Going from a "pirate" to a knight would seem an amazing transformation but it's just another episode in an extraordinary life.

Porangahau man John Cameron will become a knight on July 25, when he will be awarded the medal of Knight of the French Legion of Honour for his World War II contribution to the defence and liberation of France.

Mr Cameron, 93, worked on Royal Navy minesweepers. The "sweeps" were cables wired to locate and detonate magnetic mines as well as acoustic mines which targeted the sound of a ship's engine.

Because the minesweepers were often wooden former fishing boats the Royal Naval Patrol Service gained the moniker Churchill's Pirates.


Mr Cameron said while he was honoured to receive the award many were more deserving, including those who lost their lives in other branches of the armed services.

"It is not awarded posthumously - a lot of chaps deserve it far more than me," he said.

His Scottish father was at Gallipoli and married his mother in 1918 after the pair met in Calais. Raised in London he joined the Navy in 1943 and was assigned to work on minesweepers in the English Channel.

At the end of the war he continued sweeping until the end of 1946 on the Dutch and Belgian coast.

He joined a government vocational scheme for people who had had their schooling disrupted because of the war - he was evacuated from London during his school years - and worked in forestry in England.

In 2001 he moved to France because of its more attractive cost of living, helped in his decision by the fact he is bilingual thanks to his mother.

After 13 years he moved to New Zealand to be closer to family. His brother emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1950s and had six New Zealand children.

"They are looking after me now. What we are all hoping for is I might be allowed to stay here."


He lives on his nephew Paul Cameron's property and an active member of the Porangahau community.

John Cameron will receive his honour in a ceremony at the French embassy in Wellington, presided over by the Ambassador of France to New Zealand, Her Excellency Mrs Florence Jeanblanc-Risler.