September 18 2014 Latest news:
by Harriet Orrell, Reporter
Friday, August 8, 2014
A D-Day hero has been awarded the highest honour that can be bestowed by the French government.
Ron Arnold, 89, of Beverley Close, Emerson Park, returned to France to receive the Legion d’Honneur for his involvement in the Battle for Caen during the D-Day invasion 70 years ago.
The prestigious award is bestowed on non-French people only in recognition of exceptional acts, as with Ron and his 1944 comrades in arms.
“The award is a very treasured high award in France and could be thought of as on a par with a British MBE,” explains Ron, who is a Romford Rotarian.
He collected his medal last month at “what could only be called a palace” in northern France alongside 46 other veterans from all over the world, including Canada and Australia.
He recalls: “A minister of the French government came along and gave us all a kiss, the French way, then pinned on the award.”
During the Second World War, 19-year-old Ron served as a dispatch rider on the south coast and in Normandy.
He rode a motorcycle across battlefields, avoiding land mines and capture, to keep units in touch with each other.
“You are the object of a sniper,” he remembered.
“Going around on a bike was not as easy as it may sound – it was dangerous.”
Ron travelled back and forth between units, carrying parcels and coded messages, moving as quietly as possible.
He didn’t carry a map as that could lead the enemy to British forces if he was taken prisoner.
His own unit was based just outside Caen in the small town of Mouen in the summer of 1944.
It was a reinforcement unit placed to support others in the battlefield with additional machine guns and mortars.
“The battlefield was large and there were very large weapons,” Ron recalled.
HMS Rodney was positioned in the Channel to support the troops. It rained shells onto the mainland while British flamethrowers, known as crocodiles, roared across the fields to move on the enemy troops.
German machine guns rattled at a rate of about three shots per second alongside the Nebelwerfer rocket launchers.
“When the shots went overhead it sounded not so much like a whistle but a cloud of sound,” Ron explained.
One evening there was a different sound above Ron’s head. It was the heavy drone of massed aircraft.
“We looked up to the sky and there were 400 Lancaster bombers, seven in a crew, and they bombed Caen,” he said.
“The city was destroyed – it has been rebuilt since – but it wasn’t very nice to see what we were doing to France.”
Ron returned to England with a severe infection in his arm which meant he couldn’t move it.
He says: “I was using my right hand to put my left one up on the handlebars so I could use my fingers to operate the clutch of the motorcycle.
“The poison got to the top of my arm and I thought it would go to my heart so I went over to the first aid post and they made arrangements for me to fly back to England.”
Ron is not sure exactly who put him forward for the award but he is honoured to have been one of the first D-Day veterans to have received it.
“There are other people who did what I did and more,” he said.
“But for some reason I seem to have friends who proposed me for the award, which would be impossible for me to refuse.”