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France awards top honour to UK veterans

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The Local France/AFP - [email protected]
France awards top honour to UK veterans
France awarded its prestigious Legion d'Honneur to 19 Chelsea Pensioners. Photo: AFP

France presented 19 of Britain's famous "Chelsea Pensioners" with the Legion d'Honneur at a ceremony in London on Thursday, recognising their role in liberating France during World War II.

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French President Francois Hollande has already decorated a group of British veterans with the honour during an event in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014.

Since then, British veterans have lodged 2,800 applications for the honour and French ambassador to Britain Sylvie Bermann has presented some of the successful applicants with their awards at ceremonies in July, November and April.

Bermann on Thursday presented the latest batch with their Legion d'Honneur during a ceremony at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II's second son Prince Andrew, under a blazing sun.

Founded by King Charles II in 1681 on the model of the Invalides in Paris, the Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement home for British Army veterans, known throughout the country as the "Chelsea pensioners".

They are instantly recognisable by their red coats and tricorne hats, and commemorate the founding of the institution annually with a large parade close to May 29, Charles II's birthday.

It was at its 323rd parade on Thursday that the 19 received their decorations under the statue of Charles II.

"It's very important to show France's gratitude," Bermann told AFP after presenting the awards to the veterans, most of whom are now in their nineties.

The remaining 2,000 plus British applicants should receive their awards by the end of the year.

The Legion d'Honneur, France's highest accolade, was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is awarded in recognition of both civil and military achievements.

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