War veteran receives highest honour in France for Second World War bravery

William Viollet, second from left NNL-140623-171917001
William Viollet, second from left NNL-140623-171917001

A 93-year-old RAF veteran who survived being shot down in a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War, has been awarded France’s highest military honour.

William Viollet, of Lake View, Northampton, was one of four British veterans who were last week presented with the Legion d’Honneur in central London by French ambassador Bernard Emie.

Mr Viollet, a wireless operator, was in a Lancaster bomber that was shot down over France on May 3, 1944.

Two of the seven-man crew died in the crash and four others were captured by the Germans, but Mr Viollet managed to escape.

After wandering through woods and eating wild berries and raw potatoes to survive, Mr Viollet was given shelter by a family living in a rural farmhouse.

Mr Viollet was given treatment for burns he suffered in the fire before the plane crashed and was then introduced to members of the French Resistance.

He then spent the next few weeks helping to train 16 and 17-year-old French boys how to use guns to fight the Germans. After D-day he was rescued by American troops who orginally did not believe he was a British soldier.

Mr Viollet said: “We were taken to a German prisoner of war camp at first because we were so scruffy, wearing nothing but rags.

“It took a while to convince the Americans we were Allied troops.”

Mr Viollet was then returned to Britain and enjoyed an emotional reunion with his parents who had received a letter telling them their son was “missing, presumed dead.”

Mr Viollet said: “I walked into the pub and when my dad saw me there were tears in his eyes. He got me a drink and said I must go and tell your mother.”

The Legion d’Honneur ceremony took place by the statue of General de Gaulle in London last week on the 74th 
anniversary of his radio appeal to France to keep on fighting.