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from Manchester Metro 9 November 2001

Medal at last for Jack, 105
by Dianne Bourne

Medal at lastWAR veteran Jack Baird is to be honoured for his bravery at last — 85 years after he risked life and limb for his country.

He’ll receive the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military honour, for his role in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Jack is 105 and is believed to be the oldest ever recipient of the medal.

Nurses at the home in Choriton where he has lived for the last two years, are working with Royal British Legion officials to arrange a private ceremony.

"He’ll be tickled pink to finally get it," said great-nephew Marc Brealey.

"He told my father an awful lot about the war and his memories of that time are profuse."

Jack, who has seen life through three centuries, fought in the trenches during the First World War and survived the Battle of the Somme, in which 60,000 soldiers perished.

He cheated death when he was hit by fragments of a German shell and lost a huge amount of blood. An officer picked him up, took him to a field hospital and saved his life.

It was as he was convalescing that he met his future wife Ellen.

They lived together in Stretford, he worked as a draughtsman and retired in the 1950s.

The French government awarded the Legion d’Honneur to surviving veterans of the Somme in 1996, the 80th anniversary of the battle.

But John was unable to attend the ceremony due to ill health and never received his medal.

He was born in Salford in 1896, joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as a teenager with his friends, while his brother Tom joined the Manchester Regiment.

Jack told after the war how he and his comrades were shelled on the eve of the Big Push, the day on which more British soldiers died than any other in history.

"Apparently Jack soon had to take cover by travelling down a ramp into deeper trench lines - but all in single file," said Marc, who has been researching his great uncle’s life.

"He describes hearing a huge shell coming at the group, pressing his body against the trench for cover and getting hit in the shoulder by fragments.

"My Aunt Pat used to play with the fragments well after the war."

The shell wound caused a great loss of blood, and he was hugely shaken.

"He collected his wits, and decided that waiting for a stretcher meant death so he struggled to fmd a field hospital, although he was very dangerously ill."

Jack, who is profoundly deaf and blind in one eye, now lives at The Conifers nursing home, in Chorlton.

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