Earlier this month, Hyman Pittal proudly received his French Légion d’honneur medal, recently awarded by the French government has been awarding to D-Day veterans from many different countries, as a way of honouring and thanking those who fought and risked their lives to secure France’s liberation during the Second World War.
Jewish Care’s chief executive, Simon Morris presented the medal to Harry at a tea in the Wohl Synagogue at the Betty and Asher Loftus Centre, where Hyman, or Harry as he’s also known, and his wife, Rosalind, who are both 95, have been residents at Lady Sarah Cohen House since last year.
They were joined by their children, Hilary and David, together with their families, including Harry and Rosalind’s four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, aged between 7 months to 17 years old. Residents, families, staff and volunteers at the Centre also came along.
Harry wore full uniform as well as the four medals he has received for the liberation of France, Holland, Belgium and Defending the Home Guard. He made a speech at the celebration, said afterwards, “I was overwhelmed to get that medal. We had a lovely party.”
Born in 1922 in the East End, Harry lived there for most of his life and was called up to serve in 1941. He trained in the Royal Army service corps to drive army vehicles then delivered rations in the UK with the 15th Scottish Division. He was later transferred to the 21st Army Division who landed on the Normandy beaches on D-day and drove munitions from the coast across occupied France, Holland and Belgium to liberate them.
Reminiscing about the D-day landings, Harry recalls, “It was amazing, people were so happy to see us. In France, they came out to cheer us on the streets and couldn’t thank us enough, it was the same in Rotterdam and then in Genz and Brussels.”
Hyman and Rosalind met before the war and during the war years Rosalind served as a singer entertaining the troops across the UK together with her father. They were married on August 19, 1945 and lived in a flat in Hackney which they rented for 50p a week. Harry worked as a fruiterer in the family business in Petticoat Lane and Rosalind worked for some time as a machinist.
Speaking at the presentation on Sunday, Jewish Care chief executive Simon Morris said, “It is a privilege for me to present Hyman with this medal awarded by the French Government in recognition of his bravery during the D-day landings. He fought so that we can live in freedom today and we are very proud to mark this occasion with Hyman and Rosalind, together with their family and fellow residents, staff and volunteers here at Jewish Care.”
The Légion d’honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte. It is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit. On average, just 10 British nationals per year receive the Légion d’honneur.