Posts Tagged ‘French’

British D-Day veteran to receive highest French accolade

March 16th, 2015

Troops on Juno Beach, Normandy, during the D Day landings (HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY)

Mr Turner will receive his award from Captain Francois Jean, the consul honoraire of France, on behalf of French president Francois Hollande.

He said: “This is a great honour that I wasn’t expecting. I know that I’ll be thinking of those who didn’t make it, my friends who didn’t come back from the Normandy beaches after D-Day.”

The French government informed the UK Ministry of Defence last year that it wanted to recognise the selfless acts of heroism displayed by surviving veterans of the Normandy landings.

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Mr Turner was born and brought up in Hilsea, Portsmouth, and at 17 he decided to go to the city’s recruiting office and sign up for the RAF, but he was too young. Instead he was taken on by the Royal Marines in January 1943.

He and three other colleagues manned a landing craft which was based at Itchenor, near Chichester. On June 4, 1944, they sailed across to Lee-on-Solent and came alongside a Canadian troop ship.

And on June 5, they sailed across the Channel in their landing craft as part of the invasion.

Mr Turner said: “It was very quiet, no one spoke. Then when we got close to the beach, the Germans started firing and it was pretty noisy. I was used to it, as my dad had been in charge of the firewatch in Portsmouth, so I’d heard air raids and gunfire anyway.

“I wasn’t frightened. I was only young, so it felt a bit like an adventure to me, even at that stage. We landed the Canadian engineers and their equipment on the beach and then backed off, so we could see what was going on. Some landing craft were hit and started sinking, some Canadians were being shot around us.

“We slept on the beach that night, and I remember a German plane coming over and flying very low. We were all firing at it. The next day, we started unloading all the ships by landing craft. Most of the boxes we unloaded seemed to be food.

“The next day, the Canadians dug a trench for the dead bodies and covered them over. But we saw a few bodies still floating on the tide, even a week after D-Day.”

Mr Turner will receive the award on Monday March 23.


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Wartime spy finally accepts she is a French heroine

November 22nd, 2014

Mrs Doyle was one of a handful of female agents working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), set up to spy upon and sabotage Nazi-occupied Europe. She had joined the RAF to train as a flight mechanic in 1941 but the secret services spotted her potential. Although her mother was English, her father was a French doctor and Mrs Doyle was fluent in the language. Instead of working on fixing aircraft, she was whisked away for training in espionage.

“It wasn’t until after my first round of training that they told me they wanted me to become a member of the SOE,” she said in a rare interview five years ago, “They said I could have three days to think about it. I told them I didn’t need three days to make a decision; I’d take the job now.”

A close family friend – her godmother’s father – had been shot by the Germans and her godmother had committed suicide after being taken prisoner by the Nazis. “I did it for revenge,” Mrs Doyle told the New Zealand Army News magazine in 2009.

In Britain, the SOE operatives were trained by a cat burglar, released from jail especially. “We learnt how to get in a high window, and down drain pipes, how to climb over roofs without being caught,” she recalled.

Given three separate code names – Genevieve, Plus Fours and Lampooner – she was first deployed in Aquitaine in Vichy France from 1942.

She was dropped behind enemy lines under a new code name, Paulette, into the Calvados region of Normandy on May 1 1944.

Although then aged 23, she assumed the identity of a poor 14-year-old French girl to make the Germans less suspicious. She used bicycles to tour the area, passing information through coded messages.

The messages would take half an hour to send and the Germans an hour and a half to trace the signal. She would have just enough time to send her message and move on before being discovered.

She would sleep rough in forests, forced to forage for food, or stay with Allied sympathisers. “One family I stayed with told me we were eating squirrel,” she told the Army News, “I found out later it was rat. I was half starved so I didn’t care.”

But the war – and the horrors she witnessed – took its toll. She has disclosed how she sent a message requesting a German listening post be taken out by bombers but a German woman and two children died.

“I heard I was responsible for their deaths. It was a horrible feeling,” she said, “I later attended the funeral of a grandmother, her daughter and her two grandchildren, knowing I had indirectly caused their deaths.”

After the war, Mrs Doyle returned to Kenya, where she had gone to school, for her wedding to an Australian engineer. The couple had four children and moved to Fiji and then on to Australia, where they settled.

Eventually, she moved with her children to a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, divorcing her husband in the mid 1970s.

Her bridesmaid, Barbara Blake, 91, who lives in north London, said her friend had never wanted publicity for her deeds. The French government, however, had wanted to make its award public to highlight Mrs Doyle’s remarkable achievements.

It wasn’t until the last 15 years or so – and her children now grown up – that Mrs Doyle confided in them about her career as a spy. “My eldest son found out by reading something on the internet, and my children insisted I send off for my medals,” she said.

“I was asked if I wanted them to be formally presented to me, and I said no, I didn’t, it was my family who wanted them.”

Laurent Contini, the French ambassador to New Zealand, said: “I have deep admiration for her bravery and it will be with great honour that I will present her with the award of Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration.”


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Tapestry looted by Nazis to be returned to French chateau

June 22nd, 2014

Staff worked with the Art Loss Register, an international company that tracks down lost and stolen art and the tapestry is now being returned to its rightful home, the chateau in Normandy where it had hung for over 200 years.

The work was made by Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory in around 1720, shows a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and is now “easily worth tens of thousands of pounds”, according to James Ratcliffe, of the ALR.

A university spokesperson said: “The tapestry was looted at a time when Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld and his wife were both imprisoned in concentration camps.

“Comte Bernard was an active member of the French Resistance before his arrest in Paris in 1943. He died in 1944 as a result of his treatment at Flossenburg concentration camp while his wife survived the war.”

Two other tapestries taken from the chateau at the same time are still missing.

Chateau de Versainville is now owned by Comte Jacques de la Rochefoucauld, the descendant of Comte Bernard’s brother, and has been significantly renovated.

Comte Jacques who travelled to Sheffield to view the tapestry said: “I am delighted and touched by the generosity of the University of Sheffield in returning the artwork.

“The university has demonstrated respect for those who have suffered from the ravages of war.

“The example that the University has set is one which I hope others will follow in due course, and demonstrates their respect for those who have suffered in the past from the ravages of war.

“In the year marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld this donation brings us great happiness.”

It will be exhibited with a plaque to mark its return to the chateau, 500 miles from Sheffield.

Lynne Fox, Heritage Officer at the University of Sheffield, stated that: “We are delighted to see the tapestry returned to its rightful home at the Chateau de Versainville and are very pleased to have been able to assist in this process.

“We were as surprised as anyone to discover the history of the tapestry but we have been working extremely hard to ensure it is returned to the Chateau where it can be appreciated in its original home.”

Mr Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries at the Art Loss Register: “In practical terms it, would have been difficult, though not impossible, for the university to sell it without acknowledging the Comte and the object’s past.

“Often that might involve a financial settlement. But there are no laws that would have forced the university to return it like this. That is undoubtedly an act of generosity.”It has been a pleasure to assist in the restoration of this tapestry to its rightful home.

” We are extremely grateful to the University of Sheffield for their assistance and generosity. It is always satisfying to bring restitution cases to a conclusion and we hope to locate and recover the remaining two missing tapestries in due course through our work.

Since it was established in 1991, the ALR has tracked down lost and stolen art to a value of more than £200 million.


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