Sheffield WW2 veterans receive Légion d'honneur in moving ceremony

Four brave WW2 veterans from Sheffield have been presented with France's highest military distinction in a moving ceremony at Sheffield Town Hall.

Thursday, 26th January 2017, 6:03 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th January 2017, 6:11 pm
Front row: Roy Stout, 94, Don Walker, 92, George Young, 96 and Graham Bell, 90.

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 during the Second World War.

But their bravery has not been forgotten as Thursday's ceremony proved, when French Honorary Consul M. Jean-Claude La Fontaine told the men and their proud families that 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 the Lord Mayor Coun Denise Fox.

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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."

The medal ceremony follows a number of others that have taken place around the UK since the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014, when French President François Hollande pledged to honour all British veterans who had served in France during the war. France has so far decorated more than 4,300 D-Day veterans across the UK.

The National Order of the Legion of Honour (Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) is the highest French order for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte.

Mr Bell, who attended the ceremony along with his wife Mary and their three children, said receiving the prestigious honour was a proud moment for him - on a par with when he received an 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.

Commenting on his time in the Royal Navy, Mr Bell 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 during his time on the HMS Tyler. The boat was positioned in the English Channel during that time.

He said that it was an even greater honour to have received 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 former steel worker, Mr Bell.

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 Royal Air Force 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.

Veterans across the UK are being honoured for their role in securing France’s liberation during the Second World War, with many having taken part in the June 1944 D-Day landings.