The bravery of armed forces veterans who took part in the liberation of France during the WW2 D-Day Landings was formally recognised with the award of a Legion d’Honneur at a ceremony in Plymouth yesterday (Sunday).
The event was staged, appropriately, on board the French warship Dixmude in HM Naval Base Devonport. This was only the second such event – the only other similar ceremony in the UK was staged on board FS Aquitaine last year in Glasgow.
Two families representing recently deceased veterans and eight colleagues were honoured by a representative of the French government French Honorary Consul. Alain Sibiril who organised the event and the presentation of the Legion d’Honneur by the commanding officer of the warship Captain Eric Lavault in a vast hangar below decks.
The French government felt it appropriate to honour any surviving veterans who took part in the D-Day Landings to mark the event’s 70th anniversary.
Those honoured were Ernest Carman, of the Royal Armoured Corps, Walter Hughes, a leading aircraftsman of the RAF, William Jago, a corporal in the Royal Engineers, of St Cleer, Cornwall, Ronald Kallmeiler, a Royal Navy lieutenant, Dennis Loaring, a driver with the Army Service Corps, Walter Payne, a Royal Marines gunner on HMS Mauritius, Lesley Scull, a sergeant of the Royal Tank Regiment and Cyril Walker, a Royal Navy telegraphist on HMS Whitehall. Two families received the honour on behalf of two veterans who died recently: Gillian Garlick received the medal on behalf of her father Charles Dixon, a lance corporal in the Royal Signals who issued signal codes after landing on Gold Beach in Normandy. John Mortimer, of Calstock, received the medal on behalf of his father John Mortimer, a Royal Navy chief petty officer who served on minesweepers HMS Lyme Regis.
Reg, 97, of The Seventeenth Field Company of the Royal Engineers in the third assault division, said: . “I’m delighted at receiving the honour, my only regret is that the rest of the troop are not with me. I was the youngest, only 24 years old at the time, so I am representing all of us. I’m proud of our achievements. We were the first people on Pegasus bridge to meet the 6 airborne on D-Day.”
John Mortimer said: “I am proud to represent my father who sadly died a few weeks ago aged 94 and didn’t even know about this event. He was on a minesweeper making the waters safe for the D-Day landings. I will add it to his impressive collection with pride.’’
Walter Payne, 93, of Plymouth Barbican, said: “This has been a fantastic honour. I never expected it and it’s been a wonderful day. Today marks a fitting symbolic end to my Royal Marines career. I really appreciate this as it has come from the French on their naval ship. It brings back my days at sea.’’
Walter Hughes, 93, of Exeter, said: “I don’t really feel I deserve this. I’m not a hero. But I am really pleased to be here and I know I played my part well to help the French and the Allies during the war.’’
Captain Lavault said: “This is the latest of the Legon d’Honneur ceremonies along with other events which have marked First and Second World War anniversaries. It is important for the French people and French Navy to mark the valiant service of the veterans here in liberating France 70 years after D-Day. There are also many young people at this event and we have a duty to make sure they learn about history.’’
Also attending among the more than 100 guests were the Lord Mayor of Plymouth Dr John Mahony, MP Oliver Colvile Sutton and Devonport), Naval Base Commander Devonport, Commodore Ian Shipperley; HMS Heroes (the Plymouth organisation of school children of naval families), schools and youth organisations.