Charles Oakes given Legion d’Honneur

Charles Oakes pictured with his Legion D'honneur award. INLM46-212.
Charles Oakes pictured with his Legion D'honneur award. INLM46-212.
  • Awarded highest honour
  • Abiding memory of D-Day was the noise and the dead
  • Honoured for his part in liberation of France

He never wanted to talk about being a soldier in World War Two and never applied for any of his medals but now, aged 97, Charles Oakes has been honoured by the French government.

Private Oakes, of the Royal Welsh Fusilliers, survived the horrors of D-Day on the north shores of France, and has now been awarded one of France’s highest military honours - with the rank of Chevelier in the Legion d’Honneur.

His son, Raymond said his father just wanted to leave the army behind him after WWII and live a normal family life.

A young Scot, Private Oakes arrived in Lurgan in 1939 and was posted initially to Shankill Parish Church’s Parochial Hall before being billeted to Rosses Factory in High Street.

While here, he met Sarah Grimason and the couple were married the next year in 1940.

Private Oakes was stationed at various locations including Lisburn and Ballynahinch but just over a year after the couple were married, he was shipped to England.

Raymond explained that his father, who is currently a resident in Aughnacloy House in Lurgan, was a despatch rider.

“He clammed up with all the gory stuff,” said Raymond but he managed to get a few snippets from his father before dementia set in.

It was June 1944 at Caen in northern France when young Private Oakes arrived on a battleship.

Raymond said they were delayed because of the weather and almost everyone was seasick.

“He said the abiding memory of D-Day was the level of noise, grown men crying for their mummies and all the dead bodies both people and animals,” said Raymond.

Private Oakes’ war came to an end just prior to the catastrophic Battle of Arnheim.

A few days before he was on his bike and was watching the gliders which were used to transport troops into battle when he smashed into a concrete pillar and shattered his leg. He lay in a ditch for two days before being found.

Raymond said his father spoke about using a special army scarf called ‘webbing’ soaked in a chemical to kill the smell of rotting flesh.

He had been a stone mason before leaving his home in Blairgowrie and once he left the army he returned to Lurgan to his wife Sarah. The couple had four children Ivan who passed away in 2006, Bobby, Beryl and Raymond.

“He was glad to get out of the army and into civilian life,” said Raymond. “He never applied for any of his medals. It was only in recent years that I asked for his service record and applied for the medals on his behalf.”

Mr Oakes was a hard working family man who supported his family in Lurgan as a bricklayer, including 40 years with George Hylands in Waringstown.

Originally the Oakes family lived in the prefab homes on the Shore Road before moving to Charles St.

His wife Sarah passed away in 1992 and Mr Oakes went to live in Stevenson Park before moving to Aughnacloy House recently.

Raymond is clearly proud of his father’s bravery and has the certificate from the French Ambassador to London framed and proudly displayed.

“It states that he was honoured for his part in the liberation of France,” said Raymond.