Morecambe war hero gets highest French honour for his role in D-Day landings
A World War Two veteran has been honoured with France's highest military medal for the part he played in the D-Day landings.
Now 96, Jack Russell was among the thousands of servicemen who descended upon Normandy beaches in June 1944.
Codenamed Operation Neptune, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history.
Jack recently received his Legion d’Honneur medal – the highest French military honour – for his role in the operation.
Jack grew up in a village in Norfolk as one of 12 brothers and sisters, including two adopted siblings.
He joined the army in 1941 at the age of 19 and was part of the 504 Infantry Brigade of the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division.
After training in Salisbury, the regiment served around the Kent coast during World War Two, until it was called up as part of the D-Day landings to head to France.
“We sailed across from the London Docks,” Jack said. “It was very rough but we had a good landing.
“One of my memories is of the Prince of Wales warship firing on the land as we arrived – we could see the shells landing.
“We weren’t scared. You just thought ‘this is it, we’re here, what will happen next?’
“It was a funny feeling, it’s very hard to explain.”
After landing at Sword Beach in Normandy, Jack and his friends headed inland to Berlin, taking part in numerous battles along the way.
One of his memories is arriving at the Belsen concentration camp.
“All the women came running towards us,” he said. “We thought they were all pregnant because of their bloated stomachs, but it was from starvation.
“It was a very quiet area in the middle of woods, we spent Christmas there.”
It took 14 months for the group to reach Berlin, which is where Jack was eventually demobbed.
“I still sometimes think about it all,” he said, “all the mates I had and the ones we lost.
“Sometimes I feel like it was all a dream. I was just a small cog in the wheel doing what I was told. You didn’t ask questions.
“There were good times as well as bad times; it was like a second family really.
“War is so stupid when you think about it. The Prisoners of War were just like us...they didn’t want to fight just like we didn’t and they were just as nice as us.”
Jack returned to England in October 1946 at the age of 25.
He moved to Bradford, where he had previously met his future wife Joan during an earlier posting to the city.
The couple will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary in February 2019.
They went on to have four daughters and now also have seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Jack worked in woodwork and then for a large autoparts firm in Bradford, while Joan was a dancer.
The pair moved to Morecambe in 2012, and now live with daughter Hazel in Morecambe Street.
Jack received his medal after one of his graddaughters helped to complete the application.
He will now wear it with pride at the forthcoming Remembrance Service in Morecambe in November.
“I’m proud of it,” he said. “There’s not many of us left and it’s a nice thing to have.”