Jack, 92, to be honoured as ‘knight’ for involvement in the liberation of France during the Second World War
- Credit: Archant
A 92-year-old Soham man is to be honoured for his military engagement and involvement in the liberation of France during the Second World War.
Jack Watson, who lives with his wife, Joyce, 89, is to be appointed to the rank of Chevalier in the Order National de la Legion d’honour next weekend.
Established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, it is the highest French order for military and civil merits, with the top distinction being ‘chevalier’ (knight). The orders motto is ‘Honneur et Patrie’, meaning ‘honour and fatherland’.
“I feel really proud and honoured that this is all happening,” said Mr Watson.
“I feel that I’m accepting the honour on behalf of all the lads that didn’t come home after the war and all the lads that did, but have died since.
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“I went over when I was 20, so it was 72 years ago that we landed in Normandy by ship.”
The Normandy landings were the landing operations on Tuesday June 6 1944 of the allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord II, which signalled the start of the end of the Second World War.
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The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied north-western Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the allied victory on the Western Front.
When he was called up in 1943 Jack was stationed in the Suffolk regiment at Bury St Edmunds and everyone was given different units.
From there he spent some time in Stratford Upon Avon and was made up to company runner before being sent to Liverpool.
In 1944 he got the message ‘you’re going to France this afternoon’ and so began the moment the then 20-year-old joined thousands of others as the Normandy assault began.
He still recalls being chased by submarines, bombed, shot at and doodle bugged as they sailed to France before landing on the beach.
“I met for the first time a man called Scott - who became like a father figure to me - the day we got off our boat,” he said.
“He then helped me find my feet and we became good friends.”
As the war came to an end Mr Watson was posted to Munster in German where he looked after civilian Germans and worked in a warehouse.
He also spent some in Vauxhall, Germany, before being demobbed in 1946.
Mr Watson says he is still “fighting fit” and spends much of his time working as a full time carer for his wife.
Having both lived in Soham prior to and after the war, Jack and Joyce met and “it just went from there.
“He used to bike by mine and we just started talking,” said his wife. “Then we started going out with each other when I was 20 and Jack was 23.
“I think it’s marvellous that he’s going to receive this honour.”
They married in 1947 and will celebrate their platinum anniversary next year.
Mr Watson, who worked on the farms as a young boy, then for Sprite Caravans in Fordham after the war and in a Soham plastic factory until his retirement, has two children; Trevor and Richard; five grandchildren, Emma, Shane, Alan, Danny and Mark; and six great-grandchildren including Sophie and Alex.
He found out about the chance to be honoured thanks to his nephew, Richard Cramp, who lives in Dordogne, France.
“I’ve been over to visit him a few times and he introduced me to lots of French people.
“Then three months ago he rang me up and asked if I would like to apply for the medal – he sorted it all for me.”
Although Mr Watson could have gone to the French embassy in London to receive his award he has chosen to have it presented in Soham.
The presentation takes place on Saturday April 23 at 11am in the Walter Gidney Pavilion, Soham.
Mr Watson’s family and friends will be present and the recognition is to be made by Soham Town Council chairman Geoffrey Fisher.
After the presentation Mr Watson and his family will be celebrating the honour with a meal in Upware.