February 22nd, 2018

War vet unexpectedly given France’s highest national order

By Gillian Slade on February 9, 2018.

Local resident Wilf Fairhurst, 94, was recently awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour — France's highest national order — for his service in the Second World War.--NEWS PHOTO GILLIAN SLADE


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Nearly 72 years after he returned home from serving in the Second World War, a local resident has received the Legion of Honour medal — France’s highest national order.

The medal and accompanying letter arrived in the mail unexpectedly.

“I was surprised how pretty (it was), and such a high medal,” said Wilf Fairhurst, 94, who explained his memories of the war have come flooding back. “Some good, some bad.”

His son Randy Fairhurst says the whole family is very proud.

“Extremely proud, very honoured,” said Robbie Fairhurst, Wilf’s daughter-in-law, who was choked with emotion.

Wilf was sent to France soon after D-Day at the age of 20. He was only 17 when he enlisted in February 1941. He wrote a letter to his mother in Redcliff, who had three sons in the Second World War, begging her not to betray him and reveal his true age. She didn’t and all her sons returned home after the war.

Robbie recalls a talk Wilf gave to some school children once. He told them he had enlisted because he wanted to make a difference. Joining with others who felt the same way they became a strong “team” to fight the enemy.

“I was with a fine bunch of men,” said Wilf, who believes many men are worthy of the Legion of Honour medal but are unfortunately no longer alive.

As far as Wilf knows there are three people he served with who are still alive, someone in Kindersley, another in Saskatoon and possibly one in Calgary, although he would be 99 years old now.

In France they were bombed by American aircraft. When it was over, there were 400 dead and wounded. One of the badly wounded was a really good officer, and a friend of Wilf’s was killed.

“It’s called ‘friendly fire’ but there is nothing ‘friendly’ about it,” said Wilf.

That “team” worked their way through France, Belgium, Germany and helped to liberate Holland. The winter of 1944 slowed them down a bit but come spring they pushed on into Germany, said Wilf.

Randy marvels at the fortitude of his father at such a young age.

“Their generation handled it really well,” said Randy.

In November 1941, Wilf sailed on the Durban Castle to Scotland where he was trained in anti-aircraft guns followed by special training in Ireland.

Stationed in Beckenham, not far from London, Wilf was on duty to respond when sirens indicated enemy aircraft were on the way. It was hard to hit any of them but it did result in aircraft flying higher, and that made dropping bombs on target much more difficult, said Wilf. While in Europe he was changed to anti-tank guns to provide protection for the infantry.

In March 2017, the News revealed the government of France was searching for living Canadian veterans who participated in the liberation of France in 1944 to award its highest medal, thanks to Guy Black of B.C., who was helping to spread the word and assist with applications.

Someone at the hospital noticed the story, knew of Wilf’s service in the Second World War, and submitted an application.

Those who directly supported the liberation campaign between June 6 and Aug. 30, 1944 may be eligible, said Black. The French embassy told him people could still apply — there is no deadline anymore. It takes between six and nine months for applications to be verified.

The Legion of Honour is a medal equivalent to the Order of Canada, and many qualified veterans are not aware they qualify, said Black.

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