A Waterlooville churchgoer who stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day will receive the highest honour the French government can give.
Ted Turner, 89, who goes to St John’s Church, Purbrook, will be awarded the Legion d’Honneur at a ceremony at the Royal Marines Museum in Southsea next week – part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
He will be among the first D-Day veterans in the country to be given the award, and the first from the Portsmouth area. The Legion d’Honneur was originally created by Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest decoration in France.
As an 18-year-old Royal Marine, Ted 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.
Ted will receive his award from Captain Francois Jean, the Consul Honoraire of France, on behalf of French president Francois Hollande.
Invited dignitaries include the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Colonel Charles Ackroyd; the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Steven Wyllie; and the president of the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship, Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Dalton. Lt Cdr (SCC) Brian Madden MBE, retired ex-Royal Navy Warrant Communications, is also attending.
Former Pompey players Alan Knight and Ray Crawford will be there, along with current Pompey FC chairman Iain McInnes, to reflect Ted’s passion for Portsmouth FC. Also attending are TV presenter Pam Rhodes, who interviewed him for a special Songs of Praise last year to mark 70 years since D-Day, the vicar of St John’s Church, Purbrook, the Rev Connie Sherman, and associate priest the Rev Julie Jones.
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, Portsmouth, and attended St Francis Church. At 17 he decided to go to Portsmouth’s recruiting office and sign up for the RAF, but he was too young. Instead 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.
Seven miles off the French coast, the Canadian engineers and their trailer came on board their landing craft, and Ted and his colleagues inched towards Juno Beach near Courseulles-sur-Mer.
Ted stayed in Normandy for six weeks before he was picked up by a ship and returned to the UK. Some of his colleagues decided to sail landing craft back across the Channel, but hit rough seas and bad weather. Thirty of them were drowned.
Ted campaigned to get a plaque placed at their former camp in Bracklesham Bay to remember their loss. It was erected there on June 3 last year. Ted then spent a night at the camp – leaving on June 4, 70 years to the day since he left the same camp for the D-Day invasion.
Ted also served in Germany, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Japan after the end of the war. He remembers sailing past Hiroshima after the atomic bomb had been dropped and seeing the devastation it had wrought.