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Top French honour for Shropshire D-Day war hero

Telford | News | Published:

A veteran who parachuted out of a plane as it was shot down over Normandy during the D-Day landings has received a French Legion of Honour medal for his service.

Gerald Clarke was a private in the 8th Parachute Battalion during the war.

The 92-year-old – who is now a great-grandfather-of-10 – had been involved in a night parachute drop over Caen as part of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.

Mr Clarke had signed up to the Parachute Regiment in Shrewsbury in 1940 and remained in the regiment until 1945, when he was stationed in Palestine.

There were 20 people in the plane that fateful night, but only three of the paratroopers, including Mr Clarke, managed to get out safely after the plane was shot down by German troops.

Mr Clarke said the plane had set off from England and the journey had taken a couple of hours.

He said: "We dropped out at 12.50am. Our plane was shot down by the Germans. It was on fire.

"There were three of us who got out. The others didn't get out of the plane. It got shot down as we jumped."

Mr Clarke, of Dawley, Telford, said he landed in Caen and had to trek for three days to get back to safety.

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He said: "I had to get back to our lines to meet up with our own people.

"Two of us managed to get back. We couldn't go back in the daytime, we had to travel in the night because there were Germans all over the place." Speaking about receiving his medal, the father-of-three and grandfather-of-12 added: "I'm very pleased with it."

The French government decided to award their top medal – the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur – this year to all the veterans who had taken part in the liberation of France.

His son Peter Clarke, 63, of Dawley, said he was incredibly proud of his father.

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He said: "He never really spoke about what he had done until he was in his 70s. I think he's proud of what he did during the war and I'm really proud of him."

The 8th (Midlands) Parachute Battalion was an airborne infantry battalion of the Parachute Regiment, raised by the British Army during the Second World War.

The battalion was created in 1942 by the conversion of the 13th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment to parachute duties.

The battalion was assigned to the 3rd Parachute Brigade, serving alongside the 7th and 9th Parachute battalions, in the 1st Airborne Division before being reassigned to help form the 6th Airborne Division in May 1943.

The 8th Parachute Battalion fought in Operation Tonga, the British airborne landings in France on D-Day and the break-out to the River Seine.

Withdrawn to England in September 1944, the German winter offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge saw the battalion return to the continent.

Their final mission during the war was the River Rhine crossing, followed by the advance to the Baltic.

After the war the battalion was sent to Palestine.

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