Stranded unarmed on D-Day beach after his landing craft was blown up - the remarkable survival story of Sheffield man awarded France's highest military honour

Douglas with his Legion d'honneur medal
Douglas with his Legion d'honneur medal
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One of the first men to set foot on the sands of Normandy during the D-Day landings has been awarded France's highest military honour.

Douglas Batty, of Edmund Road, in Lowfield, Sheffield, was a 19-year-old midshipman serving on what is believed to be the first ship to land on 'Gold' beach during the Allied invasion of June 6, 1944.

Douglas short after volunteering for the Navy, aged 17

Douglas short after volunteering for the Navy, aged 17

As he stepped off Tank Landing Craft 886 to lower the front door, a shell smacked into the ship's wheelhouse, instantly killing all the crew except for him and his captain Scott Jones.

Unarmed and unprepared for the carnage, he tried to board another ship but a voice called out 'are you OK sailor?' and when he replied 'yes' the voice barked back 'then get on that beach'.

What happened next remains a blur, buried by the trauma of that day, and the next thing he remembers is being re-kitted on home soil and sent back on duty.

Incredibly, he was not physically wounded and remained in the Navy for the remainder of the war.

But he was left mentally scarred, suffering from anxiety, insomnia and depression due to what would later be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He was in and out of the psychiatric unit at Sheffield's Middlewood Hospital over the following years, where the treatment consisted of being given electric shock therapy and locked in a darkened room.

More than 70 years later, he has finally received the Legion d'honneur - France's top military decoration - to add to his medal collection, which also includes the Arctic Star, awarded to sailors who endured inhospitable conditions serving on the Arctic convoys.

"It's a very nice medal and it's nice to have this recognition, even if it has been a long time coming," says the 92-year-old grandfather-of-five, who also has three great grandchildren.

The medal itself is not the best part of the award. That's the title accompanying it, meaning he can now call himself Chevalier Legion d'honneur Douglas Batty, according to his family - though the humble sports fan has no plans to order in a new set of headed notepaper.

Douglas may not remember much of D-Day, but he will never forget his years on the tank landing craft, where he slept in the bowels of the ship amid the diesel fumes and the roar of the engines.

However, the retired engineer says that was no worse than the conditions at River Don Stampings in Rotherham, where he worked for more than 30 years after the war making parts for aircraft and other heavy machinery.

"I needed a medal for that, not the war," he jokes.

Douglas ' treatment following the war still rankles with him and his family, who feel another medal is scant consolation.

He was given nowhere to live, meaning he, his wife Eunice and their five young children were forced to share cramped accommodation with other families for nearly 20 years before finally getting a house of their own, where he and Eunice remain to this day.

But despite a tough life, the keen bowler, who was a regular at Whiteley Wood Bowling Club, retains the sharp sense of humour he had when he volunteered for the Navy aged just 17.

"One of the first questions they asked me was 'can you swim?' to which I replied 'have you no ships?'" he recalls with a glint in his eye.