Ilkeston veteran relays his war time tales as he is awarded Legion D’ Honeur medal for his bravery

French consul Jean-Claude Lafontaine presents the Legion D' Honeur to Ernest Turner
French consul Jean-Claude Lafontaine presents the Legion D' Honeur to Ernest Turner

Ernest Turner says he could write a book with all the stories he has from his war days.

The Ilkeston born war veteran, who volunteered for the army aged 17, was made a Chevalier de la Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur – France’s highest decoration - during a presentation in the town on Thursday. Surrounded by dignitaries and press, humble Ernest said he felt ‘embarrassed’ by all the attention.

Reminiscing about his war days, Ernest, who served with the 43rd Wessex Division and trained as an artilleryman, said: “I did nine months training and went straight over just before D Day, I went across on the D Day Plus 2.”

Within hours of reaching France in a landing craft, he took part in the Battle of Hill 112 - a confrontation which saw General Bernard Montgomery battling Erwin Romme.

Ernest served right through the German campaign, and his time in the army took him on to India, and a short stay in Egypt before being posted to Greece, Macedonia, Salamanca and Palestine.

He said: “I’ve got serious stories and I’ve got laughable ones. When I was in Germany I went off with a large can looking for some milk. There were plenty of cows about that needed milking. I spent about half an hour getting two pints of milk and the cow decided to kick the bucket over. A British solider who I didn’t know came along and asked what the problem was. He said ‘give me your can’ and within two minutes the can was full, I said ‘how did you do that? He told me he used to work on a farm.

“Another time I went with a cook to try and get some eggs. We went to a German farm but the farmer told us he had no eggs, so we went in the house and found some. We then started walking across a field but the farmer told us to walk down the path, not across his land. We ignored this because we saw another farm. On the other side of the field we came across the back of a German gun machine nest pointing down the lane. If we had gone that way, we would have been killed but the Germans were so surprised we captured all 14 of them, two officers and 12 bombardiers. I was 18 at the time. We had to make the prisoners put their hands on their heads, that was the British rule. Going under a barb wire fence the eggs broke.”

One time Ernest was hit by shrapnel from a shell. He said: “I just had a wound on my leg but kept it to myself. I was going out after eggs again - anyone would think that’s all I did - when I heard a shell coming. I knew which way they were going. I went down on the floor, covering my head and could feel my leg get hit by shrapnel. It was blue and purple with the heat. I pulled it out quickly. I could see the bone. I went back to the gun position and put a plaster on it. I still have a scar now.”

The great grandfather, who lives in Awsworth, told of another time that he spotted a chicken on a bridge over the river Rhine in Rees, Germany. He said: “There was no food during the course of the morning. I threw a stone at the chicken and maimed it. I ran across, caught it and killed it. I plucked it, cleaned it and boiled it in a bucket that we used for washing. I cooked it with some potatoes I found, it made a meal for six of us. At 2am a German plane came over which was hit by anti aircraft fire and set alight. At that time I was cooking the two eggs I got from the chicken, which I enjoyed.”

A letter from the French Embassy informing Mr Turner that he was to receive the country’s top honour told him that France ‘must never forget those, like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication.”

Ernest still visits France twice a year and Belgium once a year.