Award by the French is a welcome accolade

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In some ways, the French government’s decision to start awarding the Legion d’Honneur, was far too late.

The scheme started in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, when nominations were sought for the surviving veterans, and since then there has been a regular stream of ceremonies.

They are poignant occasions as, obviously, the recipients are all well into their 80s or even older.

They are a reason to remember those who never came back from the beaches, and those who exhibited their bravery but have since died; and that’s why we say, in some ways, the round of honours is too late, as there are many worthy of the accolade who are no longer around to be given it.

However, better late than never, and it would be churlish to carp on about the fact that it could have started, say, on the 50th anniversary. And, as is the case in all the Legion d’Honneur presentations of recent years, it is a privilege to report the stories today.

Those veterans we cover today, who were presented with their medals on Armistice Day yesterday, show typical modesty about their achievements.

The story of Lieutenant Commander Fredrick Davenport, now 95, of Drayton, is astonishing.

He was on HMS Eagle en route to Malta, which was hit by four torpedoes and was sunk. He was left treading water for hours, desperately hoping he would at some stage make it firstly back to land and secondly back home.

With customary humility, he insists: ‘I’m not a hero, I’m just an ordinary bloke.’

But he is an example, one among many, of how ordinary men can become heroes in times of need.

And on a weekend of Remembrance, when it is particularly apt to dwell on the past, that is why it is never too late for the Legion d’Honneur to be presented, as a cause for more reflection.

Whatever one’s views on Brexit, there are some ties with Europe which we should never turn our backs on, and this is why the French government’s gesture to the D-Day veterans should be roundly welcomed by all quarters.