France honours our Second World War heroes 70 years on

Photo: David Hurst'Former Royal Engineer Gerard Rogerson from Longridge with his Legion D'Honneure medal for WW2 service in France.
Photo: David Hurst'Former Royal Engineer Gerard Rogerson from Longridge with his Legion D'Honneure medal for WW2 service in France.

They have had to wait a bit for recognition of the gallant service they gave to the Second World War across the Channel.

But after delays for many more surviving British veterans who French President Francois Hollande pledged to honour with a special medal, two local former servicemen are now the proud recipients of their Legion d’Honneurs for fighting for the liberation of France.

Goosnargh resident Tom Porter with his Legion D'Honneure medal for WW2 service in France

Goosnargh resident Tom Porter with his Legion D'Honneure medal for WW2 service in France

Gerard Rogerson from Longridge and Tom Porter from Goosnargh, both in their 90s, were sent their medals following the French president’s renewed pledge at a ceremony last year commemorating the 70th anniversry of D-Day, and after an outcry over delays.

Both have expressed their pride and delight in being awarded France’s highest honour recognising the part they played in liberating their allies country.

TOM PORTER

A Goosnargh resident all his life and now aged 91, Tom volunteered to join the RAF in 1942 aged 18, trained near Cambridge and, following D-Day, went to France with the mission to reclaim the air fields the Germans had been using and restore them for use by the allies as quickly as possible.

For the first two weeks they were held up in France sleeping rough in fields and ditches until Caen was passed by the advancing forces.

They then moved on to Holland and on New Year’s Day 1945 he and a colleague were walking round the perimeter of the airfield where they were stationed when German aircraft attacked the airfield. His colleague was hit by a bullet but not seriously injured.

They dived under a bowser, thinking it was a water one and soon realised it was a fuel one. They then dived down a banking onto the towpath of a canal running around the perimeter of the airfield and escaped further injury.

On one occasion, being well ahead of the food corps, they had been issued with a small tin of emergency rations – dried biscuits and cheese – and Tom has this tin and his kit bag to this day.

His corps stayed on after VE day and Tom still has a copy of the Technical Magazine of the RAF Airfield Construction Service Volume 1 no 6 issued in January 1946 for the work they did after the war had finished.

He returned to Goosnargh after being demobbed, married Ethel Childs, whom he met at dance in the village hall, and worked as a nurse at Whittingham Hospital until his retirement.

GERARD ROGERSON

Whittingham Hospital was also where Gerard started work aged 14 as apprentice garden boy on 7/6d a week.

Called up in February 1944 aged 18 to join the Durham Light Infantry, after six weeks’ training he was transferred to the Royal Engineers and trained in bomb disposal and how to be a stevedore.

Taken from Stranraer in Scotland down to Boden Camp and then to Purfleet docks in London where he was issued with 24 hour rations and ammunition before boarding ship on June 4, sailing along the south waiting for orders which came very early on the morning of June 6.

These lead to 25 soldiers and one sergeant landing on Juno Beach and Gerard recalls “after running up the beach we encountered some Canadians who told us to get back as they were the front line”.

“We then looked for the rest of of our company but never found them, so found a dry ditch and bedded down for the night and this became our sleeping quarters for the next several weeks.

“The next day we came across another RE company, glad that we had joined them as they had lost quite a few of their men. Our job was to go out to the ships which came in as far as they could, climb up netting to get on board and unload onto landing craft wagons, ammunition and anything else they brought, sometimes food, petrol etc, all the time being heavily shelled.

“Sometimes we would be called out at night, which was very hard because we could only have a small torch fastened to our belts to see by.”

Moves to Dieppe then Antwerp followed, then Belgium where VE Day was declared, then Hamburg from where Gerard was sent home on his first leave of 14 days.

India was his next stop before being demobbed and he added with a rueful laugh: “I had spent my 19th, 20th and 21st birthdays away from home!”

It was to both home and Whittingham Hospital Gerard eventually returned, however, and resumed his 45 years work there, ending up as District Garden Superintendent.

He met his wife Freda at one of the hospital’s regular dances – she was one of the team in the hospital’s admin office – and they have been together now for 65 years.

And one of their social enjoyments is getting together with other members of the Royal Engineers Association at their meetings at Fulwood Barracks.