Merry Christmas! Veteran overwhelmed by gifts and cards from strangers

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Fellow veteran Andy Turley (pictured) arranged for 99-year-old Derek Jennings to receive dozens of cards and gifts

A LYMINGTON war veteran has received cards and gifts from across the UK after the story of his involvement with the 1945 German surrender at Luneburg Heath went viral.

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Derek Jennings, who is a resident at Freegrove Care Home in Lymington, began receiving cards and gifts last week after Lymington Royal British Legion parade marshal Andy Turley contacted military veteran groups in a bid to make the 99-year-old’s Christmas extra special.

Andy, a former combat medic in the army for 23 years, said that after taking on a maintenance job at Freegrove Care Home, he asked staff if there were any war veterans living at the home.

He said: “I was introduced to Derek, who will be 100 next May. As we chatted about his time in the RAF it became clear that Derek was at Luneburg Heath during the 1945 German surrender.

“His memory is just incredible he was able to tell the street address of some friends he used to visit in Brussels at the time.”

“It was fascinating to hear his stories – Derek is the last of a generation and possibly the only surviving witness to the German surrender. He was a radio signal operator and he can still remember all the Morse code – he can tap it out.”

Following their chat, Andy posted messages on several veteran webpages asking if anyone would like to send Derek a Christmas card.

He said: “At first I thought maybe he would get seven or eight cards which would be a nice surprise for him – but it just went viral. Derek has been receiving dozens of cards every day.

“He had 27 by Saturday, and on Monday he received another 30 in the post. There was another huge pile yesterday and local RAF units have also been in touch to find out about visiting Derek.”

“It isn’t just cards, there have been gifts as well, he has had several bottles of wine – his favourite tipple – and a beautiful pair of Spitfire silver cufflinks.”

Derek moved into the care home so that he could stay with his wife of 77 years who has dementia. He has been overwhelmed and touched by the cards and gifts he has received.

Andy added: “The response has been incredible – everyone is keen to send a token of thanks for one of the last few of a dying wartime generation. RAF units have taken up this story and are planning visits.”

Andy now hopes to apply for Derek to receive the French Legion d’Honneur medal which is offered to all surviving Second World War veterans in recognition of their wartime service.

It is also hoped that Derek will be guest of honour at Lymington’s VE day celebrations and street party next May.

“Derek has told me he has never worn his medals since receiving them after the war so it will be wonderful if he is able to wear them for the celebration which will take place in the same month as his 100th birthday,” said Andy.

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