There is something about the bearing of a military man that never seems to leave him. Regardless of their avenue of service, Army, Navy or Air Force, they have a pride and stature that they carry with them long after their military careers are over. This Sunday we bore witness to perfect example of this pride as the Museum hosted another ceremony to award the Legion d’Honneur to another group of Normandy veterans.
Sunday’s was one of several ceremonies hosted by the Museum since the French President announced that the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, would be awarded to all British veterans who fought for the liberation of France during the Second World War, specifically, veterans who had taken part in military operations in France between 1944 and 1945.
The Légion d’Honneur was presented to the veterans on behalf of the French Government by the French Consul to Yorkshire, Mr Jeremy Burton and Colonel Bruno Cunat, who is the French Liaison Officer to the Ministry of Defence, based in London.
As each man rose to his feet in front of the assembled audience of families, military officers and York dignitaries, there was an instinctive snap to attention as the citation was read out and Colonel Cunat pinned the Legion d’Honneur to his chest. It may well be many decades since the Normandy landings and the subsequent struggle to free France, but for these men, this ceremony must have brought back memories of that time and of the comrades that are no longer with us. For one veteran in particular, Willie Riley from Brighouse, there was the additional celebration of his 98th birthday.
The ceremony complete, a quite spontaneous standing ovation broke out, the audience rose to their feet as one and applauded these great men. As ever, they were much in demand for interviews by the national and regional media, before taking some time to pose for family photographs. As they waited around, the veterans chatted amongst each other and it was quite clear to anyone observing that, while they may well be of advanced years, inside they are still made of the same spirit that carried them through those times and gave us the peace that we enjoy today.
Museum Director, Ian Reed, commented: “This is a historic and increasingly rare event with these very special people who represent a fast decreasing number of veterans from a period of our past history which still affects us to this day. It was as we were expecting, a very emotional time for all the veterans, as they remember many lost colleagues and friends, but a day also of pride, particularly for the many family members supporting them on this special day. The applause for each veteran in turn, and indeed the spontaneous standing ovation was warm, heartfelt and thoroughly deserved.”