Neil Stewart survived the Second World War against all odds as a tank crew member.
He is now being recognized by the French consul general for his service.
Born in Edmonton in 1923, Stewart went overseas to fight in the war at 18 years old.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Stewart’s tank landed on Juno Beach in the midst of heavy fighting. Near the end of June, his tank was involved in an attack on the Carpiquet Airport and the tank was knocked out. Stewart, now 91, was one of only three survivors who made their way back to Brigade headquarters for reassignment.
In July 1944, another one of Stewart’s tanks was destroyed in the battle of Falaise. He was only one of two to survive.
Early 1945, Stewart and his crew lost seven tanks in Germany at the crossing of the Kusten Canal. He was the only survivor and was back with the Regiment in a new tank on April 20.
After three destructions and three unlikely survivals along with the resilience to keep fighting and serving his country throughout the rest of the war, Stewart is now being honoured with an award from the French government 70 years after the end of the Second World War.
“This is France’s most prestigious award,” said Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon upon presenting Stewart with the French Légion d’Honneur on behalf of the French consul general. “And until recently, had only been awarded to about two dozen Canadians.”
Stewart’s son Sandy, 53, was one of Stewart’s family members present at the ceremony.
“My dad really felt that he should be accepting it for the guys who didn’t come home,” said Sandy. “He felt a little funny to be picked out and recognized.”
However, Sandy said he sees why his dad is so deserving.
“Who better to receive something like this than Dad?” he said. “The Americans say that the life time expectancy of a tank crew is six weeks.”
Stewart is proof that this is not always the case as he accepted his prestigious award at Government House in Victoria.
Stewart and his wife Sheila retired to Victoria in 1991.