European nations have expressed gratitude in various ways to Allied forces who helped liberate them from Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
Leonard Bernard Cross, 93, of Nanaimo, was with thousands of Canadians who hit Sword Beach during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, establishing a beach head that allowed the allies to assemble enough men and equipment to push German forces out of France, the Netherlands and Belgium and ultimately defeat Germany in May 1945.
On Jan. 19 at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 10, Cross was presented with a medal by Angus Stanfield, Royal Canadian Legion for B.C./Yukon Command president, awarding him the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.
The medal is France’s gesture of gratitude to those who fought to liberate the country.
About 500 Canadians have been awarded the medal, but Cross is the sole recipient in Nanaimo. Bill Brayshaw, former Legion Branch 10 president, nominated four local veterans, but one missed being selected due to circumstances that delayed his application and two had died. Only living veterans can receive the medal.
“Through you, France remembers the sacrifice of all your compatriots who came to liberate French soil, often losing their lives in the process,” Phillippe Zeller, France’s ambassador to Canada, wrote in a notification letter to Cross.
“It’s an honour, sort of thing,” Cross said. “Of course, being the legion of honour, it’s a great society to be part of. It makes you feel good. It’s something that soldiers in peacetime never get to experience, but being shot at to do it makes it questionable.”
Cross was a sergeant with the Canadian Essex Scottish Regiment, on loan to the British Army as a sniper instructor, who lead a sniper unit during the Normandy invasion. He was injured by shrapnel from a German air burst shell during the battle of Caen and returned to combat duty only to be injured again during the Battle of the Scheldt to gain control of the port of Antwerp, Belgium.
After the war, Cross remained with the Canadian Armed Forces, training troops and serving in various postings, including one with a diplomatic corp mission in Vietnam.
Cross transferred from the regular forces to a reserve unit in 1975 and fully retired from the military in 1984.