Vet remembers pal who missed 90th birthday

BIRTHDAY BOY: Jack Wilkinson celebrated his 90th with a party with family and friends last week, but one face was missing.
BIRTHDAY BOY: Jack Wilkinson celebrated his 90th with a party with family and friends last week, but one face was missing.
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Jack Wilkinson celebrated his 90th birthday with a party with family and friends at 
Sutton Bridge – but one face was missing.

He had hoped the party in The Anchor on December 30 would be a joint celebration with his old comrade Norman Sedgwick.

Sadly, Norman had died in November before reaching his birthday on Christmas Day.

Norman and Jack, who were born a day apart, first became friends when joining up during 1943 and fought together on D-Day a year later.

In the frenzy of war their duties took them in different directions and did not know if the other had survived the fighting.

But 60 years later, they were brought back in contact and found they were living just five miles apart.

From then they would meet up regularly until Norman died on November 24.

Sutton Bridge man Jack, who lost his wife Daphne 20 months ago, said: “It was a very good party and I reminisced about Norman. Our friendship was unbelievable.

“He had lost his mother at 10 and I had lost mine at 12; we joined the Army and became firm friends.”

Jack, who turned 90 on Boxing Day and lives in Falklands Road, Sutton Bridge, began to chat to Norman while they were both joining the army as 18-year-olds in Formby in Lancashire, in February 1943.

They both joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment and on June 5, 1944, they headed to France to join in the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule.

They landed on Sword beach at 7.20am on June 6.

Jack said: “I don’t know how we survived. It was complete chaos. We were under very heavy fire. When we made it ashore, we took cover and fought for our lives.

“It was a horrible day but we managed to survive it.”

Four weeks after D-Day, Jack was given just a few hours notice to join the South Lancashire Regiment, which was fighting in Caen, while Norman went into the Welsh Fusiliers.

Jack fought the whole campaign through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany before finally helping to take the port of Bremen a few days before the end of the war.

Towards the end of 1945, he went to Palestine, patrolling the port of Haifa where he stayed until he was demobbed in 1946.

On his return home, Jack tried to track down Norman.

Jack said: “I remembered his home address and wrote to him and the reply was ‘not known at this address’. I thought he had been killed.”

But they were reunited during the 60th anniversary of D-Day when they both inquired if their old regiment was planning a reunion and were put back in touch by Ken Moore, of the 5th King’s/2T Force Old Comrades Association.

Jack, who retired to Sutton Bridge 20 years ago, said: “In January 2004, I had a phone call from Ken to say he found someone from my regiment. When he told me Norman’s name, I nearly fell through the floor.

“We had been in the area for at least 10 years and had not seen each other.”

From then on, Jack had popped over to see Norman in Terrington St Clement every Saturday morning. When Norman’s health began to deteriorate and he moved into Nene Lodge, the visits became almost daily.