Evergreen Don remembers
A veteran of the Korean War and the Suez Crisis, Donald Jolliffe has a tattoo on his arm designed to highlight the strict code of his specialist unit in Korea.
Mr Jolliffe said: “It means ‘death before dishonour’ — that’s why I don’t want to break secrecy.”
Mr Jolliffe, 89, was speaking as he prepared for the annual Remembrance Day commemorations on Monday.
Mr Jolliffe said attendance at the November 11 parade brought mixed emotions as one of the island’s dwindling population of war veterans.
He said: “It’s important to me. It means I was recognised. It makes me feel good to march there and think about the ones I left behind.”
Mr Jolliffe was 14 when he joined the British army cadets in the last years of the Second World War in his home town of Pontypool in Wales.
He said: “We called it the British answer to the Hitler Youth. We used to follow the Home Guard around as scouts.”
The city had been used as a landmark for the Luftwaffe to bomb a nearby Royal Ordnance Factory.
Mr Jolliffe said he had to take cover in air-raid shelters during the war and later, as a young engineer and plumber, he helped to repair the devastation caused by bombing in London.
He added: “After the war, the British wanted to keep an army, so they had conscription. I put in for the Royal Navy, but I’m colour blind, so I couldn’t.”
He was accepted into the British Army instead and served as part of special unit in the United Nations forces in the Korean War, which raged from 1950 to 1953.
Mr Jolliffe was sent in 1951 as part of an international unit that specialised in “blowing things up”.
He said: “I don’t talk much about it. It was a special squad and I was signed to secrecy — but it involved blowing up bridges and roads.”
It also involved jumping out of an aircraft at 15,000 feet.
Mr Jolliffe underwent successful surgery for cancer last December at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and a surgeon asked him if he was “scared” before the 18-hour procedure.
The veteran said: “I told hin the only time I was scared was when I had to jump out of a plane. I was scared the parachute wouldn’t open — so please make sure this one opens.”
His distinctive tattoo was part of what marked him as a member of his demolition squad, which was ordered to destroy bridges and roads to hamper the enemy’s ability to move around.
Mr Jolliffe’s drilling skills also made him a valuable asset during the 1956 Suez Crisis, which was recognised as a war only in 2004.
He said: “You can’t have an army without water. I was given a bulldozer with a drilling rig to find it.”
The Suez conflict involved a joint British and French attack on Egypt after Israel had invaded the country.
But it later emerged that Britain, France and Israel had engineered the war in a bid to regain control of the strategic Suez Canal, which had been nationalised by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Mr Jolliffe said, while in Egypt, he discovered a German truck destroyed by a landmine in the Second World War with the skeletons of several German soldiers still inside.
He added: “There was a German Iron Cross medal. I liberated it.”
Mr Jolliffe said he believed the Royal Bermuda Regiment now had the medal.
He was invalided home with severe injuries to his chest and stomach after his bulldozer ran over a mine.
Mr Jolliffe was given a medal for injuries suffered in the line of duty — but not until 2004, when the British Government awarded service medals to Suez veterans.
Mr Jolliffe said he had spent the last 58 years in Bermuda and his drilling and engineering experience kept him busy for the rest of his working life.
He credited his wife, Rachel, who he met in 2008, for his long life.
Mr Jolliffe said: “I would not be here if it were not for her and her strength behind me.”
He will attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies on Monday at the Cenotaph on Front Street in Hamilton, accompanied by his daughter, Deryn Higgins, grandchildren Evan and Rhiannon, and his wife’s daughter Andrea with her daughter, Mackenzie.
Mrs Jolliffe said: “I’m always impressed with the turnout. I find it quite heartwarming to see all the people who come out, young and old.”
She said her husband had stocked boxes of traditional poppies used to raise funds for veterans “for years and years now”.
Mr Jolliffe added: “It’s important to me.”
He added that he still remembered his fellow soldiers who never came home.
Mr Jolliffe said: “I can name them. I feel bad about those fellows I left behind.
“I went on a cruise many years ago and went to Seoul. Up on a hill there, I saw the graves of a couple of them.”
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