A BOURNEMOUTH war veteran has been awarded France's highest military honour.

Harry Read, a prominent member of the international Salvation Army, was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur at a ceremony at Kensington Palace on Monday.

Mr Read served in the 6th Airborne Division during the Second World War, and was parachuted in to the Pegasus Bridge area of Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944.

Many of his unit drowned on landing as the area surrounding the drop zone had been deliberately flooded.

"The French government was at its generous best when it decided to honour, with this highly prestigious medal, those who took part in the liberation of France," he said.

"My feelings are of pride, but it’s a pride tempered with an awareness of the enormous cost of the thousands of lives needed to achieve victory.

"As others have done, I have stood at the graves of my friends who were killed in action and have been deeply moved. In their deaths they have only a small strip of ground and a headstone, whereas my life has been so rich and fulfilling. How cruel war is."

Mr Read is a commissioner in the Salvation Army and attends its church in Winton. He has previously served as territorial commander for the church's Australia East territory, and as its chief secretary in Canada.

Recalling the landing in Normandy, he said: "In that first hour of D-Day, as our Dakota aircraft took us steadily, inevitably, towards the French coast, on the word of command we stood in line and prepared to jump.

"As we did so we flew into the most magnificent fireworks display imaginable, except of course they were not fireworks but shells and tracer bullets.

"Keeping our feet in a wildly bucking-aircraft was no easy exercise but the red warning light was on, then came the green light and we shuffled unsteadily down the plane to the exit where, in turn, and aided by a burly dispatcher, we leapt out into the night air to whatever awaited us.

"We were on time but, having landed, we knew we were in the wrong place because we splashed down in an area deliberately flooded to make life difficult for paratroops.

"Many of our men drowned there, but for those who survived we faced the hazards of linking with our units.

"It was a challenging experience but all part of the liberation, firstly of France for which this priceless medal has been awarded, then, one by one, other countries which had also been conquered."