Harleston war veteran honoured with the Legion d’honneur

Gilbert Clarke (second left) with Jimmy Keywood, the chairman of Harleston and District Royal Britis

Gilbert Clarke (second left) with Jimmy Keywood, the chairman of Harleston and District Royal British Legion, and Harleston Army Cadets Kenny Remblance and Jack Ling. - Credit: Archant

He was sent to France to help build roads and clear the destruction left behind by bombers during the liberation of the country during the Second World War.

And to recognise his selfless act, Gilbert Clarke, of Wilderness Close, Harleston, has received the Legion d'honneur - the highest accolade awarded by the French government.

The 93-year-old, who was a Royal Engineer, said he had been waiting a long time for the medal.

He said: 'I almost cried when I got it. How do you explain it? It was really lovely to get it.'

The former soldier arrived in France three days after D-Day - driving a semi-armoured D7 bulldozer off a barge and onto Sword Beach.

Mr Clarke said: 'I was a working soldier. We repaired roads and built bridges. We didn't get near the front line a lot. The only time I was really in any danger was when we first landed. The next day I was sent back to the beach to help unload barges. There was quite a bit of enemy activity then.'

The veteran, who was born in Pulham, near Diss, moved to Harleston in 1958. He met his late wife in 1940 in Norwich and married her before he was deployed in 1943.

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His time in the forces saw him serve in France, Germany and the Netherlands. And he remembers a time in Antwerp in Belgium where he had to clear a theatre that had been bombed.

He said: 'We did a lot of street clearing in cities that had been bombed. In the theatre there were a lot of dead people.'

After the war, Mr Clarke spent 40 years working at H Knights of Harleston Agricultural Engineers, starting out as a tractor mechanic and finishing as a service manager.

The father-of-two, who has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, was a founding member of the Harleston District of the St John's Ambulance and was a part-time ambulance driver.

A small celebration was held for Mr Clarke attended by Jimmy Keywood, the chairman of Harleston and District Royal British Legion, and Harleston Army Cadets Kenny Remblance and Jack Ling.