A 92-year-old Wearside veteran has been awarded France’s highest honour for his role in helping to liberate the country during the Second World War.
Sunderland’s Joseph Prince, was presented with the Legion d’honneur during a service at the Yorkshire Air Museum at the weekend.
The Silksworth pensioner said it was one of the proudest moments of his life being presented with the medal by Contre Amiral (Rear Admiral) Patrick Chevallereau, Attaché de Defense, Embassy of France.
Joseph was an Able Seaman with the Royal Navy when he took part in the Normandy landings aged just 20 years old.
He was serving on board HMS Strathcoe, a converted fishing trawler being used to transport fuel to the landing crafts.
He said: “It was the most frightening time of my life. We could see what was happening along the coast, it is still very vivid. I can still remember the names of everyone who was on the boat with me.”
It was an experience I will never forgetJoseph Prince
Joseph said the trawler eventually began to take in water and they were forced to retreat to dry land.
The Wearsider says he considers himself very lucky not to have been killed during the conflict.
After returning home, at the age of 22, Joseph worked in the shipyards until his retirement.
And, HMS Strathcoe was returned to a fishing trawler and lost at sea off the Scottish coast years later.
The French government has been awarding the Légion d’honneur to surviving D-Day veterans for several years, as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.
The Légion d’honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte and is France’s highest distinction awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit.
Joseph, who has one son, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said of the presentation: “It was the most fantastic day, something I never expected, especially at my age.
“It will be an experience I will never forget. It was very emotional, I kept welling up all day.”
His son, also Joseph Prince, 69, said there were about 400 people in the crowd and they gave the five veterans being presented with the medal, a standing ovation.
He said: “We were so incredibly proud, it was an amazing day.”
Other dignitaries at the ceremony included Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, Air Vice Marshal Richard Knighton and high ranking service personnel from all over the world, including Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Russia, Belgium, Finland and the USA.