The 89-year-old D-Day veteran who sneaked out of his care home to Normandy has returned to a hero’s welcome and declared: ‘I would do it again tomorrow.’
Hiding his war medals under a raincoat, Bernard Jordan told carers he was going for a walk before boarding a coach to France for the 70th anniversary – sparking a frantic missing person search.
The former Royal Navy officer arrived into Portsmouth on a cross-channel ferry this morning, where he said: ‘I expect I will be in some trouble with the care home, but it was worth it.’
Mr Jordan summoned the spirit and determination of June 6, 1944, when he hatched his cunning plan to join old comrades and world leaders in remembering the assault that cost more than 4,000 Allied lives.
By the time staff at the care home in Hove realised he was missing on Thursday evening, the veteran had already checked into a hotel in Ouistreham, Normandy.
The alarm was raised at 7.15pm and police began searching the area around The Pines care home, checking with hospitals, bus firms and taxi companies.
Eventually the care home breathed a sigh of relief when they received a phone call from another veteran, who said he had met the former Mayor of Hove on the coach – and he would come home when he was ready.
Today the Royal Navy veteran, who staff treated as the guest of honour on a ferry from Caen, said it ‘meant the world’ to be part of the anniversary.
‘I just wanted to go over and join in with the commemorations,’ he said.
‘Being a veteran myself this was important to me and it meant the world to be there. I met some great characters – from old veterans to dancing girls – and I loved every minute.
‘It was such an exciting experience – it was a smashing event but it is marvellous to be back. I will have to face the music at the care home now but that is just one of those things in life.
‘You have good and bad things – you just get on with it and do your best.’
Staff from Brittany Ferries said Mr Jordan was a pleasure to have on board and called him a ‘charmer’ with the ladies.
He arrived back in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on the Brittany Ferry ‘The Normandie’ at 6.45am today.
Mr Jordan stepped out to wave to onlookers from the front of the vessel with Captain Olivier Macoin as it approached British soil.
His wife Irene is still at the care home in Hove, and the veteran said she knew about his adventure in advance.
He said: ‘My wife knew I was going – she supported me. I’m really pleased I did it and I’ll do it again next year if I’m still here.’
When told his journey had been labelled ‘the Great Escape’, Mr Jordan simply laughed, before he was driven away by Brittany Ferries staff.
Steve Tuckwell, director of communications at Portsmouth Port Operations, said the veteran’s appetite for breakfast matched his appetite for life.
Beloved: Bernard Jordan waves on deck with Captain Olivier Macoin (left) and ship duty manager Jim Crilley
Mr Jordan had bacon, two fried eggs and sausages with orange juice and coffee,’ he said.
‘For an 89-year-old he has a very healthy appetite. He is a man with a lot of charm and he is really an extraordinary character.
‘The ships out to Normandy have been filled with a tremendous atmosphere – with singing and dancing, so I think he really enjoyed that.
‘He’s a tremendous guy and we loved having him on board. It was a real honour to have him with us.’
A spokesman for Brittany Ferries said they would let Mr Jordan travel with them for free in the future.
Liaison officer Sonia Pittam met Mr Jordan during his outward journey and took him to meet the captain.
She said: ‘I knew he was a game old boy. He certainly has his wits about him.
‘He didn’t say much about the landings – just how pleased he was to be on board.
‘He couldn’t believe how everyone was looking after the veterans and all the people waving on the route to the harbour entrance.
‘He kept saying “all this for us”. I said that’s as it should be, and he said he felt as though he was on a luxury cruise.’
Police found the story highly amusing and Brighton commander Nev Kemp tweeted: ‘Love this: 89-yr-old veteran reported missing by care home who said he can’t go to Normandy for D-Day70 remembrance. We’ve found him there!’
The former Royal Navy officer told ITV last night that he hoped he would not be in trouble when he returned.
Speaking in Normandy, he told the broadcaster: ‘Because I wanted to go to this show here that was on today, that was the main reason I came over here.
‘It’s a first class show because I have been here last year and I have been here obviously this time and I’m going to – touch wood I’m still with us – try next year’s as well.’
Mr Jordan, who turns 90 this week, was surrounded by burly troops from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment on his journey home, as they declared: ‘He’s our new best mate.’
As he sat sipping tea and laughing with the men out on deck, he admitted he might be in trouble for not telling staff at his nursing home that he had decided to go to Normandy.
He told how he got a friend to drive him to Brighton station and then took a train to Portsmouth. ‘I got down to the dockside and I saw someone I knew and asked if I could go on the trip. They said yes.’
When he arrived in the port of Ouistreham, France, he found a hotel near to the site of the international ceremony at Sword Beach and stayed there on his own.
‘I’ve had a really good time,’ he said, as the Paras, who declined to give their names, teased him that he was going to be in trouble.
Mr Jordan, who turns 90 next week, was the Conservative mayor of Hove in 1995-1996, during a colourful 34-year career as a leading councillor. Burly Parachute Regiment troops described him as ‘our new best mate’
They had recognised him from news stories and took him under their wing at the ferry port.
The care home was at pains to stress that Mr Jordan had not been banned from attending the commemorations.
A spokesman for the Pines, which has been named as one of the best in the UK, said their ‘wilful and determined’ resident had been spurred in to action after staff had failed to get him on to the accredited trip with the Royal British Legion.
The spokesman said he had moved to the home in January when his wife Irene was admitted and was able to come and go as he pleased.
He added: ‘Bernard is quite a character and certainly knows his own mind. We fully celebrate his participation in the D-Day commemorations.’
Mr Jordan, who turns 90 next week, was the Conservative mayor of Hove in 1995-1996, during a colourful 34-year career as a leading councillor.
He has spent all of his life in the town, returning there to marry his sweetheart Irene at the end of the war.
In a newsletter in April, Mr Jordan talked fondly of being able to ‘serve the people of my town and do a job I loved’.
Pictured holding a photograph of himself as mayor, he warned anybody with designs on becoming a mayor that ‘you must be prepared to work hard’.
The proudest moment of his working life, he said, was meeting Margaret Thatcher, even though he had defected to Labour in 2000.
Celebrations: Hundreds of veterans were in Normandy to pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the invasion. Above, a veteran (not Mr Jordan) salutes a grave during a memorial service at Bayeux Cemetery
The former company director added: ‘It was definitely one of my favourite memories. She was an amazingly strong lady.
‘When she visited Brighton I got the chance to meet her and it was a very proud moment for me.’
Garry Dunn, a fellow councillor and friend, said: ‘He was always very modest about the war. I know he was involved in D-Day but he would never talk about it.
‘He is the perfect example of a generation who did their duty, but didn’t feel they had to tell people what they had done. It makes me proud to be British because he is a proud Briton. He put his town and his country first, before him.
‘Rather than himself, people are more important to Bernie.’
Last night Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp, who originally said Mr Jordan had been banned from going to France, clarified on Twitter that he had not been prohibited after all.
Paying tribute: Earlier today, the Queen bowed as she laid a wreath during a poignant service of remembrance in Bayeux, which was the first town in Normandy to be freed from Hitler’s grip in 1944
A spokesman for Sussex police said: ‘We have spoken to the veteran who called the home and are satisfied that the pensioner is fine and that his friends are going to ensure he gets back to Hove safely over the next couple of days, after the D-Day celebrations finish.’
The care home yesterday tweeted ‘now and then’ pictures showing Mr Jordan in his wartime naval uniform, and also posing with his medals in an armchair before he travelled to France.
Earlier this year, the Pines was judged one of the top 20 homes in the UK in the carehome.co.uk awards, which are based on 20,000 recommendations for homes from residents and their families.