A proud D-Day veteran from Melton has received France’s highest military honour - the Legion d’honneur - for his involvement in the liberation of France during the Second World War.
Gordon Sterry (91) was a wireman (electrician) on board a landing craft carrying tanks to be offloaded onto the beaches during the D-Day landings in June 1944.
Gordon, who lives on Dalby Road, said: “I was allocated the job of taking the water depth when we landed and reporting it to the tanks commander.
“The tanks could land in six feet of water but a lot of them used to hit the water and turn over.
“I never appreciated how dangerous it was. When the big doors went down to let the tanks off all of the flak came into the craft. I had to dash out quickly to take the depth of the water with a long pole and get back quickly. When the tanks were off we had to winch the doors back up by hand. They weighed about 10 tonnes.”
Gordon’s number 545 tank landing craft was among the second wave to hit the beach. He said: “The first lot in took the worst of the flak. Quite a lot of the landing craft had already been hit, some were sunk and others were damaged.
“The Rodney and Nelson battleships were with us. When they started firing it was like an express train going over your head.”
For the next three weeks Gordon’s landing craft raced to and from the big ships, re-loading up with tanks, Army vehicles, men and supplies and dropping them off on the beaches.
Gordon said: “At the end of the three weeks we unfortunately struck a mine. It blew a hole in the front of the landing craft and we couldn’t operate. We were a bit amazed none of us were dead and we were told to take the damaged craft back to England.”
It took three days before the craft arrived at Gravesend to be repaired. Six weeks later it was back on its way ferrying tanks, men, munitions and supplies to the French shores before the craft was handed over to a French crew to be used as a barge for food.
Gordon joined the Royal Navy at the age of 19 and was quickly transferred to the Combined Operations, serving on tank landing craft 545.
After the craft was handed over to the French crew Gordon returned to England to train on a rocket-firing landing craft.
Gordon’s daughter, Jane, applied for him to receive the Legion d’honneur and he received France’s most prized medal in the post before Christmas.
An accompanying letter, from the French ambassador to the UK Sylvie Bermann, said: “I have the pleasure of informing you that the President of the Republic has appointed you to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur.
“I offer you my warmest congratulations on this high honour in recognition of your acknowledged military engagement and your steadfast involvement in the liberation of France during the Second World War.
“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 willing to risk your life.”
Gordon, who had previously received five other medals in recognition of his military service, said he felt ‘elated’ to receive the Legion d’honneur.
He said: “It’s recognition of not just me but all the people who took part in D-Day. It felt quite emotional for me because so many men were killed on that day. There were a lot of bodies and that stays in your mind.”
Gordon and his wife, Phyllis, celebrate 72 years of marriage this year. The couple, who married on one of Gordon’s rare periods of leave months after the D-Day landings, have three daughters, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
After the war Gordon left the forces and moved into personnel management. He also spent 30 years with the Melton Scouts, including many years as the district commissioner.
Gordon’s eldest daughter, Pippa, took him to re-visit the French beaches on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. He has also had a small book of poems published for his family, including one about his time aboard tank landing craft 545.