Death of D-Day hero Major Jack, aged 94


A SCARBOROUGH-BORN war hero who helped take Pegasus Bridge in the early hours of D-Day has died aged 94.

Major Jack Watson, who was born in the town on January 14 1917, enlisted in 1939 and served with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and then the South Lancashire Regiment.

He played a vital role in the first few hours of the D-Day assault on June 6 1944.

After Pegasus Bridge was captured he helped liberate Ranville, the first French village to be lifted from Nazi control, and then returned to defend Pegasus Bridge. As the platoon’s second-in-command he led the successful attack on the German garrison.

The Daily Mail wrote: “His role at Pegasus Bridge, as platoon commander and second-in-command of ‘A’ Company, 13th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, and the following gun-fight in Ranville had helped the Allies gain the upper hand.”

He was awarded a gallantry ribbon by Field Marshal, the Viscount Montgomery, as an officer of the illustrious 6th Airborne Division, and was awarded the Military Cross in 1945 when his Company came under attack by the enemy.

His obituary in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph said: “Early in 1945 he took part in the Battle of the Ardennes. On January 3 he was commanding ‘A’ Company as it led the assault into Bure, Belgium. When the company was formed up on the start line, heavy and accurate fire from enemy mortars, machine guns and artillery came down on it.

“There were 28 immediate casualties. Major Watson, completely disregarding the enemy fire, ran up and down the line rallying his men and enabled the attack to be launched. He led the company several hundred yards down a slope and stormed into the village despite fire from enemy machine guns from the nearest houses.

“The enemy made repeated and determined counter-attacks, but Watson organised the defences, drove them off and eventually cleared the village. The citation for his MC stated that without him the attack might well have failed.”

The London Gazette citation read: “Almost at once the enemy counter-attacked with Tiger tanks and infantry, but Major Watson immediately organised his teams and beat off the tanks.

“At one time in order to make a Tiger tank move its position and give a better shot, he deliberately drew attention to himself, though only 50 yards from the tank.

“Although the enemy counter-attacked time and again, Major Watson coolly organised the defence, and having repelled the attacks, again advanced and eventually completed the clearing of that part of the village allotted to him.

“His conduct, energy and gallantry throughout were beyond praise, and without him the attack might well have failed.”

After the war he became a Company Commander in 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, later becoming Company Commander, 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, before retiring from military service in 1958.

He was the leader of the annual Airborne Normandy Pilgrimage and regularly visited the Ardennes and Rhine Crossing locations, and also became president of Airborne Assault Normandy Trust.

“The preparations leading up to the 65th commemoration of the Normandy landings and D-Day took place against a background of stringent financial constraints,” the article added. “Despite this, Watson’s indominitable spirit ensured that support poured in; the ceremonies that he helped to organise proved an unforgettable tribute to the courage of his former comrades.”

In 2005 he was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur and was later made an honorary citizen of Bure and Tellin in the Ardennes and of Ranville, Normandy.

His family paid tribute and said in a statement: “Jack leaves a loving and very proud family of a son, four daughters, 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.”

A spokesman for Prince Charles, Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, said: “The Prince of Wales will be very saddened to hear of the death of Major Watson.”

Major Watson had lived in Aldershot, Hampshire, and his funeral service was held at the town’s Royal Garrison Church.