'Absolutely Overwhelmed': D-Day Veterans Awarded France's Highest Honour

Four ex-Royal Navy serviceman have been awarded the Légion d’Honneur for their role in the Normandy landings.

Four Royal Navy veterans who helped liberate France almost 75 years ago have received the country's highest order of merit. 

Denis Haley, Charles Kavanagh, Patrick Reardon and John Nicholls were all awarded the Légion d’Honneur on board HMS Belfast in London.

The warship was used on D-Day and is now an Imperial War Museum attraction on the River Thames.

HMS Belfast's wardroom was the venue for the medal presentation with French Ambassador to the UK Jean-Pierre Jouyet and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson both in attendance.

Mr Williamson said: "Today is a reminder of why this June we must show our special generation, that we will never forget the debt we owe for the peace and freedom we now enjoy.

"I would like to thank the French Embassy for their efforts in honouring these men for helping to liberate Europe 75 years ago."

Royal Navy veteran John George Nicholls is welcomed onboard HMS Belfast for Legion d'Honneur ceremony
Royal Navy veteran John Nicholls is welcomed on to HMS Belfast for the medal ceremony (Picture: PA).

Mr Jouyet said: “It is a very great honour for me to be on board HMS Belfast, the Royal Navy cruiser that took part in Operation Neptune, to express our country’s full appreciation and gratitude to soldiers who helped liberate France during the Second World War."

Four veterans were awarded the Légion d’Honneur:

  • Charles Kavanagh, 92, was an Able Seamen aboard a Landing Craft. Mr Kavanagh helped to land tanks on Sword beach on D-Day and was subsequently involved in landing supplies for the US Army on Omaha beach.
  • Patrick Reardon, 93, served on HMS Sheffield. He volunteered for D-Day in the role of Forward Observation Bombardment, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, arriving in Caen some weeks later.
  • John Nicholls, 93, served on HMS Argonaut on D-Day as a Leading Seaman. He fired on and destroyed German gun batteries on Normandy and drove landing craft from ship-to-shore delivering troops and supplies.
  • Denis Haley, 92, served as a signalman aboard HMS Southward Ho towing parts of the Mulberry Harbour from Portsmouth to Arromanches.
HMS Belfast moored by Tower Bridge on the River Thames in London
HMS Belfast is now a museum ship moored by Tower Bridge on the River Thames (Picture: PA).

"A lot of the things that occurred at that time are lost to people’s memories now especially the relationship between members of a ship’s company – you become more than mates, you share things," Denis Haley said.

"It was my whole life for nearly four years.

"It’s a very, very, very special day today. I’m absolutely overwhelmed."

The French government has been awarding the Légion d’Honneur to D-Day veterans for the last five years as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.

French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Royal Navy veterans Dennis William Haley, John Nicholls, Charles Henry Kavanagh and Patrick Reardon with Gavin Williamson and Director-General of IWM Diane Lees
(L-R): French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Royal Navy veterans Dennis William Haley, John Nicholls, Charles Henry Kavanagh and Patrick Reardon with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and IWM Director-General Diane Lees on HMS Belfast (Picture: PA).

Since June 2014, more than 6,000 medals have been awarded to D-Day veterans. 

The presentation coincided with 100 days until the launch of D-Day 75 commemorations which will be held in both the UK and France.

The commemorations will see Royal Navy ships escorting a specially-charted ship carrying D-Day veterans to commemorations in Portsmouth and Normandy in June.