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A photograph of Bernard Jordan returning to Portsmouth after his trip to Normandy, France

Bernie Jordan: The war hero who 'escaped' his care home to attend D-Day celebrations

Among all the heroes, world leaders and dignitaries celebrating the 70th anniversary of D-Day was an equally heroic 89-year-old veteran who wasn't supposed to be there at all.

Image Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Bernard Jordan, the 90-year-old war veteran waves as he returns to Portsmouth after his trip to Normandy, France

This article was published in partnership with 'The Great Escaper', a Michael Caine film about D-Day veteran Bernard Jordan.

Almost half a century after they last played a husband and wife on the big screen, film icons Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson reunited for The Great Escaper. A true-life drama based on the remarkable story of D-Day veteran Bernard Jordan, it gives us Glenda Jackson’s final performance and promises to be one of the most poignant films of the year.

But just who was Bernard Jordan and what was the unlikely exploit which propelled him to national fame?

An unmissable event

All eyes were on France on 6th June 2014, when the world marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, one of the most pivotal moments of World War II. More than 156,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in the biggest amphibious invasion the world had ever seen. It was a monumental turning point in the fight against Nazi tyranny, with the future of freedom at stake.

World leaders and dignitaries from across the globe gathered on that iconic shoreline – that US President Barack Obama described as ‘this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but rather the course of human history.’

Amid all these VIPs, the true stars of the day were the WWII veterans who’d returned there, 70 years after they’d fought for the liberation of the continent. They were feted by everyone who met them, treated – in the words of one old soldier – ‘like gods’.

But among all the heroes basking in the atmosphere of that day was an 89-year-old from Hove who wasn’t technically supposed to be there at all.

The Great Escaper

At 10.30am, on the day before the big anniversary events, Bernard Jordan walked out of The Pines care home in Furze Hill, Hove. There was nothing too unusual about that, since he had full capacity, meaning he could come and go as he pleased. What was unusual was that he didn’t return, leading concerned staff to notify the police that evening.

Bernie Jordan was a well-known figure in Hove, having been a borough councillor for decades and even serving as the mayor in the mid-90s. Long before that, he’d served as a Royal Navy officer during WWII, seeing action on D-Day. After the war, he married his sweetheart, Irene, who was also living at The Pines at the time of his disappearance.

Police mounted a search of the local area, checking hospital patient lists and contacting taxi and bus companies to no avail. Bernie Jordan had simply vanished into thin air.


Police officers and care home staff breathed a sigh of relief at 10.30pm that night when a call was made by another war veteran who confirmed he’d met Bernie en route to France. It turned out that Bernie, his medals hidden under his raincoat, had taken a train from Brighton to Portsmouth, then sailed on a ferry to Normandy. He spent the night tucked up in a hotel in Ouistreham.

The next morning, Brighton and Hove police tweeted, ‘90 year old veteran reported missing from care home. Turns out they'd said no to him going to #DDay70 but he went anyway #fightingspirit’.

While this tweet implied a dramatic rebellion against jobsworth care home staff, some wires had been crossed. In fact, the people at The Pines hadn’t banned Bernie from going to Normandy. The real reason Bernie felt compelled to go AWOL was that he’d missed out on being enrolled on an accredited visit to Normandy with the Royal British Legion.

Undeterred by this bureaucratic barrier, he decided to make the trip anyway, with the full blessing of his wife who knew all about his plan.

‘Being a veteran myself this was important to me and it meant the world to be there,’ he said upon his return. ‘It was a smashing event but it is marvellous to be back. I will have to face the music at the care home now but that is just one of those things in life.’

After the escape

Of course, the only music Bernard Jordan had to face was a fanfare of admiration and affection. Reunited with Irene, he enjoyed a cup of tea while journalists thronged outside the gates of the care home and phone calls flooded in.

As a staff member told the press, ‘He's really tired out and just putting his feet up. He's had quite an adventure, bless him.’

The following week, he turned 90 and received an estimated 2,500 birthday cards – a fact that he found ‘quite overwhelming to be honest’. While he was at pains to point out that he was ‘just’ another veteran (‘Anyone would think I'd defeated Hitler on my own’), it was clear that his intrepid mission to France had struck a chord with people across the world.

Described by the mayor of Brighton and Hove as ‘the nearest thing to a living legend that our city has’, Bernie vowed to make the trip again for the following year’s anniversary. Sadly, it was not to be: he died peacefully in hospital in January 2015, and his wife Irene passed away a week after that.

As the managing director of the care home firm put it, ‘the little bit of excitement he gave everyone last June was typical of his no-nonsense attitude to life and is how he will be remembered by thousands of people.’

Now, with the release of a major film, the Great Escaper is set to be remembered by quite a few more.