Four D-Day Naval Veterans awarded France’s highest honour

Four D-Day Naval Veterans awarded France’s highest honour

Four Navy Veterans who took part in the D-Day landings have been awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest order of merit. The touching ceremony took place onboard the HMS Belfast on February 26th, exactly 100 days from the 75th D-Day anniversary on June 6th.

The four men, Denis Haley, Charles Kavanagh, Patrick Reardon and John Nichols, were all from London and are now in their nineties.

Denis Haley was a 17-year-old signalman onboard HMS Southward Ho, which, on June 7th 1944, towed parts of the Mulberry Harbours from Portsmouth to Arromanches. His vessel remained just off the beach as part of a small flotilla of ships with smoke-making equipment, protecting the harbours until mid-July, 1944.

When asked by The Guardian what he remembered most, Haley replied: “Mostly the noise, it was overwhelming, 24 hours a day. [The] noise of gunfire. The noise of the ships. You have to hear it to appreciate it.”

John Nichols, now 93, served onboard HMS Argonaut, firing on German gun batteries in Normandy and driving a landing craft from ship to shore delivering supplies and troops. He remembers being told about the plan just four hours beforehand.

“I looked at some of those troops, and as they were going in, I thought, ‘I wonder how many of them are going to come back’.

“I don’t only think of them on Remembrance Day, they’re going through my mind all times of the year.”

“I’ve come out of it with just half of my hearing gone, but those poor devils…they lost their lives. I think of them all the time.”

Charles Kavanagh also drove a landing craft, delivering tanks on Sword Beach and landing supplies on Omaha Beach for the US Army.

Patrick Reardon severed as an able seaman on HMS Sheffield and volunteered for the Forward Observation Bombardment. He landed on Omaha Beach with the American Forces and reached Caen some weeks later.

The ceremony took place in the Ward Room on the HMS Belfast, the most famous naval survivor of the Second World War and the flagship for part of the Allied Armada during D-Day. The awards were presented by French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who said that it was a “very great honour” for his country to be able to express its “full appreciation and gratitude to soldiers who helped liberate France.”

“At a time when Europe was dominated by a terrible dictatorship, France was able, from the first few hours of the war, to count on the support of its closest partner”.

The Legion d’Honneur was first established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to recognise military and civilian merit. Since 2014, France has awarded more than 6,000 medals to those who took part in the French Liberation from 1944 -1945.

The British Defence Secretary, Mr Gavin Williamson, also attended. Speaking to the Evening Express, he said “Today is a reminder of why this June we must show our special generation that we will never forget the debt we owe for the peace and freedom we now enjoy.”

156,000 Allied troops took part in D-Day (Operation Overlord) on the 6th June, 1944, landing on five separate beaches at the start of an eighty day campaign to liberate Normandy. In total, an estimated three million troops were involved for the loss of more than 250,000 lives.

Across the country, there will be hundreds of events, marches, bands and services to commemorate the 75th anniversary. Two of the largest include a specially chartered ship taking D-Day veterans across the Channel from Portsmouth to Normandy on June 5th, and a mass flight from Duxford airfield on June 6th, concluding with a cross-channel flight and parachute drop over Normandy. 2000 servicemen and women are expected to take part.

Speaking about the commemorations, Williamson said: “It’s important that we remember the enormous sacrifice that was made, the enormous courage that was shown, the fact that so many people were willing to step up.”

“The real people who are at the centre of those commemorations and celebrations about how we liberated Europe are going to be those veterans who were willing to give everything for the freedoms that we enjoy today.”

Photo by Katie O'Connor/PA

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Added: 28th February 2019

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