Notts veteran remembers WW2 as he receives French honour

Clement Grace, 93, from Edwinstowe has been awarded the French Legion d'Honneur.
Clement Grace, 93, from Edwinstowe has been awarded the French Legion d'Honneur.

A Notts WW2 veteran who had to leave his wife at home to fight in Normandy has been given a medal of honour.

Clement Grace, 93, of Lansbury Road in Edwinstowe has received the Legion d’Honneur for fighting in the Second World War – overdue by 60 years, he says, but better late than never.

Clement Grace, second form left, with his three brothers before they went to war.

Clement Grace, second form left, with his three brothers before they went to war.

He and wife Rotha live in Edwinstowe and spend their days gardening, and now Clement’s medal has renewed his pride in his old army days as she shows off albums of photos he took in Normandy.

He said: “I didn’t even know about the medal until my nephew was in France and he heard about it, and he thought I should have one.

“I accepted it not for myself but on behalf of all those that were out on that jaunt, and who lived and died over there.

Clement had aspirations of being a plumber when he was called up in 1942.

Tanks on the road to Tilburg.

Tanks on the road to Tilburg.

Only 18 at the time and originally from London, he was one of four brothers to join the army and was stationed in Rufford, which is where he met Rotha.

“When I was called up you just had to do it,” he said. “My brother had already been killed by then so I knew what was going on.”

Clement was trained as a tank driver at Perbright and landed in Normandy with the 6th Guard Tank Brigade before driving through France to Belgium and Holland, and finishing the war at Kiel – a major German port.

“When we got to France there wasn’t actually a tank for us until we arrived in Bayeux, and there we were given a Crusader with twin Harlequins. It had been ditched on the beech at Normandy and was all full of sand, so we had to clean it all up before we could take it into action.

Major Tollemache briefs the troops near Estry

Major Tollemache briefs the troops near Estry

“The Battalion moved to Caumont, and this tank got us into trouble becuase of the steering, adn we ended up driving in circules in a field for two weeks. It was frustrating.”

The crew also got in trouble while they were behind the front, and while shooting at German planes their shells hit British artillery at Cormont.

Eventually he joined another crew in a Churchill tank and joined the battle of Caumont.

Clement added: “All battles are hard, it doesn’t matter where you are. We were supporting the infantry all the way and it’s a ase of what ever you come up against. Some tanks were knocked out by the Germans - their guns were devastation, it took one shell to go through the bloody thing.

The Guards Tank Brigade photographed at Geldrop.

The Guards Tank Brigade photographed at Geldrop.

“I remember when the war was ending, and Montgomery called our battalion together, and he said ‘Gather around lads, I want to bash on to Kiel and get there before the Germans,’ and we did.

After the war Clement was a guard at Buckingham Palace and retired from the military in 1946

He came home to his wife and turned back to his childhood ambitions of being a plumber, but without opportunities for an apprenticeship he ended up as a welder and pipe fitter.

The ‘National Order of the Legion of Honour’ is France’s highest decoration and has been given out to many British soldiers for their part in the liberation of France.

Honourary French consul Jean-Claude Lafontaine said: “I had the pleasure to present Mr Grace with the Legion d’Honneur and express our gratitude on behalf of France, its government and its people. The Legion d’Honneur was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and is awarded both on behalf of civilian and military merits.

“This medal celebrates the bravery and the commitment of British veterans who contributed to liberate France and the continent of Europe.”

Clement, far left, with his fellow crew members.

Clement, far left, with his fellow crew members.