Hartlepool war veteran gets France’s highest military honour

Hartlepool war hero Charles Humphrey, 89, who served in the Royal Navy, has been awarded the French Legion of Honour medal for his role in saving soldiers from a sinking ship that had been bombarded.
Hartlepool war hero Charles Humphrey, 89, who served in the Royal Navy, has been awarded the French Legion of Honour medal for his role in saving soldiers from a sinking ship that had been bombarded.

A war veteran has been presented with France’s highest military distinction for his role in helping to liberate the country from the Nazis in the Second World War.

Charles Humphrey, 89, from Hartlepool, who served as a gunner with the Royal Navy for three years, was awarded the French Legion of Honour medal.

The Legion of Honour, top right, with the red ribbon.

The Legion of Honour, top right, with the red ribbon.

It is for being part of the Allied invasion force for the South of France in August 1944, in Operation Dragoon.

Charles, who joined up as a volunteer in 1943 aged just 17, was on board destroyer HMS Atherstone.

Operation Dragoon, launched on August 8, 1944, with a parachute drop by the American 1st Airborne Task Force, followed by an amphibious assault.

The landing caused the Germans to abandon their post and retreat.

I feel honoured

Charles Humphrey

Although, Charles did not go ashore, HMS Atherstone played its role in the success of the operation.

On receiving the prestigious medal more than 70 years on, he said: “I feel honoured. I didn’t go charging up the beaches or anything like that, I just happened to be there. We were escorting the convoy.”

Charles, of Owton Manor, applied to receive the medal after learning he was eligible, having previously thought it was open only to D-Day veterans who took part in the invasion at Normandy in northern France.

In the citation, French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann said: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France.

“We owe our freedom and security to your dedication because you were ready to risk your life.”

The presentation was arranged to be carried out by the Secretary of the Durham Light Infantry Association.

In 1999, Charles, a father of five who has 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, received a Greek commemorative medal for his part in the liberation of Greece and Yugoslavia.

In May last year he spoke about his war experiences as part of Hartlepool’s VE Day celebrations.

He witnessed the sinking of Royal Navy Destroyer HMS Aldenham in December 1944 which claimed the lives of 126 crewmen.

Charles helped to save the lives of two of his comrades.

He said of the period: “I always have mixed emotions looking back but I am very proud, and the memories of that time are still strong in my mind.”