Normandy landings veteran, 93, to be given France’s highest honour

July 6 2017, 4.57pmUpdated: July 7 2017, 12.03am
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A veteran of the Normandy landings is to receive France’s highest honour for his role in helping to liberate the country from German occupation.

Irvine Rae, 93, was originally due to be presented with the National Order of the Legion Honour (Legion d’honneur) at Edinburgh Castle in January along with nine men who took part in the D-Day landings in France, but was unable to attend due to a broken hip.

However, the French Consulate has rearranged a special presentation ceremony for him to receive the honour at Leuchars military base in Fife on Thursday.

Emmanuel Cocher, the French consul general in Scotland, will present Mr Rae with the award at the ceremony, which serving and former members of the Royal Engineers (his former regiment), local MP Stephen Gethins and family and friends are due to attend.

Mr Rae, who lives in Tayport, Fife, said: “Despite what I did in France in the Royal Engineers, I still can’t quite understand why I’m getting this – to me it was just normal work in the course of military service for my country.

“Of course, I’m very pleased about it – it’s a wonderful gift and a great honour.”

Mr Rae, an apprentice l ithographer with John Avery Printers in Aberdeen, was called up at the age of 18 in 1942 and was assigned to the Royal Engineers.

He joined 514 Field Survey Company, 15 Map Reproduction Section.

In the lead-up to Operation Overlord, he was involved in survey planning, map production of every map likely to be required in northern France, organisation and preparation of equipment and the planning and training for their landing.

On June, 7, 1944, D Day +1, aged 20, Sergeant Rae sailed from Portsmouth with three men as his section’s advance party on board HMS Glenroy, carrying all their maps and equipment.

They then transferred onto craft for their landing on the Normandy beach known as Sword and over several days advanced up the beach and moved inland, safely reaching the farm they were to set up and wait for the rest of their section to join them.

Collecting information from Army Field Survey, RAF, resistance groups and the local French people, Sergeant Rae would redraw the frontline positions on the maps and print off copies, which he would then be involved in delivering to the frontline.

As the war progressed, with 15 Map Reproduction Section, Sergeant Rae advanced through northern France, Belgium and into Germany, continuing to support the frontline with updated maps.

Mr Rae, who has recovered well from his broken hip, said: “The French people were very, very nice – very helpful.

“My spoken French wasn’t very good but they helped me out – it maybe took half an hour sometimes but we got there in the end.

“They were very amenable to what we were doing there to help them.”

Later, Sergeant Rae was redeployed to Italy, Palestine, Egypt and Greece.

The Legion d’honneur was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte in recognition of both military and civilian merit.

Membership of the Legion is technically restricted to French nationals but foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may also receive the honour.

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