Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1944, Private Robert Johns, A Company, 13th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, was killed in action in Normandy.
One of five children of a shipwright, he ran away from home and enlisted at the age of fourteen, being untruthful about his age. In January of 1944 he passed the jump course, being considered “best performer” and was posted to A Company.
Private Johns took part in the D-Day landings, not knowing that his parents had been searching for him and had contacted the War Office. His eldest brother William had been killed when H.M.S. Narwhal was bombed by the Germans in 1940, and there was grave concern for the safety of William’s much-younger brother. Private Johns was located just before his death and his parents were notified of his whereabouts.
On morning of the 23rd of July, his company were under fire at the Le Mesnil crossroads, described by Major David Reynolds as “the forefront of the main effort to prevent a German counter-attack”. Twenty minutes before noon Private Johns was shot and killed by a sniper. It was after his death that the truth about his age came out, with a superior officer commenting: “He was a very capable chap. He was always ready to help people and was fearless. He loved being a paratrooper. But I never suspected that he was underage…I was shocked and saddened”.
Private Johns lies buried in the Ranville War Cemetery in France, and on his headstone are the words “He died as he lived, fearlessly”.
Robert, from Portsmouth, was sixteen years old.