Ernest Payne has witnessed a lot during his long life.

But it was clear for all to see that yesterday was extremely special to him.

The smile on his face was quite something as he received his medal at his home in Ergmont Place, Brighton.

The prestigious Legion d'Honneur was for the part he played in the Normandy landings of June 1944.

On the second day of the landings, the tank Mr Payne was driving came under attack.

The shell blasted through the turret, killing three of his comrades in the upper part of the armoured vehicle.

But the then 29-year-old and his co-driver survived.

After receiving his new medal, the highest honour given by the French, he said: "It's absolutely wonderful.

"I never expected any of this when I was engaged in battle on the beach, straight from the boat, onto the sand and onto the land.

"Of course, we didn't know what was in front of us, but the fact of the matter is I'm still here.

"I spoke to the good lord himself many times during the war, but I won't go into details because it will last too long.”

The Argus: Ernest Payne pictured with his medal Picture: Liz FinlaysonErnest Payne pictured with his medal Picture: Liz Finlayson

The room was filled with Mr Payne’s nearest and dearest as he collected his medal. He said: "Some are relations, some are not, some are great friends - I didn't know there were so many."

Upon Mr Payne’s request, the award was presented by a captain of the regiment belonged to.

His troop, the 24th Lancers, has since evolved into the Royal Lancers and it was Captain Ed Aitken who was given the honour of handing over the medal.

He said: "To be able to do this for someone who was involved in one of the most extraordinary moments of military history possibly that has ever taken place is an enormous privilege.

"Ernest is from a generation that I think has endured hardships our generation could never even dream of.

"So it's a real pleasure. But it is something I fear we won't be able to do for many years to come.

"It's very important."

He now has four medals, a War Medal 1939-45, a 1939-45 Star and a France and Germany Star to add to the Legion d’Honneur.

But it was not until 2012, aged 97, when his family made enquires, that he was awarded the three medals.

The Argus: Ernest Payne pictured during the warErnest Payne pictured during the warErnest Payne pictured during the war

Born in 1914, in Henfield, Mr Payne was called up in December 1940.

Early in 1945 he was released from the Army to take over the running of his family's grocery shop in Brighton.

Rosemary Warburton, from Brighton, was one of the dozens who attended yesterday and said it was great to see her uncle still bright as a button at 101.

She added: "Well we're just thankful to God for keeping uncle safe all these years and he means a lot to us all.

"It's a great honour for him to receive this."