A 95-year-old former Royal Navy sailor has been awarded France’s highest order of merit for his part in the liberation of that country in World War 2.
Harry Johnson was presented with the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur at Clyde Naval Base, a few miles from his home in Helensburgh.
Harry, originally from London, was presented with his medal by Emmanuel Cocher of the French Consul General on behalf of the President of France at a ceremony also attended by Harry’s family and friends, including his daughter Lindsey and her husband.
The award was part of a programme by the French government to recognise the sacrifice and efforts of British Service personnel during the Normandy landings in June 1944 – around 5,000 medals have been awarded in the UK to date.
Harry joined the Mob at the age of 17, undertaking initial training at Dartmouth before moving on to specialist engineering training at the RN Engineering College, Devonport.
His first deployment, as a lieutenant, was in light cruiser HMS Enterprise, spending months working up for the invasion of Normandy.
On 25 May 1944 HMS Enterprise joined Bombardment Force A in Belfast, which included the battleship USS Nevada, and the force sailed for Plymouth at the beginning of June.
The flotilla left Devonport on 3 June, met up with the main invasion fleet off the isle of Wight and sailed for the French coast on 5 June.
Arriving off Normandy, Enterprise and her group bombarded the batteries at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville and other defence positions during the Allied assault on Utah Beach, firing an estimated 9,000-plus shells during the landings and at Quuerqueville, near Cherbourg, later in the month
The cruiser returned to Portsmouth at the end of June but was back off the French coast in July, supporting operations early in the month then providing naval gunfire support during the assault on Caen on 17-18 July; such was the level of gunfire that the ship was in Rosyth on 4 August for the replacement of her worn gun barrels.
Of the Normandy Landings Harry said: “I remember waking at dawn on D-Day and going on deck to find the sea completely covered with ships and crafts of every conceivable shape, size and purpose, for as far as the eye could see and mostly heading for the beaches.
“The Enterprise was allocated to Utah Beach in the American Sector, and her first task was to soften up the beach defences and then to lay down fire ahead of the Allied advance.”
He continued: “It is an honour to be presented with this award; however I also think of all those who died during and since the war, and feel that many of them deserve this far more than I do.”
Harry left the Navy as a Commander in 1971, joining the RN Engineering Service, an MOD civilian organisation in support of the Navy, finishing his career in 1982 as Chief Services Engineer at Faslane.
WO1 Andy Knox, Command Warrant Officer Submarines at Faslane, took the opportunity to thank Harry for his service at HMS Neptune and presented him with one of the few remaining HMS Neptune badges and a very special bottle of 18-year-old malt whiskey.
“I was extremely privileged to be part of Cdr Harry Johnson’s Légion d’Honneur presentation at HMNB Clyde. It was a truly humbling experience for all involved and a very proud moment for Harry,” said Andy.
“This was the second Légion d’Honneur presentation that I have had the honour of attending in recent weeks, and reminds me of how proud we should all be of our true heroes.”
Pictured is WO1 Andy Knox presenting Harry Johnson with the HMS Neptune badge and a bottle of malt whiskey on behalf of Clyde Naval Base.
The image of cruiser HMS Enterprise arriving in Devonport after the Battle of the Bay of Biscay at the end of 1943 is from the Imperial War Museum collection – © IWM (A 21139)