Surprise! 96-year-old Leeds D-Day veteran Joseph Murphy given France’s highest bravery award

He was an insider on one of the most secretively planned operations in the history of warfare.

Joseph Murphy with Jane Thompson, his god-daughter, and other family members
Joseph Murphy with Jane Thompson, his god-daughter, and other family members

But yesterday 96-year-old Joseph Murphy, from Burley in Leeds, discovered that he had been the target of a very different clandestine plot when he was honoured for the part he played in the Normandy Landings.

Conspiratorial members of the former paratrooper’s family hatched a plan to present Mr Murphy with the Legion d’Honneur – France’s highest award for bravery.

Determined to keep the scheme a surprise, they assembled in secret at the Yorkshire Air Museum in Elvington, York, yesterday, where Mr Murphy was told he was being taken for a day out.

The Légion dHonneur is France's highest award for bravery

It was only on arrival that he realised he had been duped all along.

Museum director Ian Reed, who helped Mr Murphy’s family execute the plan, said: “He thought he was just being brought along to have a look at some of the exhibits.

“We have an original 1944 Douglas C-47 Dakota, which has a long association with the Parachute Regiment.

“When he found out what was happening, he was overwhelmed. He’s a stoic Yorkshireman but there were a lot of tears.”

The French government announced last year that it wanted to recognise all surviving veterans of the Normandy landings, and of the wider campaigns to liberate France in 1944, by awarding them with the Legion d’Honneur.

Mr Murphy’s god-daughter, made the necessary application to the French and, because only French representatives or family members can make the presentation, she liaised with the museum to find out if it could make the occasion a special one.”

Mr Reed added: “We’ve done a few of these before, but the recipients have always known beforehand. This is the first surprise one and it was very emotional.”