Whitley Bay D-Day war hero is bestowed with top French honour

James Routledge, 94, has been presented with a French Legion of Honour Medal for his role during D-Day. Picture by Jane Coltman
James Routledge, 94, has been presented with a French Legion of Honour Medal for his role during D-Day. Picture by Jane Coltman

A war hero who played his part in the D-Day landings has received a top honour from the French Government.

James Routledge was just 21-years-old when he took part in the landings on the Normandy beaches.

James Routledge during his military days.

James Routledge during his military days.

He was in the Combined Operation section of the Royal Navy, an electrician onboard a tanklanding craft with Canadian military that set off from the Isle of Wight.

Now he and other Normandy veterans have been presented with the French Legion of Honour Medal – the highest honour the French Government can bestow.

James, now 94, said: “I have had the great privilege of being appointed to the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur with a beautiful medal.”

His role in the D-Day landings was to sail within two miles of Juno Beach and help launch the 5 D D (floating) tanks, then wait offshore and help either recover the soldiers if the mission failed, or bring in more supplies.

James' French Legion of Honour Medal. Picture by Jane Coltman

James' French Legion of Honour Medal. Picture by Jane Coltman

Unfortunately, rough sea conditions on the day meant they had to land the tanks right on the beach, where they came under German attack.

The flotilla lead was due to be first to land but his stern swung around and collided with James’ craft, damaging the door mechanism.

Stranded on the coastline, the tank was forced to drive over the sloping door to force it down.

It made it onto the beach where it then took out a German heavy machine gun firing from a church steeple in the local village.

James, of Whitley Bay, said: “By the time the Germans realised they were being invaded, they were throwing all sorts of horrible explosives at us.

“We received quite a bit of damage but fortunately no casualties. Other craft were not so fortunate and two were left ashore badly damaged.”

After helping secure the beachhead, James and his colleagues headed back to Southampton but not before seeing more devastation on the beach.

James, who left the Navy when the war ended, added: “We were very fortunate that our crew came out of it unhurt but there were scenes too horrible to describe and will live in my memory for ever.”