A World War II veteran who took part in the Normandy D-Day landings finally collected France’s highest award for bravery – 71 years after the event.
Ernie Covill (91), of Wyberton, joined fellow vets Les Budding and Frank Richards in representing just a handful of the local men who would have been eligible for the Legion d’Honneur.
The award cannot be awarded posthumously, meaning many veterans died waiting for the medal and the medals will not be sent to the families of those who have passed away.
The Mayor and Mayoress of Boston Coun Richard Austin and his wife Alison were proud to award the men with their medals in a small ceremony at the Boston Borough Council council offices last Tuesday.
Presenting the medals to Ernie and to Les, of Boston, and Frank, from Sibsey, Coun Austin said: “We have three very special people here today who took part in an operation that changed the future of the world.
“These medals have been given by the French people to mark their part in operation Overlord which changed the history of the world.”
Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II.
It was a major offensive against the Nazis, with thousands of paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines. It also led to much bloodshed as 4,000 men perished at the hands of the Nazis before they were defeated the following year.
The D-Day landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault which carried in the largest armada ever seen.
Around 24,000 British, American and Canadian airborne troops landed shortly after midnight on five beaches across Normandy on June 6, 1944 – on the beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach.
The weather was described as far from ideal but postponing would have meant a delay of at least a fortnight and the tides would not wait. The men landed under heavy fire and the beaches were mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods and barbed wire.
• Although more than 70 years have passed since D-Day, Ernie Covill (91), from Wyberton, can still remember the day the landings took place.
He was just a teenager and a lorry driver in the Royal Army Service corps.
He said: “Our job was to transport the ammunition and we went all over France and out to Germany.
“I took part in the second day of the landings.
“It is hard because before we arrived we all thought about getting out there but to fathom what it was really like is hard to describe. We arrived in a big transport convoy, sailing from Southend in the UK.
“We were on the top deck of the landing craft but could not get off until the bottom deck got off.
“I remember seeing bodies floating everywhere in the sea around us. There was a big gun battery at the top of the beach and I remember it was raining and freezing cold.”
Talking about receiving the medal, Ernie said: “It was a surprise when they
announced we would receive the medal but I feel honoured to get it.”