WHAT AN HONNEUR:
British war veteran gets French accolade
A WORLD War Two veteran from Hillingdon has received France’s highest accolade, the Legion D’honneur.
Philip Colehan, 93, received the honour from Ambassador Sylvie Bermann, at the French Embassy in Kensington on February 19. Mr Colehan served in the Second World War as part of the RAF’s AT Wing Squadron – a mobile signals unit.
Speaking after the medal ceremony, he said: “I felt very proud but very sad that it’s taken so long to be acknowledged in this way. Many of my friends and colleagues have gone. There was pride but also sadness.”
The heroic veteran was overjoyed to share the honourable day with his wife, Linda, and two sons, John and Robert.
He said: “It was a day of enormous pride. I thought at my age, I’m 93 now, I never expected anything like this. All these things are for young men but it was marvellous.”
Mr Colehan, who later went on to become chief of all 17 libraries in Hillingdon, has many tales to tell about his time in the mobile signals unit, which was deployed wherever needed and sent far and wide.
He said: “Towards the end of the war, the Germans had blown up all the bridges across the Rhine, except for one at Remagon. The Americans heard about this so they sent a small force of infantry and moved forward to capture it. They went forward, captured the bridge and took hold of it against the Germans.
“Of course, the Germans fought back like mad to re-capture it and they wanted more air cover so they sent for us at the mobile unit for radio cover over the bridges.
“We took over a schloss, (castle) on the Rhine and it was a marvellous place. We were there for two or three days and we watched the battle being fought out below us on the bridges and that went well.
“After about three days, the Americans won and went forward and one of our guys managed to find the keys to the wine cellar at the castle – can you guess what happened?
“There were many light-hearted things as well as serious. I like to think about the lighthearted, fun things that happened as well as the others.”
Ahead of the day, Mr Colehan received a letter on behalf of French president François Hollande, expressing warmest congratulations for his appointment to the rank of Chevalier.
It read: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you who came from Britain in the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe, by liberating France.”
His wife Linda watched as the medal was pinned on each veteran at embassy ceremony.
She said: “It was lovely, an absolutely beautiful day.”
n CHEVALIER: Philip Colehan receives France’s highest honour. Below, Linda and Philip Colehan at the embassy