Scottish War Blinded Member Walter Sharp Receives Legion d’Honneur Decoration

Posted: 02/12/2015 | Scottish War Blinded

Scottish War Blinded member Walter Sharp was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal on Friday 16 October 2015 in recognition of his contribution to the D-Day campaign and subsequent liberation of France in 1944. In this article, Walter shares his memories of serving in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps during World War Two, the D-Day campaign as well as the recent award ceremony.

Walter volunteered for the Army in May 1940 and travelled down to Portsmouth for basic training. By late summer of 1940, the Germans had occupied France and the Channel Islands and many feared Britain would be next. Walter was part of the of the defence force which guarded Britain’s shoreline during this time. Walter has vivid memories of the nights he spent in a pillbox on Southsea armed with a rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition.

Walter recalls:

“We were in the pillbox from 9.30pm to 4am (Gerrie was not supposed to come after that time). It was a long, nervous wait, I remember everyone saying ‘If I get killed, you take over’ and so it passed down the line. The Germans never arrived, but I am fairly sure we would’ve been blown away if they had.”

Despite the tension of war, Walter would find love in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Walter said:

“I was attached to the Canadians at a small depot in Horley, Surrey which had no messing facilities and eight of us went to Mrs Pullen’s for all our meals. I was earning 21 shillings a week and some of that went to Mrs Pullen. As time went on, I learned that Mrs Pullen had a daughter and one night I asked her out, within a short time we were engaged.”

Walter married Doris Pullen shortly before landing at Normandy in 1944. Doris’ uncle thought they should get married and as he was friendly with the local vicar he was able to organise the wedding within a week at the end of April 1944.  Walter and Doris remained happily married for 46 years.

Walter was deployed to Africa in October 1942 to support the 1st Army in Algiers and later in Tunis. In what proved an extremely tough campaign for the 1st Army, the German Afrika Korps were eventually defeated with support of the British 8th Army in May 1943.

The Allies landed in Italy in September 1943 and Walter supported the campaign as it moved north from Bari towards the Gustav Line, the German defensive line which blocked the route to Rome. They met considerable German resistance and it wasn’t until May 1944 that the line was broken through a combined assault from the 5th and 8th Allied armies.

Walter returned to Britain from Naples following the Italian campaign in March 1944. As Walter remembers, everyone knew what was coming next:

“One night in Foggi, a Major came in and said ‘stop singing the party songs, pack up your troubles, you’re going home.’ Everybody was excited to be going home but we also knew we would eventually be going to the second front.”

Walter was part of the RAOC advanced party which left Southampton for Normandy on D-Day+3. His destination was Gold Beach which was the location for the construction of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches, crucial to supporting the Allied campaign as it moved inland.

Walter recalls:

“It was funny feeling as we approached the beach, you could see soldiers, the Argyles, wading through the water with rifles above their heads as well as one or two German bodies. It was raining fairly heavy and we only had our jackets as shelter in a wood about 500 yards from the beach. Our first job was to check the uniforms of the dead and record particulars so we could send them back to Britain. We had very little supplies to start with, but parts of the Mulberry Dock began arriving a couple of days later which allowed for more troops and supplies to begin arriving, including dry socks.  We also had to deal with the dead carcasses of the animals which were rotting in the fields.”

Walter remained at Gold Beach for four weeks, moving to Caen and later Belgium. He would also see active service during Operation Market Garden in Holland and the invasion of Germany. He was demobbed in 1946 from Hamburg.  Their son Brian was born in 1947.

In 2014, the French Government announced it would recognise D-Day veterans for their part in the 1944 Normandy landings and wider campaign to liberate France from the Nazi occupation and special ceremonies have been taking place throughout the country.

Walter was joined by other D-Day veterans for the ceremony aboard the French naval destroyer Aquitaine, including fellow Scottish War Blinded members Hugh Maguire and Alexander Govan. The medals were presented by Rear Admiral Patrick Chevallereau and Consul General of France in Edinburgh Emmanuel Cocher.

Rear Admiral Patrick Chevallereau said:

 “Gentlemen from Britain, gentlemen from Scotland, you are the witnesses to a glorious history you wrote on our soil, in France. I am truly honoured to stand before you. Your presence today on the flight deck of the Aquitaine is the demonstration entrusting the flame of remembrance to the younger generations so that they may keep it alive, nurture it and help it grow just as our parents and grandparents did.”

Walter said:

“It was very well organised and a great day for everyone. The crew could all speak English and were very welcoming. As a result of the award, you are now recognised as an officer so as we were piped off the ship, the crew stood to attention.”

The Legion d’Honneur is a further addition to Walter’s considerable number of World War Two decorations which include the Africa Star with 1st Army Bar, Italy, France and Germany stars as well as 1939-45 war and defence medals.

When asked how he feels about adding to his collection Walter responded:

“It’s a fantastic honour, however, I feel I may need a broader chest as a result!  The ceremony on board the destroyer was very memorable and one I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Pictures courtesy of Brian Sharp.

Scottish War Blinded provides free support to veterans of the armed forces who have a visual impairment sustained either in conflict or subsequently to their service. We support ex-service men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, including Reserves, Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps and National Service.

If you or someone you know could benefit from Scottish War Blinded’s activities, guide them to us