John Duke was one of the former service men to be awarded a Legion d'Honneur medal today in London
John Duke was one of a dozen former servicemen to be given a Legion d’Honneur medal at the French Ambassador’s residence in London.
Still sprightly, the veteran, from Chessington in Surrey, said it was a privilege to serve the British Army during the liberation of France during the Second World War – and said he and his colleagues would do it all again, despite the huge personal sacrifice that many made.
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“It’s a great thing. It really comes to light that it’s appreciated, what we did, from 1944 onwards.
“I was very pleased that we’ve been recognised and I think we’d do it all again. It was a hard life, dangerous, but we would do it again.
“My family think it’s marvellous their dad has survived so long.
“And it’s my birthday tomorrow so I’ll have my family and the grandchildren round.”
Happy Mr Duke will celebrate his special award with his family combined with his 96th birthday
I was very pleased that we’ve been recognised and I think we’d do it all again. It was a hard life, dangerous, but we would do it again.
John Duke, former serviceman
After the war Mr Duke went on to work briefly at Harrods in Knightsbridge before becoming a police officer and completing 30 years service.
But he still remembers the horrific conditions during the Battle of the Bulge in the densely forested Ardennes region.
A corporal in the Royal Armoured Corps in 1944, he continued: “It was so terribly cold. And utterly terrifying. But we had a job to do and we did it.”
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Schera Morris Masters, 97, from Essex, was a Lance Corporal cut off behind enemy lines in France as the British retreated at Dunkirk in 1940.
Today he celebrated the medal event with his wife Josephine, 94. The couple have been married nearly 70 years.
John with his fellow former servicemen Alfred Wilson, 91 (left) and Morris Masters, 97 (right)
Mr Masters, who went on to become a dress designer, said: “I am lucky to be alive and very honoured to receive this medal.”
Former gunner Percival Chafer, from Pimlico in central London, said the letter inviting him to receive the prestigious accolade came “out of the blue”.
And he said the service took on extra poignancy, being the last surviving member of his band of ex-servicemen.
The 97-year-old said: “The best part of being in the army was the comradeship – your friends.
“Fortunately for me when the war ended we got a crowd together to meet up, but one by one they’ve all died off.
Mr Wilson and John looked in high spirits after receiving their honourable awards
“My last chum went three years ago, my mate Jim, so I’m on me tod now.
“But wherever you go, in the pub or wherever, the stories you can hear – great stuff.”
Ivan Solomons, a sergeant in the Royal House Artillery during the campaign, from St John’s Wood in north London, said his medal belonged to his fallen comrades.
The 93-year-old said: “There’s nothing special about me, I’m representing the crowd I served with.
“It was seven decades ago but the memories are still there – they’re like little videos you play and relive the whole thing and remember how lucky I was.
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“I’m very lucky for my age – I’m pretty fit and I don’t think I’ve gone bonkers – my stepson keeps me in line.
“My friend Angela tells everyone she’s got a hero in the family – I don’t feel like a hero, I just did whatever I did.”
The Legion d’Honneur recognises acts of the utmost bravery and was awarded to the Second World War veterans for the service they paid to France more than 70 years ago.
On the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 it was announced that all British veterans who fought in the liberation of France in the Second World War would be awarded with the distinction.
Since then, more than 3,500 medals have been awarded to veterans in the UK and another 1,000 are still to come.
The Légion d’Honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte. It is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit.
The French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann told the assembled veterans that she had been deeply affected by their stories of bravery, and reminded onlookers that some were “barely 20 years old” when they were fighting Nazi Germany.
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