WW2 airman receives honour from France

John Lauder has been rewarded for helping to liberate France from the Nazis. Pic: Pressteam.
John Lauder has been rewarded for helping to liberate France from the Nazis. Pic: Pressteam.

A Motherwell airman who served with the RAF in World War II has been awarded France’s highest honour.

John Lauder was a flight engineer on a seven man crew which carried out 32 raids across France and Germany between August and December 1944 in a Halifax Bomber.

But he has told of his amazement after he was contacted by the French Embassy who told him they wanted to decorate him with the Legion d’honneur medal.

Mr Lauder (91) said: “It was a real surprise when I received the letter from the embassy letting me know what they wanted to do.

“My war years are well behind me but I was proud to be asked and will always remember this.”

Mr Lauder had volunteered for service with the RAF in 1943 and left his reserved occupation job as a mining engineer to help the war effort.

He first saw service after he turned 18 and was posted to the Royal Canadian Air Force squadron 420 ‘Snowy owl’. He was the only Brit on the crew that included two Americans and four Canadians.

He added: “I’m the only one of that pretty cosmopolitan crew still alive. I was a bit younger than the rest of them who were in their 20s.

“Air crews didn’t have a great life expectancy and lost more than half their personnel.

“The odds of completing 30 missions and not being shot down were slim and the areas we were targeting were well defended.

“We saw a lot of aircraft being hit and going down in a ball of flames round about you. The aircraft were carrying 2000 gallons of fuel and a bomb load.

“We had two crewmen injured on two occasions but otherwise we were remarkably lucky.”

After his European missions ended Mr Lauder served in Burma from 1945-47, he later received the campaign medals the 39-45 Star, France and Germany Star and the War Medal.

He was married in 1950 having joined the Lanarkshire Constabulary when his war service ended and rose through the ranks to the position of Hamilton area divisional commander when he retired in 1985.

His medal was handed over at Hamilton Golf Club by Honorary French Consul, Professor John Campbell, who said: “It is the equivalent of a knighthood in France. Receiving the Legion d’honneur is quite a distinction.

“It is a way of honouring all those who fought who are still alive and through them all those who gave up their lives for the liberation of France and Europe.”