Bernard Jordan: Hero's welcome for runaway D-Day veteran
Published 07/06/2014 | 18:29
It was the D-Day adventure that captured the imagination of all.
Determined to honour his comrades who fell in battle 70 years ago, Bernard Jordan slipped out of his care home and made his way to Northern France and the Normandy beaches where western Europe’s freedom was bought.
Yesterday the 89-year-old returned home to a hero’s welcome, exhausted by his trip, but proud of having fulfilled his promise.
“I’ve had a great time. I’m really pleased I did it,” he said. “All the men and the women who took part that day 70 years are heroes, especially the ones that never came home.”
Mr Jordan was greeted by cheering staff at the care home in Hove, where he lives with his wife Irene, after catching the overnight ferry back to Portsmouth from Ouistreham.
There his carers sang “For he’s a jolly good fellow”, as he gingerly made his way, from his taxi, tired but proud.
Once inside, recovering from his exertions with a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, he regaled them with tales of his great escape to the Normandy beaches.
As he did so new details emerged of his role during D-Day and the rest of Second World War.
As a 19-year-old junior officer in the Royal Navy Mr Jordan had been plunged into the thick of it on June 6, 1944.
His ship was one of a flotilla of 6,939 vessels assembled by commanders as part of the Allied plan to create a bridgehead to get thousands of troops and equipment into northern France, as the first step of pushing the Nazis all the way back to Berlin.
Men like Mr Jordan played a key role in that plan, providing covering fire for the thousands of troops and tanks wading ashore in the face a hail of machine gun and shell fire from the Germans dug into concrete bunkers on the cliffs above.
It was not his first taste of action. Mr Jordan had already taken part in the Battle of the Atlantic, which saw British ships engaged in a cat and mouse game with German U-boats in the struggle to keep vital supply routes from the United States.
He still talks of one of these encounters with pride.
Peter Curtice, the chief executive of Gracewell Healthcare, which runs The Pines, said: “On one occasion Bernie’s forced a U-boat submarine to the surface. He boarded it along with other men from his ship and captured one of the enigma coding machines the Germans were using.”
It is thought the capture of the machine by Mr Jordan and his comrades will have given the British vital information in helping to break the secret signal codes being used by the German fleet to communicate.
“We are all in awe of what men like Bernie did during the war for all our sakes,” added Mr Curtice.
Mr Jordan also served in the Italian campaign, which saw British naval ships transporting and supplying the troops fighting their way up the spine of the Peninsula, as part of the Allied effort to drive the Nazis out of occupied Europe.
Mr Jordan’s record is displayed proudly on his chest, the medals he was awarded - the Atlantic Star, the Italy Star, the 1939-45 Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal - telling the story of the quiet heroism displayed by him and thousands of other ordinary men like him.
Richard Black, owner of the London Medal Company, said: “This is a lovely set of medals, indicative of a long and varied campaign of service, and it is obvious he wears them with great pride.”
In returning to the Normandy beaches to pay tribute to the comrades who never made it home, but who, in their selfless sacrifice, helped liberate Western Europe, Mr Jordan epitomised the indomitable spirit and sense of duty that made D-Day possible.
Because, in truth, his trip to take part in commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the invasion almost never happened.
Staff at the Pines had been unable to get him a place on one of the many Royal British Legion coaches heading for Normandy last week.
But Mr Jordan was not going to give up so easily.
Unbeknown to his carers he pinned his campaign medals to his blazer, put on his raincoat and made his own way to Portsmouth under his own steam, in the hope of finding a lift across the Channel. In so doing he sparked a police search, only called off when his whereabouts became known.
It emerged yesterday that in Portsmouth Mr Jordan had bumped into a group of fellow veterans, coincidentally from Brighton, who took him under their wing and accompanied him to the commemorative events, where a gathering of world leaders, including President Barack Obama, David Cameron, Vladimir Putin and Francoise Holland, the French President, paid tribute to the valour and heroism of those who fought and fell during the invasion.
Mr Jordan’ sense of public duty did not come to an end with the defeat of Hitler and the close of war in 1945.
He went on to serve as a local councillor for the Borough of Hove for 34 years, spending a term as Mayor between 1995 and 1996.
A longstanding Conservative - he described one of his proudest moments as meeting Margaret Thatcher - he surprised those who knew him when, impressed by Tony Blair, he crossed the floor of the council chamber in 2000 to join the Labour Party.
Welcoming Mr Jordan back to the care home yesterday was his wife Irene, the childhood sweetheart he had married on his return home in 1945.
Mr Jordan moved into The Pines in January to be closer to his wife, who is less mobile than him and was being cared for there.
Yesterday he said: “I want to thank everyone for their kind words and best wishes following my trip to Normandy. I never imagined it would cause such a stir. I’m delighted to be back home with my wife.”
Mr Jordan’s niece, Tricia Smith, said she was not in the least surprised by her uncle’s actions over the past few days.
“He probably thought it was his last chance and would not have wanted to miss out on the D-Day celebrations. He is good at getting things planned and is quite organised.”
As Mr Jordan rested after his adventure, Mrs Smith, 70, said: “He would have been in his element in Normandy with his fellow veterans, drinking beer and reminiscing about the D-Day landings.”
Setting off for Normandy last Thursday Mr Jordan, perhaps rather foolishly, neglected to tell Irene, 97, where he was going.
On being told by staff that he had made his way across the Channel, she said: “I’m not in the least bit surprised, but I shouldn’t worry. He’s been in worse scrapes than that.”