D-Day 75: Portsmouth honours heroism of schoolboy soldier who was the youngest paratrooper killed after D-Day

TRIBUTES have been paid to a heroic schoolboy who died fighting to free Europe from Nazi tyranny.

By tom.cotterill1
Saturday, 18th May 2019, 1:29 pm
Updated Monday, 20th May 2019, 2:32 pm
Robert "Bobby" Johns was only 14 when he signed up to join the army. He died just days before his 17th birthday in France.
Robert "Bobby" Johns was only 14 when he signed up to join the army. He died just days before his 17th birthday in France.

Private Robert ‘Bobby’ Johns was the youngest British paratrooper to take part in D-Day during the invasion of France on June 6, 1944.

He was only 14 when he ran away from home and lied about his age to follow his two older brothers in the war effort.

When his horrified parents William and Daisy Johns found out he had parachuted into Normandy with the 6th Airborne Division, they launched a frantic search for him.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Councillor Steve Pitt, deputy leader of Portsmouth City Council with city historian James Daly Picture: Malcolm Wells (190517-9932)

But the under-age soldier was shot dead by a German sniper close to Le Mesnil crossroads Normandy on July 23, 1944 - two days before his 17th birthday.

Now a plaque has been fitted outside 129 Jervis Road, Stamshaw – his former home – to immortalise his courage.

Bobby’s nephew, Bob – who was named after his uncle – was among the teenage soldier’s family to witness the moment yesterday.

The 59-year-old, formerly of Pitcroft Road, North End, but who now lives in Kent, said: ‘This is a very moving tribute that Portsmouth have made to a young man who not only gave his life for this country but died so young.’

Nieces and Nephews of the late Private Robert 'Bobby' Johns - (left to right) Jenny Ward, Sue Coussy, Bob 'Bobby' Johns and Joffrey Storie Picture: Malcolm Wells (190517-9913)

Bobby’s plaque is one of 119 that will be fitted in streets across Portsmouth to honour the men from the city killed between June 6, 1944 and August 31, 1944 – the invasion of Normandy.

The move echoes a similar tribute by Portsmouth City Council last year to commemorate men killed during the First World War.

Mr Johns, who followed in his heroic relative’s footsteps by joining the army, serving for 30 years as a combat medic and nurse – 15 in the Parachute Regiment – said his uncle was an inspiration.

‘He dropped in by parachute in the dead of night with anti-aircraft fire going off all around him and then fought through most of the battle of Normandy,’ he said. ‘As it says on Bobby’s gravestone, he lived as he died: fearlessly.’

'Bobby' Bob Johns who was named after his uncle Private Robert Johns Picture: Malcolm Wells (190517-9928)

Councillor Steve Pitt, deputy leader of the city council, fitted Bobby’s sign in Jervis Road.

He said: ‘When you think of a picture of D-Day you see thousands of faceless people landing on those beaches.

‘This is now about giving individual human stories to those people who had family and friends they were leaving behind, many of whom didn’t return.

‘This is not about glorifying war. This is about commemoration and about remembering soberly that people made the ultimate sacrifice for the rights and benefits that we have got in this country today.’

Watching the ceremony were surviving members of Bobby’s family, which included his nieces and nephews, Sue Coussy,Jenny Ward, Joffrey Storie and Mr Johns.

Mrs Coussy, 67, of Wareham, Dorset, said: ‘I’m thrilled that they have decided to honour Bobby like. I still find it unbelievable that someone so young had gone over to France and risked his life at such a young age.’

Cllr Pitt added he was astounded by the bravery of soldiers like Bobby and said: ‘These days we don’t allow people to leave education until they’re 18 and these guys were out there giving their lives for this country. This something that’s difficult to get your head around.’

Portsmouth was one of the main embarkation point for troops taking part in the invasion of Normandy.

In all, about 154,000 Allied soldiers took part in the operation. The war ended 11 months after the invasion.

To see where all the city’s D-Day plaques are, or to find out more about the men they are in honour of, visit portsmouth.gov.uk/ext/your-council/your-city/d-day-75/d-day-plaques