Obituary: John Rushton, D-Day veteran

John Rushton, who has died at 97, had been one of the last surviving veterans of the D-Day invasions in 1944.

John Rushton
John Rushton

John Rushton, who has died at 97, had been one of the last surviving veterans of the D-Day invasions in 1944.

He was 20 when, as Royal Marine John ‘Jack’ Rushton, he survived a baptism of fire on Sword Beach.

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In later years he would receive the Légion d’honneur medal from the French Government for his bravery in those crucial hours.

Yet he always believed that the real heroes of D-Day were not survivors like himself but the thousands of comrades who were killed or seriously wounded,

Born in Doncaster in May 1924, he had been an apprentice joiner after leaving school and before joining up.

“I consider myself one of the lucky ones,” he wrote. “My protection against the bullets was a khaki uniform and a beret. That was it. Not even a helmet.

“It was bloody awful when we set off in the landing craft in the dark at 10pm. It was pouring with rain. We were too concerned with the state of the weather to be nervous or scared. Our job was to look after the Centaur IV tanks supporting the infantry going onto the beaches, supporting Canadian troops and our commandos.

“On the way there we were lying under the tanks in the landing craft on boxes of ammunition. If they’d hit us, we’d not have known about it. There would have been one big bang and that would have been it.

“It was getting light when we arrived just after six o’clock at Sword Beach. There was morning mist. The landing craft we were on went onto the beach and not long after there was a bang. We must have hit a bottle mine. We stopped in the water. The landing craft couldn’t move any further.

“We opened the doors and started to get the tanks off the landing ramp. Down we went but we came to a dead stop. It was the wrong sort of sand. We couldn’t move. I said, ‘We’re sitting ducks here’. We were under fire when we hit the beach. Two fighter-bombers came down and gave us a bit of a rattle but didn’t hit anything and then disappeared. At one point we heard a bang and turned round to see one of our Bren gun carriers get blown up by a mine. We’d just walked over the exact same spot.”

It was just the beginning of a tour of duty which also took in a posting to India before he was eventually demobbed in 1946.

His peacetime life saw him take up a rich and varied career, settling in Harrogate in 1972 with his wife, Jean, and four children. A member of St Robert’s Church in Harrogate, he retired in 1988 and turned to his interests in the local brass bands and the Royal Naval Association.

He had come into the public eye in recent years thanks to a series of Second World War anniversaries, and in 2019 he returned to Normandy for the last time as part of a series of events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Although his regimental beret and tie always retained pride of place at his home, he was never one to embrace the limelight unnecessarily.

Widowed in 2012, his surviving relatives also include four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.