A Second World War RAF navigator who undertook daring missions to help the French Resistance behind enemy lines is to be awarded the Légion d’honneur, the highest honour the French government can bestow.
Bill Barfoot, 95, of Oaktree Lane, Bournville, is being recognised for his service as a navigator in the RAF on D-Day and for the supply drops he completed for the SAS, undercover agents and the French Resistance.
Mr Barfoot, who was a navigation officer in 296 Squadron, which specialised in airborne forces, said: “This is really a great honour to receive this award – I only wish my captain were still alive so I could say, ‘Snap!’”
Mr Barfoot was born in Newcastle in 1919 but moved to India when he was six years old, where his father was a police officer.
He said: “I met the woman who would become my wife, Doreen, whose family was also in India, but I didn’t marry her until 1943 when we met again in Britain.”
He was married to Doreen, who served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the war, for 69 years until her death in 2013.
They moved to Birmingham after the war where Mr Barfoot became Station Commander at Castle Bromwich Aerodrome in 1954 and oversaw a number of Battle of Britain display ceremonies.
Mr Barfoot remembers his time in the RAF fondly: “I very much enjoyed my time in the air force and I would have liked it to have gone on longer.
“One time I woke up feeling rain was falling against my face and I looked around to see I was in a field.
“My friends had picked my whole bed up with me in it, had carried me outside and I’d slept through the whole thing.”
For a moment his voice falters and he remembers the Holocaust concentration camp survivors he helped repatriate to Greece after the war.
“I remember showing one woman the Acropolis as we flew past Athens and a tear came to her eye,” he recalls with a tear in his own.
Of D-Day itself, he remembers it as any other day: “To me it felt like another operational day, but of course we were heavily protected by Typhoons and Spitfires.
“However, the sheer number of boats and ships covering the Channel was quite a sight to behold.”
Mr Barfoot took extra precaution when transporting French Resistance fighters in case they were secretly working for the Nazis.
“We would sometimes carry French Resistance parachutists, but we would only give them their ammunition just as they were about to jump off the plane in case they were double agents and tried to shoot us.”
Mr Barfoot also saw action at the Battle of Arnhem and the Rhine Crossing and navigated in Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle and Halifax aircraft.
His daughter, Nicola Savage, said: “Although he is getting older, my father is still the brightest button you will ever meet.”
She and her brother Nigel have helped to organise the ceremony that will also be attended by a French Air Commander.