Harrogate D Day hero looks back at the first VE Day

For Royal Marine Sergeant John Rushton, Tuesday, May 8, 1945 was just another day, no more, no less.

Thursday, 7th May 2020, 4:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th May 2020, 4:59 pm

This brave Harrogate soldier was delighted to hear of Victory in Europe but he was still far from home and he, and thousands of other British servicemen, still had a job to do.

As solders and civilians alike celebrated back in ‘dear old Blightly’, Sgt Rushton was in India preparing for another mission - finishing off the war against Japan.

Now just days away from his 96th birthday, this D-Day veteran who lives in Beech Road in Harrogate talked to the Harogate Advertiser on the phone about what it was like back then.

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Harrogate's 95 year-old D-Day veteran John Rushton at the front door of his house ready for VE Day. (Picture Gerard Binks)

‘Jack’ to his friends, this great survivor chuckles occasionally as he looks back to VE Day in 1945 with little sentimentality.

But there’s an undertone of quiet pride, as well as no-nonsense self-deprecating humour typical of our remaining Second World War veterans.

He said: “It’s getting more difficult to remember. It’s 75 years ago now and my memory is fluffy,” he said. “We did nothing on VE Day, really. I was in Asia and it wasn’t a great big show for us.

“We were due to go up to Calcutta at the top of India to go into Malaya to sort out the Japanese.”

With the war in southeast Asia still as fierce as ever in May 1945, Jack and the British forces were needed to help retake Malaya from the enemy.

The Harrogate veteran, who became chairman of Harrogate’s Royal Naval Association and one of the founders of the Tewit Youth Band after the war ended, had already seen conflict on the beaches on D-Day.

Five years ago he was awarded the Légion d’honneur medal from the French government for his bravery on the sands of Sword Beach on D-Day in June 1944.

The furthest east of the five beaches targeted for the start of the Allies’ liberation of Europe from the Nazis, Mr Rushton’s mission was to get ammunition supplies safely through a barrage of fire in which some of his comrades fell victim to enemy mortars and deadly mines.

This new fight against the Japanese threatened to be even worse. Stationed in the Indian state of West Bengal at Punah near Calcutta - since renamed Kolkata - Sgt Rushton was spared by only one thing - the atom bomb.

Jack said: “I was stationed near a lake and we were equipping small craft to act as gun boats for going into Malaya.

“I wasn’t worried but it could have been a bit dodgy.

“Then we got the news they’d dropped the Bomb and life altered completely.

“That was the real end of the war."

That single moment on August 6, 1945, when the American air force dropped ‘Little Boy’ on the Japanese city of Hiroshima changed Jack’s life - and the whole world’s.

Demobbed in 1946, Jack lived to be one of the very few ex-servicemen still able to say today “I was there.”

Not that the man himself goes in for much talk of any heroism.

The isolation brought about by Britain’s current battle with a new enemy has done what the Second World War could not - sapped his spirit a little.

He said: “I can’t say I’ve enjoyed a minute of lockdown.

“I’m not a happy bunny.

“I suppose I’m coping but this isn’t my thing at all.”

This remarkable 95-year-old is reluctant to complain but sitting at home with a range of health problems is taking its toll on the army veteran despite the best efforts of his sons and daughters.

Jack said: “I’ve got the care company giving me a meal a couple of times a day and my son Paul drops off the shopping once a week, though he’s not allowed in the house.

“I have to take all these painkillers every day. One of them would knock a horse out.

“I’ve got a decent telly thanks to my family but most of the time I find myself nodding off. ”

Jack looks fondly back to less than a year ago when he returned to Normandy and Sword Beach to commemorate another 75th anniverary - D-Day.

He was treated as a hero that day, as is only fit and proper.

Last weekend saw a visit from the TV cameras from Channel 4 in the run-up to tomorrow’s big VE Day anniversary which, like 75 years ago he isn’t doing much for.

Jack said: “I think the neighbours are up to something for tomorrow with bunting and singing.

“I doubt I will be singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’. I get out of breath quick these days.”

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