Modest war hero and D-Day veteran Tony Blackman (92) received France’s highest decoration, the Legion d’Honneur, watched by fellow ex-Paras, ex-servicemen and civic leaders.
The Chevalier class (knight) award was presented by Honorary French Consul Monsieur Robert Mille, who said: “I am here on behalf of the French people to express our undying and heartfelt thanks for all you did to liberate France.”
Tony was aged 18 and a corporal in the 12th Battalion (Airborne) Devonshire Regiment when he landed on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
He trained on gliders but was switched to a sea landing craft.
Tony said: “I am only 5ft 3in and with all the equipment I took a soaking down in the water until somebody grabbed hold of me and managed to pull me up.”
Speaking about the Legion d’Honneur, Tony said: “It’s not for me – it’s for my mates that I left behind in Normandy, but it’s great, the medal is exceptional and I am pleased.”
Thursday’s ceremony at Spalding Golf Club saw presentations of certificates to Tony from Spalding branch of The Parachute Regimental Association and The Rifles, a successor regiment to the Devonshires.
Paras Spalding branch chairman Major David Almond said the 12th Battalion landed with the objective to relieve Caen. Tony fought in the area of La Bas de Ranville and helped repel the German counter attack before the Allied breakout. Further actions followed before Tony was seriously wounded on June 25 and spent months in hospital.
Tony and wife Rita moved to Weston in 1999 and began fundraising for the Royal Anglian Regiment and The Veterans’ Association, collecting at Harold Payne’s Anglia Motel in Fleet. In 2014 the couple met Prince William at the 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations at Arromanches.