THE youngest paratrooper to take part in D-Day is to be honoured for the courage that cost him his life at the age of 16.
Private Robert ‘Bobby’ Johns was only 14 but ‘a big lad’ when he ran away from home, lying about his age to follow his two older brothers to war.
When his parents William and Daisy found out he had dropped into Normandy with the 6th Airborne Division, they alerted the War Office, who tried desperately to bring him home. They had already lost another serving son, William, in 1940.
But before he could be withdrawn from the front line Bobby was shot dead by a German sniper close to Le Mesnil crossroads, Normandy, on July 23, 1944 — two days before his 17th birthday.
Tomorrow — 75 years later — a plaque commemorating Pte Johns’ sacrifice will be put up on the street where he was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire. It will read: ‘Lived as he died, fearlessly.’
His niece, Jenny Ward, 58, from Christchurch, Dorset, said: ‘My family is so touched Bob’s courage is being remembered. His story definitely had echoes of the film Saving Private Ryan. My grandparents were distraught at losing William. They didn’t know where Bob was for almost two years until he wrote from France in July 1944.’
The letter said he wished he could be with them instead of in this ‘God forgotten country’, signing off ‘cheerio for now’ and five kisses. Only a third son, Ron (above), survived.
The plaque will be installed by Portsmouth city council, which is commemorating the 119 men from the city who died between D-Day and the end of the Battle of Normandy.
Ms Ward said: ‘My grandfather kept Bobby’s letter in his wallet until the day he died. I just wish his parents were still here to see this.’