Who was D-Day hero John Jenkins and why was he such a legend in Portsmouth?

HE WAS the man who survived the carnage of D-Day and rose to become a ‘legend’ in Portsmouth.

Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 1:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 5:50 pm

But last night, inspirational Second World War veteran John Jenkins died, surrounded by his loving family at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham.

Now, The News chronicles his incredible life which this year saw him recounting his time on the beaches of Normandy to world leaders during the D-Day 75 commemorations in Southsea.

John was born on November 16, 1919 and grew up in Southsea’s Collingwood Road.

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John Jenkins, pictures earlier this year Picture: Habibur Rahman

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From a young age, John proved himself to be an adventurer, starting his global travels at the age of 14, when he set off on fortnightly cruises to the West Indies as a Cunard bellboy in 1933.

However, six years later Europe was plunged into chaos as Adolf Hitler launched his murderous bid to create a new Germany, sparking the Second World War.

John had attempted to join the Royal Navy but was turned down because of his eyesight. He later went on to join the Hampshire Regiment in the army in 1940 before moving to the Pioneer Corps, which he served as a Platoon Sergeant in the war.

This year, his granddaughter, Alison Baynes, said John had also been involved in a secret mission to carry out a reconnaissance trip to the Normandy beaches ahead of the landings to take sand samples to select the appropriate landing sites.

She said: ‘He was told to keep it a secret so he hadn't told anyone about it, not even his wife.’

John landed on Gold Beach on June 6, 1944 in the opening wave of the invasion of Normandy.

He later fought through the rest of Europe and was just outside Bremen in Germany when the Nazi regime surrendered.

John’s heroics on the beaches of Normandy would see him being awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military honour for valour.

After the war, John went on to become a trolley bus driver before working as a crane operator at Portsmouth Naval Base.

He also continued his military service in the Territorial Army – he was later awarded an MBE by the Queen for his role as Company Sergeant Major.

A life-long football fan, John took up a role at his beloved Portsmouth Football Club, working as a boardroom steward.

In 2012, John carried the Olympic torch and in 2015 he became the oldest man to abseil down Spinnaker Tower, aged 95.

Dedicated volunteer John also spent decades speaking to thousands of visitors to the D-Day Museum and, when it was redesigned, the D-Day Story.

In 2016 John was awarded Portsmouth Volunteer of the Year and the National Museum and Heritage Volunteer of the Year in 2019.

He was married to Peggy and has one daughter, two granddaughters, five great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.