A 92-year-old Ballcarry resident is to receive France’s highest medal for his service to the country during World War 2.
Frank Ferguson, who was born in Holestone in Doagh, was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Fighter Command 264 Squadron (mosquitoes).
During the 70th anniversary of D-Day last year, French President Francois Hollande announced that all surviving British veterans who fought in France during the war would receive the recognition.
“I was surprised to get the Legion d’Honneur, it’s a very big honour,” said local man Frank, who joined the RAF at the tender age of 18 in 1941.
Before being posted to France, Frank was stationed in the RAF bases at Twinwood, Ford in Sussex, Church Fenton and Hartford Bridge, where Frank recalls “shooting at doodle bugs” and “flying bombs.”
Frank was then stationed at Chateau de Berneville, which had been the German headquarters for the region.
“France was devastated, it was nothing but rubble,” he recalled.
“Normandy was the battlefield and it was burnt to blazes.
“We moved from the Chateau de Berneville to Caen and the town was just rubble.”
Frank also witnessed the toll of the Battle of the Falaise Gap, the corridor which the Germans sought to maintain to allow their escape and which opened the way to Paris and the German border for the Allied armies.
“The Germans resisted there and we went down there to get rifles, there were so many bodies that the smell was diabolical,” he continued.
“I was 21 years old when I saw that but in those days you just got on with it.”
He was involved in the Defence of Arnhem and the notorious Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans succeeded in breaking into France.
The Battle of the Bulge saw the United States forces incurring their highest casualties for any operation during the war.
On one occasion, Frank and his pilot, Squadron Leader Elwell, were patrolling over France in their light but fast Mosquito aircraft, which was made of only balsa wood and paper, when they encountered five enemy aircraft.
“It was one mosquito against five Focke Wulf 190s,” he recalled.
“We shot down two and then ran out of ammunition so we had to pull out.”
Frank was involved in the “more risky” night flights, which involved manoeuvring behind the enemy in order to shoot them down.
“We had advanced technology on our radar, it’s what all the sat navs and microwaves which you have today came from,” he said.
“At night the Germans were bombing and they couldn’t be shot down by Spitfires and Tempests while we were in the twin-engine mosquitoes,” he continued.
“We lived from day to day.
“If someone didn’t come back it was hard luck. Out of 64 members of the squadron 16 didn’t come back, which is around one in four.
“At Bomber Command it was probably one in two.”
Frank was also involved in Victory Holland and Victory Germany.
Despite the hardships they witnessed, Frank recalls some moments of wartime humour.
On one occasion during the war while lodging at the Chateaux d’Avila outside Lille Vendeville Airfield, the crew was snowed in with no food or water.
“I set traps and managed to catch two rabbits and shoot a pheasant,” he revealed.
“We had a party in the village but we ran out of water and since we hadn’t washed for 14 days we decided to burn the old furniture in the attic in order to thaw the ice in the castle’s moat.
“What we hadn’t counted on was that the moat was full of sewerage from the last 400 years so we didn’t get a bath that day!
“However, when we moved into Lille for a couple of months it was into a hotel where we had a 16-piece orchestra, the french made our meals and we had chamber maids to prepare the rooms.
“After living in old tents it was a nice change!”
The Legion d’Honneur will be Frank’s sixth campaign medal in recognition of his bravery.
After leaving the army, Frank went back to Queen’s University to study Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering.
He then went to London University to study Architecture and Town Planning and played for Saracens before graduating as a Chartered Engineer in 1950.
Frank’s career led him to work in Africa, overseeing construction and mining in the copper belt of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.
After a spell at Kilroot Power Station, he went to Libya as a Chief Engineer for the government-owned construction company Gelico, overseeing the construction of roads, railways and airways.
His career then took him to Libya, Sudan, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia before he returned to Northern Ireland to work on a consultancy basis in 1982.
During his time abroad, Frank was accompanied by his wife Pat, a concert pianist, and their offspring.
Last year, Frank attended the 70th anniversary celebrations for D-Day in France, where he says he was made to feel “very, very welcome” by the French people.
He is now looking forward to receiving his Legion d’honneur at an RAF concert in the Waterfront Hall to honour the Battle of Britain this December.