For more than 70 years they have worn their British service medals with pride, but now they can add the Legion d’Honneur for their part in liberating France in 1944.
For most of the Normandy veterans, there was no medal presentation – they got them by post – so last Friday 10 of them gathered at Stowmarket’s Royal British Legion Club for a celebration attended by Suffolk’s Lord Lieutenant Lady Euston.
Among the group was Alan King, of Thornham Parva, a member of the Stradbroke and District Branch of the Royal British Legion; Ted Bootle, a Lowestoft resident who is president of the Stradbroke branch; and Hubert Leggett, of Wyverstone.
Lady Euston said: “These are our heroes. We live in difficult times today but nothing like the dangers that we were facing in 1944. My own grandfather took part in the D-Day landings. The horror of those days, and the courage and the bravery, is so understated by everyone here today.
“The Legion D’Honneur is France’s top accolade for an elite group of people who distinguish themselves through civilian or military valour.”
Mr King joined up at 18 in 1942 and trained on tanks at Fritton Lake and Dunwich Heath. He landed on D-Day with the East Riding Yeomanry on Sword beach.
These are our heroes. We live in difficult times today but nothing like the dangers that we were facing in 1944
“As we were going in, the Warspite opened up – you never heard anything like it,” he said. “We went in blind. My tank was hit on the first day. It was the first of five hits my tank took during the war.”
He lost his best friend in the battle for Caen and recalls: “When our regiment eventually crossed the Rhine, I think there were only half of the men left of the 600 who trained on Fritton Lake.”
Mr Leggett was called up from his Suffolk farm job in 1942, at 18, and posted to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers who also landed on Sword. He lost a finger to a sniper and went to the medics where the sergeant major asked: “What are you doing here, Leggett?”
He was at Arnhem with the 1st Air Landing Brigade where he was hit by shrapnel.
Mr Bootle joined the army in 1943 and completed his basic training in Northern Ireland, before joining the Royal Army Service Corps.
He was 19 or 20 years old when he landed with the Army Service Corp attached to the 6th Airborne Division.
His job was to drive a five-ton truck to the troops at the Pegasus Bridge, which on occasions brought him under German fire.
He told the Diss Express last year: “No, I wasn’t scared. There was no time to be scared.”