Falkirk D-Day veterans awarded top French accolade

D-Day troops depended on landing craft to get them onto the beaches of Normandy in June 1944, where they came under heavy fire from German guns. Picture: John Duncan
D-Day troops depended on landing craft to get them onto the beaches of Normandy in June 1944, where they came under heavy fire from German guns. Picture: John Duncan

Two D-Day veterans have had their part in the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany over 70 years ago recognised by a grateful French nation.

Proud old soldiers Walter Sharp (100) and Alexander Govan (98) were both part of the massive invasion force that landed on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 to start the final push to end the second World War.

Corporal Walter Sharp

Corporal Walter Sharp

Now they have received an official ‘thank-you’ from the French by being awarded their highest honour, the medal and rank of Chevalier in the Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur.

Walter was 26-years-old when he volunteered to join the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1940.

The storeman with the Carmuirs Iron Works in Camelon saw action in North Africa as part of the 1st Army and Bari and Naples in Italy before being called back to the UK to prepare for the military action that would change the course of the war.

On D-Day Plus 3 Corporal Sharp and thousands of his ‘brothers in arms’ packed into landing craft and landed on Gold Beach to support the troops who had arrived just a days before them.

Captain Alexander Govan

Captain Alexander Govan

They then fought their way through France, Belgium and Holland and into Germany to finally bring the conflict that had shaken the world to an end.

Just weeks before he was sent across the English Channel, he married Doris, who was to be his wife for 46 years, in the village of Horley in Surrey where he had been based briefly earlier in the war.

After he was demobbed in 1946 the couple returned to Camelon where Walter had been born and raised and he went back to work in the foundry. When it closed in 1967 he joined bus builders Walter Alexander and retired from there, age 65, in 1979.

During his military career Walter was awarded the African Star with 1st Army Bar, the Italy Star, France and Germany Star, 1939/1945 Star, 1939/1945 Defense Medal and 1939/1945 War Medal.

Now looking forward to celebrating his 101st birthday on August 7, this latest recognition has left Walter, from Carmuirs Avenue, “delighted”.

His son, Brian (68), said: “He was very pleased and proud to receive it from the office of the French Ambassador in London on behalf of the French Government in acknowledgement of how he and so many other members of the allied forces helped liberate France from occupation.”

Alexander Govan was involved in ‘Operation Over Lord’ from day one.

The retired police officer from Glasgow Road, Longcroft, was called up in 1942 at the age of 25 and completed his basic training in East Dumbartonshire before being posted to the 38th Signal Training Regiment Royal Artillery.

Officer training and promotion to the rank of Lieutenant was followed by postings to the Anti-Aircraft Regiment at South Shields protecting the ships there and later the submarine base at Blythe in Northumberland.

In 1944, Alexander transferred to the infantry and joined the 5th Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders 51st Highland Division.

On June 5 they left Newhaven and sailed to a safe anchorage off the Isle of Wight and in the early hours of June 6 headed for Sword Beach.

In the days and months that followed Alexander and his comrades pushed through into Normandy and involved in tough fighting in Falaise and Le Havre before crossing the Seine and moving east up the coast to St. Valerie-en-Caux where in 1940 the 51st Highland Division had fought to hold back Rommel’s troops while thousands of their colleagues were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Many Highlanders were either killed or captured in their desperate attempt to defend the evacuation, something Captain Alexander Govan did not know until his company was given the honour of re-taking the town where the population had gathered in the square to welcome them.

His unit then fought its way through France and Holland and by the time VE Day was declared his company had reached Cuckshaven in Germany.

At this point he was given the choice of staying in the Army and heading to the far east or coming home and resuming his career with the Police which was the option he took.

Alexander married his wife, Hellen, who was also a serving police officer, in 1956 and the couple went on to raise two children, Catherine and Andrew.

He retired in 1968 after 30 years service with the Police in Edinburgh, Stirling, Denny and Bannockburn for which he was presented with the Police Long Service Medal.

Alexander, who celebrates his 99th birthday on July 10, was given the Freedom of Falkirk in 2005 in recognition of his war service and also holds the 1939/1945 Star, the France and Germany Star, 1939/1945 Defense Medal and 1939/1945 War Medal.

Catherine said: “Andrew sent in the paperwork to see if dad was eligible and we think it’s a huge honour. He has many stories to tell about his life in the regiment but, like so many of of his generation, prefers not to retell some of the things they saw and experienced. Obviously, we are all very proud of him.”

Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador in London, said: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace we must never forget the heroes of June 1944 who came to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to their dedication because they were ready to risk their lives.”