A Second World War hero who fought gallantly during the Dunkirk evacuation and D-Day landings has been honoured with a rare award.
Mel Wallace, who currently lives in Riverside View Care Home in Darlington, was presented with the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest military order in France, on 25th January 2018.
The 97-year-old, who served in the Northumbrian Division Signals Regiment, was hoping to receive the prestigious honour last year, but after a period of ill health, he was finally presented with the medal yesterday, with the help of his family, Riverside View, and Age UK.
Mr Wallace, who accepted the award “on behalf of all the men who didn’t come home”, left school aged 14 to become an apprentice joiner, and worked as a cabinet-maker in Binns in Darlington in 1938.
“I was putting furniture together and listened on the radio to what was happening in our country – it all seemed so wrong.
“I had wanted to go to sea from being a lad and this sort of pushed me into it.”
He left for duty in October 1939 and served throughout the war, spending time in France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Tunisia to name a few.
He escaped from Bray Dunes in the Dunkirk evacuation in early June in 1941, and spent Christmas of that year in Iraq protecting oil fields from an Axis attack.
He was also part of the landings on Gold Beach during the D-Day operations.
His son, also called Mel, said: “We went back to Normandy for his 90th birthday. He was making jokes all the time, but when we visited the grave of one of his friends, he just broke down.
“During the trip, a Belgian family also came up to him and thanked him for saving their country.”
Mayor of Darlington Jan Taylor said: “I get to do lots of jobs and visits lots of people in this role, but to participate in something like this is such an honour.
“It is a very special occasion and it gives me goose bumps.”
Claire Westmorland, Home Manager, said: “Mel is a wonderful character – he has a great sense of humour and a wonderful rapport with the team.”
Date published: 13 February 2018