Neighbours are rallying round to help a 98-year-old war veteran replace four Second World War medals that were stolen from his flat by heroin addicts.
John Marshall, better known to his friends and neighbours in St Heliers Road, Blackpool, as Jim, said he would like to have them back so he can be buried with them when the time comes and so that he does not feel left out when he goes to special occasions and other veterans are wearing their medals proudly.
I was not any sort of hero just doing my duty
Jim served in the RAF throughout the entire war. He joined as a teenager in 1939, volunteering to do his bit for his country rather than waiting around for his call-up papers.
Jim, who at the time worked in the kitchen at the Grand Hotel in Blackpool, trained as a cook and worked in catering in the far east.
He was in Malaya when the Japanese army launched a fierce attack that saw the British army forced back to India, his signals unit having to fall back rapidly before they fell into enemy hands.
After the war he returned to Blackpool to work as a cook and in his spare time supported his favourite charity the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.
Up until this year, when he suffered ill health due to a heart condition, he was a regular in their fund-raising shop two days a week and regularly stood with a collection tin for the life-saving charity.
But Jim’s life was turned upside down when a couple in a neighbouring flat, who he had helped settle in by giving them light bulbs, burgled his home when he was out.
Among the items taken from the pensioner who has lived in the flat for 14 years, were his four war service medals, keepsakes which brought back memories of comradeship for the bachelor.
But now neighbour Vicki McCullion, inspired by a local on-line fundraising campaign for the homeless, has rallied the troops to help buy four replacement medals for the man she regards as her surrogate grandad.
She has launched a Gofund.me page at http://m.gofund.me/xj7q5nz2 to raise the money to buy the medals and gives regular updates on her Facebook page.
Vicki said: “Jim is a wonderful man and a brilliant neighbour. He would do anything for anyone. A real character and we treat him as part of our family. My kids walk his dog for him.
“He is fit and active, he is always out walking and even helps charities.
“He had the medals stolen by some heroin addicts who took all sorts of stuff from his home while he was out.
“They took his TV so we had to lend him one.
“When the police traced the thieves the only thing they managed to recover was the remote control for his TV.
“It was a few days later when he was going through all the rooms they turned over that he realised they had taken his medals.
“He told me he would love to have been buried with those medals, they mean that much to him. I saw Stephanie Arnold’s Gofund.me campaign trying to raise money for homeless people in Blackpool recently and I thought, well why not try to raise money to buy a set of medals for Jim.
“Jim is one of those people who has done so much for this country that he deserves to get something back. I have a real respect for our veterans, they have given so much. This was terrible thing, heartbreaking.”
“People have been brilliant with donations and we have already got two of the medals we need to give to him.”
The neighbours have sourced a 1939-1945 Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945, but need to find a Burma Star and the 1939-1945 RAF Star.
Jim said: “I can’t believe everyone is making such as fuss, but they are very kind.
“The couple who took the medals broke open my meters to get the coins and they took my television which I had only just got through the catalogue and still had to pay for.
“When I discovered the medals were gone I was very upset. I thought I had misplaced them, but they had gone through my drawers and emptied them all out.
“I would love them back. I feel a bit out of place when I go to services and other people have their medals on. I would like to be buried with them.
“They were real keepsakes to remind me of the time in the RAF. I had some wonderful times and wonderful friends.
“I was not any sort of hero just doing my duty. I signed up straight away as a volunteer with my brother Frank. We were both cooks but he had a different posting and I never saw him even once during the war.
“I was in India with the RAF. I was trained to fight but never had to do any fighting. We were very close once or twice. One time we had to pack up quick to get away from the Japanese. We fell back all the way to India. You felt very sorry for the people left behind.
“At times it was hard out there. You had to be creative as a cook. There were 10 different dishes you could make just from corned beef. I used to swap cigarettes with the local villagers for chicken and vegetables to make meals better. “When the Japanese surrendered I was in Singapore and we were sent to the Raffles Hotel to wait to be sent home. I have some good memories.”