Légion d'honneur medal for Leeds World War Two veteran more than 70 years on

A Leeds war veteran who served in the aftermath of the D-Day landings has been given the highest French medal of honour.

Eric Wilfred Lawson waded through the shores of Gold Beach with the 2nd battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps just weeks after joining the forces.

Eric Lawson.

Eric Lawson.

The Guiseley school football captain was called up to service in April 1944.

He landed in France early on June 7, 1944, the day after the famous Normandy offensive began during the Second World War.

Major Stanley Hardy, the deputy lieutenant of West Yorkshire, yesterday presented Mr Lawson, 93, with the Légion d’honneur during a ceremony at Cookridge Court Care Home.

Mr Lawson’s son, Roger, 69, said: “It was only six to eight weeks after he was called up that he was literally dumped on a beach.

Receiving his medal.

Receiving his medal.

“He would never talk about his experiences but I knew that he had to wade ashore and much of the fighting had moved inland.

“When they pushed down towards Cannes and met German counter-attacks, that’s when he faced the muck and bullets, as they say.”

He added: “He told me he could hear men screaming inside burning tanks.

“That’s not a pleasant experience for anyone, but especially for an 18-and-a-half year old.”

Tearful scenes at Cookridge Court Care Home.

Tearful scenes at Cookridge Court Care Home.

Mr Lawson, along with some other soldiers, was taken ill with nephritis at Falaise due to what was thought to have been a toxic injection in the run-up to combat. He was evacuated back to England and recovered in a hospital in Kent, and by the time he rejoined his battalion, it was May 1945 – and the war was drawing to a close.

As he was travelling towards the Far East for more service, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively concluding the war.

Mr Lawson was then stationed first at Tripoli, and went on to Palestine, where he remained for some time.

France is still presenting Normandy landing veterans with its highest military honour for their role in the country’s liberation.

Emma James performed Second World War-era songs during the ceremony yesterday, and Royal British Legion members were present too.

Mr Hardy told the veteran: “Our generation owes your generation a huge debt of gratitude –it’s a debt we can never, ever repay. Thank you for who you are, thank you for what you did.”

But the end of the Second World War was not the end of Mr Lawson's military efforts – and some of his most harrowing experiences lay ahead.

After being stationed in Palestine, he witnessed the repatriation of concentration camp victims.

“That had a more profound effect on him,” said son Roger.

“He said it was quite a terrible state to see them in.”

Palestine, which until 1948 was under British rule, could also at that time be a dangerous place for UK soldiers.

During his stay there, Mr Lawson then came down with tuberculosis, had to have a lung removed and spent five years recovering in a now-demolished convalescence home in Ilkley.

“Five years in an institution watching other men die has a different effect on you, I think,” Roger said.

He married his wife June, a hairdresser, in 1948 at Guiseley, and Roger was born in 1949.

The family initially lived in Guiseley before they moved into a council house in Markham Avenue, Rawdon.

After that, Mr Lawson built the family a new home in Well Lane, Rawdon, which still stands, although the couple now own a bungalow in Horsforth.

Mr Lawson, a Leeds United fan, worked as a carpenter and later as a housing construction inspector before retiring at 65.

“When he retired, he lived life to the full,” said Roger.

“He wanted to go on holiday and see the world.”