Dear Reader: What a Harrogate hero looks like + my infamous WW1 wing walk

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 7th June 2019, 4:31 pm
D-Day veteran John Rushton, 95, from Harrogate who returned to Normandy take part in the commemorations. (Picture by Gerard Binks)

In an age of C-list celebrities this is where a real hero looks like, this is where a real hero lives – in a modest home on a terraced street in Harrogate.

Surrounded by photos of his war years, sitting in his living room clutching his Légion d’honneur medal, I can see a little wetness in the eyes of John ‘Jack’ Rushton.

At the age of 95, this former Royal Marine is telling me what it was like 75 years ago to cross the water and land on a beach in Normandy as part of D-Day.

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‘The real heroes of D-Day are those we left behind’ - The remarkable story of 95-year-old Harrogate D-Day veteran John RushtonNo longer strong enough to stand up unaided, this veteran’s life force remains strong, his sense of humour more youthful than the calendar years.

Dressed in his dark blue beret with red and gold insignia, pale blue Royal Navy shirt and dark blue regimental tie, it’s he who controls the interview not me as he bears witness to the past.

“We’re not done yet,” he tells me at one point.

To Mr Rushton’s way of thinking he was was just doing his job as one of almost 160,000 Allied troops who crossed the Channel that day so the world would not live under tyranny.

“I was just lucky,” he says at one point.

The facts say something different. There were more than 10,000 Allied casualties on the first day. At least 2,500 were killed.

After 45 minutes during which he’s scarcely come up for air, Mr Ruston asks his son Michael to help him get his tie and beret off.

All of a sudden, this remarkable man looks a little tired.

Perhaps the years have finally caught up with him?

Or maybe it was the uniform itself which brought him sustenance, just as it must have done all those years ago on the beaches of Normandy.

Anyone who works as a journalist has to be prepared to take a few brickbats on the chin, especially when they’ve made a mistake which, trust me, does happen.

Still, having the chance to work in newspapers is always a privilege.

It’s also a sure way of keeping young if you stay in the same place long enough with new faces coming and going.

Still there are some former colleagues you don’t forget.

When Bernard Higgins, that undomitable local champion of Knaresborough’s historic figure Blind Jack, said a certain Dominic Kennedy had been interviewing him about his invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party I knew instantly who he meant.

Now working for The Times, in 1985 he was a rookie journalist on the Goole Times when I was a young sports editor.

What I remember from that time are two things.

One, his sense of humour.

Two, the time he arranged for one of his friends to ring me up at work saying he was from a local charity looking for volunteers to take part in a wing walk.

Only once I’d agreed to strap myself onto a First World War plane in the company of a group of beauty queens in bathing costumes and started to collect the sponsorship money did he inform me it was a wind-up.