Northern Ireland

WW2: Family frustrated over delays in bid to have Belfast veteran honoured

George Rodgers is a former Royal Ulster Rifles soldier from the the Shankill Road, west Belfast
Image caption George Rodgers is a former Royal Ulster Rifles soldier from the the Shankill Road, west Belfast

The Belfast family of one of the last survivors of the Battle of Dunkirk say they are frustrated over delays in their application to have him awarded for his bravery in World War Two.

George Rodgers is a former Royal Ulster Rifles soldier from the the Shankill Road, west Belfast.

He served in France and Belgium at the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 until June 1940, when allied troops retreated.

The 97-year-old was part of the last defence at the Battle of Dunkirk.

He is now frail and bedridden.

Last year, his family applied to have him awarded the Legion of Honour Medal - France's highest military award.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) facilitates UK applications and sends the details of eligible candidates to the Embassy of France in London.

There have been 2,400 recipients from the UK, mostly soldiers who liberated France in 1944.

George's son Bill sent an application by first class post in autumn 2015, but did not hear back.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption British soldiers fought a rearguard action during the evacuation at Dunkirk

Both the embassy and the MoD have told the BBC they have no record of it. The ministry has, however, said it will investigate if an "administrative hiccup" was to blame.

It said there is a priority scheme for veterans with serious health problems. Bill has been in contact with the relevant department to see if the process can be speeded up.

"He's 97 years of age and he hasn't too many daylights to go. The sooner he gets it, definitely the better it would be for him. He would be so proud," Bill said.

"I think he deserves it in the sense that he's been to France. He's fought on the beaches, he's an elderly man and it would make him very happy, and the family."

George, whose face was disfigured later in the war by a grenade explosion in Burma, said he is proud of his campaign medals.

"I wouldn't sell them for a fortune. I wouldn't let them go," he said.

On the evacuation, George, who left Dunkirk onboard HMS Ross, said "it was a horrible place".

"There were all kinds of ships and as soon as the bombers came over, you dove for the soil and got down deep if you can," he said.

"I saw a fella one time, he was dead, and he had his waterproof cape on him. They tried to make it, but the Germans just took it away with a blast.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ships leaving Dunkirk during the evacuation of British troops

"If you're on a ship which gets bombed, you had a hard chance to get off.

"Some blokes get a fear in them. They can't move, they don't move. I'm not going to be left because he's afraid to go forward. You have to be prepared yourself.

"Sometimes I think we could have stopped and gone back again. If you're in fear yourself, you're never getting nowhere."

Bill Rodgers said his father only began talking openly about his experience of WW2 in recent years.

"He still has flashbacks after 70 years. He alone knows what it's like. We only hear, but we can't describe what he went through."