War veteran shows freedom of the heart
Pensioner makes great escape to join his comrades at D-Day event
IT was the story that knocked the speeches of world leaders and royalty off the front pages this weekend: the Second World War veteran who refused to miss the D-Day commemorations and staged a "great escape" from his care home to join his compatriots on the beaches of Normandy.
Yesterday, Bernard Jordan returned, not to the telling-off he feared, but to a hero's welcome and a cup of tea at The Pines nursing home in Hove, East Sussex, south-east England, after his jaunt across the channel, which led to a police search for him.
"I had a good time, every minute of it. I'm pleased I did it. I'd do it again tomorrow," he said as he disembarked from an overnight ferry at Portsmouth.
Enjoying his tea in the sitting room yesterday and reunited with his wife Irene, the former mayor and long-serving town councillor had a fine view of the media scrum outside the front gates and of the staff answering the stream of phone calls from wellwishers.
"He's really tired out and just putting his feet up. He's had quite an adventure, bless him," said a Pines carer.
"He's pleased to be back, and we're pleased to see him."
Staff had tried, and failed, to get Jordan a place on a Royal British Legion trip to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings – he took part in Operation Overlord as a Royal Navy officer.
So on Thursday morning, wearing a grey raincoat to hide the medals pinned to his best suit, he slipped out of the home, headed for Brighton station and caught a train to Portsmouth.
On the dockside he found a party of veterans and hitched a ride on a ferry. By the time staff called Sussex police over their missing resident, Jordan had checked into a hotel in Ouistreham. Officers had started a search before the home received a call from another veteran who had met Jordan en route and reported him safe and well. Sussex police said they had spoken to the old serviceman and would have a chat with him "to check he is OK".
Next week marks Jordan's 90th birthday, but he intends to be back in Normandy for 6 June 2015. A lifelong Hove resident and keen Brighton and Hove Albion FC fan, he spent much of his adult life in local politics, serving as mayor from 1995 to 1996 and causing a stir in 2001 when he switched allegiance from the Conservatives to Labour. He said that his wife knew about his trip and supported him.
Steve Tuckwell, of Brittany Ferries, said Mr Jordan enjoyed a fried breakfast during the seven-hour crossing. "He's a tremendous fellow, we loved having him on board.
"He was picked up by one of our staff who found him wandering around, she took him under her wing, took him up to the bridge and treated him royally, and he won the hearts of the crew.
"We adopted him as an honorary veteran and we will give him free travel to the Normandy beaches for the rest of his life. He's a lovely, lovely guy: when he came off, the crew all clapped him."
He said that Jordan met a group of singers called the Candy Girls during the crossing and added: "He's got a lot of charm with the ladies, but I understand he has a wife."
Jordan's niece, Susan Knowles, told Sky News that her uncle had a history of not letting his age get in the way of his travels. "Last time I saw him was at a family funeral that he made his way down to, and we were all quite amazed that he'd made his way to Bournemouth."
The home said it was "definitely not the case" that the veteran was banned from attending the D-Day events. Peter Curtis, chief executive of Gracewell Healthcare, which runs The Pines, said: "Mr Jordan has full capacity, which means that he can come and go from the home as he pleases, which he does on most days."