A well-respected member of the military community, James Johnston’s last act was to visit Sunderland’s Brothers in Arms Memorial Wall to pay his respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
On his way home to Amble earlier this month, the 96-year-old great-grandfather was killed along with Pearl Smith, 96, of Wooler, in a crash on the A697 in Northumberland.
During his time serving as a Paratrooper with 22nd Independent Company the Parachute Regiment, as a Pathfinder paving the way for subsequent waves of allied troops, he played a vital role in the D-Day landings.
Now delegations from Parachute Regiment Associations around the region will join a piper, bugler and a cortege of military vehicles for Mr Johnston’s funeral, which will take place at 11.30am on Wednesday, October 30 at Sacred Heart Church in Amble.
His daughter, Barbara Bugg, 70, says it will be a fitting tribute.
“Once they found out about dad’s death the Parachute Regiment Associations and other military have wrapped their arms around me,” she explained. “They have really rallied around and it’s been a great comfort. Serving is something that never leaves them.”
As well as the military community paying their respects at the funeral, Sunderland’s Veterans’ Walk, next to the Memorial Wall in Mowbray Park, will honour Mr Johnston with a granite stone which will be added to the path in late November.
Founders of the Walk, Rob Deverson and Tom Cuthbertson, a former Paratrooper whose son Nathan was killed while serving in Afghanistan, have gifted the stone to the family.
Rob said: “Tom and I were devastated to hear of a brave D-Day veteran’s recent passing. We felt it was appropriate to recognise all he had achieved in respect to his great service and offered to lay a stone from charitable donations in his memory alongside his great friend from that time Terry Phillips who now lives in Devon.” A stone is also being laid in honour of fellow crash victim Pearl Smith who had served in the WAF.
Known affectionately as Johnny, a young James, who was born in Berwick, had enlisted as a piper in the Cameron Highlanders when he was just 14, before becoming a career soldier and volunteering as a Para with 22nd Independent Company, who were attached to 6th Airborne. He remained serving his country until 1959 when his strong sense of discipline led to him becoming an officer of what is now the MOD Police.
Like all whose lives were touched by WWII, those years stayed with him and he would travel to Normandy for anniversary milestones of the historic D-Day landings.
Barbara said: “For many years, like a lot of men, dad didn’t talk about the war. As a Pathfinder, his role was to jump first and he always used to say how dark it was. He would visit Normandy for significant anniversaries wearing the tartan trousers of the Cameron Highlanders and he became known for that. People would look out for him and his tartan trousers.”
Johnny’s indomitable spirit stayed with him, even after retirement, and as he approached 60 he took up marathon running, taking part in races all over the world.
His daughter explained: “He’d always run for the Army and been involved in fitness. He was very disciplined and needed that structure, so would do four / five marathons a year.” As well as Barbara, Johnny leaves grandchildren Rebecca, 43, and Christopher, 46, and great grandson Oisin, eight.
A well-known local character, many readers took to social media after Johnny’s death to pay their respects.
Lee Johnson, posting on Facebook, wrote: “Such sad news. Johnny (James) was a true gentleman and it was a pleasure and an honour to have known him.”
:: All are welcome to Johnny’s funeral at Sacred Heart Church, Amble, at 11.30am on Wednesday, October 30.
:: The crash happened on the A697 near New Moor House crossroads near Edlingham, Northumberland, around 3pm on Friday, October 4. Any witnesses are asked to call police on 101 quoting log 650 04/10/19 or report it online at the Northumbria Police website.