Peter Chesney, 92, was presented with the Legion d’Honneur on Thursday.
Mr Chesney, who nowadays lives in a care home in Ruislip, took part in the bloody Battle of Caen in the summer of 1944. Earmarked by the Allies for capture on 6 June (‘D’-Day), it took two months and many lives before the French city eventually fell.
He then fought his way through France, into Holland then Germany, ‘constantly moving’, he said ‘before we finally realised the Germans had had the stuffing knocked out of them’.
In 2014, the French government decided to recognise the service of all British veterans of the Liberation of Normandy by presenting them with the Legion d’Honneur.
Above: The Mayor of Hillingdon, Councillor John Hensley, pins the Legion d’Honneur on to the lapel of Gunner Peter Chesney at The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Hillingdon surgeon Alistair Myers, who recently performed surgery on the war veteran, led the efforts to ensure Mr Chesney got the recognition.
Mr Myers said: “When we first met, he said his only remaining desire was to receive this medal before he died because it can’t be awarded posthumously.
“It meant so much to him. He has no living relatives and this is really the last thing he wanted to achieve in his life.”
Mr Myers, on learning his patient’s history, contacted the Ministry of Defence and the French Embassy in London and set the wheels in motion.
It was handed to him at a simple ceremony in Hillingdon Hospital’s Beaconsfield East Ward, with Mr Meyers watching.
The Mayor of Hillingdon, Councillor John Hensley, pinned the medal on to Mr Chesney’s jacket, watched by Mayoress Diane Hensley and Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Above: Left to right: The Mayor and Mayoress of Hillingdon, Councillor John and Mrs Diane Hensley; Gunner Peter Chesney, proudly wearing his Legion d’Honneur and Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Alistair Myers.
Mr Chesney was a 15-year-old errand boy when war broke out, riding a horse and cart around the streets of Battersea to deliver milk and bread. But as the bombs fell on London, he knew he would probably have to do his bit, sooner or later.
“I knew that I’d have to join the services when I was 18,” he recalled, “and I was called over to Acton to register.
“I wanted to join the RAF because they had a shirt and tie – but they were full. Everyone wanted to join the RAF!”
Called up instead to 109 Battery, 33 Field Regiment The Royal Artillery in 1942, aged 18, ‘Gunner Chesney’ was paid the princely sum of three shillings a day, with uniform and ‘grub’ thrown in.
Mr Chesney, who has outlived all his army chums, was eventually ‘demobbed’ in what was then Palestine in 1947.