A former tank commander has been presented with France’s highest military honour – the Legion d’Honneur.
Gerry Wells, who lives in Rutland, was presented the award on behalf of the French government by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of the county, Dr Laurence Howard, at a ceremony hosted by 1st Military Working Dog Regiment at St George’s Barracks, North Luffenham.
Gerry was just 18-years and six-months when he joined The Sherwood Rangers as a Trooper in 1944 and went on to be promoted in the field to Lieutenant and the commander of a Sherman tank crew.
Gerry, who believed he didn’t deserve the award, said: “I am absolutely honoured and delighted to receive this medal, but I don’t think I did anything special.
“We were just ordinary blokes doing what we were trained to do. I accept this award for my father and my crew. My dad was in the 1st Royal Tank Regiment in France in World War One and he took part in the first major tank assault in 1917 (The Battle of Cambrai) and thereafter.
“I would also like to mention my tank crew: Poncho, Obie, Joe and Tom, with whom I shared a tank in the dizzy Glenn Miller and Hoagy Carmichael days of 1944. They were super, we were a family. It wasn’t unusual if we were on a long run and it was very quiet for Obie, our second driver and gunner, to rummage around for tins of food and a spoon. At which time, Pancho who was driving would open his mouth and Obie would feed him. It would be a spoonful for Obie, a spoonful for Pancho. Obie didn’t think twice about it and if he hadn’t done that, Pancho wouldn’t have eaten.
“For me, that personifies the spirit that makes a crew. I loved them as family and I remember them every day.”
In a speech at the presentation the Lord Lieutenant said: “We gather to celebrate one man’s contribution to an event which occurred over 70 years ago. It helped turn the tide of not just European but world history and it is only right and proper that all of those men and women who fought a long time ago in such a dangerous and heroic action, should be recognised by the French government. I am immensely proud to be asked to present this magnificent medal to Gerry; a splendid, modest and gentle man.”
The Sherwood Rangers Regiment formed part of the 8 th Armoured Brigade. It was the first Yeomanry ashore in France on D-Day, landing two minutes before ‘H’ hour in DD Sherman Tanks.