French top honours for two Sidmouth WWII veterans
- Credit: Archant
France’s highest military award has been bestowed upon two 91-year-old war veterans from Sidmouth.
Fred Danckwardt and Thomas King MBE both received the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur and a letter from the French ambassador thanking them for their dedication during World War Two.
Mr Danckwardt, who moved to Sidmouth 31 years ago, said it was an honour to receive the insignia.
He joined the Royal Air Force when he was 18 and took part in 45 operations during World War Two.
The Lancaster rear gunner has recalled his memories for veterans charity Legasee. He said: “On D-Day I flew twice. We flew early in the morning to bomb the beach and on the way out we realised it was D-Day as we saw all the ships going in. It looked like millions of ships going towards the beach.”
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Mr King, who was born in Sidbury, was tasked to repair and build runways in England and in France to quicken the turnaround for pilots to return to the front line.
He said: “I didn’t land on D-Day, I landed later, but we actually made one of the first landing strips six miles inland from Arromanches on the road to Bayeux.”
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The team used seven layers of roof felting to make a runway for Allied planes.
Mr King said: “The idea was to enable the Spitfires and Typhoons to come in to land, quickly refuel and go back over the front line, rather than having to go back to the UK to refuel.”
He met his wife Madeline after her village in Coxyde, Belgium, was liberated by British troops. The couple will next year celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.
Mr King’s daughter, Nancy, who lives in Lyon, said: “It is a huge honour for a British soldier to receive a French dedication, which is not given out often. All of the grandchildren are very proud.”
Sylvie Bermann, French ambassador, said: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.”