WWII hero Jack celebrates 100th birthday

A Kerryman who survived the horrors of World War II, including the Blitz and landing in the Normandy beaches to play his part in the Liberation of France, is this week reflecting on his life as he celebrates his 100th birthday with his family in County Cork.

Jack Mahony, originally from Laharn near Faha but resident for the past 40 years or so at Ballintotis near Midleton in east Cork, was joined on Tuesday by his son, Gerald, and other family members as he celebrated the special day.

"Dad has had an amazing life - he was always very supportive and we all love him very much. We are very proud of him and hope for the best for the future," said Gerald as he prepared to celebrate his father's birthday at Leamlara Care Centre in east Cork, where Mr Mahony is being cared for.

According to Gerald, his father was delighted to receive a letter from President Michael D Higgins on Tuesday morning, wishing him well on his birthday along with the Centenarian's Bounty which the president gives to every citizen who reaches 100.

Born on 3 April, 1918, Jack grew up on a small dairy farm at Laharn, but with seven children in the family, it was difficult for all of them to make a living from farming and, in early 1936, at the age of 17, he caught a train from Killarney to Cork and on to Rosslare to catch a ferry to Wales.

Like generations of Irish before him, Jack made his way to London where he worked for a few years for a firm which did contract work at the Guinness Brewery at Park Royal, but in 1938, he joined the London Metropolitan Police and was with the force when war broke out in September 1939.

At the time, those serving with the LMP were exempted from conscription but that changed in 1942 - shortly after he and his wife, Mary, had their first child, Gerald - and Jack was given the option of returning to Ireland with his family or staying in the UK and being conscripted.

Jack sent Mary and Gerald back to Mary's family in Galway after their home in Leyton was bombed during the Blitz but he decided to sign up as he felt that something had to be done to stop the Nazis who had no compunction about bombing and killing civilians in London.

'I think there was a need to do what we could, because they bombed my own bloody flat...They were hitting me in my own house... I was aware of the risks but thousands of others had done the same...it appeared the right thing to do...I had no bones about that.'

'I could see the picture of what was almost certain to happen...it was something that I had to do...lots of people, lots of my friends volunteered...a lot of people went off to the Air Forces especially...(the Blitz) turned more people against Hitler than ever," he told TDC historian, Dr Joseph Quinn.

Jack trained in Yorkshire before being sent to the Royal Armoured Corps where he trained as a tank driver before being assigned to an airborne unit but when he saw the flimsiness of the gliders in which they would be sent, he asked for a transfer. He was sent to a holding unit in the south of England to replace those injured or killed in the D-Day landings and a few days after D-day he was sent over to Normandy where he met a Scottish friend from the LMP on the beaches and was assigned to serve with the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders.

Landing on Gold Beach on June 6th 1944, Jack fought with the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders as they liberated Caen and fought their way up into Belgium and Holland where just outside the city of Venlo. He was captured by the Germans in late autumn 1944 and ended up in a POW camp.

Freed from Luckenwald POW Camp near Berlin when it was liberated by Soviet soldiers in 1945, Jack, who had been twice wounded in Normandy, escaped with a number of other inmates and managed to make their way by bike to the Elbe where they met up with US troops.

"When we saw the American soldiers (on the other side of the Elbe), we knew we were safe," said Jack as he recalled how, after demobilisation back in the UK, he rejoined the LMP with whom he had a distinguished career as a detective in the Flying Squad until his retirement in the 1973.

Honoured in 2015 by France when First Counsellor from the French Embassy, Phillipe Ray presented him with the Legion d'Honneur for his role in the Liberation of France, Jack sat proudly, flanked by his family, as Mr Ray praised him for his courage and bravery.

"Your story, Jack is a testimony to the courage of all men and women who refuse to give up and who uphold the principles they live by...in honouring you, we honour the bravery of all Irish men and women who have stood for liberty, equality and fraternity alongside France and continue to do so."