Dunkirk hero Harry presented with Legion d’Honneur medal
Harry Johnson is presented with his award by Emmanuel Cocher of the French Consul General; Harry Johnson as he makes his speech after receiving his medal; WO 1 Andy Knox presents Harry with the HMS Neptune Crest and a bottle of malt whisky on behalf of the Naval Base; Harry with his family and friends after being presented with his medal, and Harry’s Légion d’Honneur medal.
By Lucy Ashton
A veteran Royal Navy sailor has recently been awarded France’s highest order of merit for his valuable service during the Second World War.
Ninety-five-year old Harry Johnson was presented with the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur on Tuesday, 21 August at HM Naval Base Clyde.
Harry, originally from London but now living in Helensburgh, was presented with his medal by Emmanuel Cocher of the French Consul General on behalf of the President of France.
The French government are currently recognising the sacrifice of British service personnel who served during the D-Day operations and around 5,000 medals have been awarded around the United Kingdom.
There to witness him receiving his award were some of Harry’s family and friends, among them his daughter Lindsey and her husband Stuart who had travelled from Dunfermline to attend the ceremony.
Harry joined the Royal Navy at 17, receiving basic naval training at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and specialist engineering training at the Royal Naval Engineering College, Devonport.
His first deployment, as a Lieutenant, was on HMS Enterprise, a Light Cruiser and the first five months were spent in working up for the forthcoming invasion and the honour conferred by the Consul General was specifically for Harry’s participation in the D-Day Landings.
HMS Enterprise fired over 9,000 shells during the landings and the bombardment of Cherbourg and had to retire briefly to Chatham Dockyard to have her worn out gun barrels replaced and to refuel. Both the Captain and the First Lieutenant were wounded in the action whilst on the Ship’s bridge.
Harry talked of his experiences during these dangerous times: “I remember waking at dawn on D-Day and going on deck to find the sea completely covered with ships and crafts of every conceivable shape, size and purpose, for as far as the eye could see and mostly heading for the beaches. The Enterprise was allocated to ‘ Utah’ beach in the American Sector and her first task was to soften up the beach defences and then to lay down fire ahead of the Allied advance.”
He continued: “It is an honour to be presented with this award, however I also think of all those who died during and since the war and feel that many of them deserve this far more than I do.”
Harry left the Navy as a Commander in 1971, joining the Royal Naval Engineering Service, an MOD Civilian organisation in support of the Navy. Now living in Helensburgh, Harry spent ten years HM Naval Base Clyde, where he finished his career, retiring in 1982 as Chief Services Engineer at Faslane. Harry still lives in Helensburgh today.
Warrant Officer 1 (WO1), Andy Knox, Command Warrant Officer Submarines at the Naval Base took the opportunity to thank Harry for his service at HMS Neptune and presented him with one of the few remaining HMS Neptune crests and a very special bottle of 18-year-old malt whiskey.
“I was extremely privileged to be part of Commander Harry Johnson’s Légion d’Honneur presentation at HMNB Clyde. It was a truly humbling experience for all involved and a very proud moment for Harry,” said Andy
“This was the second Légion d’Honneur presentation that I have had the honor of attending in recent weeks and reminds me of how proud we should all be of our true heroes.”