D-Day Veterans Awarded the Legion d'Honneur
Two British veterans have been finally awarded the Légion d'Honneur, France’s highest order of military merit, with a little help from the North Dorset branch of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.
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When the carer for Peter Gardner (97) and William (Bill) Ridgewell (94) heard about the award and realised the two men might be eligible, they then approached SSAFA for assistance in applying for the medals. SSAFA caseworker Nick Bate took up the challenge and completed the application for the award on behalf of Peter, including liaising with the French Embassy. Having succeeded in getting Peter the award, they went about the same process for Bill and saw a repeat of their initial achievment.
Both men were subsequently awarded the Légion d'Honneur at Blandford Army Camp in Dorset on Thursday 17 January. The ceremony was attended by both British and French military, as well as friends and family and their SSAFA caseworker, Nick Bate. The award ceremony was also attended by a small group of French school pupils from Caen in Northern France, who were invited to join the event after they studied the Liberation of France, during which project they sent a letter to Peter to establish a link between their past and the present.
Peter and William were both enlisted into Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME) and took part in D-Day in 1944. Peter was called up in 1942 and was sent to Derby to train as a Wireless Mechanic. He was engaged on Operation Market Garden and went through Northern France, Belgium and Nijmegen in Holland before returning to England in October 1944. He was subsequently awarded the 1939-1945 Star, France-Germany Star and 1939-1945 War Medal. Following his discharge in 1946, he became an art teacher in London's East End and married his girlfriend, Pat. Peter is still an artist, and is still painting into his 98th year, with a forthcoming exhibition at the Shaftesbury Gallery in Devon.
In April 1943, Bill was enlisted at Cambridge and worked along the coast through Belgium, Holland and into Germany during the Liberation. Bill landed at Sword Beach in Normandy on 11 June, 1944 and was engaged in a mine disposal on the beach. Bill was discharged in October 1946 and has since been awarded the 1939-1945 Star, France-Germany Star and the 1939-1945 War Medal. Following his discharge, Bill returned to farming in North Dorset and married his partner, Paddy.