Blind Second World War tank veteran honoured by France

A blind Second World War veteran from Stafford in the UK is to receive France’s highest honor with the awarding of the Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur for his role in the liberation of France.

Rowland Edwards, 93, will be officially presented with the award at a special event at the National Memorial Arboretum. It will be presented by Monsieur Jean-Claude Lafontaine from the French Consulate.

Organized by military charity Blind Veterans UK, the ceremony will have in attendance Mr. Edwards’ family, in addition to members of the charity.

Edwards said he does not feel he did anything special but only did his job. Truthfully, he was glad to have survived when so many did not.  He has had time to reflect on everything that happened in the past since he learned of the award and feels very proud to have molded European history, and that people consider the awarding as something special. It will remain a source of pride for the remainder of his life.

He served with the 29th Armoured Brigade HQ 11th Armoured Division.

Edwards landed at Juno Beach on D-Day, as a 20-year-old.  He, as a tank operator and his crew mates, were tasked with moving across the beach towards Cully.

As they drove toward their main objective, capturing Hill 112, the horror of war scenes around them caused the driver of the tank to have a breakdown. That elevated Edwards to the position of the lead driver.

He was happy when it was over. Staying awake all night expecting an attack by the Germans was a frightening experience, but he would not have missed it. There was extraordinary camaraderie, and he got to learn many different things, including poetry and photography.

Edwards, who is afflicted with glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, considers the support he has received from Blind Veterans UK as the fundamental reason for his receiving the honor from the French government, Staff Newsletter reported.

The most valuable donation from the charity, he said, was receiving a reading machine from the charity since it allows him to enjoy poetry again, in addition to reading some of his own mail.  It is not only the gifts; it is the phone calls, the visits and the level of support he has received.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE