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My late husband had nightmares of being blown up again

PUBLISHED: 16:25 09 November 2012

Doreen Johnson whose late husband Don lost both his hands on the last day of the second world war.

Picture: James Bass

Doreen Johnson whose late husband Don lost both his hands on the last day of the second world war. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

AS silence falls across Britain on Remembrance Sunday, Doreen Johnson will be thinking of her late husband Don.

Army jeep driver Don suffered horrific injuries on the day the second world war was declared over, losing both his hands in an explosion.

He and Doreen “fought” his disability for more than 60 years to live as full a life as possible before he died on November 24 last year, aged 85. They had marked Remembrance Sunday together every year without fail, and this year will be Doreen’s first without Don by her side.

But she has vowed to continue the vigil, and hopes those who died or were maimed fighting for our freedom will never be forgotten.

“I think it’s wrong if people think they should forget,” said Doreen, of Cobholm. “We should never forget.

“When you think of all those who gave their lives and came home disabled through no fault of their own - today you volunteer to go in, but he had to go. He was 17 when he joined. We should never forget.”

The 83-year-old has told the story of her husband’s injuries countless times over the years, but it gets no less painful.

Don had to tow an anti-tank gun to Wismar in north Germany on the day the second world war was declared over. He stopped to make a bonfire, and the next thing he remembered was waking up eight days later in Stoke Mandeville Hospital on his 19th birthday.

He had lost both his hands.

“It was very hard going when we first got married, as he would go through all the nightmares of being blown up again,” revealed Doreen. “They say it’s the nearest and dearest they take it out on, and it’s true. But we fought it for 60 years.”

The couple went on to have two sons, six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Don learned to drive again, and despite his disability taught himself to play the organ and build model ships.

“He was a very clever man in his ability although he didn’t have any hands,” said Doreen. “They do say once you lose something you gain something, and it’s true.”

The household kept a collective stiff upper lip about Don’s injuries.

Doreen added: “If he used to get down in the dumps I would say ‘at least you can walk and take the dogs out’. It’s not like being paralysed from the waist down.”

Don used to enjoy watching the Remembrance Sunday service on the TV, as he knew many veterans.

“When he was in Stoke Mandeville he got friendly with quite a few people,” said Doreen. “There was one who lost both hands and his eyesight. He would always look for them to see if they were still there - he enjoyed watching the parade.”

He needed a lot of help over the years from charities such as the British Limbless Ex Service Men’s Association (Blesma), and Doreen said the Poppy Appeal was crucial to helping people who do not like to reach out for help.

“He was a very proud man and would never ask for anything,” she said. “When I look back years ago and think of today’s boys and girls, they’ve got far more help now thanks to the Poppy Appeal.”

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