Saturday, 13 August 2022

D-Day veteran marks 100th birthday

A MAN who was among the British troops at the D-Day landings celebrated his 100th birthday with a

A MAN who was among the British troops at the D-Day landings celebrated his 100th birthday with a party on Saturday.

John Hitchens, who was serving in the navy when the Normandy beach invasion took place in 1944, was joined by about 40 people, including his three-year-old great grandson Callum Cole, from Tasmania, for the party at Elizabeth Court in Wargrave.

Mr Hitchens was born on May 28, 1915 in a fishing town in Cornwall, one of nine children, including his twin sister.

His first memory was of soldiers marching past the family’s house at the end of the First World War, when he was three.

His father, a fish merchant, died when he was seven and his mother became a midwife to support the family. Mr Hitchens left school at 14 and moved to London, where he trained as a barber. After several years, he returned to Cornwall to open his own business.

He joined the navy at the outbreak of the war and as well as the D-Day landings he helped rescue prisoners of war from the Channel Islands. Mr Hitchens met his wife Pat, a Wren, during the war and they were married in Islington is 1946. Their son Raymond was born later that year and daughter Jacqueline two years later.

Mr Hitchens worked at Ford in Dagenham for several years before the family moved to Burbank, California, in 1950 to be closer to Mrs Hitchens’ sister, pop singer Joan Regan. He opened a barber shop which he ran for 25 years and finally retired in 2000, aged 85.

Mr Hitchens moved back to Wargrave in 2002 when his son died. His daughter died in 2010 and his wife a year later.

He said the secret to his longevity was a daily shot of vodka to replace the shot of rum he had in the Navy. “I’ve had an interesting life,” he said. “Being in the Navy during the Second World War was a big experience.”

Many members of Mr Hitchens’ family, including grandchildren from Canada and America, attended the party, where the guests were served champagne and cake.

Douglas Paterson, a friend and former chairman of Elizabeth Court, game a speech. Mr Hitchens is the first man living at the sheltered accommodation to reach 100 following three women who achieved the feat.

Mr Hitchens gave a tearful speech in which he thanked his family before being presented with a card from the Wargrave branch of the Royal British Legion, making him an honorary life member. He also received a card from the Queen.

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