The webteam has now had the privilege to interview Probus Club member, and local Hankelow resident, 89 year old, Tom Hassall on his return from the French Embassy in London, where he was presented with their highest honour – the Legion d'Honneur.
The story begins with a newspaper article noticed by, other local residents, Tom and Shirley Firth in which the Ministry of Defence was inviting veterans of the D- Day landings to apply for a medal – The Legion dHonneur – which the French government wished to present to D-Day veterans for their bravery in the liberation of France in World war 11.
This Tom did, with the help of Tom Firth, and some months later had a letter from a Mr Simon Lane, inviting Tom to the French Embassy to receive the award on Tuesday of this week.
Tom and his daughter, Jane, attend the ceremony where 15 veterans, many more immobilised than Tom, received the medal from a French Minister( who praised the bravery of the British in the liberation of their country ) and in the presence of high ranking French and British Officers.
Tom was called up in 1943 to Branceporth, County Durham where he joined the Duke of Wellington Regiment. He was to spend 12 weeks on a core training course and a further 2 weeks on a drivers training course.
He was then transferred to Dartmoor and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, which he remembers as a miserable experience since it rained every day and 14 were sleeping in a Bell Tent.
He was soon sent to Gravesend where the soldiers were not allowed out into the surrounding town. It became clear that this was to prevent a leak of information as to where the regiment was heading – especially when they were provided with French money !
On the 5th June 1944, Tom was sent to Weymouth and went on board ship. As many will remember the planned sailing was delayed 24hrs due to storms. Tom arrived off the coast of France next evening, disembarked onto a landing craft, jumped into the water and ran accross Juno Beach under mortar fire.They dug in for three days in a field and then Tom and 10 others were sent to the front line in the 4th battalion Lincolnshire Regiment attached to the Canadian Tank Core.
Tom recalls how fortunate this was because the Canadian battle strategy was to send the tanks in first followed by the infantry – unlike the British!
The main thrust at this time was the relief of the town Caen, but Tom's battalion was ordered to travel north to free as many ports as possible. Tom remembers clearly the surrender of Le Havre as he was dug in in an orchard.
His battalion moved north through Belgium and Holland to Arnhem and Nijmegen and the fierce battle of the bridges at these towns. In the winter and spring of 1945 they attacked Arnhem and took it.
On into Germany where he remembers hunting wild boar and deer for the German population who at this time had little food. He was transferred to the 4th Battalion Gloucester regiment and spent 3 moths in Berlin in the Brigade of Guards.
He was then granted two weeks leave and then sent to Jamaica from where he was demobbed in November 1947.
A very fitting honour for a perfect gentleman , who put his life on the line so that we could be free. Our heartfelt thanks Tom.