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Second World War Hero Douglas Mitchell Presented With France’s Légion de’Honneur

Published on: 16 Dec, 2015
Updated on: 25 May, 2016

A Second World War hero from Fairlands has been awarded France’s Légion de’Honneur in recognition of his military service in its liberation from the Nazis.

Douglas Mitchell and his wife Margaret.

Douglas Mitchell and his wife Margaret.

Douglas Mitchell, who will be 97 in January, was presented with the medal at a presentation at St Mary’s Church in Worplesdon on Thursday (December 16).

The presentation included a short service led by the Revd Anne Payne. The presentation to Mr Mitchell was by the president of the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment Association, Lieutenant Colonel F B Herd TD. JP. DL.

Mr Mitchell, known to many as Doug, served with distinction throughout the war, from the beginning to the end, with the Queen’s Regiment.

The presentation ceremony was organised by Guildford Borough Councillor Bob McShee (Con, Worplesdon), who has a keen interest in military history.

Mr and Mrs Mitchell pictured with the mayor, Cllr Bob McShee, the revd Hugh Grear, the revd Anne Payne, Ian Chafield (past curator of the Surrey Infantry Museum) and

Mr and Mrs Mitchell pictured with Ian Chatfield (past curator of the Surrey Infantry Museum), Bob McShee, the mayor, the Revd Hugh Grear, Lieutenant Colonel F B Herd, and the Revd Anne Payne.

About 30 relatives and friends of Mr Mitchell attended along with the Mayor of Guildford, Nikki Nelson-Smith, and other local borough and parish councillors.

Bob McShee told those gathered that they were there to commemorate “a modest, unknown hero”.

He continued by saying the French ambassador to the UK sent a letter informing Mr Mitchell that the French President had awarded him the Légion de’Honneur “in recognition of your military engagement and liberation of France during the Second World War”.

Lieutenant Colonel F B Herd said he was proud to make this presentation to a fellow Queensman, and aside from Mr Mitchell’s military service, he was a founder member of his battalion’s association, the 5 Queen’s Old Members’ Association. From 1975 to 1999 he was its secretary and continues to be a member.

He added: “Doug, we thank you for your service in war and in peace.”

The former rector of St Mary’s, the Revd Hugh Grear, returned for the presentation, and added: “You are a hero!”

Mr Mitchell responded by saying that he believes he is now the only person alive from his wartime comrades to be able to “celebrate this wonderful day”.

He thanked his wife and family who “help to keep me going”, and all those other local people who help – especially Bob McShee and Mike Dillon.

While what is known as “membership in the Légion” is technically restricted to French nationals, foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may receive the honour.

The Mayor of Guildford, Nikki Nelson-Smith presented a special token to Douglas Mitchell.

The Mayor of Guildford, Nikki Nelson-Smith presented a special token to Douglas Mitchell.

The mayor, Nikki Nelson-Smith, presented Mr Mitchell with a special token marking Guildford’s Armed Forces Day National Event.

A wartime service to be proud of:

Douglas Mitchell is a Surrey man through and through. He joined his local militia in 1939 and undertook basic training at Stoughton Barracks.

In early 1940 he was posted to the 1/5th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal Regiment in northern France, which advanced up the Escaut Canal where he first came under fire from the Germans.

Then came the retreat to Dunkirk, followed by the massive evacuation back to the UK in all manner of small and large vessels.

On re-grouping, Doug and his fellow men of the 1/5th Queen’s sailed for North Africa to become part of the famous Desert Rats.

Having taken on the might of General Rommel’s army, and after many months of bitter fighting, they won that campaign.

Then it was off to Italy, where Doug and his comrades distinguished themselves at Salerno and then fought their way through Italy.

On the surrender of the Italians, the regiment returned to the UK to prepare for the invasion of Europe.

The 1/5th Queen’s landed back on the beaches of Normandy with the 7th Armoured Division on D-Day+2.

Doug and his pals fought their way through France, Belgium and Holland, across the Rhine and on to Hamburg before moving to Berlin, where for them the war ended.

Berlin saw the Allied victory parade, watched by Winston Churchill, Stalin and many other Allied commanders. The British infantry contingent in the parade was led by the 1/5th Queen’s and Doug was there with them!

On returning home there was one more parade for Doug, on September 29, 1945, before he was demobbed.

This was when Guildford bestowed the the Queen’s Royal Regiment the freedom of “marching through the streets on all occasions with bayonets fixed, colours flying and bands playing”. They proudly marched down the High Street with the crowds cheering them on.

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