France Honours British D-Day Veterans

Discussion in 'All Anniversaries' started by salientpoints, May 27, 2004.

  1. salientpoints

    salientpoints Senior Member

    France honours British D-Day heroes

    WILLIAM LYONS


    SEVEN British D-Day veterans have received France’s highest military award for bravery for their part in the Normandy landings.

    All of the veterans were awarded the Légion d’honneur for their heroism during the bloody carnage of history’s biggest military invasion.

    They risked their lives, lost comrades, were wounded and displayed outstanding bravery during the fierce fighting after the landings in France to liberate Europe.

    The medals were awarded by Gerard Errera, the French ambassador to Britain, at a ceremony at Admiralty House, Whitehall, in London, attended by Ivor Caplin, the Veterans Minister.

    Among those honoured yesterday was Alexander Barron who lives in Juniper Green, Edinburgh, and is a former Dean of Napier University. Serving as a lieutenant in the 114th Armoured Regiment, he landed at Sword Beach on D-Day and fought in France and across Western Europe until the end of the war.

    His unit, Mr Barron said, was "written off" by military planners as they expected 85 per cent-plus casualties - fortunately those numbers were too pessimistic.

    Yesterday, speaking on behalf of the veterans, Mr Barron said: "We, the new members of the Order of the Légion d’honneur, must express our pride and our gratitude most sincerely to the nation and government of France in their recognition of our activities during our youth.

    "This means, from the heart, we are all citizens of the Republic, a thousand thanks, Vive La France."

    The awards come just two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings on 6 June.

    It will be marked by a huge host of events in the UK and Normandy, with world leaders paying tribute to the men who freed Europe from the Nazis.

    Accompanied by wife Betty and his two sons Matt and Robert, Mr Barron, who moved to Scotland 40 years ago from his native Yorkshire, said: "I feel very, very lucky. Warfare is always full of accidents, it never goes according to plan. You just don’t know what will happen. I’m planning to go back for the 60th anniversary to see if I can find one or two hedges I was cowering behind on the day."

    With Mr Barron was Gordon Fleming, from Hove, Sussex, who landed with the 6th Commando and took part in the ferocious fighting to take the vital Pegasus Bridge.

    Seriously wounded in the arm at Gonneville on 21 June 1944, he was evacuated and, for a long time, hovered between life and death.

    Established by Napoleon in May 1802, the Légion d’honneur is France’s top accolade for an elite group of people who distinguish themselves through civilian or military valour.

    Other veterans to receive the honour yesterday were: Major Tom Bird, Dennis Cox, Frank Jones, Charles Kennedy and Percy Redfern.

    Charles Kennedy, from Essex, who took part in the Italy campaign in 1943 with the CEF (French Expeditionary Force) and then in the operations in Provence, in 1944, with General de Lattre de Tassigny’s First Army was also awarded a medal.

    On 24 August 1944, during the fighting for the liberation of Marseilles, he crossed the lines with his Jeep to evacuate two wounded French soldiers.

    Frank Jones, from Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire, was seconded to the Free French Naval Forces in May 1941. A radio telegraph operator on various French ships, by the end of the war, he had taken part in 65 operations off the enemy coast.

    Dennis Cox, from Yorkshire, served on the French submarine Curie as liaison officer from March 1943. He took part in patrols, principally in the Mediterranean, until the end of the war.

    Major Tom Bird, from Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, was serving in the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade of the British Eighth Army when he received the order, in June 1942, to supply the French Bir Hakeim garrison in Libya.

    At the head of a column of 25 lorries carrying food supplies and munitions, he managed to get through the minefields and reach the citadel. On the night of 10-11 June 1942, General Koenig, the garrison commander, used Major Bird’s lorries to evacuate the 2,700 men from the garrison, despite the mines and enemy fire.

    The French government is awarding 70 of the medals in total to mark the D-Day anniversary.

    One veteran, also present at yesterday’s event, was Patrick Churchill, from Witney, Oxfordshire.

    He will be presented with his medal by Jacques Chirac the French president, on 6 June, at a special ceremony in Normandy.

    Mr Churchill was seconded as British Army radio operator to Kieffer Commando and took part in the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, and fought at Ouistreham and Amfreville.

    Next month, thousands of British veterans are expected to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day by travelling to Normandy.

    Ivor Caplin, the Veterans Minister, said that between 7,000 and 10,000 veterans would attend the 40 events planned for the weekend of 5-6 June.

    Families and supporters will boost the total number to 25,000, at a ceremony to be attended by the Queen and leaders of the UK, United States, France and Russia.

    At yesterday’s ceremony, Mr Caplin said: "It is always an honour to be in the company of these heroes from Normandy. This is a tremendous day for these old soldiers and their families."
     

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