New medal for an old warrior of Normandy
Ernest Butler was one of the founder members of the RAF Regiment and, at 94, has a new medal recognising his part in World War Two.
Ernest, who lives with his wife Margaret off Tollgate Lane in Bury St Edmunds, has just received his medal and citation as a Chevalier Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur (knight of France’s Legion of Honour) for his part in liberating the country in 1944.
The French President announced the award to all who had taken part at the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 and Ernest’s daughter Anette Ellard made the application.
Ernest was too modest to have his picture in the paper, but he said: “I shall wear it with pride, then I shall think of the lads I knew and fought with who didn’t make it back.
“I would personally like to thank the French Government – nobody else has done it.”
Ernest was seriously wounded in Holland.
The medal came with a letter from Sylvie Bermann, the French ambassador to London, who wrote: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace we must never forget heroes like you who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France.”
For Ernest that journey began when he volunteered for the forces and chose to join the new RAF Regiment, which was formed under Churchill’s orders in 1942 to defend air bases.
He was part of a group of about 10 men who manned a Bofors light anti-aircraft gun and remembers: “I was with a wonderful crew.”
While they were training in Wales he recalls them being told there was a visitor.
“It was Mr Churchill himself,” he said. “He came and said ‘I can’t have my Spitfires hanging about the troops on the ground so I’m giving you the responsibility to take charge of the planes that come to strafe them.
“I admired him for that – he must have had millions of things to think about.”
His unit arrived in Normandy shortly after D-Day, but instead of defending airfields they were sent to defend troops in the fighting around Caen, where they also took on light tanks.
He still thinks of the families his fallen comrades left behind but adds with pride: “We knocked Mr Hitler for six!”
He added: “To all the youngsters I say, don’t let it happen again.”
To apply for the Légion d’honneur for a Normandy veteran, download the form at www.gov.uk