by Helen Martin
World War II veteran Harold Beven has received the highest French decoration, the prestigious Legion of Honour, aka the National Order of the Legion of Honour. The 2017 award is part of a campaign of recognition launched by the French President on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy. This is Harold’s 8th medal recognising his war service, with others including the Malta George Cross 50th Anniversary Medal.
Harold was born in the small English village of Hoe, Norfolk, in 1920, leaving home at 16 to work as a toolmaker for an aircraft company, where a highlight was the opportunity to work on Jean Batten’s plane Percival Gull. After moving to London, when war was declared in 1939 he joined the Royal Navy where, as part of the ordnance branch, he worked on cruisers and destroyers in gunnery maintenance. During the war Harold was to serve on four ships and in almost all the naval theatres. As a Chief Petty Officer, he was involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete, the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy and the June 6, 1944D-Day seaborne invasion of France, Operation Overlord, the start of a long and costly campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation. His job was to maintain the guns while allied soldiers were rescued off the beaches. Despite the constant danger, Harold says,” I had a fantastic war because I was so lucky. Nearly every ship I served on was sunk after I left it and I dodged machinegun fire on many occasions but never got a scratch.” In a 1994 interview he described his most frightening experience when the ship he was on came within 6,000 metres of an Italian battleship with superior firepower. “We had overnight to fix our guns and throughout we had the sirens going off continually. It was horrendous, but I’d do it again.”
After the war Harold and his family moved to New Zealand, where he spent six years in the New Zealand Navy before working in civilian jobs, including running an engineering business in Glenfield. Harold’s connection with Helensville goes back to times he spent hunting on South Head, before looking after his friend’s South Head sheep farm in 1980. He moved to Drake Village with his wife Sandy three years ago and now lives at Craigwell House.
An extended interview with Harold can be found at https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/memories-of-service-harold-bevan-2017