D-Day veteran John Nicholls, who is a resident at RMBI Home James Terry Court in South Croydon, has been awarded the insignia of the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, the highest decoration in France.
The French government has been awarding the Legion d’Honneur to D-Day veterans for the last five years as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.
Along with four other London veterans John, aged 92, was awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet in a special ceremony aboard HMS Belfast in London last week. The warship was used on D-Day and is now an Imperial War Museum attraction on the River Thames.
John was born in May 1925 in Greenwich. He joined the Royal Navy two weeks before his 17th birthday. After the war he lived in Mitcham and later he moved to Sanderstead. He worked as a British Rail Engineer until he retired.
John served on HMS Argonaut on D-day where he fired on and destroyed German gun batteries on Normandy and drove landing craft from ship to shore delivering troops and supplies.
John remembers being told of the D-day plan with just four hours to go and arriving in France to see “all hell” break loose. He said: “I looked at the troops as they were going in and thought: how many of them are going to come back?”
John lost 65% of his hearing from the noise of explosions during the battle. He reflected: “I’ve come out of it with just half of my hearing gone, but those poor devils, they lost their lives. I think of them all the time.”
John came to live at RMBI Home James Terry Court three years ago. He had been living in Spain for twenty years but had gradually become very isolated and was finding it hard to look after himself. His son Andrew, a Freemason, contacted the Home to ask if they could help. Andrew says he feels the Home “saved my dad’s life”. He said: “Straightaway, they just took care of everything. The staff always go the extra mile, nothing is too much trouble. It’s just wonderful.”
The Home’s Manager, Michele Belch, says: “We feel privileged to care for John at our Home. He’s a real gentleman as well as being a D-Day hero. We’re thrilled for him that his incredible bravery has been recognised in this way.”