P.E.I. veteran to receive top military honour from France

P.E.I. veteran to receive top military honour from France

It has been more than 70 years since Miles Matheson landed at Juno Beach and helped to liberate France, Belgium and Holland. The veteran from Forest Hill, P.E.I. is now being recognized by France with one of the country's highest honours — the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.

In 2014, as part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, France announced it would be honouring all living soldiers who helped to liberate the country. Matheson was named to the list in 2014, but it has taken until now to arrange the official ceremony.

"It is going to be a mission completed, one that I thought was extremely worthy and would be a desperate shame if it went by unnoticed," said Jim MacAulay, treasurer of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 26 in Morell, P.E.I.  MacAulay nominated Matheson for the honour.

"He was extremely proud that anybody in the community would think it worthwhile to nominate him for that honour."

Family honoured

Matheson's family will be at Beach Grove Home in Charlottetown as a representative from France bestows the honour.

"We as a family were really quite honoured that he's getting this medal and I know that Miles is honoured as well," said daughter Flora, who has travelled from Toronto to attend the ceremony. 

"But he also feels somewhat self-conscious about receiving the medal, he remembers all the people who suffered and those who lost their lives and that's what he thinks of when he receives any honour."

Her father shared stories with the family "because we asked him," she said.

"He didn't really like talking about the war but he did it because he was asked and he thought he should do his duty to his country and make sure that people, especially young people and children, really understood the devastation of war."

"It's surreal," she said, of his stories.

"He went in when he was 17 years of age and he landed at Juno Beach about four days after D-Day, and I can't imagine what he must have seen, with people dead on the beach, and how he must have processed that."

One of the lucky ones

Those experiences stayed with him when he returned to Canada.

"I do remember that, long after dad came back from the war, he was experiencing nightmares," said Flora Matheson.

She admitted it will be emotional watching her father receive the medal from France, joining the many others he has received over the years.

"We really understand and appreciate that our father was lucky because he was one of the ones who came back," she said.

"I'll think about what he has done for his country and what other veterans have done and I'll probably have tears in my eyes."

A lesson in history

It will also be a proud day for members of the Morell Legion, where Matheson was a frequent speaker at the annual Remembrance Day banquet.

MacAulay recalled when he spent the afternoon with Miles, preparing the nomination for the award.

"During my high school days I was a history teacher but I can tell you that I got a lesson in the history of the Second World War that I had never heard before, second to none," said MacAulay.

A Second World War veteran from North Rustico, P.E.I., Emard Court, is also a member of the French Legion of Honour. He received the award in December 2014. 

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