A Southwater Second World War veteran has received the highest French order of merit for military conduct.
Robert Piper, of Worthing Road, will be one of seven veterans who will be awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Console for their services during Second World War on Friday (February 12) at the Chichester Council Office.
The medal was delivered in October by post in a red box with a cover letter from the French Embassy stating that Mr Piper will receive the Chevalier (Knight) degree.
The 90-year-old said: “It was a surprise and a high honour. It’s something that is not normally given after all those years. We think everyone has sort of forgotten us.”
Born in Southwater in 1925, Mr Piper started working as a butcher boy at the age of 10, working 12-hour shifts for half a crown (12.5p), and for 10 shillings (50p) during the school holidays, before joining the Local Division Volunteers at just 14.
servIng the country
He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a private aged 15 after pretending to be 18.
Soon later, Mr Piper was sent to Brighton to complete his medical visit after which he was sent to Cooden Beach for patrol, he and others went all the way to Bognor.
Mr Piper was part of the D-Day landings working as a wireless operator and also the Market Garden Operation in September 1944, an unsuccessful Allied military operation in the Netherlands.
He then went to Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Lying about their age to get into the forces was uncommon at the time. Many young men like Mr Piper joined the forces underage due to the strong sense of national patriotism for ‘King and Country’.
He said: “We saw the back of World War One. I saw what happened and could see we would have the same problem.
“I didn’t want to live under a German ruler, it was a case of looking after ourselves.”
He said he was ‘lucky’ to have survived the war but often has memories come back while he lies awake at night.
He humbly described his experiences as ‘just a job we had to do’.
After returning from the war, Mr Piper married Betty, the girl next door, in 1955 and moved into their family home years later, where they still reside today, in Southwater.
As one of the country’s oldest war veterans he met the Princess Royal, Princess Anne in Portsmouth in 2014 and he was also invited to the 70th anniversary of VE Day at Westminster Abbey last year.
Legion D’Honneur facts
The French National Order of the Legion of Honour an order and is the highest decoration in France.
After it was introduced in May 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the order of merit is divided into five degrees. The award is given to those who have shown excellent civil or military conduct.
While the award is restricted to French Nationals, it can also be given to foreign nationals who served in France during the war.
Mr Piper will be of eight veterans attending the award ceremony on Friday February 12. Members of the French Consulate will lead the ceremony, the Lord Lieutenant and the Mayor of Chichester will also attend.