Bromley WWII blind veteran receives medal for helping liberate France from the Nazis

16 September 2016 10:54

A Second World War veteran has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur for his part in the liberation of France.

Blind veteran James Dean was presented with the honour by James Ryeland from the French Consulate in a special ceremony last week (08/09) during a lunch organised by our charity in Biddenden. In attendance was his family, friends and representatives from Blind Veterans UK.

James says: “I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and am very grateful to Blind Veterans UK who organised the whole event.

“I appreciate James Ryeland coming to Kent to present the medal and would like to thank the French Government for this very special award.”

Our Chief Executive Major General Nick Caplin (Rtd) says: “We’re so proud of all of our veterans like James and we are delighted that his Service is recognised with this prestigious French medal.”

James joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in August 1941. He had basic training in Skegness where he specialised as a bomb and gun armourer before being posted to Felixstowe. He was later posted to Biggin Hill Aerodrome where loaded shells into Spitfires. James was then transferred to the Middle East where he served in Egypt, Syria, Libya before moving on to North Africa including Tunisia and Morocco.

In 1944 James was sent to Naples, Italy where he carried out maintenance work on aircraft. After this he was sent to Istres-Le Tubé Air Base, just outside Marseille where he was responsible for repairing the aerodrome and maintenance of planes that were aiding the liberation of France.

James was sent back home to Redhill where he was part of a bomb clearance operation until he was demobbed in 1946. He went back to work in Covent Garden, where he was a Porter. He did this for 40 years until he had to give it up due to a back problem. He started working as an admin clerk in the City and retired when he was 77.

James was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration in 2000 and was put in touch with his local blind association.

He says: “Whilst attending a club at the KAB a representative from Blind Veterans UK came to give a talk about who they are and what they do to help blind veterans. I decided to get in touch with them and it changed my life.”

James started to receive help and support from us in 2007 and has received equipment to enable him to live independently with sight loss.

He says: “I have a Read Easy machine so I can read my mail and a Daisy player for my talking books.”

We also installed a grab rail at his house so he could get to his door more easily and he also goes on holidays to the charity’s centres in Brighton and Llandudno.

Barbara Wilson, James’ daughter, says: “They take really good care of him and he loves to go on his outings.”