Halesworth D-Day veteran, 93, awarded top French honour

James Johnston ,93, from Halesworth has been to the French Ambassador's Residence in London to colle

James Johnston ,93, from Halesworth has been to the French Ambassador's Residence in London to collect his Legion d'honneur award. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

James Johnston, 93, didn't expect many people would understand what it was like for him to land on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and become a part of living history.

The Legion d'honneur award presented to James Johnston.PHOTO: Nick Butcher

The Legion d'honneur award presented to James Johnston.PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

However at the French Ambassador's Residence in London, while he was receiving an award from the French Government for his service, he met someone who knows exactly what it was like.

Mr Johnston, from Halesworth, was randomly placed next to a man from the navy, who revealed that he had been on the exact same boat during D-Day.

'He said to me, 'I'll tell you this: I took you over and put you on those beaches,'' Mr Johnston said.

He was presented with the Legion d'honneur, France's highest decoration, along with 17 other British survivors of the Liberation in Normandy. French President François Hollande promised in 2014 that all surviving British veterans who served in France during the war would be honoured.


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The great-grandfather, originally from Glasgow, was only 20 years old during the Allied invasion, but the memory of what he saw has stuck with him for a lifetime.

'How I'm here, I don't know. I shouldn't be here,' he said.

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'We were behind the infantry and I was in a group of eight men. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came a German vehicle. They shot us from a tank and blew us up. Only three of us survived.

'I'll never lose them, I'll always remember them. They were with me the whole time, they were my best mates.

'After we landed on the beach, we went up through France, liberating every place we came along. Finally we made it to Germany.'

Mr Johnston, who attends Halesworth Day Centre three times a week, now has a total of seven medals of his own and two from his father, who fought in the First World War. The Legion d'honneur, though, is one of the more special ones.

'These were all handmade in France, which is why it took a year between when they told me and the ceremony. The French Ambassador came around to all of us and spoke to us all individually,' he said.

To top off the honour, Mr Johnston received a letter a few days after the ceremony from the man who had fought beside him, expressing mutual respect and thanking him for their conversation.

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