Private plane sees Norfolk Battle of Britain ace able to collect Legion d’Honneur during D-Day commemorations in France

Tom Neil , Second World War veteran, who was flown to the Normandy commemorations by private plane.

Tom Neil , Second World War veteran, who was flown to the Normandy commemorations by private plane. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

When wartime wing commander Tom Neil was invited to collect his Legion d'Honneur during D-Day commemorations in France, he feared he would have to turn down the offer.

Tom Neil , Second World War veteran, who was flown to the Normandy commemorations by private plane.

Tom Neil , Second World War veteran, who was flown to the Normandy commemorations by private plane. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Nearly 96, Mr Neil, of Thwaite St Mary, near Bungay, was concerned the journey may have been a trip too far off the back of last year, which saw him attend 38 remembrance ceremonies and events.

Partly in jest, his son said the Battle of Britain ace could only attend if a private plane could take him - a request which was, to their delight, agreed.

On Saturday, Mr Neil jetted off to France from Norwich Airport for five days of banquets and events with dignitaries and fellow veterans - and, of course, to collect to prestigious medal.

He described being awarded the Legion d'Honneur as 'an honour' and said: 'I was delighted the plane was arranged - otherwise I'd have been going by bus.

Tom Neil , Second World War veteran, who was flown to the Normandy commemorations by private plane.

Tom Neil , Second World War veteran, who was flown to the Normandy commemorations by private plane. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams


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'Getting to 96 makes it a bit more difficult to do these things and after last year I said I'd take it easier.'

The trip was made possible by Countess Dorotha de la Houssaye, who the veteran met while on a trip to Washington last October, when hopes of securing the Legion D'Honneur, the French government's highest award for bravery, began.

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The Second World War fighter pilot - who has penned several books about his experiences - said he was looking forward to being a guest at the commemorations, but feared having to make a speech in what he described as his 'schoolboy French'.

The great-grandfather has recently released his latest book, Scramble, a memoir spanning 1938 to 1942, when he fought in the Battle of Britain and the Siege of Malta.

Last year, Mr Neil, who moved to Norfolk in the 1960s, met Prince Harry at a service at Westminster Abbey in the 75th anniversary year of the 1940 aerial campaign.

'It was a wonderful occasion - Prince Harry was so friendly and really interested in everything I had to say.'

Mr Neil's son Patrick said: 'Dad can be reluctant to go to these things but when we get there, he loves it. I imagine the getting up and speaking in front of everyone is the same sort of adrenaline he felt getting in a plane.'

On June 6, it will be 72 years since some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy region.

Weeks after the invasion, known as D-Day, northern France had been liberated and by the following spring the Allies had defeated the Germans.

• Do you have a story we should be writing about? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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