Posted on June 3, 2019
Jim Kelly was left devastated when his 1939-1945 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-1945 and Legion d’Honneur were taken from a locked cupboard at his house in Birmingham.
The 92-year-old great-grandfather-of-six had served with 6th Airborne Division. He said he could not go to Normandy for services to commemorate the anniversary without them. When the Royal British Legion heard about the theft, the charity arranged a set of replacements free of charge for Mr Kelly, which were presented to him in front of his proud granddaughters.
“I don’t think I’d have gone without them,” he said. “It means everything to have them back, especially the Legion of Honour.”
Mr Kelly noticed his medals were missing in March, when he went to put them on a new blazer and saw the locked door of the cupboard where he kept them was open.
In April, case worker Andrew Hodson of the Legion visited Mr Kelly to speak to him about going on board a ship chartered by the charity to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“Andrew said to me ‘I’ll see you on parade with your medals’,” Mr Kelly said. “I said ‘That’s a sore point because I haven’t got them’. He moved heaven and earth with the Legion to get me replacements.”
The veteran was handed his replacement medals at the charity’s Birmingham pop-in centre on May 23.
Mr Kelly was aged 17 on D-Day, when he served as a machine gunner with 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles as part of 6th Airborne Division. “I wasn’t frightened for the simple reason that I was brought up before the war on Hollywood films, where when people were shot it was only a flesh wound or a scratch,” he said. “I thought that was what it was all about. I thought I couldn’t get killed. I was 17 and I wasn’t frightened. It was only after when I saw what the war was like.”
Mr Kelly will take his son Keith Kelly, 58, to Normandy for the first time on the Legion’s chartered ship, MV Boudicca.
While on board the ship, Mr Kelly will keep up his fitness routine, which he started at the age of 69.
He first enlisted in tap dancing and keep fit classes before going to the gym in his 80s. “I do the treadmill, rowing machine, press-ups and sits-ups – I’ve already checked that there is a gym on board,” Mr Kelly said. “The nearest chap at my gym is I think 20 years younger and he says he can’t keep up with me.”