A family gave a war veteran double cause for celebration when they arranged for him be given a prestigious military medal on his 99th birthday.
The loved ones of Leonard Wells applied on his behalf for a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur for his part in the D-Day landings.
Leonard had signed up to the Army in 1941 and became a gunner serving with the 73rd Anti-Tank Regiment Royal Artillery and spent time in North Africa and took part in the Battle of El Alamein and spent time helping to liberate Sicily.
On D-Day - June 6, 1944 - he took part in the landings in Normandy, with his role to land on Gold Beach along with the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and the Northumberland Hussars.
He took part in actions around Caen before linking with US forces from Omaha Beach going onto fight across North West Europe, including Operation Market Garden, remaining in Europe until the end of the war before returning to England in October 1945.
He has already been awarded the 1939-45 Star, Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp, Italy Star, France and Germany Star and the War Medal.
I think everybody feels this is something very special.Judith Weaver
After the war, the former Mortimer Road School student became a bricklayer, helping to build many of the council homes in Marsden, and lived in Cleadon Park with his wife Nancy, who died in 1998.
The couple never had children, but they have been much loved by their nieces and nephews.
The French medal has been awarded after his niece Judith Weaver, 68, applied for it with the help of her former son-in-law Mark Smith, Captain Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps 56 (City of London) Field Hospital.
Judith said: “It makes you quite proud to think that somebody you are related to has earned this and has been to war.
“I think everybody feels this is something very special.
“We wanted to give it to him on his birthday to make it an even bigger occasion.”
The medal, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, is known by its full name National Order of the Legion of Honour and is the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.
Originally from South Shields, Leonard’s medal was presented to him at the Hylton View Care Home in Sunderland, where he has lived for the last two years.
A gathering was held with his family and representatives of D Squadron (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Queens Own Yeomanry (Northumberland Hussars).
Leonard’s father Joseph Wells served with Northumberland Hussars, an ‘Old Contemptible’ as part of the British Expeditionary Force in the Great War and was awarded the Mons Star, Victory Medal and War Medal.
Eric Donjon, the honorary consul of France for the North East and Cumbria, said: “The French people are so proud and grateful for what these young people gave for us.
“They volunteered and they didn’t know what they were going to see or have to do and they had to fight and saw shocking violence.
“When I think about what they did, I get a lump in my throat.
“How many young people today would do the same?
“Whenever I speak to my friends back in France all of them ask me to say thank you to those people who helped us.”