Hero Harry is honoured for D-Day bravery

A pensioner had a birthday present to remember after being awarded a prestigious military honour for his service during the Second World War.

Tuesday, 24th October 2017, 10:25 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 1:01 pm
Harry Pimblett with family and friends at Birchley Hall

Harry Pimblett received the Legion d’Honneur - France’s highest military decoration - for his heroic efforts during the D-Day landings in 1944.

The veteran was presented with the award yesterday, his 94th birthday, by his nephew Keith at Birchley Hall care home in Billinge.

Harry was a tank driver during the war.

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War veteran and Legion d'Honneur recipient Harry Pibmlett

He was one of the brave members of the Westminster Dragoons who had the daunting task of clearing the mine fields at Normandy beach, ahead of the wider landings.

Speaking about his uncle’s war experiences, Keith said: “He was one of the first people on the beach. He drove tanks called Hobart’s Funnies.

“They were called ‘flailing tanks’ because they dragged flailing chains behind them, which would explode the mines on the beach and clear the way for the landing soldiers.

“They were being shot at and bombed at the same time, so they were right in the thick of it.”

War veteran and Legion d'Honneur recipient Harry Pibmlett

He added: “I was amazed when I spoke to Uncle Harry about it. I said to him, ‘I bet you were relieved when you got to the top of the beach’.

“But he said they had to go back down because they had to clear over four million mines. It was pretty horrendous for him.”

Keith, 65, commented on the lengthy delays in getting the honour awarded to Harry.

“I had to contact the Ministry of Defence, who then had to contact the French government,” he said.

“It had to be signed off by the President of France, which was delayed because of the French elections. So it’s been quite a long process!”

After the war, Harry worked in Wigan as a chartered accountant. He lived with his wife Francis but the couple never had children.

Established in 1802 by famed military leader Napoleon, the Legion d’Honneur is the highest French order of merit for military servicemen and civilians.

The honour was originally restricted to French citizens. However, foreign nationals who have served in France or “the ideals it upholds,” can receive a distinction of the Legion, which is almost identical to the genuine award.

In 2014, in conjunction with events to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the French government announced it wanted to award the Legion d’Honneur to all surviving British veterans who fought for the liberation of France during the Second World War.

Keith commented: “Harry is aware that something is going on, but whether he’s aware of the scale of the honour, I’m not sure.

“He’s never openly spoke about his part in the war.”