Long wait is over as D-Day war hero Russell gets his top honour

Russell Dunkeld with his Legion d'Honneur medal.
Russell Dunkeld with his Legion d'Honneur medal.

Russell Dunkeld has been fighting a brave battle against cancer in a bid to see his Legion d’Honneur medal.

And this week the frail 89-year-old finally got his wish, when the medal arrived through the post from the French authorities.

Mr Dunkeld was just 18 when he took part in the D-Day landings and, aboard HM Landing Ship (tank) 304, was one of the first to arrive on French soil at Sword Beach on June 6 1944.

As an Acting Able Seaman in the Royal Navy, Mr Dunkeld was a medic/stretcher bearer with the role of collecting the wounded from the beaches and conveying them back to the ship for medical treatment.

His bravery featured on the front of the Guardian to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

At the time he recalled the horrors that he and thousands of other young men faced during the largest seaborne invasion in history.

He said: “You put things to the back of your mind but there are some that never go away.

“I have millions of memories. I used to wake up at night, my insides trembling like a jelly.

“It was bloody frightening. I was lucky to get out alive but you don’t think about that at the time.

“At one point I was on the beach and there was a hobnail boot, all nice and shiny. I pulled it out, and there was a leg still attached to it.

“You shouldn’t have to see things like that. It was mind-boggling.

“I came across another young lad, only about the same age as me. He had a bullet hole where your appendix is.

“He was quite lucid, talking away, talking about his girlfriend and his home. I held his hand while he died.”

Mr Dunkeld’s family had been desperately trying to speed up the arrival of his medal due to his illness.

The widowed father-of-two is currently undergoing his second bout of radiotherapy treatment for cancer between his nose and throat.

Due to his condition, Mr Dunkeld had been presented with a temporary medal while he waited for his own to arrive.

His son, also called Russell, said the thought of getting his medal had kept his father going through his treatment.

He said: “We had no warning at all that it was on its way. The first we knew was when dad got a card through the door from the postman because he wasn’t in, so my sister picked it up from the Post Office.

“They have offered him a ceremonial presentation but he would have to travel to a venue in Manchester or Liverpool for it and he’s just not well enough.

“Now he has his medal though, he is as well as he has been for quite some time.

“He keeps it on the table in front of him and he picks it up and looks at it every 10 minutes.”

Mr Dunkeld’s family now hope he will be well enough to enjoy a double celebration when he marks his 90th birthday on October 19.

Read about Russell’s fellow D-Day landings hero Lance Rooke receiving his medal here