A 97th birthday party celebration quickly became even more special for local veteran and Parksville legion member Archibald Bertram on Wednesday, July 26.
Bertram, who was part of the British Expeditionary Force that helped to liberate France in the Second World War, was surprised with a ceremony inducting him into the French National Order of the Legion of Honour, making him a knight of France.
It is the country’s highest national order.
“He was quite surprised,” said Brian Bertram, Archibald’s youngest son who said he would speak on Archibald’s behalf as his father is unwell.
“He thought he was going (to the Parksville legion) for his birthday cake… it was overwhelming for him and the family. And it turned out great.”
Archibald was a member of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 1st Battalion, said Brian.
That battalion embarked for France in 1939, and returned to France on D-Day, June 6, landing at Queen Beach and fighting through Normandy and beyond.
Archibald was also the regiment’s bass drummer, with the drum he used still on display at the regimental museum in Berwick-upon-Tweed, said Brian.
But beyond that, Brian said he does not know, as his father does not speak about his experience during the war, and his war records remain sealed.
Nonetheless, Brian said he became adamant that his father should receive the Legion of Honour medal, which France’s former-president, Francois Hollande, made available to all living veterans of the 1944 campaign to liberate France.
Brian spent three years applying and organizing to ensure his father received the award.
Worries over his father’s health caused Brian to move the celebration up from August 15, Archibald’s birthday, to July 26.
Making sure his father received that honour, which cannot be bestowed posthumously, became Brian’s mission.
“I wanted to at least do one last thing for him, eh? And I thought that would be the best thing,” said Brian. “That would be just the icing on the cake for him.”
Presenting the medal was the commander of the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges in Nanoose Bay, Darren Rich.
Archibald was also presented with a quilt on behalf of Quilts of Valour Canada.