Norfolk’s very own Florence Nightingale is honoured for saving soldiers’ lives

Yvonne Lees (95) has been awarded the Legion D'Honneur.She ran a casualty clearing station in Norman

Yvonne Lees (95) has been awarded the Legion D'Honneur.She ran a casualty clearing station in Normandy, through France and Belgium and finally into Germany.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

She oversaw the care of hundreds of wounded soldiers during the Second World War. Now, decades on, her work has finally been recognised.

Yvonne Lees (95) has been awarded the Legion D'Honneur.She ran a casualty clearing station in Norman

Yvonne Lees (95) has been awarded the Legion D'Honneur.She ran a casualty clearing station in Normandy, through France and Belgium and finally into Germany.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

In all likelihood, there are dozens of veterans dotted around Britain with a thank you for Yvonne Lees.

During her time as a nursing sister, the 95-year-old battled to save the lives of seriously injured soldiers, overseeing a hospital which followed the Allied troops' advance east – and became the first to arrive in Germany.

Seven decades on, the Brundall mother-of-one's work has finally been recognised, with the awarding of the Legion d'Honneur from the French government, its highest award for bravery.

But ever-humble, Mrs Lees, who has been described by friends as Norfolk's Florence Nightingale, said that while receiving the recognition was 'absolutely amazing after all these years', she didn't feel she warranted 'all the fuss'.

Having grown up in Yorkshire and later training as a nurse in Manchester, it was in 1944, shortly after the Normandy landings, that her war began.

Living under canvas, she ran a casualty clearing station, initially in Normandy, which moved through France and the Low Countries and finally entered Germany, becoming the first field hospital to do so.

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Reflecting on the war, she said: 'When you are young it is a difficult thing to see. But it was exciting, to be honest. I can remember hearing about the First World War and thinking that I wanted to be involved. I can honestly say I was never scared.'

The British Army operated a conveyor belt-style system, with the majority of injured soldiers sent home for treatment, with only the very worst casualties operated on under canvas. Mrs Lees, who was a sister in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps, said the conditions were 'pretty awful' and 'very muddy'.

'I can remember hearing gunfire and getting under a hedge to hide,' she said, 'but you do forget those times and remember the more rewarding ones.'

Her war finished in Celle, just three miles from Belsen, home to one of the concentration camps.

After the war in Europe finished, Mrs Lees worked as a nurse in India and Egypt, where she met husband Roy.

'I remember saying to him that we should wait until we were both back in England,' she said, 'and he'd see all the girls waiting for the soldiers to return – then he'd know if I was still the right one.'

She was – and in 1948 the couple tied the knot.

Mr Lees' work saw them later move to East Anglia, where they lived at Shotley and Pin Mill in Suffolk and Wroxham and Blofield in Norfolk, before settling in their Brundall home 15 years ago.

Mr Lees died nine years ago.

Now a well-known face in the community, a reception celebrating Mrs Lees' Legion d'Honneur was held at Brundall Memorial Hall last week.

Organised with its twinned town of Maurecourt, she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by the French representatives.

'I was very surprised,' she said. 'I didn't expect it at all. It was very nice.'