Northamptonshire veteran awarded French Legion d’honneur

Thomas Childs of Wilbarston shows off his D-Day medal. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER
Thomas Childs of Wilbarston shows off his D-Day medal. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

A former garage owner has been awarded the French Legion d’honneur for his role in the Second World War.

Thomas Childs, who is now 92, received his medal in the post last week.

Thomas Childs during the war.

Thomas Childs during the war.

He joins fellow county veterans Dennis Abbott and Eric Prigmore in receiving the honour recently.

He was a crew member of a landing craft during the D-Day invasion in June, 1944.

“Only 70 years late!” joked Mr Childs, who now lives in Wilbarston but is originally from Finedon. “But it’s a good thing to have.”

The French government decided to hand out its highest award to surviving Second World War veterans, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day landings.

The landings started a long battle to liberate Western Europe from the control of the Nazis.

“It was my job to drop a half ton anchor about 100 yards before the beach so I could control the boat while we were unloading,” explained Mr Childs.

“It was important to make sure it didn’t go sideways.

“Yes, there was quite a lot of enemy fire. We got a few holes in the boat.

“We got some of the first commandos ashore on Sword Beach near Ouistreham, and the whole bay was full of big transport ships.

“But what I remember was how ill some of the commandos were.

“They’d never been to sea before, and many of them were seasick.”

Mr Childs said his landing craft was kept busy for weeks putting men and vehicles ashore.

“We were the biggest landing craft with a crew of 12 including a 20-year-old Welsh Lieutenant in charge. We could take nine big Cromwell tanks,” he recalled.

“Was it frightening? Yes, but once you got there you had something to do and it took your mind off it.

“I suppose the beach was a hellish sight, but you couldn’t look at anybody else; you just did your job.

“I was 21 at the time, but there was no arguing about it.

“When the brown envelope came through the door, you knew that you were on. Everybody was in the same boat.”

Mr Childs was also involved in the Battle of the Scheldt, aimed at opening up the port of Antwerp to the Allies in autumn 1944.

The Allies finally cleared the port on November 8 at a cost of almost 13,000 casualties.

“That time our landing craft was so damaged that we only just made it back,” said Mr Childs.

“We got as far as Rye and it sank, and we had to swim and wade ashore.

“There was a good side to that though, because you got 21 days survivors’ leave if you lost your boat.”

After victory in Europe, Mr Childs was sent to the Far East, “but just before we landed, the Japanese packed up”.

It was another six months, though, before he made it back home.

Mr Childs was a lorry driver, the owner of Middleton Garage and the Four Winds Cafe in Wilbarston. He lives with his wife of 64 years, Mavis.

“It’s lovely to get this medal,” he said.

“But I’ve got four more medals, and I’ve never worn them.”