Norwich veteran nurse receives Legion D’Honneur on 100th birthday
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A veteran nurse has been presented with the highest French military honour on her 100th birthday.
Marjorie Gibson was one of the first from the Queen Alexandra Army Nursing Corps to make landfall in Normandy after D-Day.
Today, as she celebrated her century, she was presented with the Legion d'Honneur by French Honorary consul, Huguette Andries-Smith.
Mrs Gibson's convoy of nurses made the crossing on an open boat with no provisions, coming under heavy fire throughout the 24-hour journey. Soon after arrival, they set about establishing the first major hospital tent in Bayeux, tending to both allied and German troops.
While her experiences were undoubtedly testing, with hunger and hardship commonplace, Mrs Gibson looks back on these times with positivity.
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She said: 'I was in my 20s and I thought it was a great adventure – being stupid, as I was in my 20s.
'Sometimes there could be 7,000 men and only 500 women, so if you can imagine, we danced all hours.'
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Mrs Gibson began her life in Kent, moving to Norwich in recent years to be closer to her daughter and she now lives at the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind's Thomas Tawell House on Mapgpie Road. She has four children, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Two of her children, Ann Bennett, 68, and Maxwell Saxty, 62, were there for the presentation and the latter attributed his mother's fruitful life to her determination.
He said: 'She had a difficult start in life and she had to fight and be determined to get to where she is today.'
Mrs Gibson had already been decorated with the Legion D'Honneur, however, this was the first time she had been officially presented with the award – 'better late than never,' she joked. After some difficulty with a tricky safety pin, Huguette Andries-Smith officially awarded Marjorie the medal to warm applause from residents and guests at Thomas Tawell House. She said: 'It is a great honour for me to present you with this award today. Congratulations on your bravery and thank you for contributing to our freedom.'
As for the key to a long and healthy life, Mrs Gibson said: 'There are no secrets. We all have problems in life and we have to get on with it. You have to work hard and fight, and not give in when you feel like giving in.'
Mrs Gibson has documented some of her memories from the Second World War.
On nursing civilian casualties during the Blitz, she said: 'We worked incredibly hard and, when not at work, played hard too. If we were on day duty we danced at nights. If on nights we danced before work in the afternoons. My overwhelming memory of those days is not of fear, but of hunger.'
On the D-Day channel crossing: 'Our matron had insisted that we wore our normal nurses uniforms. Each nurse was seated with a ring of men around her for protection and warmth. When we landed we were greeted by a large and enthusiastic reception committee and given men's army trousers to preserve our modesty.'
On being deployed in Bombay: 'We travelled on The Stratheden - a requisitioned passenger liner. We nurses were comparatively lucky to share a double cabin between six of us, but many of the troops had no accommodation and just slept on the floor.'