Ninety-Three-Year Old Veteran John Dennett Tells His Story For Remembrance Day
This weekend, on 11 and 12 November, people of the UK and the Commonwealth will pay respect to those in the armed forces who died in the line of duty. Many are likely to do this with a red poppy nestled in their pocket.
Whatever your feelings on wearing the poppy, it's clear that the sale of remembrance poppies benefits the people who war often affects most: the veterans. That's why LADbible spoke with John Dennett, a 93-year old veteran of the Royal Navy, to hear his story.
John was working as an apprentice bricklayer with his father before he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17 in March 1942.
John received 12 weeks of basic training before he was trained as an anti-aircraft gunner and shipped off to the U.S. where he would become a crew member of Landing Ship Tank (LST) 322.
These tanks were designed to carry heavy military equipment, vehicles and tanks and offload them directly onto the beaches in support of the Allied war effort.
LST322 set off as part of a flotilla in support of the Eighth Army, which fought in the WWII North Africa and Italy campaigns. The vessel would play a part in the Allied North Africa landing, codenamed Operation Torch, and helped to keep the war effort going in Malta.
"There were 14 (ships) in our flotilla, so you can imagine the amount of armour we were helping to put up behind the troops," John said. "It was like a secret weapon, so to speak, because the Germans couldn't understand how you could get all the armour up behind right away."
Once the North African campaign was complete, John took part in the Sicily landings codenamed Operation Husky - the largest sea operation of the war to date - and faced a near miss on LST322 during the Battle of Anzio as it survived enemy bombardment.
"I was lucky, I suppose, we had a near miss," John remembered. "They dropped one - it went off right alongside the stern of the ship and lifted us out of the water. It stopped the engines and the steering and for 24 hours we were technically adrift.
"But they don't wait for you, they just leave you. So, in that 24 hours, we were getting picked out but we managed to repel boarders, so to speak."
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The Beach Head War Cemetary in Anzio, Italy. Credit: PA
While he's endured a few 'bloody mishaps' like anyone else, John is proud to have served his country and admits that he is lucky to have survived the war. He's been back to visit most of the battlefields he attended and doesn't forget those WWII left behind.
"When you look back, I'm 93 now so I've enjoyed a good 70 years of freedom and that was what we fought for," John said. "But you've got to remember the lads of my age who never come back - and there's plenty of them. That's where we revert towards the poppies."
John Dennett now volunteers with the Royal British Legion, the main charity in charge of the annual poppy appeal that gives support to former members of the British Armed Forces and their families.
It gives John great pleasure to be part of the Legion's Poppy Appeal, particularly how it helps him meet so many different people, whether it's older women whose fathers also fought in the war or children learning about the sacrifices of older generations.
That's why John is taking to the poppy bus to spread the message of the Royal British Legion and bring support for veterans such as himself.
"Oh yeah, I'll go on selling poppies whilst I'm still standing - I get a kick out of it," he laughed. "Most of my friends back my side of the water, they know where I am - on the poppy bus. That's it. You've got to spread the word."
To learn more about John and his story, visit D-Day Revisited here.
(Transcription by Lauren Bones)