Families re-united in Preston for D-day landing commemoration
PUBLISHED: 18:46 14 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:42 20 February 2013
There was an emotional reunion in Preston for the families of two friends who took part in the D Day landings together, as Paul Mackenzie reports
D Day is always a time of quiet contemplation and reflection for Elsie Jordan. As British forces were landing on the beaches of Normandy she was at home in Preston, celebrating her 19th birthday and hoping for the safe return of her husband to be.
But the party mood vanished with a knock at the door a few days later. John James Harrison, a telegraphist in the Royal Navy, had been killed in action.
Elsie didnt know the details, or where he was buried. She just knew the plans the young couple had made for their future together lay in tatters.
I just broke down and cried, said Elsie. Johns father played darts with my father and he came round to tell me he had been killed but I didnt know anything else.
It was quite a while before I could talk about it. I kept in touch with the family for a while but over time we drifted apart, added Elsie, now a sprightly 86-year-old. I was bridesmaid for his sister and that was the day I met my husband. He was the grooms best man.
Elsie married in 1948 and she and dental technician Sidney Jordan spent 45 years together. I never forgot John and I always had a thought for him on D Day. It always makes me stop and think on my birthday, she said.
I never thought I would see the day where I would know what had happened to John.
But she had a special birthday surprise on June 6th this year when she came face to face with Johns nephew and the son of the man who had been at Johns side when he died.
Captain Hugh Collinson of the 1st West Lancashire 87th Fields Regiment TA always regretted having to leave his friend dead on the sand as the Allied forces stormed the beaches of northern France. And he wrote of his experiences a few days later as he recovered from leg wounds sustained in a mortar bomb attack.
Capt Collinsons son Peter re-read his fathers account when he cleared
his parents home after the death of his mother.
In the memoir, which runs to six yellowing pages of tightly packed typing and dated June 10, 1944, Capt Collinson detailed the preparations for D Day and his experiences wading ashore under heavy fire.
We were up to our waists in water with bullets whistling round our ears, he wrote. We were getting across the beach quite nicely when I heard the whine of a shell, shouted get down and fell flat on my face.
My best Tel, a chap called Harrison of Preston, was lying in rather a peculiar attitude so I crawled over to him and he had been killed outright. He was a grand little chap, always doing something useful and Im sure he would have gone to the top in the Navy if he had stayed in it. He was only 21 and I had to leave him there and get on with the job. I feel awful whenever I think about it.
Peter said: Reading his memoir again fired my imagination. I wondered who Harrison was, where he was buried and if he had any family still in the area.
He discovered that Harrisons name was John James and found his grave in the Hermanville cemetery in Normandy. Peter then wrote a letter to a local paper and days later received a response from Harrisons nephew - John James Davis, who had been named in memory of his uncle.
John, from Penwortham, had also been researching his uncles story and had visited his grave. I had grown up with the story of my uncle. He was the eldest sibling, my mum was the youngest so I think she looked up
When the men met at Peters home in Formby John showed Peter a photograph of his uncle as a young man with a young woman. Neither
of us knew who she was, John added. I thought maybe she was one of his sisters, but she wasnt.
She was a mystery. The mystery was solved when the postman delivered another response to Peters appeal in the newspaper. Elsie Jordan included a copy of the same photograph which the young couple had taken about six months before John left for France.
The two men arranged to meet Elsie and shared their memories of two friends who last saw each other 67 years earlier.
John added: I never normally read the letters so it was a complete fluke that I saw Peters letter but it caught my eye. It has been so good to meet him and to have found Elsie again after all these years is just brilliant.
And Elsie, who still lives in Preston, added: I felt mixed emotions when
we met but its nice to find out at last what happened to John. Ive never forgotten him and I think about him quite often.