Acton man receives highest military honour from France
A veteran who was injured twice in the Second World War said he was honoured after being recognised by the French government for his role in the D-Day landings .
Ninety-four-year-old Gordon Whatling from Canon Pugh Drive in Acton has been awarded the Légion d’honneur, the highest French order for military merits. As part of the Suffolk Regiment, Mr Whatling took part in the landings in June 1944 and was wounded twice during the war.
“I was very honoured to receive this medal given by the French to all those that took part in the D-Day landings,” he said.
He also received a letter from the French ambassador.
During the landings Mr Whatling was in the first battalion of the Suffolk Regiment which landed on Sword Beach in Normandy, taking part in the Battle of Hillman.
He had trained for the operation on the lochs of Scotland, with his regiment one of the first on the Normandy beaches.
After the landings he moved through Belgium, Holland and into Germany.
He was injured in Holland after a booby-trap exploded and again in Germany after crossing the Rhine, while trying to clear houses.
The second injury came just one week before the war ended, with Mr Whatling still in hospital when peace in Europe was declared.
Mr Whatling has been married to Joyce for 67 years, the couple meeting two weeks after he was demobbed.
His family had moved to Acton during the war leading to some confusion.
“I used to live in Bacton and I got a letter while I was in Egypt to say that they had moved to Acton.
“I thought they had missed the ‘B’ off. I’d never heard of Acton.”
Without his wife Mr Whatling would never have received his medal.
“I saw in a national newspaper that another man was receiving the medal and I said you can have that too,” she said.
“He said ‘oh I’m not that bothered’, but I said ‘well I will’.”
With the help of a friend the couple applied for the medal which Mr Whatling can now proudly add to his collection.
“I’m prouder than he is,” said Mrs Whatling, 87. “I think it’s the most wonderful thing for him. He really went through it in the war.
“There were things I didn’t know. I’m very proud of all his medals.”
Mr Whatling said he could never explain what it was like being involved in the conflict.
After his service in the military came to an end he worked as a farmer, working with both his own and his wife’s family.
He then spent the last 27 years of his working life at Wheelers timber merchants in Sudbury.