Northampton WWII blind veteran receives medal for helping liberate France from the Nazis
20 July 2016 11:46
A blind Second World War veteran from Northampton has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur for his part in the liberation of France
Blind veteran Les Hammond was presented with the honour by French Consul Jean-Claude Lafontaine in a special ceremony on Tuesday 19 July 2016. The presentation took place at the Blind Veterans UK Sheffield centre.
Les says: “It was quite overwhelming and I was a bit embarrassed as I don’t see myself as a hero, I’m a survivor. I was honoured to accept the Legion d’Honneur on behalf of all the soldiers who didn’t come back.”
Chris Clark, Centre Manager at the Blind Veterans UK Sheffield centre, says: “It was a great honour to be there to see Les presented with his Legion d’Honneur and I personally thanked him for his Service. We’re so proud of all of our veterans like Les and it is only right that his Service is recognised with this prestigious French medal.”
Les joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in 1943. Because Les was small he was sent to a development centre in Hereford to build up muscles and improve his physical development.
Les says: “The idea was that I’d put on weight but by the end of it I’d lost a pound and a half! I was incredibly fit by the end of it so I guess it did the job.”
Les was attached to the 86 Anti-Tank Regiment and together with them he landed on Juno Beach as part of the Normandy Invasion. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the Normandy landings freed France from Nazi control and helped the Allies to victory in North-West Europe.
Les says: “I trained as a technical clerk though that doesn’t mean much out in the field. When someone is trying to kill you they don’t care about your trade.
“Our group was under Canadian command, which I didn’t realise at the time. I did wonder why there were so many Canadians around!”
After fighting his way through France, he went on to Belgium and the Netherlands, where he was part of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful Allied military operation which aimed to finish the Second World War before Christmas 1944. He was in Hamburg when Victory in Europe was declared. Not long after, he was posted to the Middle East – Egypt, Libya and Palestine. He finished in Cairo before being demobbed in 1947 as a Craftsman.
Afterwards, Les went to work for his family’s leather & handy crafts business, which he did for 50 years until his retirement in 1997.
Les started suffering from glaucoma over 30 years ago though it didn’t affect his eyes. He also suffers from cataracts and optic atrophy which affect his sight in the last few years. In 2012 he learned of Blind Veterans UK through a fellow blind veteran already supported by the charity at one of his local dances.
Les had an introduction week at the Blind Veterans UK Sheffield centre where he learned how to live independently with sight loss. He’s also had several IT courses and was supplied with a new PC and special software, designed for those with a vision-impairment, to implement what he used in his training.
He says: “The most useful thing so far has been the white cane they supplied. It such a simple thing but has made a big difference.
“The support from Blind Veterans UK is excellent and I can’t fault it. I especially like going to the Sheffield centre. I’ve been there eight times now and because it’s a bit smaller than the charity’s centre in Brighton or Llandudno you really get to know the staff.”