Second World War veterans were honoured for their bravery in the D-Day landings when they received the Legion D'Honneur from the Honorary Consul for France during a special ceremony in Wolverhampton yesterday (Tuesday 19 April, 2016).

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They were recognised for their efforts during and after D-Day, 6 June, 1944 - the Allied invasion of mainland Europe and a crucial turning point in Second World War which marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

16 veterans from Wolverhampton and the surrounding area came to the Civic Centre to receive les insignes de chevalier dans l'ordre de la légion d'honneur from Honorary Consul Robert Mille.

They included William Baron, Leonard Beddow, Christopher Collier, Geoffrey Ensor, Brian Fellows, Albert Gallear, Arthur Jones, Cyril Jones, Albert Mobbs, Ronald Pearce, Wesley Russell, Charles Sharples, Horace Smith, Desmond Spruce, Francis Swann and George Waterford.

Relatives of veterans Joe Davies, Syd Harthill, John Joyce and William Pope, who had sadly recently passed away or who were otherwise unable to attend, were also present to receive the award on their behalf.

Monsieur Mille said: "The national Order of the Legion D'Honneur is the highest decoration in France.

"The French President, Francois Hollande, has decided to recognise the bravery of the British veterans who played such an instrumental role in the liberation of France, by awarding them the title of Chevalier de la Legion D'Honneur.

"I am here on behalf of the French people to express our undying and heartfelt thanks in respect to the enormous debt of gratitude we owe you."

The Vice Lord-Lieutenant, Colonel George Marsh TD, said: "It's a privilege and honour to join the veterans on an important day like today.

"They are living witnesses to the history of the liberation of France, and I'd like to thank them for putting their lives on the line for their country, and for their endeavour and bravery, and congratulate them most sincerely on receipt of this award."

Veteran Wesley Russell said: "I am very surprised to receive this award but I am very pleased - and my son will be pleased too as he collects medals and memorabilia.

"It's very important that young people know what happened because they don't teach it much in schools these days and we don't want people to repeat those mistakes which took us to war.

"It was all such a long time ago that my recollection of what happened is all very vague now; all I remember was that it was very noisy."

Fellow veteran Arthur Jones said: "This is a great honour; I feel that I am receiving this medal for the lads who didn't come home.

"It is important that we remember those who were not able to return from France, and it's important that today's generation knows about what we went through.

"We were a different generation; as far as we were concerned the brown envelope with our call up papers came through the post and off we went.

"We went and we did our duty. I am lucky that I am here today - and we should remember those boys who aren't."

Geoffrey Ensor said: "Today has been both very enjoyable and also quite poignant, particularly when we think of those veterans who could not be with us today."

And Desmond Spruce added: "It's wonderful that Wolverhampton has recognised the sacrifices that were made during the Second World War in this way."

Tens of thousands of Allied forces, carried on the largest armada ever seen, crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, during Operation Overlord on 6 June, 1944, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany.

The operation was staggering - 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carried 176,000 troops to France, while over 800 aircraft dropped thousands of parachutists into Normandy. Another 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion. In the first phase of the operation, 62,000 British servicemen were involved.

By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy. Within 3 months, the northern part of France was free and the invasion force began heading towards Germany where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

The presentation of the Legion D'Honneur also recognises veterans involved Operation Dragoon, the liberation of the south of France later in August 1944.

Nazi Germany surrendered on 7 May, 1945, bringing the war in the West to an end.

The Legion D'Honneur - or Legion of Honour - is the highest French order for military and civil merits, established 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Yesterday's ceremony, organised by the City of Wolverhampton Council, also included the playing of the French and British national anthems and the Last Post.

Following the presentation, the veterans and their guests enjoyed a Gallic themed 3 course celebratory lunch of French onion soup, followed by stuffed chicken breast and vegetables and apple tarte tatin served with crème Chantilly.

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  • released: Wednesday 20 April, 2016