Ilkeston was veteran honoured for his war efforts

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A 92-year-old war veteran from Ilkeston has been honoured at a special ceremony in Belgium.

John Neave, known as Jack, was called up to the army in 1942, at the age of 18.

At a recent ceremony to mark 71 years since the liberation of Mechelen, the town where he lived, he was honoured for his efforts during the war.

It was liberated on September 4 1944 after four years of occupation by the Germans.

His nephew, Brian Neave, who lives in Kimberley, said: “A story about John featured in the local newspaper in Belgium. It tells how a few weeks after the liberation of Mechelen, aged 22, he was doing runs with his tank into town when 16-year-old Jeanne Geerans jumped onto his tank and love blossomed.”

John, who was born in Little Hallam Lane, would apply for leave and stay in the city instead of coming back to England. Jeanne would go to the ‘people’s house’ for the soldiers to see if John was on one of the trucks. Meanwhile they wrote each other letters, translated by a friend. He had promised her he would return after the war, which he did. He and Jeanne came back to Ilkeston to marry, despite her speaking no English and him not speaking Flemish.

John and Jeanne were together for 63 years until she died in April 2007. They moved to Belgium with their children in 1959 but came back to Ilkeston to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary.

During the war his tank endured a hit while in Mierlo, Holland.

Two of his comrades where killed and he escaped. Mr Neave said: “He told the newspaper: “It was a very rough time, a horror. My youth, all gone. I do not like talking about it. I want to forget.”