John “Bert” Jackson, 94, was a member of the Royal Marines and a landing craft pilot who shuttled soldiers onto Sword Beach, one of the five main landing areas along the Normandy coast, during the Second World War.
Just 19 at the time of the operation, on 6th June 1944, Bert said it was “hell on earth”.
He was speaking to ex-marine Chris Thomas, the maintenance man at The Gables Care Home, on Highfield Road, Middlesbrough, where Bert now lives.
Normally not one to speak about his experiences during the Second World War, having served from 1942-46, Bert bonded with Chris after learning he was a member of the same regiment, albeit in different times.
He recalled after D-Day he was deployed on motor torpedo boats in the Mediterranean Sea, hunting German U-boats, before being demobilised the year following the end of war.
Chris was also a landing craft pilot and the pair have engaged in lengthy discussions about being Marines and the different boats they served on.
Chris said: “It’s unusual for Bert to open up about what happened in the war but today we talked about how it was.
“It was also lovely to see Bert smiling and singing along with other residents and members of the community – singing songs they all sang when they were young.”
Both attended an event at The Don War Memorial Bar, on Silver Street, Stockton-on-Tees, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
They were joined by more than 30 other care home residents and staff from Hill Care Group-run settings, including from The Beeches Care Home, on Green Lane, Stockton-on-Tees, and Ingleby Care Home, on Lamb Lane, Ingleby Barwick.
Alongside other veterans, they were treated to a traditional wartime lunch of sandwiches with beef paste or spam, beef and vegetable stew, followed by jam roly-poly.
Afterwards, they enjoyed a beer or wine, while waving flags and singing along to “Bring Back My Bonny To Me”, “Run Rabbit” and “I Love To Go a Wandering”.
Kirsty Walsh, activities coordinator at Ingleby Care Home, said: “The residents were on such a high after the event. They talked about it all the way back to Ingleby and told everyone about the event when they got home.”
Ingleby resident May Richmond said: “It was a lovely day out today to celebrate a special day and it’s one I will definitely remember and so should everyone.”