France has honoured one of the UK’s oldest D-Day veterans for his efforts to liberate their country more than 75 years ago.
Former minesweeper crewman Dennis Roy Cooper became the latest veteran of the 1944-45 campaign to receive the Legion d’Honneur.
The 102-year-old, known as Roy, was assigned to escorting the Mulberry harbours – the artificial ports which were key to sustaining the Allied war effort in Northwest Europe once the liberating armies established a foothold in occupied France.
Also, as part of the enormous armada gathered for Operation Neptune, he was engaged in sweeping operations to keep the waters between Sword Beach and Cotentin Peninsula.
The retired sailor was awarded the Legion d’Honneur back in December, but forces charity SSAFA organised an official ceremony at Blandford Camp, near Roy’s home in Marnhull.
Colonel Cédric Franco of the French Army – and himself a Legion d’Honneur holder – presented the decoration in the presence of Commander Scott Simpson, Commanding Officer of 815 Naval Air Squadron and Yeovilton’s Base Warrant Officer WO1 Baz Firth, plus Admiral The Lord West, Lord Lieutenant of Dorset Angus Campbell, SSAFA caseworker Nicholas Bate – the charity supported Roy when he was caring for his wife and needed help with his garden – and Service personnel from the Royal Navy and Royal Signals.
“It was initially a bit of a surprise when I found out about the award, but the job we did was very important and incredibly risky.
“We are all here today because of the sacrifices made in those dark days.
“I lost many friends who I will never forget. It is important that these events are never forgotten.”
The Lord Lieutenant told the veteran the decision to honour him had been made by French President Emmanuel Macron personally “in recognition of what you did in those dark days”.
He continued: “Today France wants to thank you for the commitment you showed to the country during this terrible campaign in France.”
Originally from Portsmouth, Roy was enlisted in October 1940 and spent three years serving in battleship HMS King George V, taking part in operations in the North Atlantic, North Africa and Italy.
Commissioned in 1943, the then junior officer was assigned to minesweepers and saw extensive action clearing minefields off the invasion beaches and Cherbourg peninsula as well as waters around Guernsey.
Post-war he worked in the motor industry before eventually retiring to Marnhull in Dorset, where he has lived for thirty-two years with his wife Mary, a retired headmistress.
“It was amazing to hear that Roy still drives his 4×4 everywhere and loves to draw and paint which keeps him active,” said WO Firth.
“He explained that his hearing isn’t what it should be as when he was embarked aboard HMS King George V he snuck out onto the upper deck to use the heads when she fired her 14in guns which as you may imagine must have been deafening.
“He’s a wonderful man, and it was a privilege for RNAS Yeovilton to be a part of the ceremony.”
The Légion d’Honneur, created by Napoleon in 1802, is France’s highest distinction and honours exceptional acts of bravery and devotion by all those who have served France, whether they are French by birth or “by spilled blood”.
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