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Top French honour for Aussie veterans

(Transcript from World News Australia)


France has bestowed its highest decoration – the Legion of Honour – on four Australian Second World War veterans.



On the 70th anniversary of the conflict, the men join 15 others recognised last year for their distinguished service during operations to liberate France.


Phillippa Carisbrooke reports.


Established by Napoleon Bonaparte over 200 years ago, the Legion of Honour recognises distinguished service to France.


It was with a mixture of pride, and sadness, that four Australian Air Force veterans accepted the honour at a ceremony in Melbourne.


Recipient Ronald Cleaver reminded of all his comrades killed in action, and those lost since.


“I can’t help but think of all the friends, all the chaps, I was with. And unfortunately they are all gone now.”


For fellow recipient, pilot James Coulter it was a moment to reflect on how the world has changed.


“I think I look back at that period there thinking “Is history going to repeat itself? Are you going to have world wars every 20 years?” That’s not proved to be the case. I think it’s a better world.”


Legion of Honour recipient Dennis Kelly was part of a Lancaster crew that flew 27 missions over France.


Forced in an emergency to parachute over enemy territory, the injured radio operator was hidden by French families.


“I have taken this honour on behalf of my crew. There are six of them. And they have all passed on. “


Having helped France in its darkest hours, the Chief of the French Air Force, Air Chief Marshall Denis Mercier, says the nation is eager to show its appreciation.


“They have paved the way for this really long friendship that we have with the Australian Air Force.”


All Australian veterans who served in operations to liberate France during the Second World War are invited to apply for the Legion of Honour.


French Ambassador Christophe Lecourtier expects more to be awarded this year.


“And so we are studying on a case by case basis the stories of these veterans. We are accelerating the pace in order to be able to say thank you to so many of them.”


It’s thanks that means much to these men.