Dr Tom Renouf, 89, of Musselburgh, a veteran of the 5th Black Watch, who was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in helping to liberate France, has been awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood.
The award was arranged by the Paris-based 51st Highland Memorial Pipes and Drums Band during the Paddle Memory Tour it made of the towns and villages liberated by the division in some of the bloodiest fighting in the Normandy campaign as part of the 70th anniversary commemorations.
The name of the tour came from the 12-day operation to control the road to Lisieux and close off the Nazis’ escape route.
The honour was bestowed on Dr Renouf by the French equivalent of the Lord Lieutenant of Normandy, Francois de Gaalon – himself a decorated member of the French resistance – last week in the presence of Sir Peter Ricketts, the British ambassador to France.
The event took place at Grandchamp la Chateau near to Labut where the division endured one of its toughest battles and highest casualty rate.
Dr Renouf last night told The Scotsman: “It brought back so many memories, it was like reliving my youth again.”
The Scot told how at each event hundreds of people gathered to cheer the band and to praise his heroic wartime efforts.
He said: “So many people wanted to talk to me. People would introduce me to their children. Grandparents would tell me how they were hiding in cellars when we fought the Germans.
“The crowds were actually bigger than the populations of the towns and villages.”
Dr Renouf said that he most of all remembered his friends who could not be at the tour, particularly the estimated 4,000 killed in the division during the Normandy campaign.
He said: “It was terrible. If you were in the infantry it was almost certain death or injury. I was just 19 and so many of my friends the same age died beside me in day after day of fierce fighting.
“I wear the Legion d’Honneur with pride, but I wear it not for myself but my fallen comrades and friends. After that campaign I was born again but I lost my youth forever.”
The Paddle Memory Tour saw plaques unveiled in 17 towns and villages for the 51st Highlanders and two for 7th Armoured Brigade.
The French pipe and drum band – who all wear Highland Division uniforms, use reconstructed Second World War jeeps and have reenactment soldiers – also played five concerts on the tour which culminated in Lisieux.
The band also unveiled that another memorial will be unveiled at Grandchamp la Chateau for a French freedom fighter who enlisted with the 5/7 Gordon Highlanders and was killed in action.
At each ceremony Dr Renouf read out a lesson while the British and French national anthems were played along with the Last Post. Dr Renouf added: “The organisers did a marvellous job. They spent two years preparing this tour and all of them were immaculately presented.
“I told them that there are only a dozen of us left from the Highland Division now and when we are gone they will carry the division’s memory on.”
Jean-Francois Alasdaire, one of the members of the memorial band and tour organisers, said: “It was a great privilege to remember the brave Scots who helped to liberate and we were delighted that Dr Renouf could join us and receive his honour.”