Former Navy rating, 96, who helped plan D Day landings becomes first woman to get Legion d'Honneur from French ambassador

  • Marsie Taylor, from London, was given the medal for her efforts in the war
  • She worked 'extraordinary hours' to help plan the landings in June 1944
  • Mrs Taylor did the initial typing for the forces on Operation Overlord

A 96-year-old female WWII veteran who helped plan the D-Day landings has today become the first woman to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French ambassador.

Marsie Taylor, from London, was given France's highest distinction at a ceremony with 18 other war heroes at the French Ambassador's Residence in the capital.

She was working 'extraordinary hours' when doing all of the initial typing and working on the orders for Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy.

Her work was top secret and it was such an intense task because Mrs Taylor - who was working with two other Wren writers - had to type out orders for the Navy, Army and the Air Force.

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Marsie Taylor, 96, has become the first woman to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal after she helped plan the D-Day landings in 1944 

Marsie Taylor, 96, has become the first woman to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur medal after she helped plan the D-Day landings in 1944 

She described her time helping plan the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 as 'hard work' because the forces were 'always having to change things'.

Mrs Taylor originally worked as a Wren writer at Norfolk House in central London and then at Southwick House in Portsmouth, Hampshire. 

She had been Dwight Eisenhower's Staff at Southwick House and was present at the time of decision-making to delay D-Day by 24 hours due to weather conditions.

She said: 'At Norfolk House, they divided the place into floors, the Navy was on one floor and the Air Force was on another and the Army was on another floor.

Veteran Marsie Taylor (right), 96, was presented with her medal by French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann for her role in the liberation of France at a ceremony in London 

Veteran Marsie Taylor (right), 96, was presented with her medal by French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann for her role in the liberation of France at a ceremony in London 

'Actually, I was there working on operation orders for a few months before I knew that was I was working on, which was Operation Husky, was actually the invasion of Sicily.

'It was all so secret. Even I, who was working on it, didn't know where it was until I'd been there a few months. 

'Then after that was finished, the invasion of Sicily, we'd done the operation orders for that, after that I was transferred from the naval floor to the first floor which was COSSAC's headquarters. On the first floor. 

'COSSAC stands for, Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander Designate, because at that time Eisenhower had not been appointed.

'The COSSAC was General Sir Frederick Morgan and I was on his staff with two other Wrens, also Wren ratings, and 3 WAAFs, and 3 ATS.'

She added: 'We did all the initial typing and working on the operation orders for Overlord. 

'They were being changed all the time because these were the orders for the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. 

'Naturally, all the services, they were always having to change things. 

'That was really hard work. Up to the few months before D-Day we did extraordinary hours because they were running out of time. 

'We worked from say 6am to 12 noon, and then we were on duty again at 6pm until midnight. Then on duty at 6am again. That went on, I don't know how long we did that for, but it was just non-stop.'

She was working 'extraordinary hours' while doing all of the initial typing and working on the orders for Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy

She was working 'extraordinary hours' while doing all of the initial typing and working on the orders for Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy

Mrs Taylor, a rating in the Women's Royal Naval Service who helped plan the Normandy landings 72 years ago, said receiving the medal was a 'terrific honour'. 

And speaking about her award, she said, laughing: 'When I knew I'd got this award I thought "I must try and stay alive until then".

'And then the time got a bit nearer and I thought "I mustn't fall over or do anything awful".' 

She said it was 'most unexpected' to be the first woman awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French Ambassador.

Ambassador Sylvie Bermann, who appeared to well-up during the ceremony, said it was particularly special to award the medal to a woman.

She said: 'I'm very grateful to all of them, men and women of course, but since it was the first woman it was important for me, being also a woman. It's important they are recognised also.

'It's a very emotional thing, even if it's not the first time, each time it's very very moving because they are now more than 90 years old and I imagine them being less than 20 and fighting for the liberation of my country.'

Mrs Taylor, from London, worked from 6am to 12noon and then she was back on duty again from 6pm to midnight during the lead up to D-Day in June 1944

Mrs Taylor, from London, worked from 6am to 12noon and then she was back on duty again from 6pm to midnight during the lead up to D-Day in June 1944

The Legion d'Honneur recognises acts of the utmost bravery and was awarded to the Second World War veterans on Friday for the service they paid to France more than 70 years ago.

On the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 it was announced that all British veterans who fought in the liberation of France in the Second World War would be awarded with the distinction.

Since then, more than 3,500 medals have been awarded to veterans in the UK and another 1,000 are still to come.   

Sidney Downer, 94, from Hertfordshire, said receiving the award was 'superb' and that Britain's relationship with France was still very strong.   

The veterans received the Legion d'Honneur from the French ambassador, who congratulated them individually as she pinned the medals on their lapels.

Some appeared emotional as they received their award, but spirits improved as the veterans made the most of the champagne and canapes in the sun-filled garden of the French Residence.

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