Preston war veteran receives highest French honour for D-Day heroics

Posted on - 24th October, 2016 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, Fulwood, Garrison, History, Preston News
Robert arrives at the Barracks

Robert arrives at the Barracks

A Preston man has received the highest French honour for his bravery during the D-Day landings.

Robert Hornby Barron, known to his friends as Bob, was awarded the Legion d’Honneur at a special ceremony at Fulwood Barracks.

He received the award in the presence of the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire Colonel Alan Jolley, the Mayor of Preston councillor John Collins and Commander of the 42 Brigade Brigadier Chris Coles.

Bob lives in the Ashton-on-Ribble area of the city and is ‘fiercely independent’.

Robert receives the honour

Robert receives the honour

After the war he went to work in the textile industry before then moving to work as a hospital porter.

His wife Edith, who he married in 1947, died 12 years ago.

Read more: Role of the Preston Pals is marked at Station

Bob’s role in D-Day

When war broke out in 1939 Bob’s work meant that he was initially in a reserved occupation, but by early 1942 he was called up and conscripted into the Army, initially attached to the Royal Artillery but later transferred to the Pioneer Corps. Although he did not know it at the time he was being trained for a role in what has become known as the ‘D-Day’ landings. Bob had been specially trained to assist the Royal Engineers in the construction of ‘Bailey Bridges’, Pontoon Bridges and other equipment designed to move or breach obstructions that had been placed or created by the retreating German Army.

Like many of his fellow soldiers he was extremely seasick on the journey across the Channel. Bob was scheduled to be landed, with his Regiment on ‘Gold Beach’ near Arromanches in the of ‘D-Day’. For most of that day he was anchored just off the coast in the still rough seas.

One of his clear memories of the day is being anchored next to the Battleship HMS Rodney which was firing its large guns in deafening salvos at German positions all day. Two of those guns still greet visitors at the front of the Imperial War Museum in London.

Bob and his colleagues were glad to get on dry land again and were immediately moved by the scenes of the recent battle on the beach. They had no time to dwell on this because they were quickly deployed on the tasks that they had been trained for.

One of Bob’s first tasks was to assist the Royal Engineers in the construction of an emergency airfield between the towns of Tilley and Bayeux. While assembling building materials locally for this task he was being mortar bombed by the Germans. Night time was particularly dangerous because the Germans could use their artillery without being attacked by the RAF. This required Bob and his comrades to dig in on a nightly basis to avoid death and injury.

Read more: Plaque unveiled to mark bravery of Preston’s Victoria Cross hero

Bob was also involved in the battle for Caen and clearly remembers witnessing the large Air Raid carried out by the RAF and US Air Force.

The advance through northern France towards Holland was very quick and his work to help re-building bridges and clear obstructions was in frequent demand to keep the momentum of the advance going. The main danger he and his colleagues faced was from mortar attack. A good friend of Bob’s from Southport was killed in one of these attacks. Other serious dangers included ‘booby traps’ on installations they had to work on. Two of his corporals were killed in one such incident.

Another of Bob’s memories is witnessing the intense relief and gratitude of the civilian population of northern France, Belgium and Holland as they liberated villages and towns from German occupation in their advance towards Germany.

Bob knows that he played a small role in a very large team effort. He has always known since that the risks he and his comrades took were deeply appreciated by the French people. He has been deeply moved by his award and wishes to thank the President and people of France for the medal he has been given.

He knows that he was lucky to survive the conflict without injury and always remembers, everyday, his comrades and friends who were not so lucky. He realises how fortunate he has been over the last 70 years to see Europe grow out of that terrible conflict in freedom and peace.

Do you know Bob? Let us know in the comments below

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