Tom Gilzean awarded France’s highest honour for WWII efforts

Tom Gilzean is so proud to have received his medal. Picture: Greg Macvean

Tom Gilzean is so proud to have received his medal. Picture: Greg Macvean

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A FUNDRAISING stalwart and war veteran has been presented with a revered honour by the French ambassador.

Tom Gilzean, 95, is a well-kent face on the Capital’s streets, having raised tens of thousands of pounds for charities. He braves all weathers by shaking his charity tin on Princes Street, taking just two days off a year.

It’s the highest award that France can give. I’m very proud.

Tom Gilzean

Former Royal Engineer Mr Gilzean, who served in the Second World War, said he was honoured to be appointed to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur – the latest in a string of recognitions.

He received a letter from the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, earlier this month, just days before he was named Fundraiser of the Year at STV’s Finding Scotland’s Real Heroes awards.

Ms Bermann wrote: “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.

“As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you.”

The French government told the UK Ministry of Defence in 2014 that it wanted to “recognise the selfless acts of heroism and determination” displayed by veterans of the campaigns to liberate France in 1944.

Mr Gilzean, who was recently in hospital due to problems with his stomach, said he was overwhelmed by the recognition.

He said: “It’s the highest award that France can give. I’m very proud.”

He collected his Real Heroes award from presenter Carol Smillie at a ceremony last week.

Mr Gilzean, who has caught pneumonia four times over his fundraising marathon, said: “I am very delighted about winning, and so is my family.

“This award is for the people of Edinburgh.

“When I start something I put my mind to it. I will continue to fundraise till the end of the earth, I will never stop – but I will take Christmas Day off to spend with my family.”

Earlier this year, Mr Gilzean became the eighth person to be honoured with the coveted Edinburgh Award.

He was presented with an engraved Loving Cup by the Lord Provost at the City Chambers in March to mark his outstanding contribution to charity.

The retired bus driver, who started collecting to stave off depression following the death of his wife Anne, is believed to have raised more than £300,000 – with much of it going to the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.

This year he had set himself a fundraising target of £60,000 – and he has managed to raise £55,000, despite his spell in hospital.

He has given £30,000 to the Sick Kids, £10,000 to veteran charity Erskine, £10,000 towards the Edinburgh Taxi Trade Outing, which treats young children with special needs or conditions to a day out, and £5000 to the OAP group at Prestonfield.

The kind-hearted veteran, who lives at Peffermill, said: “The only thing I’m worried about is my fundraising. I would like to mention the Edinburgh public, and also my family who have helped me. I’ll still be collecting for charity, right until the end.”

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com