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Normandy and Dunkirk hero Jack Roots dies at 94 Chestnuts Residential Care Home in Meopham

John Roots, known as Jack, died after a short illness on Monday, July 24, at the Chestnuts Residential Care Home in Wrotham Road, Meopham, where he had lived for the past nine years.

The Second World War veteran, born in Albion Road, Gravesend, was just a teenager when he aided British troops in their escape from the French coast in May 1940.

John (Jack) Roots when he was presented with France's highest award

John (Jack) Roots when he was presented with France's highest award

Then on D-Day in June 1944, he braved heavy enemy and artillery fire at Sword Beach on board the tug Empire Betsy at Normandy, for which he was awarded a Légion d’Honneur by the French government last year.

KentOnline's sister paper The Gravesend Messenger was there when Mr Roots received the medal and he said with tears in his eyes: “I wish my mum and dad could see me now – they would have been proud of me.”

He returned to work on the Thames when the war was over and did so until his retirement, going on to become a popular character at Chestnuts.

Deputy manager Sarah Penfold said: “He was a long standing resident, very highly respected by staff, other residents and relatives who were always asking about him.

“He loved telling stories about the war, he always talked about his family and he was quite possessive about his armchair. Jack was quite an independent gentleman and was proud of that and he loved music and golf.”

John (Jack) Roots aged 19 in 1942

John (Jack) Roots aged 19 in 1942

One member of staff once heard him listening to far more modern tracks than you might expect, including American rapper CeeLo Green.

He had a huge sound system in his room to blare out his favourite tunes and had a similarly large TV to watch sport.

Such was the length of time he lived at Chestnuts, he formed strong relationships with many of the staff, notably Tamla Simpson and former manager Michael Banks.

Ms Penfold continued: “He was a very friendly gentleman and liked everyone.

“There was a period of time when he was the only man and he absolutely loved it.

“He will be remembered here for a very long time to come.”

The rescued soldiers from Dunkirk given tea by civilians at Headcorn Station

The rescued soldiers from Dunkirk given tea by civilians at Headcorn Station

One thing that will help make sure of that is his old naval flag, which is now flying at half mast in the care home’s front garden.

Mr Roots was a real family man, with 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His daughter Virginia Smith said she was “a real daddy’s girl” growing up, often joining him to work on the river.

She paid tribute to Chestnuts, who provided end of life care for him so that his family did not have to arrange to have him moved to a hospice.

US Army soldiers disembark from a landing craft during the Normandy landings (D-Day)

US Army soldiers disembark from a landing craft during the Normandy landings (D-Day)

“They didn’t have to do that so it was really brilliant that they did that for him,” she said.

“He was very well known and well liked there. He was a golfer up until he was 80. He always said if it wasn’t for the war he would have been a professional golfer. When he was at school he was well known for boxing and he won quite a few trophies and medals.”

Cllr Mick Wenban, who met Mr Roots to give him his Légion d’Honneur during his time as Mayor of Gravesham, also paid tribute.

Writing in his Riverviews column in last week’s Gravesend Messenger, he said: “I know I can speak for all who sailed with Jack or knew him.

“He will be sadly missed, a true gentleman and our condolences to Jack’s family.”

Mr Roots’s funeral takes place at Medway Crematorium on Thursday, August 24.

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