Death camp liberator from Bury St Edmunds is now at peace

MUCH LOVED: John Darby who passed away peacefully on Thursday (May 5)
MUCH LOVED: John Darby who passed away peacefully on Thursday (May 5)
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A man who was haunted by his memories of a Nazi death camp in World War Two is finally at peace.

John Darby, a grandfather-of-two, never forgot the day his tank burst through the gates of Bergen-Belsen, exposing the horror of around 60,000 inmates, many dying or in need of medical assistance, and 30,000 dead bodies ‘piled up like tree logs’.

The 87-year-old, who passed away in Risby Hall Nursing Home last night, told the Bury Free Press last year: “I’ve never got over Belsen, it has lived with me all these years. I dream about it every night, the horrors of it.”

Laura Lewis, John’s only child, said his death was ‘the conclusion of a long story’.

“He came in fighting and went out fighting but he’s at peace now,” she said.

Abandoned at just two months old, John lied about his age to escape the orphanage he grew up in and joined the army at the age of 16.

He survived being shot in the head in Palestine, where doctors chose to leave the stainless steel bullet in his head, and said he felt ‘no compunction’ over shooting German soldiers at Belsen as he stood guard over the camp’s innocent victims and radioed for medics to help save them.

After being invalided out of the army with ‘shell shock’, he met his late wife, Gladys, and worked for a time on the Metropolitan Water Board with her father before becoming a professional carpenter and travelling all over the country testing trees for disease.

The couple moved from Kent to Bury St Edmunds after having their daughter at the age of 40.

They took over Steward Stores which later became Darby Enterprizes at the top of King’s Road and, when they closed it, John took up a job packing golf tees. He loved golf and nature and was a member of the Bury St Edmunds Golf Club.

Laura, of Queen’s Road, Bury, said her father had an excellent sense of humour and was good, kind and much loved.

Speaking today, she said: “He’s at peace, finally. I think he had his reunion with my mum last night and he’s probably on the golf course with his friend, Roy Christie, who died last year.”

John’s funeral will take place at West Suffolk Crematorium, Risby, at noon on May 23, which would also have been his 73rd wedding anniversary. Donations (for Risby Hall Nursing Home) and flowers can be sent to L Fulcher Funeral Directors, 80 Whiting Street, Bury, Suffolk IP3 31NX.

As a ‘Yorkshire lad’ John has asked for his ashes to be scattered on the Yorkshire Moors and that is what Laura and her family plan to do.

“History goes on to become legend and that’s where he is now, not bad for an orphan,” said Laura.