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

Date
12 February 2016 10:53

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

Ken Godfrey, 90, was presented with the honour by Madame Josette Lebrat, Honorary Consul to the French Embassy, in a special ceremony on 29 January 2016 in the Guildhall in Bath.

Ken says: "I was absolutely thrilled to be presented with the medal - it's a great honour.

"Madame Lebrat, who awarded me the medal, even signed my citation personally with congratulations.

"We had a bit of a laugh afterwards as she accidentally pricked me when she put the medal on me. I joked that she really stuck it on me well!"

Ken was called up in 1943, aged 18, during the Second World War and served as an infantryman in the Hallamshire Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. His division landed in Ver-Sur-Mer beach in Normandy three days after D-Day. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the Normandy landings freed France from Nazi control and helped the Allies to victory in North-West Europe.

Later he took part in Operation Market Garden, a bold Allied military operation that attempted to end the war by Christmas 1944. After the war, the battalion served in the British Army of the Rhine (BOAR) in Germany and looked after displaced people from different countries. He was discharged in October 1947 as a Colour Sergeant.

He says: "I was chest deep in sea water the day I landed on the Normandy beach. This medal is the icing on the cake of all the experiences I had in the Armed Forces."

"Being in the infantry I was incredibly lucky to be one of the few to survive the liberation of France and then to go on to successfully liberate Belgium and the Netherlands."

Later in life Ken lost his sight due to a combination of macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss in those over fifty, cataracts and glaucoma.

Ken says: "It got worse and worse. I was told at the hospital that there was no more they could do for me. I started doing little things to prepare myself for going blind, such as making sure my cereal bowl was in the same place every day."

Ken discovered Blind Veterans UK through a leaflet at the hospital. He started receiving support from the charity in 2014 to help him to live independently with sight loss.

He says: "The support from Blind Veterans UK has given me a new lease of life. It's made all the difference."

He has received training and equipment to help him support him to live independently including talking books, a boom box, and coloured sunglasses to protect his eyes from bright sunlight.

He says: "I told those attending the ceremony I'm supported by Blind Veterans UK as they've helped me so much and you never know - they might need the charity's help at some point."