Family of D-Day hero John Jenkins are blown away by Portsmouth farewell to 'iconic' veteran
EMOTIONAL relatives of D-Day hero John Jenkins admitted they were ‘blown away’ by the ‘love’ shown by Portsmouth at a service immortalising his ‘remarkable’ life.
About 200 people packed into Portsmouth Cathedral, in High Street, Old Portsmouth, during a memorial event honouring the 100-year-old veteran, who died in December.
City leaders, military personnel, friends and family travelled from across the UK to attend the commemoration, with some even making the trip across the Channel from France to say their farewell.
The turnout left John’s daughter, Diane Broome, overwhelmed with emotion. Speaking to The News after the one-hour service, the 79-year-old said: ‘I feel dazed. It’s wonderful to see all these people that loved him. It’s very emotional.’
Granddaughter Fiona Collins, 56, of Yorkshire, added: ‘We never knew so many people loved him. There are people here from little parts of his life. It’s amazing.’
The service was led by the Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Revd Dr Anthony Cane, who described John as one of the city’s greatest sons.
‘John was a truly remarkable man,’ he added. ‘He was a Portsmouth icon. He was a humble, unassuming man who showed just how remarkable an ordinary human life can be. He really was one of Portsmouth’s finest.’
Mr Jenkins died on December 17, weeks after celebrating his centenary.
Yesterday’s memorial service heard how the military hero served as a platoon sergeant during the Second World War.
Initially enlisting in the Royal Hampshire Regiment, Mr Jenkins later transferred to the Royal Pioneer Corps.
In 1944 he was one of a small group of men who landed on the Normandy beaches before the D-Day invasion to collect samples of sand to establish whether they were strong enough to take the weight of the vehicles and to assess the enemy’s shoreline defences.
Mr Jenkins landed on Gold Beach during the raid of Normandy and moved ammunition from the beach to the front.
He was later awarded France’s highest medal for valour, the Legion d’Honneur in recognition of his heroism.
Mr Jenkins’s granddaughter Alison Baynes, 52, said the horrors John experienced on the beaches of Normandy and fighting through Europe inspired him to show love to everyone he met.
‘He didn’t want to make any enemies,’ she said ‘He hated division. That probably had something to do with the war.’
Family and friends spoke of John’s life, describing him as a ‘humble, loyal gentleman’.
Members of the D-Day Story museum, where John had volunteered since 2005, united in grief at the loss of an ‘inspirational character’.
Felicity Wood, public participation officer at the Southsea heritage attraction, told the congregation how Mr Jenkins had brought the story of the D-Day invasion to life for ‘thousands of visitors’.
She added: ‘It’s very hard going to the museum and expecting to see him. He came regularly right up until the time that he passed away which was such an achievement for someone of his age.
‘It’s so very sad that we no longer have him.
‘He was incredibly modest about what he did during the war but he will always be a hero to us.’
In June, Mr Jenkins earned a standing ovation from world leaders and royalty during his appearance at the D-Day commemorations in Southsea marking the 75th anniversary of the invasion.
Speaking at the time, the former soldier said: ‘I was terrified – I think everyone was. You don't show it, but it's there.
‘I was a small part in a very big machine. You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together.
‘It's right that the courage and sacrifice of so many is being honoured 75 years later. We must never forget.’
Former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt said Mr Jenkins’ heroism was inspirational.
‘He was for many in the city a link to that generation who gave so much for our future,’ the Portsmouth North MP told The News.
‘He was so involved in every aspect of what this city stood for and is known for.’
Prayers and tributes to Mr Jenkins were read out during his memorial. His great granddaughter Louisa also sang a solo.
The Last Post was played by a military bugler, with a two-minute silence held in Mr Jenkins’ memory.
Spinnaker Tower was last night illuminated blue in honour of Mr Jenkins.