Legion d’Honneur medals handed out at ceremony
By Jon Waller
Lymington Times – 11 June 2016
Five New Forest veterans were presented with prestigious medals to recognise their efforts in helping to liberate France from the Nazis, at an emotional service in Ringwood. Roy Tamplin, Tony Mott, Ivor Hopkins, Sidney Slatter and George Heaton, who are all in their 90s were handed the Legion d’Honneur – the highest military honour France can bestow – by New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne, who was in full military regalia. The presentation was made at Ringwood Town Council’s Gateway offices and followed a special service of remembrance at the Parish Church led by the Rev. Terry Roberts.
The event brings an end to the battle to get the veterans their medals, which was led by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis. He campaigned in Parliament in July last year to speed up the process of the awarding because of the age of the recipients. All the recipients are former members of the New Forest Normandy Veterans Association (NFNVA), which hung up its standard in January last year because of dwindling numbers.
Speaking to the A & T, Mr Tamplin (92), a former Secretary of the NFNVA, said:
“I am very proud and very humbled to receive this award. Dr Lewis was very good. Really, his actions helped us get recognised.”
On the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June 2014, the French Government announced it would award the Legion d’Honneur to soldiers from any nation who had helped with its liberation in the Second World War. Individuals had to apply personally for the award and give details of how they were eligible, which would be checked out and approved by the MoD and the authorities in France. A huge backlog soon developed because of various administrative difficulties and the number of veterans who came forward and applied. In total, eight members of the NFNVA were known to have made applications.
The proceedings on Monday morning saw the veterans first gather at Ringwood Parish Church in the sunshine, where they had a service to remember the Normandy landings. Rev. Roberts said:
“We acknowledge the heritage of freedom which they all won for us. We give thanks for their courage, their devotion to duty and their comradeship, and we pray that we may all continue to live lives worthy of their sacrifice and build, on their example, a community, a nation and a world where justice and freedom reign.”
The vicar laid a wreath and The Last Post and Reveille were played by Ringwood Mayor Cllr Michael Thierry, before the congregation said prayers. They were then led by the veterans’ standard bearer through the streets of Ringwood to the Gateway building for the presentation of the medals.
Unfortunately, not all those due to receive one could attend the ceremony. Fred Newman, who died in March, was told before he passed away he would receive the medal. At the service his son, Anthony, was handed it on his late father’s behalf. William Chick was not able to attend the service due to ill health, and the eighth veteran, Edward Kingswell, has been handed his medal at the New Milton care home in which he lives.
Dr Lewis was unable to be at the ceremony, but sent the veterans a message. He said:
“Next month, the country will commemorate the disastrous Somme offensive – an attempt to achieve a knockout blow against the German Army in World War One. Today we honour veterans of the Normandy landings and campaign, which achieved magnificently in the Second World War what failed so appallingly in the First.
“No two offensives could have been planned and executed more differently. The Big Push on the Somme was unoriginal, unimaginative and based on a belief that mass casualties were inevitable and acceptable. The Normandy landings were meticulously planned and cleverly sheltered by a brilliantly successful deception plan.
“None of this would have worked, however, without the dedication, determination and valour of the men we honour today and their comrades who did not survive the campaign or have since passed on.”
Mr Swayne, a Major in the Territorial Army, shared the sentiments expressed by Dr Lewis, thanked the veterans and remarked:
“It is crucial that we continue to honour and remember, so we learn from our history.”
During the service, Cllr Thierry made a warmly received speech. Other town councillors in attendance included his Deputy, Cllr Tim Ward, and Cllr Christine Ford. Organised by Ringwood Town Council, the event saw the families of the men attend the service and enjoy a buffet afterwards. Mr Tamplin paid tribute to the Council and Mr Swayne, commenting:
“I think they have done us proud today.”
Eileen Hopkins (89), who has been married to Ivor for 68 years, said she was “very proud” of her husband for getting the medal. Also present was the grandson of Mr Heaton, who is a Commander in the Royal Navy. He has served for 16 years all over the globe, including in the Gulf and Iraq.
Mr Mott, from Lymington, served with 3rd Royal Horse Artillery and was a 19 year-old motorcycle dispatch rider when he came ashore at Arromanches. A few weeks later, he and his Sergeant had gone out under shellfire to repair breaks in a cable at battery headquarters when he was stopped by a civilian who told him many others had been shot. Mr Mott delivered a message and then alerted a doctor to the injured, which helped save their lives as all the telephone lines were knocked out. He was recommended for a medal at the time for his exploits, but nothing subsequently happened.
A Lance-Corporal in the Royal Air Force, Mr Tamplin was part of the ground crew in the network of the New Forest airfields and prepared craft for the initial D-Day landings. He was shipped with his colleagues on June 17th by landing craft to Gold Beach, from where they moved forward under occasional sniper fire to an airfield near Caen to act as a staging post for Hampshire-based squadrons. He also took part in later campaigns in Holland and Belgium.
An Able Seaman, Mr Slatter served on the battleship, HMS Ramillies on D-Day, bombarding shore batteries and other targets within the vicinity of Benouville. Fellow Ringwood resident Mr Heaton, a Warrant Officer, was an air gunner on a Halifax bomber which was shot down as it attacked Normandy targets in early June before the landings. He was rescued by the French Resistance, evaded capture and made it home.
Mr Kingswell was an infantryman who landed on June 6th and later fought at Nijmegen in Operation Market Garden. Rifleman Mr Newman (93) landed on Gold Beach and took part in the advance through France and into Germany. Staff Sergeant Mr Chick fought in Normandy and Arnhem and lives in New Milton. Mr Hopkins, a fellow artilleryman and gunner, fought at Caen, Falaise, Holland and Germany.