Salford Veteran says merci for France’s highest honour

Veteran sailor Joseph Thomas has said ‘merci beaucoup’ after receiving France’s highest honour.

Mr Thomas – formerly Stoker First Class Thomas – of Pendlebury, was presented with the Legion d’Honneur by the French Consul Monsieur Rodolphe Soulard in a ceremony at Salford Civic Centre today (January 31).

It is the highest honour the French nation can bestow and is in recognition for Mr Thomas’s involvement in the Operation Dragoon landings on the south coast of France to liberate the country from Nazi rule in August 1944. He had joined the Royal Navy just the year before aged 18.

Monsieur Soulard said it was a great honour and pleasure for him make Mr Thomas a Chevalier or Knight of the Order and that France would never forget the courage and sacrifice of those who helped liberate France.

“You are a living witness to the history you wrote on our soil, a history which shaped the identity of Britain and France. You are a great example for me, for young people, for our countries and for Europe. The Nazis tried to eliminate freedom but did not reckon with the incredible strength of women and men,” he said.

Councillor Karen Garrido, the Ceremonial mayor of Salford who hosted the ceremony, said Mr Thomas was a worthy recipient of such an honour.

Mr Thomas, who was surrounded by family and friends, said it was a great privilege to receive the medal

“I feel both humble and sad that so many of my comrades paid the ultimate price in trying to liberate the people of France. I feel grateful that what was achieved then has brought lasting peace over the last 70 years. Life lived in peace and freedom is a precious gift,” he said.

Mr Thomas revealed that he followed his father’s example in serving his country when war broke out. His father lied about his age and fought in World War 1 at the age of 16. He survived the Battle of the Somme and two periods of service on the Russian front. When World War Two broke out, Mr Thomas said he was just 14 and too young to serve but cycled round Salford reporting bomb damage to the authorities so they could deploy the emergency services.

After serving in the Royal Navy Mr Thomas became a driver and later driving trainer for Esso. He recently took the controls of a plane flying over the Irish Sea but has yet to achieve his ambition to drive a steam train.