Two war veterans have been honoured with France’s highest order of merit to commemorate their service in the D-Day landings of World War Two.
On Saturday (January 13) Captain François Jean, the Consul Honoraire de France, and Susan Piper, the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, presented the Legion D’Honneur medals to the servicemen in a special ceremony at Worthing Town Hall.
The honour, which was established by Napoleon in 1802, marked the selfless contribution of Flight Lieutenant Roy Smith and Private Geoffrey Penfold.
At 21 years old Flight Lieutenant Smith, a navigator on Short Stirling Bombers, flew an exhaustive 43 missions throughout Spring 1944, dropping supplies in the lead up to the invasion of France. Private Penfold, who was a Durham Light Infantryman with the 49th Division, landed on the British-held beaches six days after D-Day and contributed to a number of key missions in the liberation of Europe.
As well as friends and family of the veterans, representatives of the Royal British Legion and Royal Air Forces Association attended the ceremony.
Councillor Alex Harman, the Mayor of Worthing, hosted the event, said: “It was an honour to be part of this event to thank these two veterans whose stories speak of such great courage, bravery we still witness in our troops now in 2018. We thank the French Consul and Lord Lieutenant for joining us to mark this special occasion and to think of those who were lost.”
Background information on Flight Lieutenant Smith
Roy was a navigator on Short Stirling Bombers, the 199 squadron, which was based at Lakenheath then North Creake. The first few months of his war – from September 1943 – were spent on heavy bombing raids over Germany. But the Stirling was not man enough for the job – it flew at a height of around 12,000 feet, as opposed to the Lancasters and Halifaxes which flew 18 – 22,000 feet.
The Stirlings were nicknamed ‘flying coffins’ because, as well as being shot at by enemy fire from below they incurred damage and risk from bombs falling from allied aircraft above.
Because of this, it was used for alternative missions – such as the dropping of ‘tinsel’ which jammed the German radar, mining raids which, over the sea, involved hours of astro-navigation with no actual check pinpoint on land; and finally drops to the French Resistance – the latter being carried out at night at such low heights that a small tree branch was caught once in the tail wheel!
Roy’s log book indicates night drops in red and were up to eight hours in length – flying over the Eastern Jura area of France, flying in as guided by the lit fires or torches of the French Resistance. Several of these were in the Spring of 1944, dropping supplies in the lead up to D Day in June 1944.
Roy was 21 years old when he commenced flying operations. He flew 43 missions in total – a miraculous number, considering the average was between eight and 11, before being shot down.
Background Information on Private Penfold
Private Geoffrey Penfold, who was a Durham Light Infantryman with the 49th Division, actually landed on the British beach six days after the 6th June (being delayed two days by bad weather in the Channel).
Private Penfold feels very proud to receive this Honour bestowed upon him and is very conscious of those who started with him and did not survive to receive this Award given by the French people.
In conjunction with events to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the government of France advised the Ministry of Defence that it wishes to award the Legion d’Honneur to all surviving veterans.