A local World War Two veteran has received the Légion d’honneur after his heroic exploits on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944.
Walter Elfred Charles Partridge, of George Street, Grantham, received the prestigious honour at a special ceremony at the Mayor’s Parlour last Wednesday, just three months before his 98th birthday.
The French government has been awarding the Légion d’honneur to D-Day veterans from many different countries for several years, as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.
Walter is one of the last few surviving British veterans of his generation to receive the award.
Brigadier Jonathan Blair-Tidewell, along with his colleagues Major Damion Moxom and Colonel Stuart Williams from Prince William of Gloucester Barracks, Grantham, attended to present Walter with his medal.
He said “It is a privilege to be able to present the medal on behalf of the Republic of France as a way to recognise Mr Partridge’s service in WW2. He is one of the last few remaining veterans of his generation which makes the ceremony even more special.”
With rows of military medals adorning the left side of his chest, Walter stood up to salute the senior army brigadier.
Just days before the ceremony, which was watched by family, friends, army officials and the Mayor of Grantham, Mike Cook, Walter also received the Netherlands Medal of Remembrance ‘Thank You Liberators Medal 1945,’ which is given as a token of gratitude by the people of the Netherlands, for contributing to their liberation during WW2.
Liberation Day is celebrated in the Netherlands on May 5 every year,to mark the end of the German occupation during the Second World War. Canadian, British, Polish and American servicemen played a part in liberating the Netherlands.
Before joining the army, Walter grew up in Irnham, near Corby Glen, with his parents and brother and sister. After leaving school at 15, he followed in his father’s footsteps to become a gamekeeper on the Irnham Estate with Sir Walter Benton-Jones until he was called up for National Service on July 24, 1940, aged 20, joining the 7th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment.
Walter said: “My mother was upset as my dad had been a prisoner of war in WW1 and for a long time she thought he was dead.”
After training near Tollerton, Nottingham, in what Walter calls ‘square bashing’ he moved to Sutton-on-Sea, Mablethorpe, training on infantry guns and combined operations training with the Royal convoy operation training in Scotland with the Royal Auxilary, which required him to go out on a boat, land somewhere on the coast and wade to shore in the middle of night.
His regiment received their orders to go to France in mid-June 1944.
Walter added: “I rememeber the journey across the channel well. I was the sergeant in charge of the detachment but got really bad seasick. My second in command also became seasick. I thought that was as bad as it could get until we approached the shore at Juno Beach.
“I saw lots of dead bodies everywhere and feared that I wouldn’t see my next birthday.”
For the next six weeks, Walter and his regiment made their way through France.
After a brief rest, they crossed into Belgium.
Walter added: “We couldn’t keep up with the Germans until we got near to the Dutch border where we found ourselves under attack and we suffered quite a few casulties.”
After moving into Holland, Walter discovered that the Dutch people were eating boiled tulip bulbs as they were so hungry.
He added: “We advanced into Germany in Spring 1945 and finished the war in North Germany.
“We stayed on as a regiment to deal with the aftermath of the war as the army of occupation including checking identification and enforcing the curfew before the regiment got disbanded and I was posted to Calais in France for admin duties based in a transit camp.”
Walter left the army and arrived home in 1947 where he returned to his job as a gamekeeper, but many memories still remain.
He added: “There are sights and sounds that I would rather forget including the smell of a tank on fire but despite everything there is also something quite special about being in the army.
We all had a comradery with each other. There was a saying in the army that even if you don’t like someone you would still watch their back if you are in action together. Our bond was extra strong.”
For the past 11 years, Walter has returned to Normandy in June to pay his respects to the comrades who never returned home.
He said: “The number of veterans able to make the trip each year is dwindling, so it makes it even more important to attend. Every time I go, I always stay at the farm where I landed after D-Day and I always come home with half a dozen bottles of their apple brandy, which the farmers make.”
Since his army days, Walter who is described by many as being ‘bright as a button’ became a father to a son, who now teaches English in Japan and a daughter, who lives in Grantham.
He is a keen gardener and can often be found on his allotment. He also spent time as a beekeeper and owned 14 bee hives.
He said: “I feel truly honoured to receive my award.”