France honours Lowestoft war hero with highest military accolade

George Nutburn pictured with his wife Phyllis and two sons.

George Nutburn pictured with his wife Phyllis and two sons. - Credit: Archant

He showed outstanding bravery when driving a flail tank used to clear mines from Sword Beach in Normandy as part of the D-Day landings.

George Nutburn pictured with his wife Phyllis and two sons.

George Nutburn pictured with his wife Phyllis and two sons. - Credit: Archant

His courage allowed obstructions to be removed so paths could be made for troops to advance.

And now, more than 70 years on, a Lowestoft man has been awarded France's highest military honour for his role in the country's liberation.

Walter Fredrick George Nutburn, 91 – who goes by his favoured name of George – has received the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur. He was presented with his medal by the mayor of Lowestoft, Stephen Ardley, on behalf of the president of France.

Just seven months after the D-Day landings, Mr Nutburn married his wife Phyllis, who was born and raised in Lowestoft. They will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on January 12.

In June 1944 George Nutburn drove a flail tank which was used to clear mines from Sword Beach.

In June 1944 George Nutburn drove a flail tank which was used to clear mines from Sword Beach. - Credit: Archant

Mr Nutburn, who has two sons, Phillip, 66, and Mervyn, 67, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, was joined by his family and friends at the small ceremony, at the Parkhill Hotel in Oulton on Saturday, December 19.

Mr Nutburn was born in Southampton and originally wanted to join the RAF. But after being called up, he decided to join the army and travelled to Aberdeen in 1942.

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After he completed his basic training he was then sent to join the 115 Royal Armoured Corps which was part of the 137 Tank Brigade. Mr Nutburn was the only one who could drive a motor vehicle, and so he was selected as a specialist tank driver early on.

He took part in the D-Day landings, but was only there for ten days in total and was slightly wounded.

'When you first get there, there are machine guns firing at you, and straight away you try and duck,' said Mr Nutburn.

'It was like hail on a tin roof but at the time you are not scared.

'When you first get there, you respond to every sort of sound but after you have been there a while, you recognise what those sounds are and whether they are heading your way or not.

'In the tank I was frightened I was going to pick up a body in the tracks, that scared the life out of me.'

After the epic struggle, Mr Nutburn returned home after suffering diesel poisoning – meaning he was in hospital for three weeks.

He was posted to Finedon, close to Wellingborough, where he met his wife to be on the bumper cars – which in actual fact had broken down – at a funfair.

Phyllis, who is now 91, was Lowestoft born and bred and had played netball for Lowestoft Town.

She had been evacuated due to the war and previously worked at the Co-op factory, which was bombed.

They got married in Lowestoft in 1946 at the old Methodist church in town and have been together ever since.

Speaking about being awarded the medal, Mr Nutburn added: 'It's strange to be given this medal, I am pleased at the acknowledgment but I would have appreciated it a lot more when I was younger.

'I feel I have to accept it on behalf of those tens of thousands of those who are six feet under. I consider myself the lucky one. I feel very fortunate to be here.'

Mr Ardley said: 'The opportunity to present this medal to a local hero of the Second World War is a wonderful privilege.

'This is the highest honour that France can bestow and it is richly deserved for his courage and bravery during one of the most famous operations in military history.'

? Have you got a Lowestoft story? Email: joe.randlesome@archant.co.uk