and understand what we went through.’
The pop-up display, on the first floor of the main terminal of the port from where thousands of holidaymakers sail every year for France and other destinations, has been established using exhibits from the D-Day Museum at Southsea.
That is closed until March next year for a £5m renovation after receiving support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Felicity Wood, Portsmouth City Council’s public participation officer, said: ‘While the museum is closed it’s good to have the opportunity to keep the museum in the public eye by taking our displays out to places like the port.
Ferry port manager Kalvin Baugh said: ‘The necessary closure of the D-Day Museum will disappoint a lot of visitors to the city, so we have worked with the council to create this pop-up exhibition so people can pay tribute and show gratitude at this time of year.’
Plans for the transformation of the museum include a ‘legacy gallery’ to tell visitors the story of how the museum’s 83-metre Overlord Embroidery was made. The centrepiece embroidery display will be circled by an ‘interactive ribbon’ to provide information on the materials used to create it.
And more of D-Day’s impressive collection associated with the Second World War will also be used to tell the ‘D-Day story’ in a more imaginative way.
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s contribution comes after then chancellor George Osborne awarded the museum £600,000 from a Libor fund pot for military causes. The council has pledged £350,000, another £50,000 has come from the organisers of Victorious Festival and £16,000 has come from other donations.