As we approach the 80th anniversary of The Longest Day it is time to remember those fighting for our freedom on June 6 1944…D-Day.

It has been a privilege and an honour to meet and write about those who were involved in the Second World home and across the world over the last half a century and more.

As time marches on, many are no longer with us, it is more important than ever that their memory and what they achieved lives on.

Over the next few months I will be writing about some of the people involved. They were from all walks of life but came together with a common purpose…to win the Second World War.

One man some of you may remember with a smile was Phil Johnson, a former Royal Marine who went on to became a great entertainer, comedian and popular hotel and pub landlord.

Eastern Daily Press: Remember the great days of the Federation Club in Norwich? Here is Phil Johnson entertaining the

But behind the laughs there was a typical Norfolk chap who preferred to talk about others rather than himself and helped many of them as chairman of the Normandy Veterans and the Royal Marines associations in Norfolk.

Norwich born and bred, Phil was the son of Elsie and Ernest and lived off Angel Road. At the beginning of the war he became a police messenger before joining the Royal Navy and then transferring to the Royal Marines and completing his commando training.

By the time of D-Day he was the coxswain of a ship unloading soldiers on the French coast. “I shall never forget it,” he told me.

“The weather was terrible. The troops on the boats were sitting in a sea of sick waiting to do – you can imagine the smell.”

“We carried 50 young men and they were trying to wade through the rough sea in full gear – some were so blinded they were walking out to sea.

“There were bodies on the beaches and in the sea. I was one of the lucky ones. I was going back…they were going to hell,” said Phil.

“It is so important that we never forget what happened all those years ago and get the message across to the younger generation. Thousands of men died on those beaches and in the fighting that followed,” he told me.

Eastern Daily Press: Too many memories – Phil Johnson sheds a tear on the Normandy beaches

Following D-Day he was sent to the Far East and on the way home started entertaining the troops on the boat.

He was a blast of fresh air and the tears turned to smiles. He went on to became  the “Face of the Fed” – the resident comedian and compere at the dear old Federation Club in Norwich where Jack Woods, well-known secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association, was the manager.

They were a great double-act at the club which played a leading role in so many lives later becoming the Talk.

“People adored Phil. If he had had the breaks he would have become a great national comic. He was such a funny man and a great friend,” said Jack.

Eastern Daily Press: D-Day landings almost 80 years agoPhil married Joan and they had children Ray and Jill. He later married Beryl, one of the singing King Sisters, and they moved into the pub and hotel trade.

They ran the White Hart at Marsham, the Overstrand Court Hotel and then The Ingate in Beccles before moving back to Norwich where they were mine hosts at The Stanley on Magdalen Road and the Bakers Arms at Millcroft.

Eastern Daily Press: It was a privilege for us to be able to support the D-Day pilgrimage in 2004 with our special

Phil was a kind and generous man who did so much good work, behind the scenes, to support veterans across Norfolk in many different ways

He died in 2012 aged  87 but his memory lives on.

If you know of someone I should write about then please get in touch at


Eastern Daily Press: Recognise anyone? All dressed with Phil at the Federation Club back in 1950