Legion of Honour awarded

By Roger Moroney

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Napier veteran John Whitehead (left) with his Legion of Honour medal. Photo / Warren Buckland
Napier veteran John Whitehead (left) with his Legion of Honour medal. Photo / Warren Buckland

Two Napier World War II veterans have joined a unique and highly respected group of D-Day comrades to become the toast of France.

Stan Douglas with France's highest honour for his part in D-Day in 1944
Stan Douglas with France's highest honour for his part in D-Day in 1944

Royal Navy veterans Stan Douglas and John Whitehead were awarded the Legion of Honour in an announcement made back in 2014, although it became something of a waiting game for the honours to finally arrive.

The medals were for their contribution to the Normandy landings in 1944 which turned the tide against Germany.

It was a wait well worth it, Mr Douglas said. "It's marvellous, I'm very happy."

He said it was something he never expected to be awarded but was delighted when first notified nearly two years ago.

Since then he has waited for his turn to be able to hold the medal in his hands.

The 93-year-old said his health had been a bit poorly recently after a couple of falls.

"I got worried I might not be here to get it."

But at Easter it arrived and it now joins service medals he has also been awarded from the UK and Russia as he was also involved in the Russian convoys.

He said it was great recognition for veterans and "particularly gratifying" that the people of France still remembered the many service personnel who did their bit for the freedom of Europe.

It was also important to him as he saw it as acknowledgement for all the D-Day veterans who had passed away.

Mr Whitehead, who moved to Napier in 1967 and has celebrated his 90th birthday, said he was "very pleased" to see the medal arrive.

"Oh very well worth the wait," he said, adding that opening the parcel containing it was a unique moment.

He had gone out for a meal at a restaurant with family and friends just after Easter and his daughter took along a courier package which had arrived for him.

They were unaware what was in it - until he decided to open it.

"It was quite a moment - even the waiting staff were crowding around to have a look at it as well."

He was an anti-aircraft gunner on the County Class frigate HMS Berwick and during his service saw action along the Norwegian coast when the giant German battleship was holed up in a fiord.

Both also received the official letter from France's ambassador to New Zealand Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, which accompanied the medal which is that country's highest military honour.

Mr Douglas was equally proud to receive that.

"Mr Douglas, you bravely left your home to take part in this war serving as part of Operation Neptune on HMS Javelin which was deployed in the English Channel to protect the sea lines of communication between the United Kingdom and the Normandy beaches - our country wishes to honour the bravery you demonstrated with the highest decoration that exists in France," the ambassador wrote.

She said it was "exceptional" that men from other countries played a major part in the liberation of France, and that it was important to share that history with younger generations.

Fellow Hawke's Bay D-Day veterans Max Collett, Bill Walker, Guy Natusch and Noel Sutherland were also awarded the Legion of Honour.

The families of the late Dick Brunton and John Caulton were also presented with the award.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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