BY KEITH MACKENZIE
A Skye-based World War II hero has been awarded France’s highest military honour, in recognition of his bravery and service.
Dr Fred Baillie – a resident at the Home Farm Nursing Home in Portree – had a remarkable military career which included being part of allied efforts to liberate France and Belgium after D-Day. Prior to that, his service with the RAF included intelligence work in the Middle East, while later postings took him to what was then the Dutch East Indies and Malaya.
Fred, who is originally from Belfast, has been given a medal and recognised as a ‘Chevalier’ in the French Légion d’honneur. The Légion d’honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, and it is France’s highest distinction, awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit. On average, just 10 British nationals per year receive the Légion d’honneur.
On the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014, French President François Hollande announced that the distinction would be awarded to all British veterans who fought for the liberation of France during the Second World War.
Speaking to the Free Press about the award the 94-year-old said it felt “timely” to have received the medal in a week when France found itself under the worst attack on its soil since being liberated from the Nazis seven decades ago.
In the letter to Dr Baillie confirming the award, French ambassador Sylvie Bermann wrote: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.”
The retired Canon, who enjoyed a 60-year career as an Episcopalian Priest and military Padre, joined the airforce as a 16-year old apprentice in 1937, serving for a total of 12 years.
In a profile interview with the Free Press earlier in 2015, Fred recalled his colourful military exploits. These included fighting in Iraq in 1940 – when a bomb dropped by an Italian Savoia-Marchetti left him with a back injury that troubles him to this day. He was part of covert operations in both Baghdad and Tehran, while after D-Day his unit became responsible for the recovery and repair of any crashed Allied aircraft. Tinnitus continues to plague him since he narrowly escaped a V2 missile which struck the observation tower at Antwerp airport.
Fred, who is now 94, has lived in Portree for the past 13 years. His son Roger, who sadly died earlier this year, was the town’s long-serving Coastguard.