Brave airman Lance will be ‘proud’ to wear his Legion d’Honneur medal
“Look after him because we will never see his like again.”
This was the message from Prince Charles to the wife of D-Day landings hero Lance Rooke when they met during the 70th anniversary commemorations of one of World War Two’s most historic events.
And this week Mr Rooke’s bravery was honoured when he received his Legion d’Honneur medal for the part he played at D-Day – more than 70 years after lying about his age to join the army at the age of 16.
Mr Rooke, 89, signed up with the Irish Fusiliers in October 1942.
“I lied about my age and told them I was 18,” he said. “They never checked.”
Mr Rooke later volunteered for the airborne unit, joining the Royal Ulster Rifles Glider-Borne Regiment, part of the 6th Airborne Division, and went into action in Normandy, landing on D-Day, June 6 1944, in a Horsa glider.
He remained in France until September, when his regiment was sent to Ardennes, where they stayed until February 1945, when he parachuted across the Rhine river and advanced into Germany.
Mr Rooke was mentioned in despatches during the advancement through Germany as a mark of his bravery.
At the end of the war, Mr Rooke was due to be sent to the Far East, but the events in Hiroshima meant he was instead sent to Palestine.
He was demobbed in May 1947 at the age of 21, moving to Lancaster to stay with his aunt.
Mr Rooke went on to work at the Moor Hospital, where he met his wife of almost 64 years, Greta.
The couple, who live in Belmont Close, Lancaster, went on to have two children, son Lance and daughter Lynda, and now also have three grandchildren.
Mr Rooke – known as Paddy to his friends in Lancaster due to his Belfast birthplace – is now president of the Morecambe and Heysham branch of the Parachute Regiment.
Despite currently undergoing treatment for skin and prostate cancer, Mr Rooke still visits Normandy every year with his family.
“We are always overwhelmed by the response we have when we go over,” he said.
Mr Rooke’s Legion d’Honneur will now take pride of place alongside his many other medals.
“It’s a lovely medal,” he said.
“I felt rather mixed emotions. I thought ‘I am getting this medal and I am still alive, yet all those other men died and for some reason I didn’t.’
“I am very grateful to have received it and I will be proud to wear it.
“I never thought I would get the highest honour in France.
“I sometimes wonder what I did to deserve it when all those men didn’t come home, but I did my bit, I did the best I could.”