D-DAY veteran Ted Turner was full of emotion and pride as he received the highest honour the French government can give.
The 89-year-old received the honour at a ceremony at the Royal Marines Museum in Eastney today.
The longstanding Pompey supporter is among the first D-Day veterans in the country to be given the award and the first from this area.
Mr Turner received his award, called The Legion d’Honneur, from Captain Francois Jean, the Consul Honoraire of France, on behalf of French president Francois Hollande.
The medal was originally created by Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest decoration in France.
The poignant ceremony was attended by dignitaries, including the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, as well as representatives of Portsmouth FC, including former Pompey players Alan Knight and Ray Crawford, along with current Portsmouth FC chairman Iain McInnes, to reflect Mr Turner’s passion for the club.
As an 18-year-old Royal Marine, Mr Turner helped Canadian troops secure a beachhead on Juno beach in the decisive invasion of France in June 1944.
He had sailed across the English Channel in a tiny landing craft with the Allied fleet, as part of the largest seaborne invasion in history.
Captain Francois Jean personally thanked Mr Turner for helping to liberate Europe and some of his relatives who were being held in concentration camps.
After receiving the award, Mr Turner, of Kingsdown Road, Waterlooville, told The News: ‘It’s been tremendous.
‘It’s been an honour being here today.
‘I don’t know what I have done to deserve this.
‘When I got this honour, it made me think of my friends.
‘Some of them never came back.
‘Really, the honour is not just for me. It’s for my friends. They got killed over there and I continually think of them.
‘I get very emotional. I get very teary. I go to France every year in June and September.
‘I’m getting to the age where many people don’t like me going there on my own, but I have many French friends.’
Mr Turner said he remembered the events of D-Day like it was yesterday.
‘I remember everything,’ he said.
‘I have a very good memory of what it was like that day, the weather, the gun fire, the noise, and people getting killed with bodies floating around in the water.
‘We were only boys – 18 or 19 year old boys.
‘I don’t feel like a hero. We were given a job and we just went and did it.
‘This is not just for me. It’s for them. I am only looking after it.
‘I am just the caretaker of the medal.
‘We were like brothers, we were like family.’
The ceremony was arranged by Mr Turner’s friends and neighbours, Judy Hill, 63, and Sue Harper, 52.
Mrs Harper got in touch with the French government last year and put in long hours to organise the ceremony and guest list, which included many of Mr Turner’s close friends.
The French government informed the UK Ministry of Defence last year that it wanted to recognise the selfless acts of heroism displayed by surviving veterans of the Normandy landings and the campaign to liberate France in 1944, by awarding them the Legion d’Honneur.
Veterans were invited to apply for the award, and a handful of presentations have already taken place around the UK.
Ted Turner was born and brought up in Hilsea and attended St Francis Church. He was taken on by the Royal Marines in January 1943.
He was stationed at Eastney Barracks and then at Fort Gomer in Gosport. His training included time in North Wales, Great Yarmouth and in Dartmouth where he spent six weeks learning how to use a landing craft and basic seamanship.
He and three other colleagues then manned a landing craft which was based at Itchenor, near Chichester. On June 4, 1944, they sailed across to Lee-on-Solent and came alongside a Canadian troop ship.
And on June 5, they sailed across the Channel in their landing craft as part of the invasion.
Recalling the invasion, he said: ‘It was very quiet, no one spoke.
‘Then when we got close to the beach, the Germans started firing and it was pretty noisy. I was used to it, as my dad had been in charge of the Firewatch in Portsmouth, so I’d heard air raids and gunfire anyway.
‘I wasn’t frightened. I was only young, so it felt a bit like an adventure to me, even at that stage. We landed the Canadian engineers and their equipment on the beach and then backed off, so we could see what was going on. Some landing craft were hit and started sinking, some Canadians were being shot around us.
‘We slept on the beach that night, and I remember a German plane coming over and flying very low. We were all firing at it. The next day, we started unloading all the ships by landing craft. Most of the boxes we unloaded seemed to be food.
‘The next day, the Canadians dug a trench for the dead bodies and covered them over. But we saw a few bodies still floating on the tide, even a week after D-Day.’
Today Mr Turner, who goes to St John’s Church, Purbrook, cut a cake that had been prepared specially for the occasion.
He was joined for the cake cutting by 16-year-old Max Sandy, a friend of the family who attends Horndean Technology College and was representing the younger generation.
Max said: ‘It was a great honour after everything he did on D-Day.’