A Ballycarry World War 2 veteran has been presented with France’s highest honour in a ceremony at Lisburn’s Thiepval Barracks.
Frank Ferguson, who is 92 and was born in Holestone in Doagh, was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Fighter Command 264 Squadron (mosquitoes).
During the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, French President Francois Hollande announced that all surviving British veterans who fought in France during the war would receive the Legion d’Honneur.
Frank was accompanied to the presentation ceremony on February 16 by his son Graeme and his two sisters, one of whom worked as a translator at government code-breaking centre Bletchley Park, and the second of whom served as a nurse in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps, during World War 2.
The local man described the ceremony as “terrific”.
“It was very well organised,” he told the Times.
“I hadn’t served alongside any of the other veterans who were present, but we had a lot to talk about.
“World War 2 veterans don’t get together too often.
“The last time was in France in 2014, and it was the veterans who I went to Normandy with who recommended me for the Légion d’honneur.”
Before being posted to France during the war, Frank was stationed in the RAF bases at Twinwood, Ford in Sussex, Church Fenton and Hartford Bridge, where he recalls “shooting at doodle bugs” and “flying bombs.”
He was then stationed at Chateau de Berneville, which had been the German headquarters for the region.
Frank also witnessed the toll of the Battle of the Falaise Gap, the corridor which the Germans sought to maintain to allow their escape and which opened the way to Paris and the German border for the Allied armies. He was involved in the Defence of Arnhem and the notorious Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans succeeded in breaking into France.
On one occasion, Frank and his pilot, Squadron Leader Elwell, were patrolling over France in their Mosquito aircraft, made of only balsa wood and paper, when they encountered five enemy aircraft. They shot down two, but were forced to pull out after they ran out of ammunition.
Reflecting on the honour which has been bestowed upon him seven decades later, Frank laughed: “Better late than never!
“It’s a very great honour and I appreciate what the French have done.”
The Légion d’honneur medals were presented by French Honorary Consul and Whitehead resident Regine McCullough, who described her role as a “great honour”
“This is the highest distinction in France for military and civilian achievement,” she stated.
“Not only that, but I am from Normandy myself and I have walked on the sands of the D-Day landing beaches many times. I have often wondered what these soldiers went through when they did all that. I never thought that one day I would speak to them, it really, really is amazing.”
Praising the veterans’ contribution to the war effort, Bridagier Andrew Roe, Commander of 38 Irish Brigade, told those assembled: “It is very clear that this is not just a great honour being bestowed upon the Northern Ireland veterans by France, but it is also a high honour for the Armed Forces of Northern Ireland to be able to host these fine gentlemen and their friends on this important, and dare I say it historic, occasion.”