War hero finally rewarded with Legion d’Honneur medal
PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 July 2016
(C) Archant Norfolk 2016
Landing at Sword Beach three days after the D Day landings Sapper Basil Tibbenham’s mind was instantly on the job of reconstruction and repair despite the “bit of banging” that was going on all around him.
The 92-year-old old’s contemporary diary details the day-to-day reality of life during the liberation of France, where the weather, heavy shelling and the deaths of good friends mingle in a poignant witness to war.
His work as a surveyor/draughtsman with the Royal Engineers involved the rebuilding of harbours and bridges and took him to the shattered city of Caen, Calais, Boulogne, Le Havre and Ouistreham where he witnessed one of the most distressing sights of the war seeing the bodies of dead comrades on the canal banks and floating in the water.
Now more than 70 years after his heroic service he has been awarded France’s top honour, the Legion d’Honneur.
His son John Tibbenham of Brundall said the whole family was “thrilled to bits” with the accolade, although it was sad to reflect that the award came too late for many.
Although his father rarely mentioned the war and his service he was a proud Royal British Legion supporter and former chairman of the Acle branch always laying the wreath on behalf of the parish at the annual service of remembrance.
More recently he still pinned his medals proudly to his chest to watch events unfold on television as a mark of respect for the fallen, bringing to mind what he had seen and endured.
The diaries, written in tiny script of which only transcribed excerpts survive, tell how he waded ashore on June 9 taking up positions in trenches.
He reports the sea was “not too rough” but the weather was “not too good” and wet and the enemy was “quite near.”
Some nights were quiet and he was able to rest, and on others the enemy shelling was “too close for comfort.”
On Wednesday June 21 he says: “Our position under shell fire early this morning. Hits on or near our dugout billet but safe though pretty nerve-wracking at the time.”
Then on Monday July 10 he receives some distressing news: “Quiet night for a change. Day off today for the Section but made little difference to me. In evening should have
gone to pictures but through misunderstanding it didn’t come off.
“Learned today that two of our chaps injured earlier on have now died of their injuries, one was quite a good friend of mine.”
After the war Reedham-born Basil returned to Blofield and Flegg Rural District Council allocating council houses to people, a job he held his whole working life until retirement at 60.
He was a member of Acle Parish Council for 50 years, 43 as chairman, meeting with ministers and dealing with the minutiae of village life.
The complex of community buildings in Bridewell Lane and the Acle bypass are projects he helped to bring forward.
He has been married to Betty for more than 50 years and has three sons, John, Colin and Andrew who all live locally.