As far back as Keith Jackson can remember, he was playing with toy soldiers and watching war movies with his dad. When the time came, Keith served in the Royal Navy for eight years. Following his exit from the Navy in 1984, he eventually moved into financial advice, after 12-years in the Power Industry, and while he loves his work, he’s always been fascinated with the events of the past.
In his spare time, Keith travels across Europe visiting places of historical significance and paying his respects to those who served before him during the Great War and World War II.
Q: Where have you been most recently?
KJ: This year, we visited Normandy for D Day, which was the 75th anniversary. It was a very special occasion and deeply emotional to be there. I met one veteran who had five purple hearts – can you imagine. He’d been shot five times rescuing his fellow soldiers off the Omaha beach landing zone and he had some amazing stories to tell.
We were on Utah beach at the exact time the landings would have happened to pay our respects. People were placing their poppies in the sand to mark the moment. It was an emotional chance of a lifetime experience
The whole programme was a wonderful tribute to the service and sacrifice of so many. They had paratroopers dropping from above and Sherman and Firefly tanks that served in the Normandy area tanks including ‘Fury’ from Bovington used in the film of the same name starring Brad Pitt. The number of veterans, and serving service personnel from the US and Europe, that make the pilgrimage is great to see. It brings people together and it’s how we keep the memory alive.
Q: Where will you be heading next?
KJ: At the end of the month, my Partner Ann and I are heading to Krakow, Poland. While we’re there, although it’s incredibly sombre, I think it’s important to visit Auschwitz. We’re also planning to visit Oscar Schindler’s Factory which is now a museum.
We’ll also head to the Christmas Markets while we’re there so it’s not all war related, need to keep the other half happy too.
Q: How many other locations have you been to?
KJ: I’ve been to so many but I still feel like there are so many more to go. Obviously, Normandy and France have a huge significance. In my younger days, I would travel over there on my motorcycle but now I just take the car.
While in Prague, I went to see where the evil Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated as seen in the film Operation Daybreak, the crypt where the brave commandos hid out and the village of Lidice where Hitler’s Waffen SS murdered its inhabitants and destroyed the village, even the ducks in the pond were shot!
You can see the remains of the villages. There’s really nothing left but, they’ve a viewing station that you can look through and see a hologram of the village in its former glory. A touching life size bronze statue of all the children is in the grounds, a tear or two was shed here, they were ‘rehoused’ with German families, but evidence suggests they were all murdered in the Death Camps.
Rome was an enjoyable change of pace and I managed to get some great ‘then and now’ shots of the Colosseum as it is now and surrounded by German armour in 1942. Mainly Ancient Rome sites we visited there, a real eye opener and the chance of actually walking in the footsteps of the Emperors on the original mosaic floors!
Budapest has many war sites and sights including the ‘shoes on the Danube’, Gestapo and Cold War museum.
On one visit to Normandy by chance, I stayed in a farmhouse which turned out to be none other than the first HQ for the Band of Brothers 101st Airborne. I slept in the great Colonel Sinks room, you could tell why he had chosen that particular room – it had three aspects to view the surrounding area.
I spent that week seeing the sites of their exploits including Dick Winters attack on Brecour Manor and the four 88mm guns trained on Utah beach. Dick Winters had stayed there many years later and signed the guestbook. The place was steeped in history, down to the walls which still had bullet holes in them from the battle with 6 billeted German soldiers. The grounds were littered with ordanance along with a German war grave.
Q: Is there any other part of the history you’re interested in?
KJ: Yes, about 3 years ago I decided to make my first Airflix Kit since the age of 15. I find the process relaxing after a busy week with clients, whether it’s constructing WW2 aircraft, mainly Messerschmitt’s and German and American armour, I have done the ‘Fury’ Sherman tank from the film of the same name with Brad Pitt.
I’ve learnt new skills I didn’t think I would after having such a long career as an adviser, but I am trying to master intricate airbrushing and making the replicas look ore real whilst learning weathering and patina techniques.
Q: Do you think your passion for history could ever take you away from advising?
KJ: I think at this point, I could probably do my own guided tours and I would really enjoy that, it’d be fun. But, for now I’m more than happy continuing my work as an adviser. I still love the job, meeting my clients and travelling about. I get a buzz from it.
This year marks the 100 years since the first two-minute silence was observed. You can support this year’s Poppy appeal at RoyalBritishLegion.org.uk