Bexhill veteran honoured with prestigious French medal

Robert Ball awarded the Legion d'Honneur for his part in the D-Day landings, SUS-160612-151611001
Robert Ball awarded the Legion d'Honneur for his part in the D-Day landings, SUS-160612-151611001

A former merchant navy seaman from Bexhill who helped during the D-Day landings in the Second World War has been awarded a prestigious medal by the French.

Robert Ball, of Glassenbury Drive, was given a Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) Chevalier medal after helping the liberation of France by transporting soldiers to the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

The 92-year-old widower said he was honoured for a civilian to be given such a prestigious military medal.

“It’s a lovely little medal and it’s quite a high honour for me as we were civilians,” he said.

“Not a lot of people know about merchant seaman but you can’t start or end a war without them.”

Mr Ball was born and bred in Bexhill – his family of fishermen and builders date back to 1500 – and he said he joined the merchant navy ‘aged 15-and-a-half’.

At around 19-years-old, he went over in the first wave of ships to transport French-speaking Canadian troops from Lake Superior regiment on D-Day in June, 1944, he remembers vividly.

The former seaman helped deliver the troops for the invasion as well as equipment, before heading back to Poole to pick up another load of soldiers to take to Omaha beach and offloaded cargo for the American army at Isigny.

Earlier in the war, Mr Ball was twice torpedoed by German U-boats in the middle of the Atlantic on the way to Argentina and spent 11 days in a lifeboat before being picked up by HMS Pathfinder.

After D-Day he was stationed in the Adriatic and Yugoslavia helping to push back the Nazis.

Mr Ball joined the family construction business after the war and retired as a civil engineer and surveyor.

More than a year ago, he found out he was eligible for the medal via his war veterans association, applied for it and was told he would be sent one, much to his delight, but they only make 100 a month so it was a long wait.

“I’m truly honoured as it’s such a high honour, it’s been given to a civilian too so it’s quite a high military medal in France,” he said.

“I’m very pleased to have it, it’s a lovely little medal.”

A number of former servicemen from Bexhill have been given Légion d’honneur medals recently with the French government keen to recognise those who helped liberate the country during World War Two.

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