Northern Ireland

D-Day: NI veterans receive France's top military honour

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Media captionTwenty-three medals were presented to aging WW2 veterans and their families at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn

A group of 23 World War Two veterans from Northern Ireland have received France's highest military honour for their part in the D-Day landings.

D-Day, 6 June 1944, was the first stage of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, changing the course of the war.

The veterans were presented with the Legion D'Honneur (Legion of Honour) award in Lisburn, County Antrim.

The medals were presented by France's honorary consul in Northern Ireland, Regine McCullough.

The recipients are ex-serviceman from the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) who played a variety of roles in the Allied operation, which was the biggest seaborne invasion in history.

Image caption Royal Navy veteran George Thompson was among only four men from a 100-strong unit who survived the D-Day deployment Sword Beach

The elderly veterans gathered with their families and friends for the presentation ceremony at Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn on Tuesday morning.

George Thompson, originally from Comber in County Down, was a telegraphist with the Royal Navy but on D-Day he was part of a naval Commando unit which landed on Sword Beach in preparation for the main Allied assault.

He acted as a radio link between Allied troops and the naval ships, guiding them into the beach and calling in gunfire on enemy positions.

"I landed when I was 17 with the Commandos. I had my 18th birthday on the beach," Mr Thompson told the BBC.

Image caption Ex Able Seaman Samuel McGookin was among those who received medals from France's honorary consul in Northern Ireland, Regine McCullough

The pensioner said his memories of D-Day were no longer clear but he recalled being involved in mostly "hand-to-hand" combat.

The casualty rate was very high. Mr Thompson said that he landed on the beach with more than 100 comrades but "only four of us came back".

Ms McCullough, who is from Normandy in France, said it was an "incredible" experience to meet the ex-servicemen who helped to liberate her homeland.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Legion D' Honneur (Legion of Honour) is France's highest military honour

"I always wondered - it must have been really terrible to arrive that day, and I never thought I would have spoken to and met some of the soldiers who came there," she said.

"Without them, we don't know what the course of the war may have been."

Some of the medals were presented posthumously and were accepted by family members of deceased servicemen.

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