WWII Veteran Receives Legion d’Honneur

The Legion d’Honneur, the most revered award for military service in France, was awarded to a Royal Air Force veteran who served in the Second World War. He demonstrated his courage and exceptional penchant for survival after being shot down while on the crew of a Lancaster bomber. Now ninety-three years of age, the recipient of the Legion d’Honneur is actually British, though his plane was shot down over France.

His name is William Viollet, and he hails from Lake View in Northampton. He was not the only recipient of the award, but rather was accompanied by three other WWII veterans from Great Britain. They received the award directly from Bernard Emie, the French ambassador, at a ceremony which took place in the city of London. The Legion d’Honneur might have been given to more crew members, but Viollet was the only one of seven men to both survive and escape imprisonment. Four of the men were imprisoned by German forces. The last two members of the crew did not survive at all.

Viollet’s escape was not easy, and truly tested his survival skills. Stranded in the wilderness with virtually nothing in the way of rations and survival tools, Viollet had to survive on whatever he could find. The Legion d’Honneur recipient ate nothing but raw potatoes and berries until he was lucky enough to find a family that would take him in. Not only did they feed and shelter him, but they also attended to his wounds.

From there, Viollet aided the French Resistance. He their younger ranks how to handle firearms, earning his room and board by ensuring that the Resistance knew how to fight properly. His receipt of the Legion d’Honneur likely had more to do with the aid he gave the French in this regard than it did with the mere fact that he was shot down over French territory. He helped them out until he was eventually rescued by the United States military following the invasion of Normandy, the Northampton Chronicle reports.

The Legion d’Honneurrecipient was not in France for more than a few months before he was rescued, but his return was a treasured moment to his family. Up until his return, they had thought he might be dead. Four years prior to Viollet’s crash and subsequent rescue, General de Gaulle voiced his encouragement for the French troops over the radio. Now, it is on the seventy-fourth anniversary of de Gaulle’s inspiring words that Viollet has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his motivation and training of the French Resistance.

Ian Harvey

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