A D-Day hero has spoken of his pride and emotion after being presented with a prestigious medal during a special service on Saturday night.
George Skipper, president of the Warkworth and Amble District Branch of the Royal British Legion, was honoured with the Légion d’honneur at the Festival of Remembrance Concert at Durham Cathedral.
The 93-year-old was presented with the accolade – France’s highest honour – by honorary French Consul for the North East and Cumbria, Dr Andrew Robinson, on behalf of the French president.
George, who used to live in Amble but is now based in Whitley Bay, was one of a number of veterans to receive the medal at the service. The accolade recognised the efforts and bravery of those who fought at Normandy and helped liberate France.
George said: "It was a very proud moment and very emotional. But this medal wasn't just for me, it was for all those people who never came home, they were the real stars.
"The gentleman from the French Consul shook my hand, pinned on my medal, kissed me on both cheeks and said ‘thank you very much’. It was a touching moment."
George, who attended the concert with family members, including grandson Sgt Luke Skipper, added: "It was a lovely service and I enjoyed it 110 per cent and there was a great response from the public."
George was only 20 when he landed at Gold Beach on D-Day, as part of the massive Allied invasion of Nazi German-occupied France. This young lad, born in London, had only married his sweetheart, June, a week before. Days later, he was in the thick of D-Day.
"I was scared," said George, thinking back to June 6, 1944, when the Allies stormed the beaches of northern France in the face of withering resistance from the occupying German forces.
He was aboard a merchant vessel which had crossed the Channel in a huge flotilla, and was unloading fighting vehicles onto the landing craft during the initial phase of the operation. George finally landed at Gold Beach at 3pm, having waited offshore from 11am.
"There were bodies everywhere, there was firing, shells landing all around me and there were obstacles on the beach," he recalled.
"But the naval bombardment was terrific. I don’t think we would have made it if it wasn’t for that."
George said that the early scene in the film Saving Private Ryan, which shows troops storming Omaha Beach, captures the horror of the D-Day landings.
Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones, making it through D-Day having endured the worst the German defenders could throw at him.
His war would continue though. By December 1944, George was in the Ardennes as part of a special 11-man team, the 43rd Field Security Unit, which was made up of Army interpreters who would interrogate captured enemy soldiers in the field. He made it to Germany and was demobbed in Hamburg in 1947.
Last year, he attended the poignant 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations in France.
Proud George wore his Légion d’honneur medal to the Remembrance Sunday commemorations at Warkworth and Amble.
The medal presentation came towards the end of the Festival of Remembrance Concert, which included a Muster parade, as well as performances by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Band, 102 Battalion REME Pipe Band, Durham University Light Opera, Durham Police Choir, Broomside Community Choir and Bearpark and Esh Colliery Band.
The event raised money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, which offers lifetime support and financial assistance to serving and retired soldiers and their families.
Corporal Andy Garthwaite, who became the first Briton to be given a bionic arm that he can control with his brain after being injured in Afghanistan, also attended the service.
Reflecting on the Légion d’honneur presentations, Dr Robinson said that it was 'an honour to present these men with their medals on behalf of the French government as thanks for their service liberating France during World War Two'.