A PENCAITLAND man who has received France’s highest military honour for his service during the Second World War says he did not even think of himself as a veteran until recently.

Len Smith, 92, was conscripted at the age of 18 and was a supply lorry driver for the British Liberation Army.

He landed at Gold Beach, Normandy, where he said he was not shot at and saw little combat.

But he drove some of the first troops into Berlin in 1945 and moved supplies through a war-ravaged France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Despite his actions, modest Len, who went on to work in the civil service, said he had never thought of himself as veteran, never mind a hero.

He told the Courier: “There were thousands of young men like me. I never considered myself a veteran until the recent events marking the anniversary led to me looking back.

“At the time we just got on with it; the real heroes are the soldiers who fought and died over there.”

Mr Smith was one of eight children born in Pencaitland to local couple John and Euphemia Smith.

His sister Ellen, 97, still lives in Pencaitland and he visits the area regularly; but after he was demobbed in 1947, Mr Smith moved to Longlevens, Gloucestershire, to find work.

Now a widower, Mr Smith’s sister sends him the Courier every week so he can keep up with local news.

His Légion d’Honneur medal was sent to his home in Cheltenham by post and contained a letter from Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French ambassador to the UK, which said: “I offer you my warmest congratulations on this high honour, which recognises your military engagement and steadfast involvement in the liberation of France during the Second World War.

“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.”

But Mr Smith insists he was just a young man doing a job.

He said: “I didn’t know how the war was going, I didn’t read anything about the war. I was a young lad and I had no fear.

“I just thought ‘get on with it’.”

However, he remembers thinking about how worried his mother would be.

Len’s brothers James and Thomas were also in active service and James was in the D-Day landings. All three came home.

He said: “When we came back my mum was overjoyed, she got three sons back uninjured.”

Last year, Mr Smith returned to the Normandy beaches on a British Legion tour organised for veterans. He said: “I wasn’t involved in the D-Day landings; the people that were are the heroes.”