British Veterans Receive Medals After Forces TV Campaign
Two British D-Day veterans have finally received their Legion d'Honneur medals from the French government, thanks in part to a Forces TV campaign.
The French government announced in the summer of 2014 that it would recognise all surviving D-Day veterans with the country’s highest honour, which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
It added that Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel who operated in support of the Normandy landings were to be recognised along with the soldiers who landed on the beaches 70 years ago. No awards would be made to any veterans posthumously, however.
Former Army Sergeant John Coode, 90, and former Royal Navy engineer Arthur Stonehouse, 95, made their applications for the medals shortly after the announcement in 2014.
Sgt John Coode (left) and Arthur Stonehouse (right) met each other after the war and quickly became friends
But by May last year, they still hadn't received them, and were told that they would most likely have to wait until this year - a worrying development due to their advancing years.
They told us at the time that because of their age they were desperate to receive the awards as soon as possible.
It later emerged that Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials had been caught out by the level of demand for the medal, with a defence minister admitting that he understood "hurt and upset" had been caused by the months of delays.
Mark Lancaster promised at the time that hundreds of British D-Day veterans would receive the honour before the end of the year.
Mr Lancaster also admitted that just one MoD official was assigned to deal with applications as it was estimated - based on the level of interest in anniversary events in Normandy - that only a few hundred would apply.
Sgt Coode telling his story to Forces TV
But MPs heard 3,000 applications were received, with the number increasing all the time, which resulted in a response far higher than expected by the French and British authorities.
Mr Lancaster said action was taken to increase staff working on the scheme, and added that UK defence and diplomatic staff in London and Paris, alongside their French counterparts, had improved checks on applications, which speeded up the process.
Mr Stonehouse, the older of the two men at 95, served as the chief engineer of an American ship, staffed by Royal Navy sailors, which took the first waves of allied infantrymen to shore during the landings under heavy fire. He fought alongside French troops in North Africa during the war.
He told Forces TV:
“I’ve got it in my mind to have this [medal] as soon as I can, because I’m not going to live much longer, and I want to be able to wear it and… [be] proud.”
Sgt Coode followed his older brother into the Army at the age of 18, and served with the Hampshire Regiment before moving to 1st Battalion The King's Own Scottish Borderers.
To this day he still has a German sniper bullet in his leg and shrapnel in his chest, due to injuries he suffered during heavy fighting in the Second World War. He told us:
“I’m really keen to receive this medal as soon as possible… None of the Army veterans are getting any younger.”
With thanks to Dave Ingham and David Urban for photography.