Lancaster D-Day war hero was “brave soldier and true gentleman”

John Helme during a visit to the war graves.
John Helme during a visit to the war graves.
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A war hero who made an emotional return to the scene of the D-Day landings has died.

John Helme visited Normandy in 2014 and 2015 to pay his respects at the graves of his fallen friends – 70 years after he was part of the Second World War operation to liberate German-occupied western Europe.

These were the first times he had left the UK since he returned from serving in the war.

John passed away on March 9, aged 93.

His granddaughter Jackie described him as “a brave soldier and a true gentleman that we had the honour and privilege to call Grandad”.

John was born in 1923. During his early life he lived at Lancaster’s Westfield War Memorial Village for wounded soldiers – because John’s father had been injured in the First World War.

After leaving Dallas Road School aged 14, John began an apprenticeship as a decorator with Stanley Wall in Gage Street.

In June 1942, he was called up for service, aged 18, sailing to Tripoli in Libya where he joined the 65th Anti-Tank Regiment, the Norfolk Yeomanry, and was with the seventh armoured division, which had been fighting in North Africa but now headed for Italy.

He survived the war without injury, despite witnessing death and devastation all around him, and twice himself cheated death on the same day in 1943 while serving in Italy when narrowly avoiding bullets and shells.

After returning home, in 1948 John married Clara, an usherette at the Grand Theatre in Morecambe whom he met on the prom.

They had two children, Barbara and John junior. John went on to work as a decorator for ABC Cinemas and then for Lancaster City Council before retiring aged 58.

He had six grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

The funeral will be held on March 22 at 11am at Lancaster and Morecambe Crematorium.