A former World War II soldier from Sheffield has been awarded a medal of honour while on a commemorative visit to Arromanches in France.
It’s been nearly 70 years since Ernest Palmer returned from war a hero.
The 93-year-old already has a collection of medals - including the France and Germany Star and the North Africa Star - which he holds dear, following an eventful seven-year service.
And now, seven decades after his return home to Sheffield, Ernest has another one to add to his proud collection.
“It was truly gratifying and humbling to be awarded the medal by the Mayor of Arromanches on my recent visit,” Ernest told The Star.
“I was honoured to be back in France, seeing how different everything is today from how I remember it back then.”
Ernest’s return to France was funded by ‘Heroes Return’ - a lottery fund that pays for World War II veterans who saw active service to take part in commemorative visits - and included a tour of the famous war museum and Normandy beaches.
“I was thrilled that Heroes Return made this possible for me,” he said.
“It meant a lot to me to be able to go back and see it all as it is now - at peace.”
Upon his return to Sheffield, in 1946, Ernest married Nora and together they had a daughter, Irene. Even after all these years though, Ernest says his memories of that time - from 1939 to 1946 - are still incredibly vivid.
“I was just 19 when I heard an appeal on the radio for young men to join the Territorial Army and help to avert a war,” he said, speaking from his home in Shirecliffe this week.
“Three months later, I was in the real Army and heading off to war. I’ll never forget sitting alone in an empty schoolroom, waiting to be told where I was shipping off to - it was very strange.”
“When I eventually landed in France and set foot on that beach, my boots sinking into the sand, I felt so lonely and far from home,” he recalled.
“I just narrowly missed the famous Battle of El Alamein, but I was close enough to hear the guns. “
Ernest was stationed all over Europe and the Middle East between the ages of 19 and 26. He was even captured and held briefly as a prisoner of war in North Africa.
“There were plenty of scary times and things I’ll never forget,” he said.
“Going back after all these years was a fabulous experience. It was strange because I kept getting a real sense of deja-vu when we visited certain places, and yet everything was completely different.
“I’ve had a wonderful life in the years since the war, yet my time as a soldier was an important chapter in my life and it meant a great deal to me to be able to go back one more time.”