D-Day anniversary: Portsmouth D-Day veteran John Jenkins takes centre stage in front of world leaders

STANDING on stage in front of collected world leaders, D-Day veteran John Jenkins earned a standing ovation after he spoke the plain truth of war and said: 'I was terrified.'

By Ben Fishwick
Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 4:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 6:27 pm
Portsmouth veteran John Jenkins receives a standing ovation Picture: Chris Moorhouse           (050619-43)
Portsmouth veteran John Jenkins receives a standing ovation Picture: Chris Moorhouse (050619-43)

As the 99-year-old walked on to applause at the D-Day 75 commemorations at Southsea Common, assisted by an RAF officer, the crowd collectively rose to their feet in respect.

Mixed ranks from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force stood among the crowd as US president Donald Trump, prime minister Theresa May, French president Emmanuel Macron, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and German chancellor Angela Merkel all watched from the Royal box while the D-Day platoon sergeant addressed the crowd.

Just as the the eyes of the world looked to Britain and its allies to liberate France - worldwide attention was once again focussed on Portsmouth - a major D-day embarkation site.

Portsmouth veteran John Jenkins receives a standing ovation Picture: Chris Moorhouse (050619-43)

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And today for just more than a minute Mr Jenkins took the limelight on television screens across the globe.

In a momentary slip Mr Jenkins told crowds he was '12 years old when I landed,' prompting an affectionate laugh as he added: 'I put my age back a bit.' He was 23. 

Mr Jenkins, from Eastern Road in Portsmouth and one of the 300 Operation Overlord veterans at the ceremony today, walked on as the Pipes and Drums Band from 4 Scots, The Highlanders, finished their performance of Highland Laddie.

Portsmouth D-Day veteran John Jenkins, 99, during the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

If he started with a laugh he ended with a standing ovation having brought home the 'courage and sacrifice' of the Normandy Landings veterans who, against all odds, landed in France on June 6, 1944, turning the tide of the Second World War.

The D-Day Story volunteer and Fratton Park steward's address came just before the Queen spoke from the Royal box, where she was sitting alongside Mr Trump to her left, and Mrs May close to her right.

Before the ceremony Mr Jenkins told The News he was 'overwhelmed' but was delighted with the 'marvellous' commemorations.

Portsmouth D-Day veteran John Jenkins, 99, during the commemorations for the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings at Southsea Common in Portsmouth Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Dressed in bright pink the Queen told the gathered guests and world leaders she was 'delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today' - prompting a cheer from the crowd outside watching the ceremony on screens.

She said: ‘When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings some thought it might be the last such event.

‘But the wartime generation, my generation, is resilient and I’m delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today.

‘Seventy-five years ago hundreds of thousands of young soldiers, sailors and airmen left these shores in the cause of freedom.

Theresa May reads a poignant letter during D-Day 75 ceremony Picture: Chris Moorhouse

'In a broadcast to the nation at that time, my Father, King George VI, said: "What is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance; we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve".

'That's exactly what those brave men brought to the battle as the future of the war depended on their success.

'Many of them would never return, and the heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten.

'It's with humility and pleasure on behalf of the entire country, indeed the whole free world, that I say to you all: thank you.'

Earlier in what appeared to be an unscripted moment, French president Emmanuel Macron, who read in his native language the final letter of executed 16-year-old resistance fighter Henri Fertet, told guests in English: 'Let me first thank you sincerely on behalf of my nation.'

Again applause broke out from outside the ceremony as members of the public cheered in Southsea Common.

D-Day 75 ceremony in Portsmouth Picture: Chris Moorhouse

US president Donald Trump read from Franklin D. Roosevelt's D-Day prayer - read first to the American nation over the radio waves in June 1944.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau read the Victoria Cross citation of Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt - the first Canadian to be given the honour.

And prime minister Theresa May read a letter from Captain Norman Skinner from the Royal Army Service Corps.

He wrote 'I'm sure that I will be with you again soon and for good' - but as Mrs May finished reading she turned to the screen as a telegram appeared revealing he had been killed.

But not for a minute did the focus shift from veterans - despite the presence of foreign leaders, royalty - including Prince Charles - and political leaders including defence secretary Penny Mordaunt, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon.

From the moment 10 D-Day veterans walked on the stage to applause, just seconds after the Queen took her position in the Royal box, to screenings of pre-recorded interviews with veterans Bert Edwards, Bob Roberts and Eugene Deibler, this ceremony was about the sacrifices made by those serving the 14 nations involved in Operation Overlord.

Senior defence figures, among them chief of the defence staff General Sir Nick Carter and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, were also at Southsea Common.

All turned their gaze skywards when Portsmouth-based HMS St Albans fired a four-gun gun salute at 12.37pm off the coast of Southsea, marking the start of a flypast.

Led by iconic Spitfire craft the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight soared above the common - followed by other craft including the C-130 Hercules.

Each plane appeared to vanish behind the main stage, occupied by the 70-piece tri-service orchestra, with the Red Arrows finishing the flypast with red, white and blue smoke searing the sky - disappearing beyond the stage.

The D-Day 75 ceremony Picture: Chris Moorhouse
The Queen gives a speech to bring the D-Day ceremony to an end