Two British D-Day veterans have been awarded France’s highest honour, nearly 75 years after their actions helped turn the tide of the Second World War.
Bill Cowley and Ron Trenchard were presented with the Legion d’honneur at a ceremony in Warwickshire, as friends and family watched on.
Mr Cowley, 95, was an artilleryman responsible for delivering ammunition and rations to British gun positions across the enemy-held Normandy countryside, a job which often had to be done in darkness.
Mr Cowley, who was called up at the age of 19 in 1942, said after the ceremony: “I was just doing my duty”, adding that he was “very honoured” to be presented with the award.
His comrade Mr Trenchard, 100, enlisted in November 1939 and served in the Royal Engineers, working on the construction of vital military infrastructure.
He worked on the Mulberry floating harbours, which allowed cargo to be quickly moved on to the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
Mr Trenchard also worked on the Pluto undersea oil pipeline, which supplied fuel from storage tanks in the south of England to the Allied soldiers in France after D-Day.
He said that receiving the French honour was “out of this world”.
“It’s a thing that you know you will only have once,” he added.
French Brigadier-General Yann Poincignon presented the awards.
Brig-Gen Poincignon, from NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps based in Gloucestershire, said to the crowd: “Bill and Ron have shown outstanding merits, and as a French officer I am delighted to underline what they did on D-Day and the following days as absolutely outstanding.
“I am really glad that young people here today can actually experience the living testimony of what they did.
“Symbolically these awards are for all those young British soldiers in 1944 who decided that they had to do something.”
RAF Warrant Officer Simon Davy said during the ceremony: “Few of us have ever been tested in the way that Bill and Ron were once required to be tested – or to show the kind of courage that they did.”
The Legion d’honneur (Legion of honour) was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and is France’s highest distinction recognising military or civilian merit.
On the 70th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2014, then president Francois Hollande announced that all surviving British soldiers involved in the campaign were eligible for the award.
According to the French embassy in London, an average of just 10 British nationals receive the Legion d’honneur each year.