World War Two veteran from Birmingham awarded highest French honour

A Royal Navy veteran from Birmingham has been awarded France’s highest military honour – the Légion d’Honneur.

Charles Blackburn, who celebrated his 98th birthday in November, served as a signalman in the Royal Navy and has been presented with the French accolade in recognition of his services during the Normandy landings in 1944.

Great-grandfather Charles learned he was a recipient of the prestigious award when his family surprised him during a respite break at John Taylor Hospice in Erdington. He said he was “very surprised and happy” to receive the honour.

Hospice senior nurse trainer and complementary therapist Jo Dorling said: “It was very exciting for everyone here at John Taylor. Visitors and staff gathered around Charles to see his medal and offer their congratulations. It was fascinating to hear first-hand about so many important historical events. It was our pleasure to meet him and celebrate this very special moment with him.”  

A decorated veteran, Charles’s bravery as a member of the Royal Navy earned him the Arctic Star medal - awarded by the Queen to those who served on the Arctic convoys during the Second World War. He has also been presented with two Russian convoy medals in recognition of his efforts, in treacherous conditions, delivering essential supplies to the Soviet Union. Recalling the bitter temperatures during his time in Murmansk in Russia, Charles said: “It was so cold. The harbour froze over and were able to play football - on the sea!”

French president François Hollande announced on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2014 that the Légion d’Honneur would be awarded to all surviving British veterans to honour and thank those who fought for the liberation of France. It is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit.

“I’m one of the few, and I mean few, survivors from that time,” said Charles. “We were torpedoed many times. I remember one Sunday morning aboard the HMS Adventure we were three miles outside Liverpool. We were playing tombola, it’s called bingo now, and we just heard this loud noise ‘whoosh’. We were hit by a torpedo.” 

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