Tuesday 23 January 2018

D-Day hero reunited with medals

D-Day veteran Colonel Alex Johnson and Pc Chris Cooke holding the veteran's medals that have been returned to him after two years (Northumbria Police/PA)
D-Day veteran Colonel Alex Johnson and Pc Chris Cooke holding the veteran's medals that have been returned to him after two years (Northumbria Police/PA)

A Dunkirk and D-Day veteran whose medals were stolen in a break-in two years ago has been reunited with them after they were found hidden in a hedge.

A police officer said it was one of the moments of his career when he called on Colonel Alex Johnson, 93, from Rowlands Gill, Gateshead, with the good news.

The grandfather was burgled in February 2012 and lost 12 Second World War medals and his MBE.

Despite extensive inquiries by police, the medals were never recovered by the hero who once escaped from capture by overpowering his guards and swimming out to sea.

Last month, while they were cutting hedging at a nearby Tesco Metro shop, workmen found the treasured medals and contacted police.

Pcs Chris Cooke and Michael Shimmin matched the property to the crime list and were able to track down Col Johnson.

Pc Cooke said: "Reuniting Col Johnson with his medals is one of the most heart-warming moments I've had in my time as a police officer and I'll never forget the look on his face when they were handed back to him.

"The medals are a treasured memory of his time at war and we'll be forever grateful to those workmen for ensuring they called police as soon as they found the medals."

The medals include a 1939/45 star, France and Germany star, victory medal, Dunkirk medal and D-Day medal.

The medals were still in reasonable condition but Col Johnson has paid more than £1,000 to have the ribbons replaced.

Col Johnson was present at the Normandy landings and had been captured by German officers but overpowered the guards while being transported in a truck earlier in the war.

He eventually managed to get back to the coast, saving other injured people along the way, by using an English crashed truck that they found as well as other transport - including bikes.

Pc Cooke added: "Col Johnson attended the remembrance service in Ypres this year and has been going there every 10 years to remember his fallen comrades.

"He's a fascinating man with a great history and I was honoured to be able to hand his medals back to him.

"But it's absolutely beyond belief that anyone would steal something so precious from one of our war heroes in the first place, and this has resulted in him having to spend a large amount of money having the damaged ribbons replaced."

He was just 19 when he joined up and was captured not long into his service. But he and a friend managed to escape when his friend offered an enemy soldier a cigarette and they knocked him out of the vehicle.

They made their way back to Dunkirk beaches and swam out to sea before they were picked up by one of the boats in the armada.

Back in France after the war was won, he played in a friendly football match for the Royal Engineers and scored the winner in a 2-1 win over the French.

Press Association

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