Prestigious French accolade for John

John Gillespie.
John Gillespie.

A Ponteland resident is to be recognised by a European country for his important contribution during the Second World War.

John Gillespie, a former officer in the Royal Engineers, will be presented with the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by the French Government at a public ceremony in Durham Cathedral on Saturday, November 7.

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

This honour was awarded to all surviving members of the British Armed Forces who took part in the Normandy Landings and marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944), when the Allied Forces began the operation to liberate German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control.

John landed on Gold Beach, Arromanches, on June 18, 1944, which also happened to be his first wedding anniversary.

The 95-year-old was educated in Scotland, qualifying as a civil engineer at Glasgow University at the same time as his future wife, Ellen, was qualifying as a doctor.

He was in a protected occupation when the Second World War started, building munition factories, but in 1942 he decided to join the Royal Engineers and he trained for PLUTO (Pipe Lines Under The Ocean) – it was skilled and demanding work.

They sailed for France two years later and built huge storage tanks on the beach, connected to networks of pipes, under extreme conditions and they only had camouflage nets as protection.

They were confined to the beach-head for about a month before penetrating further south to Boulogne to lay pipelines that eventually pumped a million gallons of petrol a day from Liverpool to cross the Rhine at Emmerich in Germany.

John and the others in the team reached Germany in early May 1945, and were close to Belsen when VE Day was declared on May 8.

The citation for the award of the Legion d’Honneur states: ‘We owe our freedom and security to your dedication because you were ready to risk your life’.

John feels this sentiment very personally as his younger brother, Bert, was killed flying Lancaster bombers.

After the war, John and Ellen and their four children settled in Glasgow with the Clyde Navigation Trust, then moved to Ponteland in 1958 when John took a job with the Port of Tyne Authority.

By the time he retired in 1983, he had been the managing director of the Port of Tyne Authority for 10 years. His stalwart work on Tyneside and elsewhere was rewarded with an OBE in 1979.

He has travelled the world for conferences and meetings and packed his golf clubs to play in many countries.

John is a member of Rotary and was the 1971/72 President of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne club 1971-1972. He joined the International Navigation Association in 1957, eventually becoming the International Vice President from 1986 to 1990.

He also kept bees in Darras Hall for 50 years.

John continues to be active in many ways and he still writes a daily dairy.