A Second World War veteran from Eastbourne has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur for his part in the liberation of France on D-Day.
Kenneth Hobbs, 93, was presented with the honour by French Consul Captain Francois Jean in a special ceremony last week at the Blind Veterans UK Brighton centre.
Ken said, “The presentation was a great honour and I was very surprised to receive the medal in the first place. My three sons came down and it was a very special day. I’m grateful for Blind Veterans UK for setting it up for me.”
Ken joined the Royal Army Service Corps in January 1942 and, after training at Huthwaite, served in England initially.
On D-Day, June 6 1944, Ken landed at Sword beach and fought as a Frontline Driver taking vital supplies to the frontline such as ammunition, fuel, and materials for roads and bridges.
He said, “We came in on a boat and had to drive through the sea and up to the beach. We landed at about half past seven in the morning and I still remember it all very clearly.
“As we were preparing to land the boat next to ours was blown up and I saw lots of people who were injured all around me. I remember meeting a Frenchman at the top of the beach who said ‘hello Tommy, I knew you’d come back one day.”
It is extra special for Ken to receive his medal from the French Government as his father was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his service in the First World War.
He said, “My father’s ambulance was blown up but luckily he wasn’t in it. A similar thing happened to me when I was able to get out of my lorry just before it was blown up. It’s amazing that we both survived our wars and have both got French medals.”
Discharged in 1947 Ken became a bus driver in Brighton for eight years before working as a mechanical fitter in Eastbourne where he remained until he retired.
Ken’s vision started to deteriorate in 2000 and he was later diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration along with problems with his corneas.
He was referred to Blind Veterans UK by the Eastbourne Blind Society and has been receiving support from the charity since 2012.
“My vision is very bad now,” said Ken. “I can’t see anything out of my left eye and only have a small amount of tunnel vision in my right.
“I didn’t bother getting in touch with anyone for years after starting to lose my sight but I’m so glad I was put in touch with Blind Veterans UK.
“They’ve helped me with lots of equipment for around the home like a talking bedside clock. I’ve also been given a special magnifier which can blow up documents to a huge size. This is crucial because it means I can still read my letters.”
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War.
But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning the Second World War to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.
For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.