Blind Northamptonshire man who blew up German tanks given France's highest honour
A blind Second World War veteran from Northamptonshire has been awarded the Legion of Honour for his part in the liberation of France.
Les Hammond, 91 and from Moulton, was presented with the honour - also called the Legion d’Honneur - by French Consul Jean-Claude Lafontaine in a special ceremony this week.
“It was quite overwhelming and I was a bit embarrassed as I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “I’m a survivor.”
“I was honoured to accept the Legion d’Honneur on behalf of all the soldiers who didn’t come back.”
Chris Clark, manager at the Blind Veterans UK Sheffield centre, where the ceremony took place, said: “It was a great honour to be there to see Les presented with his Legion d’Honneur and I personally thanked him for his service.
Les joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in 1943. Because he was small, he was sent to a development centre in Hereford to build up muscles and improve his physical development.
He said: “The idea was that I’d put on weight, but by the end of it I’d lost a pound and a half!
“I was incredibly fit by the end of it so I guess it did the job.”
Les was attached to the 86 Anti-Tank Regiment and together with them he landed on Juno Beach as part of the Normandy Invasion.
The largest seaborne invasion in history, the Normandy landings freed France from Nazi control and helped the Allies to victory in North-West Europe.
He said: “I trained as a technical clerk though that doesn’t mean much out in the field.
“When someone is trying to kill you, they don’t care about your trade.
“Our group was under Canadian command, which I didn’t realise at the time.
“I did wonder why there were so many Canadians around!”
After fighting his way through France, he went on to Belgium and the Netherlands, where he was part of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful Allied military operation which aimed to finish the Second World War before Christmas 1944.
He was in Hamburg when Victory in Europe was declared. Not long after, he was posted to the Middle East – Egypt, Libya and Palestine. He finished in Cairo before being demobbed in 1947 as a Craftsman.
Afterwards, Les went to work for his family’s leather & handicrafts business, which he did for 50 years until his retirement in 1997.
Les suffers from cataracts and optic atrophy which affect his sight in the last few years.
In 2012 he learned of Blind Veterans UK through a fellow blind veteran already supported by the charity at one of his local dances.
Les had an introduction week at the Blind Veterans UK Sheffield centre where he learned how to live independently with sight loss.
He’s also had several IT courses and was supplied with a new PC and special software, designed for those with a vision-impairment, to implement what he used in his training.
He says: “The most useful thing so far has been the white cane they supplied. It such a simple thing but has made a big difference.
“The support from Blind Veterans UK is excellent and I can’t fault it.
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.
Mr Clark said: “We’re so proud of all of our veterans like Les and it is only right that his service is recognised with this prestigious French medal.”