Legion d’Honneur for Westfield veteran

Fred Milward, from Westfield, awarded the Legion D'Honneur. SUS-151111-125122001
Fred Milward, from Westfield, awarded the Legion D'Honneur. SUS-151111-125122001

A war veteran has been awarded France’s highest honour for his role in the Normandy landings.

Fred Milward, 91, of Churchfield, Westfield, received the Legion d’Honneur.

He said: “I am very honoured and privileged to receive the medal. It’s the highest honour the French government can give.

“I was expecting to receive the medal as the French president said on the 70th anniversary of D-Day all remaining veterans who took part should receive it.”

Fred was a member of the 9th Parachute Battalion, part of the 3rd Parachute Brigade and attached to the 6th Airborne division.

The division parachuted into the Merville Gun Battery in June, 1944, to silence the German guns which were aimed at Sword Beach. Fred added: “We were part of a group of 670 troops who were parachuted behind enemy lines. We arrived in the middle of the night at 12.50am.”

The Battle of Merville Gun Battery occurred on June 6, 1944. Allied intelligence believed the Merville Gun Battery was composed of heavy-calibre guns that could threaten the British landings at Sword Beach eight miles away.

But when Fred’s battalion arrived over Normandy, their parachute descent was dispersed over a large area.

Therefore, instead of more than 600 troops, only 150 with no heavy weapons nor equipment arrived at the battalion assembly point.

But the brave soldiers pressed home their attack and succeeded in capturing the battery from the Nazis.

Only 75 men survived as they tried to disable the guns.

However, once the paratroopers had withdrawn, two of the guns were put back into action by the Germans.

Another attack the next day by British Commandos failed to recapture the battery, which remained under German control until August 17, 1944, when Nazi troops started to withdraw.

Fred and his fellow troops’ mission is chronicled in Stuart Tootal’s book, The Manner of Men: 9 PARA’s Heroic D-Day Mission, published two years ago.

The war veteran received a signed copy of the book from the author when it was released.

In June last year, Fred visited Normandy to attend a number of ceremonies, including a service at Ranville Cemetery where many of his comrades are buried.

He was honoured by Westfield Parish Council with a presentation on behalf of the village of a framed manuscript thanking him for his part in D-Day.

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