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War veterans finally get their medals—70 years later

PUBLISHED: 08:00 19 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:05 05 October 2010

WAR veterans are being awarded campaign medals and badges by the Minister for Veterans at the Houses of Parliament today. They include a soldier who escaped the German invasion of France in 1940 on a commandeered coal boat, who is now approaching 100, and an airman who served with the famous V' bombers at the time of the Suez crisis

By Mike Brooke

WAR veterans are being awarded campaign medals and badges by the Minister for Veterans at the Houses of Parliament today.

They include a soldier who escaped the German invasion of France in 1940 on a commandeered coal boat, who is now approaching his 100th birthday, and an airman who served with the famous 'V' bombers at the time of the Suez crisis more than half-a-century ago.

"Everyone who serves in the Armed Forces deserves recognition for the sacrifices they've made," said Veterans' Minister Kevan Jones. "The role played by the Veterans Agency is crucial in repaying the debt of gratitude we owe them."

Those receiving awards include Peter Olley, a 78-year-old pensioner from East London, who joined the RAF in 1955, flying the V Bombers. He completed a tour in Turkey before the 1956 Suez Campaign, then left the RAF a year later.

The oldest veteran receiving an award at Westminster today is 99-year-old Charles Saunders from Norfolk, who joined up in 1931 and became an Artillery gunner.

He was posted with the British Expeditionary Force to France when war broke out, serving at a fighter airfield near Paris when the Germans invaded in 1940.

British and Allied forces withdrew at Dunkirk, leaving Charles trapped, his 'escape' cut off to the north and east.

His only hope was going south and he eventually reached Marseilles where a freighter was unloading coal from South Wales.

Word reached them that the new pro-Nazi Vichy French government intended interning all Allies vessels, so Charles's unit commandeered the ship and made their way to Gibraltar, where they were posted to protect the Rock from air attack until 1942.

Charles was finally discharged from the Army in 1958, some 27 years after he joined. Today's award marks his centenary year, approaching his 100th birthday.

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