French honour bestowed upon Australian WWII veterans
10 June 2014
One of France’s highest honours, The Legion of Honour, has been pinned upon the chests of 6 Australian former pilots and aircrew who all participated in combat missions, supporting the D-Day landings and allied advance into occupied Europe.
The award, which is likened to the Order of Australia, was presented to a group of Commonwealth veterans, who all returned to France to participate in 70th anniversary activities commemorating the D-Day campaign, which effectively saw the beginning of the end of World War II.
The seventh member of the Australian veteran’s contingent, which also includes a support team of soldiers, sailors and airmen of Australia’s Federation Guard, Bob Cowper, DFC, OAM, received the Legion of Honour during a trip to France in 2004.
The Legion of honour was presented by the French Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Kader Arif during an elegant ceremony inside the town hall at Caen, located on the Normandy Coast.
“I admire the men of honour that you are, I admire the strength that enabled you to overcome fear, the fear of coming here seventy years ago to leave your mark on French soil, on the earth of Normandy and on the history of the world. “
“On that day you became a legend. You became heroes. You are not just combatants but also liberators, not just men but symbols,” Minister Kader Arif said.
For 92 year old Bill Evans, a former wireless operator and gunner on a Lancaster Bomber the award and ceremony, was an unexpected highlight on his ‘return’ tour of France.
“They said to me there might be a surprise waiting for us in France, I thought well, what does that mean?”
“So when we arrived in Caen and received the Legion of Honour Medal, well it was certainly a surprise and honour.”
“I just feel so lucky to be here, the last time I was in this region of France; I parachuted in and ended up spending a little time on the ground with the resistance!” Bill said.
Bill was referencing his escape out of occupied France after his Lancaster was shot down following a night raid. Bill was scooped up by the French Resistance, who kept him hidden from the Germans for more than two months. Bill was eventually handed over to the advancing U.S. Army, who returned him to England. His story leaving an impact on Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshall Mark Binskin who attended the medal presentation.
“It was a great honour to share this occasion with them. These seven veterans fought and lived by the ideals that all Australians live by today and they should be immensely proud of bringing liberty back to the place they are now visiting,” Air Marshall Binskin said.
The event concluded with three simple words delivered by the French Minister.
“We are grateful,” he said.