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Salvation Army Commissioner awarded France’s top accolade for military valour

4 October 2016 - 10:21am
| by Elly

Commissioner Harry Read, a Second World War veteran who took part in the D-Day landings, has been awarded France’s highest honour for the role he played in the country’s liberation from the Nazis.

Commissioner Read, who has previously served as Territorial Commander for the Australia East territory of the Salvation Army, and as Chief Secretary for the Salvation Army in Canada, received the Chevalier award by order of the the Légion d'honneur at a ceremony at Kensington Palace on the afternoon of Monday 3rd of October. Commissioner Read now resides in Bournemouth where he attends the Salvation Army church in Winton, Bournemouth.

The Commissioner, who was in the 6th Airborne Division, parachuted in to the Pegasus Bridge area of Normandy in the very early morning of 6th June. Due to land at 00.50hrs, the Division were on time but landed in a deeply flooded area three miles from the planned Dropping Zone. A large number of men were drowned and the survivors had some difficulty in linking with the units.

Reflecting on receiving the award and his time with the 6th Airborne Division, Commissioner Read said: “The French Government was at its generous best when it decided to honour, with this highly prestigious medal, those who took part in the liberation of France”.

<">“I qualify for the award because I parachuted into Normandy at ten minutes to one in the morning of D Day as part of the vanguard of the largest invasion force in world history. Not only was the course of the war to be changed but we, who were to be at the sharp end of the battle, knew we would never be the same again and so it transpired”.

“My feelings are of pride but it’s a pride tempered with an awareness of the enormous cost of the thousands of lives needed to achieve victory. As others have done, I have stood at the graves of my friends who were killed in action and have been deeply moved. In their deaths they have only a small strip of ground and a headstone, whereas my life has been so rich and fulfilling. How cruel war is! How important too that, being a survivor, my life should be lived to serve God and to serve the community! This also, I’ve been honoured to do”.

“In that first hour of D Day, as our Dakota aircraft took us steadily, inevitably, towards the French coast, on the word of command we stood in line and prepared to jump. As we did so we flew into the most magnificent fireworks display imaginable except, of course, they were not fireworks but shells and tracer bullets. Keeping our feet in a wildly bucking-aircraft was no easy exercise but the red warning light was on, then came the green light and we shuffled unsteadily down the plane to the exit where, in turn, and aided by a burly dispatcher, we leapt out into the night air to whatever awaited us. Our war had begun”.

“We were on time but, having landed, we knew we were in the wrong place because we splashed down in an area deliberately flooded to make life difficult for paratroops. Many of our men drowned there but, for those who survived we faced the hazards of linking with our units. It was a challenging experience but all part of the liberation, firstly of France for which this priceless medal has been awarded, then, one by one, other countries which had also been conquered”.

“I wear my medals then, with a pride that is hugely aware of the cost which lies behind them, and a deep affinity with those who sacrificed everything for the victory we believed would come”.

“I wear my medals for my mates,
They had not, cannot wear their own.
Though my poor tribute understates
The courage each of them had shown.”

The Legion d'honneur is France's top accolade for an elite group of people who distinguish themselves through civilian or military valour. It was initiated by the then First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1802. The order is the highest military and civil decoration in France. While membership in the Légion is technically restricted to French nationals, foreign nationals who have served France may receive the honour.

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