Seventy years ago, they made daring bombing raids over Nazi Germany and fought the Luftwaffe in the skies above occupied France.

Spitfire pilot Flight Lieutenant Philip Stewart, 97, and wireless operator Warrant Officer Alan Davis, 92, lost many mates during the Second World War.

Today, they are among the last surviving few.

But now, they are being awarded France's highest decoration, the Knight of the National Order of the Legion d'Honneur, in recognition of their war-time contributions.


Both men - who live a few kilometres apart in rural North Canterbury - have been stunned by the acknowledgement.

"I am amazed, frankly, why it should come along after all these years," said father-of-two Mr Stewart, who flew a staggering 300 combat missions in Spitfires over England and France, including air superiority sorties during the D-Day landings.

"The experiences you had on ops matured you rather rapidly..."

Tomorrow, Ambassador of France to New Zealand, Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, will present the war veterans with the Legion of Honour medals at a ceremony in front of friends and family at the Christchurch Memorial RSA.

Now that they have had time to understand the significance of the award, both men say they will accept it on behalf of those they fought alongside - many of whom did not come home.

"It's very unexpected ... I don't know that I actually deserve it, but it's a great honour," said Mr Davis, who spent 1945 carrying out bombing raids over Germany with No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.

"A lot of the ones I've known have passed on, so this is for them too."

World War II veteran Alan Davis. Photo / Supplied
World War II veteran Alan Davis. Photo / Supplied

Ms Jeanblanc-Risler said the North Canterbury veterans were "highly deserving" of receiving France's highest honour.


"Though as young men the battles of the Second World War took them far from the lands of Canterbury, and they fought for the liberation of France in Europe, it is here in Christchurch that they returned very humble, though as heroes," she said.

"It is therefore a great privilege for me to recognise in their hometown, on behalf of the President of France, the dedication to service and the bravery of these gentlemen."

The French Legion of Honour:

* The French Legion of Honour is an order of distinction first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802

* It is the highest decoration bestowed in France

* It is divided into five degrees of increasing distinction: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross)


* The order's motto is "Honneur et Patrie" ("Honour and Fatherland")