Nine Australian veterans have received France’s highest honour for their courage in World War II.
The group of men, now in their nineties, were around 20 years old when they joined the landing at Normandy in June 1944.
Christophe Lecourtier, France’s Ambassador to Australia, presented the awards at a ceremony at Adelaide Town Hall today.
He said the men deserve to be recognised for their part in ensuring his country’s freedom.
“It was time to express the deep gratitude of the people of France, that have not forgotten that the Australians twice in a century came to give us a hand at a time when a dreadful enemy was occupying most of our country,” he said.
Recipient Ray Merrill said he was just doing what he joined up to do.
On the day he was singled out for courage, his thoughts were with his mates whom he fought alongside.
“I wanted them to share it,” he said. “Although there’s none of them left, I’m the only one left.”
Fellow recipient Allan Vial, who has French heritage, said he “never ever thought” he’d see such an honour.
“I only wish my dear old dad was here, because he lost a leg in World War I in France, so he’d be pretty tickled looking down and see me get this medal today.
Recipient Walter Farrier took a moment to reflect on those who never survived the war.
“I feel sorry for the people who got killed,” he said. “We don’t want wars, we want peace.”
For Ray Merrill’s son Geoff Merrill, the occasion was a chance to hear about a past rarely discussed at home.
“For dad today, I think it helps the counseling process that I think these men never got.
“It’s amazing for him. I’m so proud of him.”