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France honours wartime submariner

Veterans from across the north of England gathered in Gateshead to honour a World War 2 submariner.

George Crawley, 93, the oldest member of the North East branch of the Submariners Association, was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by Brig Gen Herve Bizeul on behalf of the President of France at a ceremony hosted by Maritime Reserve establishment HMS Calliope.

The Order of Legion d’Honneur is the highest order of merit for military and civil merits, and foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals upheld may receive this honour. In most cases it is awarded to Britons for their service in the Normandy Landings, but George’s contribution was as a submariner.

George joined the Royal Navy in 1941, shortly after his 17th birthday, and trained as a signalman.  Serving in battleship HMS Rodney up to 1943, he saw service in various operations in Africa and throughout the Mediterranean including the relief of Malta, Operation Torch – the Allied assault on North Africa – and the invasions of Sicily (Op Husky) and Salerno (Op Avalanche).

Towards the end of 1943, George was drafted onto submarines with a two-day ‘crash course’ at Gibraltar, after which he served with various submarines including HMS Uproar, HMS Universal, HMS Ultimatum and the Free French submarine Curie (which had been laid down in 1942 as British submarine HMS Vox, was transferred to the French in May 1943 and resumed the name Vox after the war).

One of George’s memories of the Curie was the mascot on board – a terrier called Radium, named after the substance discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie, whose name was used for the submarine.

The submarine was involved in dangerous patrols off Nazi-held French ports in the Mediterranean, and was subject to nerve-shredding depth-charge attacks.

George transferred back to the British Submarine Service and was involved in other naval operations in the latter stages of the war.

Whilst based at HMS Elfin, Blyth’s depot ship, George met his future wife Freda through delivering signals to her office, and the couple married in August 1945.  George was discharged from the Royal Navy the following year and settled in North East England, where he has been ever since.

The presentation at Calliope was attended by George’s family and many others including the Chairman of North Tyneside Council, Cllr Tommy Mulvenna, Vice Admiral Simon Lister, Captain Edward Ahlgren, submarine veterans, serving submariners from bombers HMS Vengeance and HMS Victorious, serving members of HMS Calliope, members of HMS Calliope Association and shipmates from the Royal Naval Association (Tyne branch).

“This honour is not just for me, but for all of Her Majesty’s Submariners,” George told those gathered before he left for a private celebration with family, friends and fellow submariners.

“We are in awe of George’s achievements as a submariner, as were all who attended. It was also a great opportunity to meet the people of Tyneside and raise the profile of the Submarine Service,” said Lt Cdr Simon Barr, of HMS Vengeance, who was a member of the ceremonial guard for the medal presentation.


Pictured is George Crawley receiving his medal from Brig Gen Herve Bizeul, and also with members of the Royal Navy, including the Maritime Reserve, at HMS Calliope in Gateshead