Barry Coulter and Trevor Crawley
A Cranbrook veteran was enrolled in a select international group Saturday, August 13.
Lee Brown, who at 18 years of age flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, was recognized and honoured by the government of France, for his services in fighting for freedom.
At a ceremony at the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 24 Cranbrook, Brown was made a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour (Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur) and presented with the medal by Antoine Mention, Deputy Consul with the Consulate General of France, located in Vancouver.
Mention addressed Brown and the delegates on behalf of the French government, referencing the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights — a list of 30 rights to which every human being is inherently entitled to. It’s especially significant to France, as the declaration was drafted following the Second World War, while the devastation and consequences of global conflict were still visible across Europe.
“As a young man, Mr. Brown, you left your family and home in Big Valley, in Alberta, to cross the Atlantic and participate in some of the fiercest battles in modern history on foreign soil, far away from your country, to help the people of Europe to free themselves from terror and tyranny,” said Mention.
“Your accomplishments during the Second World War, are a vibrant reminder of the profound and historic friendship that binds France and Canada. Our two countries owe each other our very existence.”
Brown joins some prestigious company with the Legion of Honour, as the recognition has been bestowed on Canadians such as former Governor General Michaelle Jean, former Prime Minister William Mackenzie King, and former Quebec Premier Jean Charest. Mention also added that the Canadian membership into the Legion of Honour has grown from 20 to over 1,000.
Mr. Brown, in front of family, friends and a large gathering at the Legion, said that he was accepting the honour on behalf of the crews of the two aircraft he flew with — 12 airmen in all.
“I’m saying thanks, but this is on behalf of 12 men who are not here that I flew with. Two different crews because one man can’t do anything in those planes by themselves. I had two different crews, so if you break it down, that’s 12 different men and myself.
“They have their unwritten name on this with me, believe me, so think about them. Thank you.”
The Legion of Honour, created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, is the highest French order for military and civil merits, and be awarded regardless of class, gender or nationality. Monsieur Mention noted that it is on the same level as the Order of Canada in this country.
“This is the highest award that can be given to foreign persons. Its given either for great action for great, or great accomplishment for France. It can be awarded on military grounds, but it can also be given to an artist — any kind of matter. But it is an award recognizing a person’s deeds on behalf of France.”
During the presentation, Mention said France had set out on an “unprecedented” two-year project to present the Legion of Honour to living Allied soldiers from the D-Day campaign, June, 1944.
“It is very simple,” he elaborated in an interview prior to the ceremony. “The France government decided in 2014 to award the Légion d’honneur to all Canadian, American — all foreign soldiers who fought for the liberation of France in 1944. It’s been given to all those soldiers who are still alive. So far, in two years, it has been awarded to more than 1,000 Canadian veterans. Unfortunately, many died, but still about 1,000 are alive, and have got this medal.
“And the reason I am here today is that the Canadian Legion in Cranbrook asked the French consulate in Vancouver to come to Cranbrook to award Mr. Brown the medal.
“He was 18 in 1944, and put his life at risk for French freedom. We decided to come to pay our tribute to him and the men who put their lives as risk. Many died to preserve freedom, and it’s important to show how grateful we are. That we will never forget what they did.
“Today, I am able to live in a free country, France, because of what people like Mr. Brown did.”
Mr. Brown flew more than 30 missions with the RCAF, including diversion flights, acting as decoy to draw enemy aircraft away from Allied troops.
Brown enlisted in the Royal Canadian when he was just 17, in 1943, and wash shipped to Europe the following year. He served as an tail gunner on Lancaster bombers, and flew 33 missions — astounding number — including diversion flights during the D-Day campaign, where his plane basically served as a decoy to draw enemy aircraft away from ground troops.
Brown thanked everyone who attended, and all the dignitaries to offered their best wishes.
“I’d like to thank the the delegate from France that made the presentations here. I can’t thank you enough for what you read and did and for coming all the way here to do this.”
Pictured, left to right: Clive Brown, President, Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 24 Cranbrook; Lee Brown; Antoine Mention, Deputy Consul, Consulate General of France in Vancouver (Barry Coulter photo).