Veterans honoured by French

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Natalie Staples (author), LSIS Brenton Freind (photographer)

Location(s): Fleet Base East

Topic(s): Légion d'honneur

Ambassador of France to Australia, His Excellency Monsieur Christophe Lecourtier, stands with former WWII veterans after being awarded the French Legion of Honour onboard the French frigate FNS Vendémiaire at Garden Island, Sydney. (L-R) Mr John Eppel, Mr Alf Humphreys, Mr Ken Joyce, Mr Bill McRae, His Excellency M. Christophe Lecourtier and Mr Don Browning. (photo: LSIS Brenton Freind)
Ambassador of France to Australia, His Excellency Monsieur Christophe Lecourtier, stands with former WWII veterans after being awarded the French Legion of Honour onboard the French frigate FNS Vendémiaire at Garden Island, Sydney. (L-R) Mr John Eppel, Mr Alf Humphreys, Mr Ken Joyce, Mr Bill McRae, His Excellency M. Christophe Lecourtier and Mr Don Browning.

Seventy years after the end of the Second World War Two, five Australian veterans were recognised with the Légion d'honneur onboard the French frigate Vendémiaire, alongside Garden Island, Sydney.

French Ambassador to Australia, H.E. Mr Christophe Lecourtier, and Commander of the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia, Major General Philippe Leonard, decorated the Australian veterans who fought for the liberation of France during the war.

Mr Lecourtier said bestowing the honour was a way for France to express the Republic's deep gratitude for the sacrifices made by the veterans.

“The Legion of Honour is given to remarkable men, women and today it is presented to five outstanding men, who were aviators and seamen during the Second World War,” Mr Lecourtier said.

“Your involvement during the terrible days of the landing included bombing missions over France, breaking through German defences and taking part in the offensive that brought armies from the coast of Normandy to the heart of Paris.”

Kenneth Joyce, a Navy Seaman, laid mines stopping enemy boats from Cherbourg attacking the vessels in the Normandy landings.

Commander of the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia, Major General Philippe Leonard, presents the French Legion of Honour to former WWII RAN sailor Mr Ken Joyce onboard the French frigate FNS Vendémiaire at Garden Island, Sydney.

Commander of the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia, Major General Philippe Leonard, presents the French Legion of Honour to former WWII RAN sailor Mr Ken Joyce onboard the French frigate FNS Vendémiaire at Garden Island, Sydney.


Bill MacRae, a Royal Air Force pilot flew 43 missions over the Middle East and Royal Air Force with the 148 and 104 Squadrons.

Donald Browning served as an air gunner and wireless operator on Lancaster aircraft and participated in many bombing missions over France.

John Eppel served as a navigator, on RAF bomber command stations in Yorkshire, before and during the D-Day landings and took part in operations against still-resisting German troops on the coast of France and in Normandy.

Alfred Humphreys flew with the Royal Australian Air Force 75 Squadron over various French ports.

“From today, your names enter the pantheon of my nation and are amongst those that deserve the utmost respect,” Mr Lecourtier said.

“You all have supported your mates at sea or in the air, making the landing and the advance of the light division possible despite heavy resistance from Nazi troops occupying France.

“You are living symbols of our common values, the spirit of resistance, the spirit of liberty and mateship.”

Mr MacRae said his contribution was one of many.

“Being awarded the Legion of Honour was a surprise; I never imagined it would happen,” he said.

“Too much fuss and bother for a humble bloody airforceman.

“I just had a very, very lucky war.”

The Legion of Honour is an order of distinction first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in May 1802. It is the highest decoration bestowed by France, which recognises distinguished services for the country.