A SECOND World War hero who helped liberate millions across Europe has been awarded France’s highest honour.
Patrick Delaforce, 92, landed on the D-Day beaches in June 1944 before helping drive the Nazis back into their homeland.
He was twice severely wounded and was mentioned in dispatches on two occasions.
But now, 72 years on, the Brighton veteran has been awarded France's highest honour, the Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.
He said: “What we did back then was so incredibly important and I will never forget it.
“I have always felt a connection with the French people and it is a wonderful medal to have.”
Patrick joined the 11th Armoured Division as an officer in Normandy and played a crucial role in many key battles as the Allies drove the Germans out of Northern France.
On moving into Belgium he was involved in the liberation of Antwerp where he witnessed the horrors of Breendonk concentration camp.
The fortress had been used by the SS to torture Belgium resistance fighters and to hold Jews and other political prisoners.
Patrick said: “The place had been turned into an abattoir for humans. The SS and the Gestapo between them had butchered – literally butchered – dozens upon dozens.
“The thing I remember quite clearly was the smell of blood. It was a disgusting smell.”
After fighting in Operation Market Garden, Patrick and his men pushed on towards Germany when he was blown up by a mine.
He suffered serious injuries but was back in the line after just a short spell in hospital.
After crossing into Germany, he was engaged in a number of fearsome battles for control of the country’s key rivers before he helped liberate Bergen Belsen concentration camp.
He said: “I remember seeing all these rags scattered all over the place.
“But when I looked closer I could see that they weren’t rags, they were bodies – thousands of them.
“The stench was awful, it will never leave me. They were hardly alive, there was little expression on their faces. They were walking dead.”
But there was no time to dwell on what he had seen as his men continued the push towards Berlin.
While fighting to cross another key river he was blown up a second time. Just days later the Germans surrendered.
But this was not the end of Patrick’s war. He was called to sit as a judge at two separate war trials where he sent a number of concentration camp guards to their deaths.
He was then required to act as an official witness to their executions at the hands of infamous British hangman, Albert Pierrepoint,.
He said: “This was retribution, after what I had seen. Justice had been done.”
Commenting on the medal he said: “It’s a real honour, it is just a shame there are so few of us left.”