Private Robert E Johns was the son of William Henry and Daisy Nellie Johns (nee Searle), of Stamshaw, Portsmouth. He was born in Portsmouth in 1927 and had at least four other siblings. Lying about his true age, he volunteered and enlisted at the age of 14 and subsequently joined The Parachute Regiment. He passed his jump course in January 1944, with the comments 'Youngest pupil on course, but best performer' and was posted to the 13th (2/4th South Lancashire) Battalion, where he served with A Company.
After taking part in the D-Day landings, the battalion remained highly engaged in Normandy. By late July, A Coy, 13 Parachute Battalion, was engaged in the 6th Airborne defence of Le Mesnil crossroads. Major David Reynolds described this action as being 'at the forefront of the main effort to prevent a German counter-attack'. The 13th Para Battalion War Diary for 23 July 1944 recorded: 'The enemy was very sensitive all day and fired on the least provocation. 'C' Coy were unfortunate in sustaining a number of cas[ualties] from enemy mortar fire, as a result of very accurate fire from 50mm and 81mm mortars on their forward positions. Two cas[ualties] were also caused by a troublesome enemy sniper.'
The accompanying Sitrep (Situation Report) described the following:
0800 - 2000 hrs. 23 July 1944.
The only engagement of our one-company front has been a fire fight commencing at 1000 hrs. At this time one of our snipers, working forward, presumably exploded a booby trap at 144725. He was not seen after the explosion. At 1140 hrs an O.R. of the A.Tk Pl was shot dead by a sniper from the area 146725. In retaliation we attacked his posn with mors and PIATs at 1400 hrs.
Casualties for 23 July 44
Other Ranks: Killed - 1. Wounded - 5. Missing - 1.
Major Jack Watson, A Company Commander, said of Johns: 'He was quite a big lad when he did his training, and it was only when he died that we found out he had lied about his age".
Private Robert E Johns was shot dead by a sniper on 23 July 1944, aged just 16 years old. He is now buried at Ranville War Cemetery, Normandy.
Profile compiled with assistance from Phil JennettRead More