A Birmingham war veteran and former judge has received France’s top military honour for his role in the D-Day landings.
The receipt of the Chevalier de la Legion D’honneur marks a busy year for former British Navy lieutenant, Sir Stephen Brown, who was also awarded the Russian Commemorative Medal for the part he played in gruelling Arctic convoys.
Sir Stephen, aged 91, who is originally from Walsall but now lives in Harborne, said: “I was surprised and felt a bit overwhelmed. It was all those years ago but I still have very clear memories of it. It is amazing, you tend to remember all the good things.”
Sir Stephen was at the very heart of the D-Day operation to invade Nazi occupied France on June 6, 1944.
He said: “We were right in the vanguard, ahead of everyone else. At 6.30am we opened up and the landing started an hour and a bit later.
“The bombardment is something I will never forget. I thought ‘I am rather glad I am not down there,’ but there was tremendous confidence.
“At Sword Beach we did a marvellous job. I was doing the ranging using our 4.7-inch artillery.
“You could do it well because there were no hills or mountains in the way and a couple of days later we were hitting German tanks at 15,000 yards, which was amazing.
“We made visits back for ammunition and even escorted Winston Churchill across and later the King.”
Sir Stephen added: “I suppose you did have a sense of ‘this is history’ but you didn’t really think of it like that – it was part of the routine.”
A few weeks earlier Sir Stephen’s ship, HMS Scourge, had returned from Russia to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, prompting an expectation something big was going to happen. From there they headed to the Solent.
“We knew we were going to be involved in D-Day and when we were despatched to come down south, we realised it was going to be the movement.
“I had to open two white sacks marked ON1 and ON2. I didn’t know then it was Operation Neptune, but it was all the details of D-Day – but not the landing position. I was transfixed and had the feeling this is all so well planned it can’t go wrong.
“The captain told us we were going at 2pm that afternoon.
“Winston Churchill came down the line in a motor launch doing his ‘V’ salute and we were handed a typescript from Eisenhower wishing us well for a great enterprise.”
After the Normandy campaign, Sir Stephen returned to Arctic convoy duty which he described as “a tough winter”.
He said: “On my ship we never actually undressed on the Arctic convoys.
“A fleet destroyer is like a family. There were 11 officers but we didn’t go and sleep in the officers’ cabins down below.”
After the war Sir Stephen found himself in the Middle East aboard another fleet destroyer , his service finally coming to a close in September 1946.
He resumed his university studies at Queens’ College Cambridge before commencing a highly successful career in the law, which saw him become a barrister and subsequently a judge, rising to become a Lord Justice of Appeal and ultimately President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales.
Accompanying Sir Stephen’s Legion D’honneur was a letter from the UK’s French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, which said: “We owe our freedom and security largely to your dedication because of your readiness to risk your lives.”