D-Day veterans honoured for their service

William Birch, with the Mayors of Todmorden and Hebden Royd . Pictures by Craig Shaw/Blu Planet Photography

William Birch, with the Mayors of Todmorden and Hebden Royd . Pictures by Craig Shaw/Blu Planet Photography

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Two upper Calder Valley veterans were recognised at a special ceremony for their involvement in the D-Day landings of 1944.

The event, organised by the town councils of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, saw William Birch, of Elphin Close, Mytholmroyd, and Robert Johnson, of Rochdale Road, Todmorden, presented with the Legion d’Honneur in the rank of Chevalier. It has been awarded by the French government to D-Day veterans for several years, as a way of honouring those who fought and risked their lives.

The Mayor of Todmorden and the family of D-Day veteran Robert Johnson

The Mayor of Todmorden and the family of D-Day veteran Robert Johnson

Of the 156,000 Allied troops who landed in Normandy on D-Day - June 6, 1944 - records indicate that around 10,000 men were either killed, wounded, went missing in action or became prisoners of war.

The presentation was made by French Honorary Consul Jeremy Burton, escorted by Major Stan Hardy, Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire.

William Birch was born in 1923 in Lower Callis and moved to Todmorden from where he joined the East Yorkshire Regiment, completing his basic training in Richmond, North Yorkshire. He completed further specialist training in Scotland.

On the second day of the Normany invasion, Mr Birch landed at Sword Beach. He was accompanied to the presentation by his partner Rita and their children.

Robert Johnson was also born and raised in Todmorden, joining the Royal Marine Commandos in 1937. He later joined 40 Royal Marine Commando. His first serious engagement was the 1942 Dieppe raid and at the age of 23 he held the rank of Colour Sergeant and led a landing craft onto Sword Beach during the Normandy landings. He served with the Marines until he was discharged in 1952, then returned to Todmorden and joined the fire service.

Mr Johnson was unwell on the day, but his eldest son accepted the award on his behalf. Speeches were given by the Mayor of Hebden Royd, Tony Hodgins, and the Mayor of Todmorden, Tony Greenwood.