A World War II hero has been awarded France’s top military honour.
Henry Hallett, 91, who was born in Waldron, received the Legion d’Honneur for his services on D-Day.
Mr Hallett, who lives in Brightling, joined the Royal Navy just after the outbreak of World War II. He received his naval training at the shore-based HMS Glendower, (formerly a Butlins holiday camp) in Pwllheli, North Wales before being posted to the Captain Class frigate, HMS Keats, built in the US Boston Navy Yard in 1942 and assigned to the Royal Navy from 1943. The ship formed an escort group guarding convoys of vulnerable merchant vessels transporting vital food and oil across the Atlantic from the United States to Great Britain. They were under constant threat from the ‘wolf packs’ of German U-boats whose job was to cut supply lines to the beleaguered islands.
He said: “We were much luckier than some - fortunately, we didn’t lose anyone.”
Shortly afterwards his ship was assigned the task of preventing U-boats from attacking craft involved in D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious attack in history. The ship stood off Ushant and Cherbourg.
On Boxing Day, 1945 Mr Hallett’s ship, steaming from Singapore via Manila to Hong Kong, was caught in a Pacific tropical typhoon while towing another ship into port. This was captained by LtCdr Godfrey (son of Admiral Godfrey, Ian Fleming’s model for Bond’s boss, ‘M’ who served in the World War I Dardanelles campaign.) Both lived in Heathfield.
Also in 1945 HMS Keats, HMS Bligh and HMS Tyler sank the German submarine U-1172 and later that year she helped launch a depth charge attack which sank U-285 southwest of Ireland.
Mr Hallett explained: “More than 3,500 veterans could apply for the honour but during the process more than 500 had died. My medal came in the post although I could have gone to the presentation. I’ve lined it up with my other medals, the Atlantic Star, the Defence Medal and the 1939-45 medal.”
He attended Waldron Primary School and worked at Dilley’s Bakery in Heathfield (still a bakers) before joining the railways at Heathfield station. He returned to the company after the war and worked across the Southern Region. Mr Hallett was married to Rosemary who died 13 months ago. They had three children.
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