Wooler war veteran in France for D-Day anniversary
A Wooler war veteran has travelled to Normandy in France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
James (Johnny) Johnson, a resident at the Old Vicarage Residental Home, served in the 6th Para (Pathfinder) regiment.Now 95, he has made the lengthy trip alongside other ex-servicemen to remember the events of June 6, 1944.“Johnny was one of the first to drop into Normandy,” said his friend, Michael Scott, who has made the trip separately.During the Second World War, small groups of parachute soldiers were formed into pathfinder units, to parachute ahead of the main force.Their tasks were to mark the drop zones or landing zones, set up radio beacons as a guide for the aircraft carrying the main force and to clear and protect the area as the main force arrive.“He was involved in the operation to secure the Pegasus Bridge to stop the German tank invasion,” said Michael.The Pegasus Bridge crossed the Caen Canal, between Caen and Ouistreham, and holding it was a key factor in the opening minutes of the Allied invasion. The successful taking of the bridge played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the days and weeks following the Normandy invasion.At 12.16am on June 6, 1944, parachutists and gliders from the Airborne Division began to land. With perfect navigation and piloting skill, the gliders landed on time and on target. The bridge was captured after a fierce 10-minute fire fight, the action all over by 12.26am, a full six hours before the beach landings. In honour of the distinctive emblem of the Parachute Regiment, the bridge at Benouville was renamed Pegasus.Michael, 72, from Newton-on-the-Moor, went along to see Johnny at his Wooler home last weekend to take him for a spin in the jeep he has refurbished and now taken to France bedecked in Parachute Regiment colours.“My late brother, Walter, also served in Cyprus, Malta, Aden and Egypt in the late 1940s and 50s so I am paying homage to him with this trip,” he revealed. “He was in the 9th Parachute Regiment and would have been 91 now if he was still alive.”He is accompanied on the trip by his next-door neighbour, Ian Jackson, who was in the Fusiliers.“The jeep was lying in a barn for 20 years before I got it,” said Michael. “I brought it home on a trailer and have spent lots of time restoring it since I retired. It should be a memorable trip.”