D-Day veteran John Jenkins who got standing ovation from world leaders turns 100

16 November 2019, 09:24 | Updated: 16 November 2019, 14:08

A veteran who took part in a secret reconnaissance mission on the beaches of Normandy before D-Day is celebrating his 100th birthday.

John Jenkins from Portsmouth won praise from President Trump and the Queen earlier this year, after he addressed heads of state at D-Day commemorations on the 75th anniversary of the battle.

Mr Jenkins, who was made an MBE for his role as a company sergeant major in the Territorial Army after the war, has opted for a quiet day, and will spend his birthday at home with his family on the south coast.

Talking about being the centre of attention, he said: "I've never been a nervous sort of person when faced by people of a higher rank because they are only human beings the same as I am.

"I don't feel any different, in fact I think to myself 'how did I get here?' but there it is, time creeps up on you and before you know it you're in your 100th year, which is amazing really."

He puts his longevity down to being a "keen keep-fit chap", adding: "I always used to like PT at school, I became a physical training instructor in the Army, I also used to do a lot of amateur wrestling in my younger days so that kept me pretty fit."

Mr Jenkins also said that football is a big part of his life, and likes to keep a hand in the game through his role as a boardroom steward at Portsmouth FC.

He is also a volunteer at the D-Day story museum in the city.

Mr Jenkins left school in 1933 and became a bellboy for Cunard, and then tried to join the Navy - but was turned down due to poor eyesight.

He later joined the Army's Hampshire Regiment, followed by the Pioneer Corps, where he served as platoon sergeant during World War Two and was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest military award, for his role in D-Day.

"It's something you never forget, I landed on Gold Beach, someone said to me 'what did it feel like?' and I said 'it was terrifying', it was the only word I could think of at the time," he said of landing on the beaches.

Alison Baynes, his granddaughter, said that he was also part of a secret mission to check out the beaches ahead of the landings, and took sand samples to work out the best sites to land on.

Mrs Baynes added: "He was told to keep it a secret so he hadn't told anyone about it, not even his wife."

"He's a remarkable man, it's hard to think of him as 100.

"He's a people person, fiercely independent and a real inspiration."

After the war, he became a trolley bus driver and later went on to be a crane operator at Portsmouth Naval Base.

Mr Jenkins is also the oldest person to abseil down the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, and he carried the Olympic Torch in 2012.

He was also made Portsmouth Volunteer of the Year in 2016 and National Museum and Heritage Volunteer of the Year 2019.

He married Peggy and has one daughter, two granddaughters, five great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.