D-Day Navy veteran awarded French Legion d’honneur medal
PUBLISHED: 20:08 26 February 2016 | UPDATED: 20:08 26 February 2016
(C) Archant Norfolk 2016
A former Navy gunner has received a top medal of valour for his action during the Second World War’s D-day landings.
Reginald Gilbert, 90, of Gorleston, has been awarded the highest honour that can be conferred by France, the Legion d’honneur.
But Mr Gilbert saw little of the action on the beaches as the Allies stormed onto the French beaches – he was a gunner on a ship supporting the offensive.
“We didn’t know where we were going. We weren’t told that information.”
He worked as a gunner inside the ship, and said of the experience: “You did not see a lot of the outside, you were there for the whole day, and there was no relief cover. You would be there for hours at a time.
“You did not stop to think, you just did what you were told.”
Speaking about receiving the medal, Mr Gilbert said: “I was grateful; I wish my wife was here to see it. It shows someone has got a little bit of respect. I always think about the people who did not come back.”
He was just 17 years old when he joined the Navy in 1942, completing his training at Butlin’s Pwllheli in north Wales before joining his ship, HMS Ajax – and that was the first time he had been aboard a vessel in the fleet.
Starting as an ordinary seaman, he went on to become an able seaman and then volunteered to be a gunner. After the war he worked on minesweepers.
Mr Gilbert moved with his father Alfred to Norfolk, and worked at Gorleston Holiday Camp and at Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach.
He later worked on the Corporation Buses as a conductor and driver and then spent time working at his father’s business Gilbert’s Pets in the Victoria Arcade for 30 years.
After his father’s death, Reginald worked for 15 years at the Bird’s Eye factory before his retirement.
He had met his wife Lorna at the Britannia Pier on the seafront, and they were married in 1952 at Ormesby.
Mr Gilbert has two children, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Mr Gilbert, who is originally from Burbage, Leicestershire, explained his thoughts about joining the armed services at a young age.
“I was young and silly. All my mates were doing it. We all did it. We were not grown-up people at that age. We did not know what would happen.
“When I was growing up, it was a job which got you out of town. Now you can get on an airplane to go all over the world. You cannot compare these things.”
On the wall in Mr Gilbert’s living room is a photograph of the war grave where his cousin Joseph Horton was buried in Burma after his death in 1945, and also a photo of his uncle Percy Gilbert, who died in Godewaersvelde, Belgium in October 1917 during the First World War.
He made it his business to find out more about his family history after his father, Alfred, died.
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