Call to honour brave veteran

John 'Jack' Humphrey during his war service, as a freemason and wife Peggie

John 'Jack' Humphrey during his war service, as a freemason and wife Peggie

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Brave, loyal and proud.

Sgt John Humphrey, known as Jack to his friends, served his country with pride and returned home a hero.

He survived some of the deadliest operations of the Second World War and when the conflict was over he moved back to his adopted hometown of Blackpool and continued to dedicate his life to charity and the community.

But when he died, aged 95, at home earlier this month, he was completely alone, with no relatives still in the country.

Now his friends from the Masonic Hall in Blackpool and fellow Army veterans are calling on the people of the Fylde coast to turn out in their droves and honour him properly at his funeral on Friday morning.

Chris Morley, a fellow Freemason, said: “We want to give him his last salute.

“No hero or veteran who has served his country should be buried alone. They should have people there.”

Sgt Humphrey fought at the D-Day landings in June 1944 and was later that year he was one of the troops to survive the deadly Operation Market Garden.

He died on February 8 at his home on Kenwyn 
Avenue, Blackpool.

The funeral is to take place at Carleton Crematorium at 10am on Friday, and the local Masonic Hall and Army veterans have joined forces to call on Fylde coast residents to give him the send-off he deserves.

Mr Morley, also a war veteran, 41, from Thornton, has been joined by South Shore soldier Sgt Rick Clement in calling for as many people as possible to turn out.

Sgt Clement, who was severely injured in Afghanistan in 2010, said: “We have seen other soldiers honoured this way before and I expect a similar turnout again.”

Mr Morley added: “A lot of people lived due to him so he shouldn’t end his life alone.

“He was one of the original heroes. He had a heck of a story to tell.”

Mr Humphrey was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, where his father was a miner.

The family moved to Blackpool when Mr Humphrey was a boy and from there he was conscripted, age 18, to join the war effort.

He quickly rose through the ranks, after being posted to Egypt with the Royal Army Service Corps, and joined the Special Ops Executive to be part of a detail taking ammunitions behind enemy lines, based mainly in Greece.

The sergeant served through the whole of the Second World War, but managed to propose to his wife-to-be Peggie during leave.

Mr Humphrey later ran wholesale and retail businesses in central Blackpool.

He and Peggie had a son, Michael, who has since moved to Australia. He is unable to make the long journey home for Friday’s funeral.

Mrs Humphrey died in 1987 but her widower continued to live independently up until his death.

Mr Humphrey joined the Freemasons in 1957 and was promoted to be past provincial assistant grandmaster, overseeing the organisation’s charity work in the area.

And Mr Morley said Mr Humphrey continued to be committed to helping others throughout his life.

“He was such a kind-hearted, friendly man,” he added.

“An example of his kindness was after I had injured my back in the Army, we have to do a lot of ceremonies at the Freemasons and he could see I was struggling.

“He was 95 and I was 40 but he did not think twice about giving me his walking stick.”

As well as speaking in The Gazette, Sgt Clement has said he will “drum up support” for a good turnout on Friday, after hearing Mr Humphrey’s story.

He said: “I will certainly drum up some support.

“Since Afghanistan and Iraq the public has been massively on side with the British Army, supporting troops.

“For these older guys it was probably 10 times worse than what we saw.

“They, more than anyone, deserve respect for what they have done and fought for.”

Fellow freemason Trevor Drabble, 80, of North Shore, said: “I have nothing but exceptional thoughts of Mr Humphrey.

“He was a highly thought of person who did very 
good work which helped people outside of Freemasonry, too.

“He was very much about promoting good friendships and charity. To me he was an icon.”

Remembering Jack’s wartime battles

As part of the Royal Army Service Corps, John ‘Jack’ Humphrey was involved in some of the Second World War’s major battles.

Fighting between 1939 to 1945, Mr Humphrey fought in the D-Day landings at Normandy and Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and Germany.

The D-Day landings in June 1944 remain the largest seaborne invasion in history.

The Normandy landings featured the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, as thousands of soldiers landed on beaches from the English Channel.

The operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, led to the liberation of France from Nazi control, and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.

Operation Market Garden in September 1944 was an unsuccessful Allied military operation, fought in the Netherlands and Germany. It was the largest airborne operation up to that time.

It was Field Marshal Montgomery’s bold plan to use airborne forces to 
capture and hold bridges across Holland’s rivers, paving the way for an advance into Germany with the aim of ending the war by Christmas.

But issues with strategy and supplies led to the Allies becoming overrun and they failed to advance into Germany. Of the 10,000 British troops who parachuted into Arnhem, only 2,000 – including Sgt Jack Humphrey – survived.

Honouring the Fylde coast’s war heroes

The funeral of Blackpool soldier Jack Humphrey is not the first time The Gazette has backed pleas to pay tribute to a Fylde coast war veteran.

In 2013, a rallying call was issued after the death of Harold ‘Jellicoe’ Percival in St Annes.

Mr Percival, who served as a ground crew member in RAF Bomber Command, died with no immediate family able to attend his funeral.

After being alerted to the story by South Shore veteran Sgt Rick Clement, The Gazette launched an appeal for, help which saw more than 200 Fylde coast veterans and hundreds more pay their respects to the 99-year-old at Lytham Park Crematorium, despite many never knowing him.

The story created headlines around the world as Mr Percival was buried on November 11 – Armistice Day – at 11am.

And last year a Fylde undertaker led similar calls to honour another veteran.

Sidney Marshall, 90, died at home on June 16 but had no family to attend his service. Mr Marshall, who served as a rear gunner in a Lancaster Bomber, completed close to 30 missions behind enemy lines during the Second World War.

The appeal by The Gazette and its sister paper, The Lytham St Annes Express, saw more than 500 people turn out to pay tribute to him, with the funeral taking place on July 4.