The French Navy Ship Vendémiaire hosted a special ceremony alongside Fleet Base East, Sydney, on 15 April when five Second World War veterans were presented with France’s highest decoration for distinguished service, the Legion of Honour.
Vendémiaire was in Sydney for resupplying and to liaise with the Royal Australian Navy after providing humanitarian assistance with HMAS Tobruk to cyclone ravaged Vanuatu.
With the passage of 70 years since the liberation of France, the veterans may have been a little unsteady on their feet as they were slowly escorted up Vendémiaire’s gangway to her flight deck but there was no doubting that their dedication and determination had not diminished over time.
Before an audience that included friends and families, Australian Defence Force representatives and members of the French business and expatriate community in Sydney, the French Ambassador to Australia His Excellency Mr Christophe Lecourtier pinned the distinctive cross and red ribbon to each of the five veterans.
“Organizing such a ceremony on board a French warship 10 days before the Anzac Centenary and a few weeks before the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe is highly symbolic.
“It is a way to express once again, as loudly as possible, how deeply France is grateful for the sacrifice these young men, that had come from so far, from such a beautiful country, first to save, then to liberate France,” the Ambassador said.
Kenneth Briggs served in the Royal Navy, in the H-Class fast destroyer HMS Havelock protecting Allied convoys and supporting OPERATION OVERLORD for the D-Day landings. Havelockused her guns to bring down shellfire onto the German defenders of the beaches, in support of troops trying to fight their way ashore.
Mr Briggs also recalled being a member of the motor boat crew that transported Winston Churchill between ships while stationed in Scotland.
Serving with the Royal Australian Air Force, William Grey, Stanislaus Donnellan and Billy McFadden flew numerous missions over France including providing key support for the D-Day landings which enabled the advance of Allied troops in spite of heavy resistance from the German occupying force.
Clifford Stevens joined the British Army and landed on Gold Beach on 6 June 1944 and took part in the offensive that brought Allied armies from the coast of Normandy to the heart of Paris, 10 weeks later.
Representing his fellow veterans, Mr Stevens spoke of his "sheer delight" in being presented with France’s most prestigious award. The Order of the Legion of Honour, first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in May 1802, recognises distinguished military and civil service by its citizens and foreign nationals to the French Republic.