Gloucestershire: Youngest survivor of D-Day Normandy landings dies aged 94

John Cornwell didn't reveal his true age until it was questioned when he was collecting his war pension. Credit: BPM Media

A Gloucestershire family has paid tribute to the youngest survivor of the D-Day Normandy landings after his death.

John Cornwell, from Cheltenham, took part in the Allies’ invasion of German-occupied France during the Second World War.

He died on Wednesday 19 May, aged 94. His true age was only revealed when he was asked to explain why he was 63, and not 65, when collecting his war pension on retirement.

Mr Cornwell enlisted at Gloucester in 1942, aged just 15. Less than two years later, he saw the horror of the D-Day landings while fighting his way up the beach on his way to the town of Bayeux as part of the Gloucester's 2nd Battalion, 56 Infantry Bridge.

His platoon landed behind the Royal Hampshire Regiment on a section of the beach called Jig Green before advancing to take Bayeux.

In 2019 Mr Cornwell, speaking from his home in Southam, said: “It was something we had been training on for months, but when we came up behind the Hampshires, we saw they were taking a beating with many, many casualties.

“It was a horrible sight. We ended up having to move three miles up the beach to the King Red sector where, when it was my turn, I jumped into three feet of water, struggling to hold on to my gun and pack.

“The water was freezing and the noise all around was terrible. We did manage to get ashore and moved on to Bayeux, but too late to take it by midnight.

“The following morning we were able to take the town.”

Two weeks later Mr Cornwell was badly injured in an explosion south of the town, breaking his hand and shattering his leg.

It was the end of his war and he spent two years in and out of hospitals back in England.

A young John Cornwell. Credit: BPM Media

In 2016 Mr Cornwell, the youngest survivor of the Normandy landings, was awarded France’s highest decoration - the Legion d’honneur.

His family said he received various other awards recognising his outstanding valour and service to his country.

In a public notice in the Gloucestershire Echo, his family said: “We are hugely saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully at home aged 94 years on Wednesday May 19 2021.

“He was a dearly loved and devoted husband of 72 years to Betty and much respected father of Jeff, Dave and Roger and father-in-law to Nicola, Sharon, Sarah and the late Helen.

“He was also a very proud grandfather to seven grandchildren - Linsey, Matthew, Jenna, Olivia, John, Lizzie and Rosie and great grandfather to Ruben and Willa.”

The family’s tribute added: “An exceptionally hard working and determined man, he was a former employee of Dowty Rotol and then Smiths Industries.

“He also built himself two fine homes and helped family and friends update many others.”

Mr Cornwell was a decorated war hero. Credit: BPM Media

Mr Cornwell was an avid life-long supporter of Cheltenham Town Football Club, attending his first Robins’ match when he was five. His family said he was “so delighted” the club had become League Two champions this season.

His funeral will be at 11.15am on Thursday 10 June at St Mary’s Church in Prestbury.

The family said: “No mourner colours please, we will instead be wearing poppy red to honour his commitment to the Royal British Legion.”

He wanted as many people as possible who knew him to attend the service.

Those wanting to be there are asked to contact Alexander Burn Funeral Directors, 22 Church Road, Bishop’s Cleeve, Cheltenham, GL52 8LR. Telephone 01242 673300.

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