Portsmouth to honour city’s youngest D-Day soldier to be killed during the Second World War
SCRIBBLED on a tatty piece of creased paper, young paratrooper Robert ‘Bobby’ Johns tells his worried parents how he desperately longed to come home for his 17th birthday.
The brave young soldier had already fought through France and survived the bloody battle of D-Day; the Second World War was now reaching its final, murderous conclusion and less than a year from ending.
But tragically his hand-written letter to his mum and dad, Daisy and William, would be his last; Bobby would be dead 16 days later, shot by a German sniper, just two days before he turned 17.
The 16-year-old was the youngest soldier from Portsmouth to die after taking part in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Now, 75 years on from his sacrifice, his home city will be honouring his memory by installing a commemorative plaque in his birth street, Jervis Road, in Stamshaw.
The tribute is something that has touched his surviving family members. His niece, Jennifer Ward, said: ‘Bob’s family would have been so very proud to think that 75 years later, Portsmouth is paying tribute to those who died during Operation Overlord.
‘Having a plaque for Bob in Jervis Road is such a moving tribute to a young man who, as the inscription on his headstone says, “(He) lived as he died, fearlessly”.
‘My sister and I, along with my cousins will never forget the sacrifice that our young uncle made,
along with so many other brave men and women, we owe them so much.’
Bob was born on July 25, 1927. He was the third of four children.
Bobby’s two older brothers, William and Ron, were serving in the Royal Navy when war broke out.
Tragically, William was killed in July 1940 while serving as an engine room artificer on the submarine HMS Narwhal after it was bombed and sunk.
Ron, who was also an engine room artificer, was discharged by the navy after he was shot in the eye with an arrow by Bobby during a freak accident in 1939 while playing in the garden.
But inspired by his brothers’ military service, brave Bobby lied about his age and joined the army at 14.
He was sent to 2/4th Battalion of the South of Lancashire Regiment, which was later converted into a parachute battalion and became part of the Parachute Regiment.
He passed his gruelling jump course in January 1944 and was posted to 13th (2/4th South Lancashire) Battalion where he served with A Company.
He landed in France in the early hours of June 6 with the 6th British Airborne Division.
But unbeknownst to his fellow soldiers, Bobby was still underage and too young to fight.
Back home, his frantic parents had appealed to the War Office to bring him home and lodged an underage enlistment report.
An investigation was underway to find him but he was killed in action close to Le Mesnil crossroads.
At the time of his death, he had been located in France and the military police contacted his unit only to find out he had been killed just days before.
Weeks earlier, Bobby’s letter had arrived to his parents in which he hoped he would return home instead of staying in ‘this God-forgotten country’.
‘I always shed a tear reading this letter, to think that Bob’s young life was snuffed out soon after,’ said Jennifer.
Bob is buried in Ranville - the first French village liberated during D-Day.
Jennifer added her grandparents ‘never got over the loss of their two sons’ and that her granddad carried her uncle’s last letter in his wallet ‘until his dying day’.
Bob’s plaque will be fitted in Jervis Road at the beginning of May.