71 years on, French hon­our D-Day hero

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

FOR MERVYN Kersh the morn­ing post con­tained a “huge sur­prise” last week — a let­ter telling him he had been awarded the Lé­gion d’hon­neur, France’s high­est mil­i­tary hon­our.

The medal was given to the pen­sioner by the French gov­ern­ment to mark his in­volve­ment in the Nor­mandy land­ings in June 1944.

Mr Kersh, who served as a pri­vate in the ord­nance corps, was one of the first 10 sol­diers from his unit to land on Gold Beach, on the Nor­mandy coast, one of the lo­ca­tions cho­sen for Al­lied in­va­sion.

“I had such a grin on my face when I re­alised what the let­ter was,” he said. “My son pinned the medal to my shirt and took a pic­ture — you can see how happy I was.

“It is a great award and such a huge achieve­ment. I feel very pleased and proud to have it, and ob­vi­ously my fam­ily is very happy.”

Mr Kersh said he was un­aware that he had been Mervyn Kersh wear­ing the Lé­gion d’hon­neur medal awarded the hon­our. “I had no idea it was com­ing and when I opened it I was shocked,” he said, adding that per­haps the French had “fi­nally” recog­nised him be­cause “there are not many of us left nowa­days”.

In fact, the French gov­ern­ment had an­nounced that D-Day vet­er­ans were to be given the Lé­gion d’hon­neur last year, at the time of the 70th an­niver­sary of the land­ings, but had not re­vealed the names of those be­ing hon­oured. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the medal was a let­ter from the French am­bas­sador prais­ing the young Pri­vate Kersh’s con­tri­bu­tion to the lib­er­a­tion of France.

T h e a mbas s a d o r wrote: “We must never for­get he­roes like you who came from Brita i n a n d the Comm o n - w e a l t h to be­gin t h e lib­er­a­tion of Europe by lib­er­at­ing France.

“We owe our free­dom and se­cu­rity to your ded­i­ca­tion, be­cause you were ready to risk your life.”

Now 90 — and pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Jewish Ex-Ser­vice­men and Women branch in South­gate, north Lon­don — Mr Kersh still has vivid mem­o­ries of how his unit’s first at­tempt to land, on June 6, 1944, D-Day, had to be aborted in the face of a lethal Ger­man bom­bard­ment.

He said: “We slept most of the way across the Chan­nel and when we ar­rived there was a sea of boats. It was quite amaz­ing.

“The plan was that 10 of our of­fi­cers would be sent as the first re­con­nais­sance unit land­ing on D-Day.”

Sadly, a tor­pedo hit the ad­vance party, and they were all killed ex­cept one.

Mr Kersh said: “We had to re­group and we re­turned on June 8, when our role was to get the tanks and ve­hi­cles off the ves­sels, on to dry land and to the front-line troops as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“We were greeted by French peo­ple who wanted to give us wine and kisses. I didn’t take the wine just in case it was poi­soned, but I took the kisses.”

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