Of the 156,000 Allied troops who landed in Normandy on D-Day - June 6, 1944 - records indicate that around 10,000 men were either killed, wounded, went missing in action or became prisoners of war.
Seventy-two years on and there may be few left who survived what was the biggest operation of the Second World War, but 12 such men - all from Yorkshire - have now been officially recognised for their service in the most decorated of ways by the French government.
The former military men and their families gathered at The Allied Air Forces Memorial and Yorkshire Air Museum near York earlier today where high-ranking French dignitaries presented each with their country’s highest honour, the Légion d’Honneur.
During a poignant event attended by more than 100 guests, retired servicemen from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force each stepped forward to have their medals pinned to the lapel of their military blazers; a duty performed by the French Defence Attaché to the UK, Contre Amiral Patrick Chevallereau; French Air Attaché, Colonel Patrice Morand; and French Consul, Jeremy Burton.
The ceremony was the latest in a series of commemorations to have taken place since the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014, when French President François Hollande pledged to honour all British veterans who had served in France during the war.
Among those to collect the honour was Jack Pritchard, 91, of Rothwell, Leeds. A father-of-two, grandfather-of-four and great grandfather to five, he now lives in a care home but in 1944 he was a Private in the 4th Battalion of the Army’s Lincolnshire Regiment who landed on ‘Gold’ beach on June 7. He took part in the advance on Caen before being severely injured under enemy artillery fire. He was the only survivor of the attack on his trench.
After today’s ceremony, his son, Stephen Pritchard, 64, who accompanies his father on annual visits to Normandy, spoke of his pride before a surprise visit to Mr Pritchard’s care home by the Lord Mayor of Leeds.
“It has been quite emotional for him today but he is so honoured to receive the award. I’m very proud of him and so proud and honoured to have him as my father.”
Another recipient, Robert Hall, 93, of Follifoot, Harrogate, was a Leading Aircraftman in a Royal Air Force mobile radar unit during Operation Overlord. He landed near Port-en-Bessin on the boundary between Gold and Omaha beaches on June 9 and was involved in the direct control of RAF fighter planes over Northern France as they moved along the coast towards Belgium.
Mr Hall told The Yorkshire Post: “I was only part of a very small unit so really I feel the medal I got was on behalf of the other chaps who were there at the same time.”
Also among the medal recipients was Geoffrey Noble, of Brighouse, who was deployed as a wireman on board a tank landing craft that dropped troops on Gold Beach in the first wave of landings at 7.25am on June 6. Having made the drop, the craft hit a mine causing it to drift off the French coast for days before it was intercepted by an American unit.
Ian Reed, director of the Yorkshire Air Museum, which was used as a base for 2,300 French airman during the war, said: “These guys have some absolutely wonderful stories to tell and some of them had their great, great grandchildren with them today - and they will take those memories forward.
“We are grateful, for what we have today is down to them.”
FULL LIST OF RECIPIENTS
Royal Navy: Able Seaman William Cutler; Ordinary Seaman Kenneth Wrighton, (both Leeds); Able Seaman Austin Byrne, Bradford; Able Seaman Jack Holstead, Halifax; Wireman Geoffrey Noble, Brighouse.
British Army: Pvt Jack Pritchard, Lincolnshire Regiment; Sapper George Inman, Royal Engineers, (both Leeds); Pvt Geoffrey Lawrence, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Bradford; Lt Dennis Anderson, Queens Royal Regiment, Malton; Sgt Peter English, Royal Artillery, Bridlington.
RAF: Ldg Aircraftman Robert Hall, Harrogate; Wing Commmander Hugh Lorimer, Knaresborough.