France honours the Edinburgh men who helped liberate the country

From left, Alexander Addison, Thomas Gilzean, David Watt, Jim Alexander Stirling and Alexander Mees accept their ''Legion d'Honneur medals. Picture:' Neil Hanna
From left, Alexander Addison, Thomas Gilzean, David Watt, Jim Alexander Stirling and Alexander Mees accept their ''Legion d'Honneur medals. Picture:' Neil Hanna
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Five Second World War veterans have spoken of their pride after receiving France’s highest honour for bravery.

The men were presented with the Legion d’Honneur in a reception yesterday in the City Chambers to mark their role in the liberation of France.

Four took part in the D-Day landings of June 1944, the most significant Allied victory of the war.

Emmanuel Cocher, the French Consul General in Scotland, who presented them with the medals, said: “France will never forget the bravery they showed in taking part in the liberation 70 years ago.

“The actions and sacrifice of these men, and that of so many who fell on the battlefield, was instrumental in bringing back freedom and peace in France and across Europe.”

Addressing the men directly, he said: “You intervened in the history of France at a very critical moment when our country was invaded by a powerful and perverse dictatorship which was [also] threatening the free world.”

Among the recipients was Alexander Addison, 93, from Craiglockhart, who attended the event with his twin daughters and grandson.

A Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps, he served as a Corporal Cook and went over to France at the start of the D-Day landings, then advanced through France and on to the Rhine at the end of the war.

“I still remember it vividly – it was hell let loose,” he said.

David Watt, 90, from Fairmilehead, also stormed the beaches at Normandy as a Lance Corporal with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

He said: “This is a tremendous honour not just for myself but all those people who are not here – and for the city of Edinburgh.

“I was only 17 a the time – very young – and I kept thinking ‘How do I get home?’.”

Alexander Mees, 89, from Corstorphine, served as a Seaman in the Royal Navy and was on board Landing Ship Tank 199 as a boy seaman, landing equipment and French Canadian military personnel at Juno Beach.

Also honoured was fundraising war veteran Tom Gilzean, less than a year after becoming the eighth person receive the coveted Edinburgh Award

The 95-year old served as a Sapper in the army and landed in France in October 1944 as a member of 30 Armoured Corps Royal Engineers.

He said: “This is stupendous. It’s a real honour to receive this after 72 years.”

Mr Gilzean, who has recently come out of hospital, pledged to be back out fundraising on the streets of Edinburgh soon.

Jim Alexander Stirling, 90, from Hawick, served on Royal Naby Motor Minesweeper, his vessel’s task to ensure that two lanes were cleared in darkness in to the Normandy beachheads ahead of the first wave of troops landing.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com