As part of its first (and final) port call to Cape Town, the French amphibious supply ship La Grandiere played host to the award of a Legion d’Honneur medal to a British World War II veteran residing in Cape Town.
Arriving in Table Bay Harbour from her home port of Port-des-Galets in La Réunion on 28 May 2016, La Grandière, a landing ship with amphibious qualities, is the last ship of its kind in the French Navy and is on her way to France to be decommissioned.
Commissioned on 21 January 1987, the Batral-class La Grandière was the last of five similar ships built for the French Navy, spending its entire service life in the Indian Ocean providing missions such as sovereignty, supply of the Eparses Islands (Mozambique channel), deployment of troops and contribution to the French diplomacy by representation and cooperation as part of the French Armed Forces of South Indian Ocean (FAZSOI). She regularly exercised with forces from nearby countries such as Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa.
Although her first time in Cape Town, La Grandière has visited both Durban and Richards Bay numerous previously, the most recent being in September/October last year for joint maritime exercise Oxide between South Africa and France.
An award ceremony was held aboard on Wednesday 1 June 2016 in honour of Leonard Harries (91), a former British soldier who was awarded La Legion d’Honneur for his efforts in Normandie, France, during the Second World War in 1944. He is a British citizen residing in South Africa.
The French government has been awarding the Légion d’honneur, the highest French order for military and civil merits, to D-Day veterans from many different countries for several years as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War
Harries, who father served in both the First and Second World Wars, joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the age of eighteen and served in an anti-aircraft unit and later an anti-V1 flying bomb unit. In August 1944, he embarked on a LCT (Landing Craft Tank) and crossed the English Channel to France. There he passed through Amiens, Cambrai and Belgium before entering Germany.
Accepting the award, Harries noted that he was “well aware of the great honour that has been bestowed upon me.”
Reflecting on the occupation of Europe by Germany, Harries observed that it must have been a very cruel time for the proud French people.
“We in England only just escaped the same fate,” Harries said, “I can imagine that the French people would have been very thankful that that period came to an end.”
After 72 years, Harries recalled going through the small French town of Albert, located in the WW I poppy fields in the department of Somme: “I remember telling that to my father, who thirty years earlier had trodden the same ground in the First World War.”
As for Lt-Cdr Nicolas Napal (Commanding Officer of La Grandière), the final trip to France is very emotional. “It is an honour to be the last commander of the ship and to bring her to France,” he said.
Appointed as Commanding Officer in July 2014, the one event which stands out for Napal was his second mission he made with the ship. Undertaking a replenishment trip to the Eparses Islands in the Mozambique Channel, they were their way back to La Réunion when they caught illegal fishers from Madagascar and Comoros near Glorioso Island in the North Mozambique Channel. This resulted in the fishermen being arrested for illegally fishing in French waters.
Departing Cape Town on 2 June, the La Grandière will be visiting the DRC, Senegal, Canary Islands and Lisbon in Portugal before arriving in the port of Brest, France on 11 July.