Norwich centenarian Major Kenneth Mayhew - awarded highest Dutch honour - celebrates 100th birthday

Major Kenneth Mayhew and his wife, Trish. Picture: Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Major Kenneth Mayhew and his wife, Trish. Picture: Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands - Credit: Archant

Most centenarians can expect a telegram from the Queen - but Major Kenneth Mayhew is held in high esteem by two sets of royals.

Military William Order medal. Picture: Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Military William Order medal. Picture: Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands - Credit: Archant

Celebrating his 100th birthday this year, the Norwich veteran is one of only four living people to receive the highest honour of the Netherlands as a knight of the Military William Order.

Major Mayhew is the only person from the United Kingdom ever to have been awarded the accolade after playing a pivotal role in the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.

Conscripted in 1939, Major Mayhew served as an officer of the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. He commanded a company which landed in Normandy in 1944 and fought in the North West Europe Campaign. He was injured while fighting in the Netherlands, but resumed command of his company before being injured again and returning to the United Kingdom.

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In 1946, Major Mayhew was knighted by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, the great-grandmother of the current monarch, King William-Alexander. He was awarded the Knight fourth class of the Military William Order, the Dutch equivalent of the Victoria Cross and the Légion d'Honneur. The Order's motto is 'Voor Moed, Beleid en Trouw' (For Bravery, Leadership and Loyalty).

On January 18, the date of Major Mayhew's 100th birthday, the Dutch Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mr Simon Smits, and Deputy Defence Attaché, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Arts, paid Major Mayhew a personal visit at his home in Norwich to deliver a hand-written letter of congratulations from King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

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On Thursday he celebrated at the Dutch Ambassador's Residence in London, joined by several high-ranking officials from the British and Dutch military, including Lt Gen Phil Jones CB CBE, Lt Gen Richard Nugee, Major Marco Kroon (also a bearer of the RMWO), and General Tom Middendorp, the Dutch Chief of Defence Staff, as well as many of Major Mayhew's family and friends.

General Middendorp told Major Mayhew he was a 'role model for every soldier in the Netherlands'.

Major Mayhew said of the honour: 'It is something that has completely changed my life. I never looked for any fuss. But the hospitality and the friendship I have been shown by our Dutch friends has been overwhelming.'

The Military William Order

The Military William Order is the oldest and highest honour of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The order was established on 30 April 1815 by King Willem I and was presented for feats of excellent bravery on the battlefield and as a meritorious decoration to senior military officers. The Military William Order is a chivalry order of merit open to everyone regardless of rank and nobility, and not only to Dutch military but also foreigners. To date the Order is extremely rarely awarded and only for excellent bravery in battle.

In 1944 and 1945, with the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation, the Military William Order was awarded to Netherlands citizens as well as members of the Allied Forces for deeds of gallantry. Of the 3,500 servicemen who served in the Netherlands United Nations Detachment in Korea, three servicemen – two posthumously – were admitted to the Order.

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