D-Day landings veteran Russell Dunkeld was honoured this week in a special ceremony to mark his bravery during World War Two.
Russell, 89, has terminal cancer and his family is desperately trying to get his Legion d’Honneur medal – France’s top military honour – to recognise his actions as a teenager during World War Two.
Widowed father-of-two Russell, who lives in Hala, was just 18 when he took part in the D-Day landings and, aboard HM Landing Ship (tank) 304, was one of the first to arrive on French soil at Sword Beach on June 6 1944.
His family organised a “mock” ceremony with the help of museum curator Peter Donnelly from the King’s Own museum in Lancaster to award him with a temporary Legion d’Honneur medal on Monday, in lieu of his own.
Russell was joined at the museum by family members, as well as Lancashire Fire Brigade representatives, who chatted to him about his time as a firefighter after the war.
Russell’s son, also called Russell, said: “It was a wonderful day, Dad really enjoyed himself and he can’t stop looking at the medal now.
“We wholly understand that the delay by the French authorities has been unavoidable.
“Far more applications than expected were received. We respect the French for recognising the debt owed by them to British veterans in this way.
The Legion D’Honneur is the highest award which France can bestow and we are grateful for the French nation’s expression of gratitude.
“In celebrating that, before receipt of the genuine medal, we seek only to be sure that Dad has his day before failing health can prevent it.”
Lancaster MP Cat Smith has said she will contact the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in a bid to speed up the process for Mr Dunkeld and his family.
County Coun Darren Clifford, the champion for armed forces veterans, has also written to the MOD.
He was told that the MOD have contacted the French authorities to inform them of Mr Dunkeld’s deterioration of health and were promised a three week turnaround time for his medal.
As an Acting Able Seaman in the Royal Navy, Russell was a medic/stretcher bearer with the role of collecting the wounded from the beaches and conveying them back to the ship for medical treatment.
He then continued care for the patients as the ship returned to the UK to discharge patients and reload with reinforcements and supplies.
Russell’s bravery featured on the front of the Guardian in June 2014, to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Requests for the Legion d’Honneur award are being processed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), who then forward the details to the French authorities to make the final decisions on the awards.
An MOD spokesman said they were “working hard” to process all of the 2,700 applications received.
They said: “We are aware the wait can be frustrating for veterans and their families and will endeavour to keep them updated.”