French honour retired farmer who helped with wartime liberation

Derek White, who has received the  Legion d'honneur
Derek White, who has received the Legion d'honneur

A retired farmer who helped with the liberation of France during the Second World War has been honoured with a the country’s highest decoration.

Derek White, from Lower Caldecote, received a letter from Madame Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador in London, informing him that the President of France had awarded him the Légion d’honneur, with the rank of Chevalier, for his involvement in the action in France.

Together with the letter was enclosed a red box containing the impressive silver and enamel insignia on a red ribbon.

As a 20-year-old, Derek landed on Sword Beach at Hermanville in Normandy on June 7, 1944, and assisted in the defence of Pegasus Bridge on the Caen Canal. An acting sergeant in the Royal Artillery, Derek remained in France throughout the Battle of Normandy, seeing fierce action at Caen, Falaise, Elbeuf, Le Havre and Beaubec, before advancing into Holland.

Congratulating Derek on this high honour, Madame Bermann said: “We must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.”

Derek said: “It’s a lovely letter from the ambassador, and the medal will be a source of great pride for my children and grandchildren.”

The Légion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration, was established by Napoleon in 1802 to recognise individual merit rather than birthright.

The honour is represented by a red ribbon, an oak and laurel wreath and five-armed medal with the head of Marianne, the national symbol of France, on one side and two tricolour flags with the motto “Honneur et Patrie” (Honour and Fatherland) on the other.