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World War II veterans receive top honour on Armistice Day

15 November 2016
Four World War II veterans who saw action in the liberation of France were rewarded with the country’s highest military honour on Armistice Day (November 11).

The quartet, all in their 90s, received the Legion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from Honorary French Consul, Captain Francois Jean, at a ceremony at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth.

Before the ceremony the veterans were special guests at an outdoor service of remembrance at the base which included a two-minute silence at 11am.

Three of the recipients served with the Royal Navy and the fourth with the Army.

Two years ago the French government announced that all servicemen and women involved in the liberation of the country during WWII would be presented with its Legion of Honour.

The veterans were extremely proud and honoured to be recognised in this way. I was delighted to be able to help get this presentation organised – especially on Armistice Day which made their ceremony even more special.

Commander Steve Shaw

The four veterans receiving the award are: 

Lieutenant Commander Fredrick Davenport, aged 95, from Cosham

Frederick ‘Fred’ Davenport joined the Navy aged 21 in November 1940. He was ordered to join HMS Dunnottar Castle in the supply branch.  From there he went to serve in HMS Eagle. 

On August 11th 1942, while escorting the Malta-bound convoy in Operation Pedestal, the Eagle was hit by four torpedoes from a U73 and was sunk.  After three to four hours of treading water, he was rescued by HMS Laforey.

He went on to serve for the rest of the war on HMS Sirius which went on to take part in the 1944 Normandy and south of France landings, before moving on to the Aegean to help liberate Athens.

HMS Sirius remained in the Mediterranean up to and past the conclusion of the war, leaving in 1946. Lt Cdr Fredrick Davenport’s went on to serve in theRoyal Navy until he retired in 1971 from HMS Dolphin at Gosport.

Ron Smith, aged 91, from Rustington, West Sussex

Ron was drafted on the 2nd June 1944 onto HMLCT-947 as a wireman and joined the craft at Gosport. On D-Day as the craft approached Normandy, Ron’s action station was on the telegraph in the wheelhouse. LCT-947 landed on Sword beach at about 0735.

From his position he could see the local church was burning. Shells were bursting all around and the LCT to their port side received a direct hit and went up in flames.

As the bows of the ship hit the beach the ramp went down and her two tanks and four armoured vehicles tried to disembark. One of the tanks, ‘Dunbar’, was hit by an 88mm shell causing it to slew sideways and block the exit.

After another explosion the craft’s Bangalore torpedoes exploded. One of the armoured vehicles, ‘Barbarian’ tried to nudge ‘Dunbar’ to clear the exit, but failed. They withdrew from the beach immediately. 

Tony Fairminer, 91, of Midhurst, Hampshire

A North Atlantic and Normandy veteran, Tony was a leading seaman gunner on board the cruiser HMS Enterprise. His post was in the director control, which was a position high up a mast, from where the ship’s six-inch guns were controlled.

On and after D-Day, Enterprise fired her guns at various targets in support of the troops. All the ship’s six-inch shells had been fired off after six days, and she returned to Portsmouth to rearm.

On the way back, Enterprise carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a visit to the Normandy beaches.

Andrew Bramley, aged 93, of Colden Common, Hampshire

A Normandy and Operation Market Garden veteran, Andrew worked as a despatch rider with the war correspondents. He survived the D-Day landings, the Battle of the Bulge, the invasion of Holland and helped war reporters tell the tales of war.

 One of the journalists he met was BBC reporter Richard Dimbleby, who was stationed at Cruelly after the D-Day landings. Andrew had several close calls with death when he served.

On the third day of the Allied invasion, the road he was driving on was bombarded and a shell knocked him off his bike. Other close calls saw him almost drown as he crossed the Waal river on a pontoon, when his bike was tipped into the river.

In Holland in 1944, he was following a staff car in front of him which hit a landmine and the impact blew him off his bike. When he reported back, his adjutant told him they had already telegrammed his wife that he was dead.

He returned home to Wickham in Hampshire four days after she received the telegram - much to her surprise. After the war he worked as a lorry driver for Meon Valley Timber Company and he has been married to his wife Iris for 25 years.

Commander Steve Shaw, who helped organise the event, said: “The veterans were extremely proud and honoured to be recognised in this way. I was delighted to be able to help get this presentation organised – especially on Armistice Day which made their ceremony even more special.

"It gave us the opportunity to show them how much the country and the Royal Navy cares about them - it gives them a sense of value.”

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