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February 24, 2016

Ilkeston-born Ernest Taylor was awarded the Legion of Honour by French government Joins the Nottingham Branch

Ilkeston-born Ernest Taylor was awarded the Legion of Honour by French government Joins the Nottingham Branch

Ernest a veteran of the D-Day defied Hitler's armies for two years – but was nearly undone by his love of eggs. His closest brush with death came after he took part in the Normandy Landings and ran up Juno Beach, where 2,000 men were scythed down by German guns the day before.

 

 

The 18-year-old learnt very quickly how to build a slit trench and from its relative safety, he ventured out to find eggs to augment his dreary rations one afternoon. Ernest, now 90, said: "I heard a shell coming and instinct told you if it was coming your way. I dropped onto the ground and a piece hit me in the leg. "It was just a little bit of metal and I pulled it out but there is still a faint scar."


He never mentioned it to his fellow soldiers because he would have been reported as "wounded in action." And his mother never knew. He said: "It would just have worried her. When I wrote home, I asked for some plasters and she sent some out."

Earlier this year the memories came flooding back after Ernest discovered he is to be made a Chevalier of the Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur (Legion of Honour) by order of the French government. The award is the highest decoration that France can bestow. Founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, replacing all previous royalist orders of chivalry, this order of merit is awarded for outstanding civil or military service.

In a letter to Ernest from the French Embassy, Sylvie Bermann wrote: "As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget those like you who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. "We owe our freedom and security to your dedication because you were ready to risk your life."

Ernest, who returned home after the war to become a painter and decorator, said: "It will be a fine thing to receive this award from France so long after I volunteered and took the King’s shilling."

Within hours of reaching France in a landing craft, he took part in the Battle of Hill 112. This crucial confrontation pitched General Bernard Montgomery against his old enemy Erwin Rommel.

Hundreds died on both sides and many bodies were left bloated in the warm sun because it was too dangerous to collect them for burial.

After allied victory there, Ernest took part in that swathe of history which saw the Nazis driven back and eventually defeated. Again he came desperately close to death one day while setting out with an army cook in search of eggs again.

By this time, he was in Germany and went into a farmhouse where occupants denied having eggs. He found some in the drawer of a dresser and the German farmer urged them to leave via a lane.

By luck, they chose to walk across a farm field where the corn stood high in the sunshine rather than down the lane. Suddenly they came across a German machine gun nest with the barrel pointing down the lane.

"If we had gone that way, we would have been killed, the Germans were so surprised we captured all 14 of them, two officers and 12 bombardiers," said Ernest, who served with the 112 Field Regt RA, equipped with the 25 pdr,  who were part of the then 43rd Wessex Division.

To obey standard instructions, they made the prisoners run with hands on their heads, forcing them under a barbed wire fence. As Ernest crept under the obstruction, the eggs broke and his supper was lost.

As he considers those days, Ernest said: "I once told an officer 'I never thought about getting wounded, captured or killed.' He said 'unbelievable' but I told him 'I just never gave it a thought.' I am not a hero, far from it, I just did my duty."

The father-of-two often visits friends in France and Belgium, where he visits the pristine cemeteries of the soldiers.

He said: "It makes you think about them, how unlucky they were.

 

 

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