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Norfolk man Tony Bilverstone, who survived his ship sinking on D-Day, is given France’s highest honour - 73 years on

PUBLISHED: 12:56 23 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:57 23 October 2017

Tony Bilverstone in 1946, aged 19. Picture: Courtesy of Brian Bilverstone

Tony Bilverstone in 1946, aged 19. Picture: Courtesy of Brian Bilverstone

He was part of the biggest amphibious invasion of all time, crewing a tugboat on D-Day while German guns blazed all around.

Tony Bilverstone, surrounded by his five children, in 2017. Picture: Courtesy of Brian BilverstoneTony Bilverstone, surrounded by his five children, in 2017. Picture: Courtesy of Brian Bilverstone

And now Norfolk man Tony Bilverstone, 91, has been awarded France’s highest honour for the role he played during the Second World War.

Mr Bilverstone, who was born in Stow Bedon and grew up in Shropham, has been made a Chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’honneur, 73 years after the battle that led to the liberation of France.

Brian Bilverstone, his son, said it was a day that changed his father’s life. He said: “On June 6 - D-Day - his tug was towing a section of Mulberry Harbour, 10 miles off Arromanches in Normandy, when she was attacked by a German E-boat and sunk.

“My father, who had never learned to swim, was thrown overboard as the ship sank.

Tony with his medals, including the Legion d'Honneur. Picture: Courtesy of Brian BilverstoneTony with his medals, including the Legion d'Honneur. Picture: Courtesy of Brian Bilverstone

“But for the action of a shipmate who supported him in the water until rescued, he would certainly have drowned. Sadly, his shipmate did not survive.”

Mr Bilverstone was still a schoolboy when the war broke out, and by 1943, he had left school but could not go to fight the war as he was employed as a farm labourer - which was a reserved occupation at that time.

He eventually joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a signalman, and was on service with them at the time of D-Day.

Mr Bilverstone went onto serve in the Royal Naval Reserve until the 1960s, where he reached the rank of Postal Petty Officer.

He then worked for Royal Mail until the late 1970s.

Mr Bilverstone married Doris, a Wren whom he had met during the war, and they lived in Stratford, London and then in Ilford, Essex.

He had a major stroke and in 2015 was moved to the Stratford Bentley Nursing Home in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, to be near his daughter, where he now lives.

Brian said: “Sadly, ill health has plagued him for many years and he is too frail and poorly for a formal presentation of the medal but his family and the excellent carers at the home made a special effort to see that he received it with honour and dignity.

“Even though communication is very difficult for him, we believe that he was pleased, and that he was glad to have his family around him.

“We are all exceptionally proud of him.”

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