FRANCE’S highest military honour, the Knight Order of the Legion of Honour, was presented to the family of former Colthup Manor resident Donald Matheson last week.
The French ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thébault, travelled to Ipswich to attend the ceremony at the Ipswich RSL sub branch where he handed the medal to Donald’s son Tesselaar.
Mayor Teresa Harding said the City of Ipswich – a garrison city – was incredibly proud to have been home to such an incredible yet humble hero during his final months.
Donald passed away in June last year at the age of 94.
He lived out his retirement years at Colthup Manor in Ipswich, where members of the Ipswich RSL Sub Branch visited him regularly, unaware of the extent of his heroism.
He received the welldeserved recognition for his involvement in the D-Day Landings from both the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, which nominated him, and the French Government.
The mayor said she was honoured to be able to share Mr Matheson’s story as he himself, like many of the servicemembers of his time, didn’t.
In part it read:
“Donald’s father, John Matheson, was in the Royal Dragoons, during World War One. After The Great War, he married Mary Scott and Donald was born in England on December 8, 1926.
At 16, he tried to join the Royal Navy Cadets, but was told he was too young – he needed to be 17 with parents’ consent.
In the afternoon on that same and on gaining his mother’s consent he went back and said he was 17 and joined the Royal Navy Cadets.
After completing his basic training, he was assigned to HMS Black Prince, a ship that soon joined the Arctic Convoy, which Sir Winston Churchill once described as one of the worst journeys on earth.
More than 3000 men were killed, and more than 87 merchant and 18 Royal Navy ships were lost during that time.
On June 6, 1944, during the Normandy Invasion (also referred to as ‘Operation Overlord’ or the ‘D-Day Landings’), Donald’s ship formed part of the American Task Force 125 in support of the Utah Beach, ship No. 13.
He described seeing huge waterspouts shooting up into the air as the shells exploded around his ship, fired from the German guns on the hill.
From the deck of the Black Prince, he looked up to see hundreds of aircraft flying above him.
American Mine Sweepers buzzed all around him and he felt the guns vibrate throughout his ship as she fired her guns.
In August 1944, the ship moved to the Mediterranean to join ‘Operation Dragoon’, helping to liberate villages in the South of France.
Donald left the Royal Navy after the Black Prince was leased to the New Zealand Navy.
He was then posted to West Africa, and a few years later he returned to England where he married Joan Darlington.
They had two sons, Robert Alexander and Tesselaar Romanoff, and three daughters, Jennifer Ann, Jane Alison and Katherine Jean.
He was then posted to Germany, and a few years later to Kenya.
Fortunately, Donald’s extraordinary military career has not been forgotten nor diminished with time.”
The Legion of Honour was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and since that time it has been retained by all French governments and regimes.