Four brave World War II veterans from Sheffield have been presented with France’s highest military distinction in a moving ceremony at Sheffield Town Hall.
More than seven decades have passed since 94-year-old Roy Stout, Don Walker, 92, George Young, 96, and Graham Bell, 90, fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation in the bloody conflict.
But their bravery has not been forgotten – as French Honorary Consul Jean-Claude La Fontaine told the men and their proud families France would be ‘eternally grateful’ for their sacrifice.
Mr La Fontaine presented each of the men with the Légion d’Honneur medal during a ceremony hosted by Lord Mayor Coun Denise Fox.
He said: “We will never forget what you have done for us. We will be eternally grateful.
“I want to say what a great example you set for people, for young people and to countries across the world.
“I am delighted to be able to present you with France’s highest honour.”
Mr Bell, who attended the ceremony with his wife Mary and their three children, said receiving the prestigious honour was a proud moment for him – on a par with receiving his MBE from the Queen.
“It’s a similar sensation to that – in that I find it strange that people think I’ve done something special. I just did what anyone else would have done in the same circumstances,” said Mr Bell, of Retford Road, Handsworth.
Mr Bell, who served in the Royal Navy, added: “I was 18-years-old at the time and it felt like it was a game of cowboys and Indians. I was given a gun and people told me to fight the Germans.”
Mr Bell, who received an MBE in 2005 for his charity fundraising, helped to shoot down so-called ‘doodlebug’ bombs heading for London that had been sent from Calais as he served on HMS Tyler. The boat was positioned in the English Channel during that time.
He said it was an even greater honour to receive the French accolade, given the small number of his colleagues from the HMS Tyler that were still alive today.
“There were 250 on that ship, and now there’s only two left – me and my friend Harry Brice who still writes to me every week. In his mind he never left that ship,” said the former steelworker.
George Young, of Beighton, said he regarded the medal to be the ‘highest’ of honours.
“It feels wonderful, it makes me very proud,” said Mr Young, who served in the 53rd Welsh Division.
Mr Stout, who served in the RAF before enjoying a 40-year career working for Sheffield City Council in its estates department, said the honour was ‘unexpected’.
He said: “I served as a radar mechanic and was on the Franco-German border three weeks after D-Day. I’m a member of the Blind Veterans UK group and they suggested I might be eligible for the Legion of Honour but it’s impossible to believe really.
“We’re the last line standing. When I think about what we did, it’s incredible really, I had to sign the Official Secrets Act. At that time breaking the act was punishable by firing squad.
“It was incredible work.”
Mr Walker fought in the D-Day campaign almost 73 years ago, but on July 15, 1944, his tank was blown up and the other four men inside were killed.
After weeks as a hostage of German soldiers and the SS, he spent a month in a stifling cattle truck being transported to Stalag IV-B, where conditions were grim.
He developed ulcers on his legs from the dirt and malnutrition, and lost three stone in weight.
He was listed as missing in action, feared dead – and for six months before his eventual return to Sheffield his family in Heeley thought he had been killed.