War Hero is honoured by the French Government

James Kirkwood awarded the Legion d'honneur
James Kirkwood awarded the Legion d'honneur

A 94-year-old WWII veteran was awarded France’s highest military honour in a moving ceremony at Glasgow City Chambers last week.

James Kirkwood is one of the last remaining ‘old soldiers’ who fought on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

As a result of his heroic and selfless actions during that period he was awarded the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

James and his wife, Isobel were part of a group of nine veterans receiving the award, presented by the Consul General of France, Emmanuel Cocher, who said: “France will never forget the gallantry and bravery veterans showed in taking part in the Liberation of France 70 years ago.

“The actions and sacrifice of these men, and that of so many who fell on the battlefield, was instrumental in bringing back freedom and peace in France and across Europe”.

“It wasn’t something we gave a lot of thought to at the time, we just got on with our jobs”, said former Royal Navy 1st Lieutenant James Kirkwood.

Now 94-years of age, James and his wife Isobel were treated to a reception held in Glasgow City Chambers last week, hosted by the Consul General of France, when James was awarded France’s highest military award, The Legion d’honneur.

James’s mission on D-Day was to transport a section of the 3rd Canadian Artillery to France and to do so the Landing Craft had to land on Juno Beach to allow disembarkation of field artillery, tanks and their crews.

Following D-day his division then continued transporting troops and equipment to the beach five times a week for the next eight weeks, often returning carrying prisoners of war.

After completing his service, James was presented with the operational orders and the flag ensign which his landing craft flew by his then commanding officer, Lt HG Arkley.

These are now on display in the Imperial War Museum, London with James’s recollections at the time.

“Some 5-6 days before D-Day all COs were called to a briefing and given plans of the operation, together with excellent photographs of the beaches, taken by RN personnel operating from midget submarines.

“We loaded up with a contingent of the 13th Artillery, a unit of the 3rd Canadian Army, destination Juno Nan Beach. One idea to increase the quality of the fire support during the run-in to the beach had been the use of army field artillery firing from landing craft. This was approved, but after trial and error at Inverary, it was found that the 55 pound guns could accurately engage targets out to a range of 12,500 yards.

My recollection is that, on D-Day, this tactic was used very successfully by the Canadians. On D-Day, we were supposed to beach on the flood tide about 11am, but because of the clutter on the beach due to the German beach defences, we were forced to stand off.By the time we received orders to beach the tide had turned and we had to land on the ebb tide, taking our craft as far as possible on to the beach before disembarking.

“By the time this was completed we were beached high and dry. That afternoon a single German aircraft flew over the beach and dropped bombs which damaged the other two beached craft, killing or injuring many of the crew. We were lucky escaping unscathed.

One memory in particular remains with me. On June 12th we again beached with troops and materials close to a craft which had also beached. From my position on the port foredeck I happened to notice a group of senior officers standing on the starboard foredeck of the craft next to us. To my amazement, I was looking at Winston Churchill, General Smuts SA, Admiral Nelles RCN, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke .