Harry Hughes awarded French Legion of Honour at Hadleigh Guildhall ceremony for liberating France in the Second World War
PUBLISHED: 16:38 13 December 2015 | UPDATED: 16:49 13 December 2015
As a young man Harry Hughes left his hometown of Hadleigh to face the ravages of war on the continent, battling not just to protect his country but to liberate someone else’s.
Now the 90-year-old veteran, who celebrated his birthday last week, has been awarded one of the highest French honours for the part he played in liberating the country in the Second World War.
At a special ceremony today surrounded by his family and servicemen past and present Mr Hughes, already proudly displaying a host of gleaming medals, was named a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) for his part in freeing France from the occupation of Nazi Germany.
The medal was presented to Mr Hughes by Diana Hunt, the deputy Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, at Hadleigh’s Guildhall.
Mrs Hunt said: “We who have never had to go to war struggle to understand the experiences of those like Harry who were prepared to lay down their lives in a liberating march which began on the Normandy beaches at D-day.
“All we can say is thank you and offer an assurance to Harry and his comrades, and indeed those who didn’t come home, that we will try to be worthy of the peace and the freedom that his and their commitments and sacrifices has won for us.”
After receiving the award Mr Hughes recounted one of his memories about arriving in France and being told to report to a more senior soldier.
“I didn’t know it was a sergeant major,” he said. “He said ‘Take that kit off for a start’. I said ‘Who the hell are you giving orders out?’
“He said ‘Look I’m a sergeant major, do you want me to give you an order?’
“He said ‘Go over there and you’ll find a sergeant, but run from here to there.’ I just toddled along, the next thing I know a shot hit the ground in front of me.”
Mr Hughes added he was very pleased to receive the honour and said: “It’s nice to know they do know we were there.”
Mayor of Hadleigh Richard Whiting said: “It’s an excellent occasion for the town, he’s made the town very proud.
“It’s well earnt. It’s excellent he’s been recognised, it’s obviously made a very old man very happy.”
Giving a background to Mr Hughes’ military career Mark Brennan, from the Hadleigh and District Royal British Legion, informed the audience how he had joined the Home Guard at 15 before getting his joining-up papers at 18.
“Harry, along with a number of other recruits, were shipped out as battlefield casualty replacements,” Mr Brennan explained.
“Harry and the 1st Battalion the Suffolk Regiment went on to fight in France, Belgium and Holland before entering Germany.
“At the end of the war in Europe they remained in Germany as part of the initial army of occupation.
“Harry is a popular figure in Hadleigh; he keeps himself active by dog walking and tending his very productive garden.”
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