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  1. ITV Report

Tributes paid to Britain's last Second World War dispatch rider

  • Video report by Ralph Blumson.

Tributes are being paid to Britain's last Second World War dispatch rider.

Alan Johnson was just months away from celebrating his 100th birthday when he died at Whitehaven Hospital earlier this week.

The veteran spent five years in the Royal Corps of Signals based in Egyptian desert, delivering vital messages to soldiers on the front line.

The 99-year-old, from Lorton near Cockermouth, became a dispatch rider because of his love for motorbikes - when he was a young man, his uncle used to drive him to Bolton Moors to collect heather.

Credit: ITV Border

His friend of thirty years and fellow motorbike enthusiast Geoff Brazendale recounts one of his claims to fame.

"He always claimed he took the dispatch which set off the bombing of Alemain against Rommell which was the turning point of the north African war.

"He always claimed he was the start of it all, but you know how would you know because he wasn't supposed to look at the dispatch was he, he'd have it in his pocket."

"Well he was a very particular man, you know and his bikes always started first kick.

"I used to make sure I got it absolutely right so it would go off first kick and he'd sit there, even when he was really quite frail, he'd sit there absolutely enthralled by it and he'd pat it like a dog."

Credit: Family photo

At Cumbria's museum of military life, they have on display a bike of the type Alan would have ridden.

Museum manager Jules Wooding says his was an important part of the war effort, she said: "These were men that took part in improving communications for the allies, getting from one place to another carrying messages, making sure they could get through unfamiliar terrain from one side to the other to ensure messages got through.

"Their role was very dangerous they were often operating on their own, and they were taking messages that were of significant import and which meant they could be quite vulnerable."

Alan's passion for motorcycles endured however, and he only hung up his crash helmet after suffering a stroke at the age of 90.

He passed away at the age of 99 on Tuesday 25 February 2020.