On Sunday 25th June, at his home at Shannon Court, the RMBI Care Home in Hindhead, Surrey, W.Bro. James Albert (Jim) Humphries, a member of Egyptian Lodge No.27, received the Distinction of the Légion d’Honneur from Madame Sylvaine Carta Le Vert, Consul Générale, who spoke warmly and sincerely of the gratitude felt by France to veterans of the Normandy campaign.
The Légion d’Honneur is highest decoration awarded by France. Established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, membership is restricted to French nationals, but foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may additionally receive a Distinction of the Légion.
In 2014, to mark the 75th anniversary of the commencement of hostilities in the Second World War, the President of France announced that the Distinction would be awarded to all British veterans who fought for the liberation of France.
In 1936, at the age of eighteen Jim had joined the St John Ambulance Brigade, as his late father had done, and in 1938 realising that war was coming he volunteered for the Auxiliary Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve, but was declined; he then applied for the Royal Army Medical Corps Reserve and was accepted, being called up to the regular army on 3rd September 1939; he later trained in operating room duties, ironically on troop ships!
As preparations for the invasion were made, Jim became a medical orderly in Field Surgical Unit 37, part of number six beach group, and landed in Normandy on D-Day as part of the second wave at Lion-sur-Mer, thereafter following the advance through France and into Belgium and Holland, necessarily being within a mile and half of the front line throughout.
The unit attended to wounded French, British and other allied countries, as well as Germans and civilians.
Records show a remarkable 90% survival rate from the hundreds of operations performed.
Initiated on 6th November 1957 in Egyptian Lodge No.27, he was WM in 1971.
Now aged 98, he is the Lodge’s oldest current member, and the third most senior surviving Past Master, after Francis Helps and Ken Helps, OSM.
He is a PProvJGW in the Province of Surrey, and (now) an Honorary Member of Pilgrims’ Way Lodge No.5306 in that Province.
He moved into Shannon Court last year.
The “Medical Staff Corps” was formed in 1855, in the hope that it should be composed of “…men able to read and write, of regular habits and good temper and of a kindly disposition”. This fitted Jim to a T!