One of Britain’s last heroes of the sky, who volunteered for one of the deadliest jobs of the Second World War, has been given France’s highest military honour.
The family of 92-year-old Ron Marlow surprised the former Lancaster Bomber rear gunner with the Legion d’honneur, given for his role on D-Day more than 70 years ago, during a gathering yesterday.
After being given the medal, an emotional Mr Marlow, the only surviving member of his aircraft’s seven-strong crew, humbly spoke of the vital role he played in protecting the bomber from enemy interceptors at the tender age of 18.
“It was just a case of bringing the war to an end and another operation for Bomber Command,” he said. “We took it in our stride. When you look at it realistically, I feel like we really did something.”
Mr Marlow’s grandson, 33-year-old James Foster, first applied for the honour around two years ago after reading about another veteran getting the medal.
Mr Foster, of Skipton Avenue in Carleton, said: “From a young age I knew what he had done. At the end of the day, he’s my hero in every sense of the word, and he is very modest about it all.”
Mr Marlow signed up for the RAF in 1943 despite protestations from his mother, who pleaded with him to fight in the infantry, later exclaiming: “It’s the quickest way to get at them.”
As part of 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe in Lincoln, he completed 32 missions – singing Abide With Me each time he and his crew mates left the ground – before later working to train new recruits.
After the plane he was in crashed into a forest, Mr Marlow volunteered for a second tour – flying an extra six missions and playing a key role in the Normandy landings on Tuesday, June 6, 1943, when he helped bombard the enemy defences both that night and the night before.
By the time he retired and moved from Yorkshire to the Fylde coast, he was a flight sergeant and had survived against the odds – some 46 per cent of Bomber Command aircrews in the war were killed.
He has since been awarded the George Medal, given for bravery; the France and Germany Star, for serving in the countries between June 6, 1944, and May 8, 1945; the Air Crew Europe Star, for taking part in missions over Europe from bases in the UK; and the 1939 to 1945 Star with Bomber Command clasp, for service in the Second World War.
Despite a long-running campaign, no medal has ever been awarded by the government to those who took part in the air offensive during the war.
The clasp that attaches to the 1939-1945 Star was launched three years ago, but has been snubbed by some veterans.
And Mr Marlow, who lived in Blackpool for years until moving to a nursing home in Lytham, said: “A lot of us felt we never got the recognition, I had to get this recognition from France.
“I had to sit at the back of the plane and had no protection or anything. It was just a case of them coming at you from the rear.”
In a letter to Mr Marlow, Sylvie Bermann, the French ambassador to the UK, said: “I have the pleasure of informing you that the President of the Republic has appointed you to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur.
“I offer you my warmest congratulations on this high honour in recognition of your acknowledged military engagement and your steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War.
“As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes 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, because you were ready to risk your life.”
Mr Foster, who organised the family dinner at The Blossoms pub in Woodlands Road, Ansdell, read the letter to his grandfather before presenting the medal.
After being applauded, Mr Marlow shook his grandson’s hand and joked: “I thought there would have been a bottle with it!”
Mr Foster added: “Everybody is chuffed to bits for him. We are very proud of him and it means a hell of a lot. We’re a very big family and he’s the head. He deserves all the plaudits – there’s not many of them left.”