World War II hero presented with Legion d'Honneur medal at GWH bedside

Posted: July 16, 2015

Lt Col Ian Neilson receives highest French military honour

LtColIanNeilson01A patient at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon has been presented with the highest French military honour at his bedside after being unable to attend his presentation ceremony. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Neilson was given the prestigious Legion d'Honneur at GWH by Colonel Olivier Fort, the Senior French Army Liaison Officer in the UK, on Wednesday 15 July in recognition of his bravery and involvement in the Liberation of France in 1944. 

The 96-year-old, who lives in Marlborough, had been due to receive the honour, which is France's equivalent of a knighthood, during a special ceremony at the Museum of Army Flying in Hampshire but was unable to go in person after being admitted to GWH. 

Speaking shortly after receiving the award, Lt Col Neilson told staff on the ward: "I was sad that I couldn't go to the event in person but I'm delighted and very pleasantly surprised to receive this honour."

After joining the Territorial Army in 1938, Lt Col Neilson went on to become one of the first Air Observation Post volunteers, whose job it was to observe enemy targets on the ground and radio their location back to Allied forces, either on the ground or at sea.

LtColIanNeilson03In a speech which had been written by Lt Col Neilson, but delivered by his son at the ceremony, he said: "We, who survived, were extraordinarily fortunate in Air Observation Posts. Unarmed aviation, particularly our low flying, demanded 100 per cent concentration and skill.

"I feel that there is no doubt about the major contribution of all the Air Observation Post squadrons during World War II and I am particularly proud to have been part of it.

"In 2015, I am honoured and very appreciative of my appointment, by the President of France, to the rank of Chevalier in the National Order of the Legion of Honour."

Lt Col Neilson also played a vital role in the D-Day landings in 1944. He was one of the first to arrive on the beaches and was tasked with finding a suitable area for aircraft to land.

The area which had been found and made safe meant that aircraft were able to land and provide additional support to troops on the ground.

Also present at GWH for the medal presentation was Lieutenant General Sir Gary Coward of the British Army as well as Trust staff Stacey Cotter, Ward Manager, and Dr Nirmalan Arulanantham, Consultant Physician.

Other people to have been awarded the Legion d'Honneur include Harry Patch (Britain's last World War I veteran), Sir Paul McCartney and JK Rowling.

 

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