Former Brentwood School pupil and teacher Dennis Anderson has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Government in recognition of his role in the Normandy landings in 1944, when he was badly wounded.
Dennis, now 95, was formally admitted as a Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur at a ceremony at Yorkshire Air museum, York on February 21st. Mr. M.J.Burton, Consul Honoraire de France, presented him with his decoration. For Dennis, this was “a truly moving occasion for me as many of my fellow pilots never returned. I feel therefore the award is also for them.”
The citation included the following:
‘Dennis Anderson landed in Normandy in June and fought through the Bocage countryside with the 7th Armoured and Lorried Infantry Division. He fought through the villages south of Caen in day and night operations for the next seven weeks. During Operation Goodwood, he was wounded by a mortar bomb near the village of Jurques and had to be repatriated to the U.K.”
With metal embedded in his side, Captain Anderson was operated on in a Canadian army field hospital. Strapped down in a landing craft for several hours, he endured a “truly terrifying” channel crossing.
After two weeks in hospital in Bradford, he began training as an Army glider pilot, joining the Glider Pilot Regiment. He flew the large Horsa glider, with a wingspan as great as the towing Halifax bomber. “I just missed the Arnhem operation as I had not finished my training. This turned out fortunate for me but so sad for many others. Many of my wartime memories remain very painful.” He was demobbed in 1946 after six and a half years’ military service.
Dennis entered Brentwood Prep in 1927, enjoying initially the “austere reign of Miss Elsey and Miss Haynes. The former was a somewhat terrifying soul. If you put a foot wrong, she would bear down on you. You could receive a very painful cut across the knuckles with a ruler. Despite the strict regime, I did quite well and collected two art prizes and some certificates before entering the main school. My first two years went very well but then I faded away, was a general nuisance to staff and was regularly beaten by Headmaster Jimmy Hough.
“Domestic difficulties at home helped to make my school career undistinguished. When I became a schoolmaster many years later, this helped me to realise there are so many reasons why some pupils underperform and why some excel in their studies.”
Brother Norman (1930-35) did well under Dr. Brice as an organ scholar. He died some years ago but younger brother Colin (1932-39) is still living in Canada. Dennis left school in 1937. After two and a half years of chartered accountancy articles, World War Two broke out.
“I wanted to fly but in the early days of the conflict, a shortage of aircraft limited recruitment, so I joined the Scots Guards.” He was recommended for a commission and was posted to the Queen’s Royal Regiment.
He visited Brentwood School during a period of leave and encountered Jimmy Hough. “seeing me in my officer’s uniform, he exclaimed: ‘Ho, ho, young Anderson. I see you have achieved something at last.’”
In order to teach, Dennis spent three years training at Trent College, Hertfordshire. After graduating around 1950, he obtained a post at Brentwood Prep where he remained for five years. His other duties included heading up the RAF section in Brentwood’s senior school. He managed to obtain a glider which was used to train cadets on the school’s fields----not always without the odd hitch.
In 1955, Dennis, his wife Margaret and son David emigrated to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). For three years he taught at a primary school in the Matopos area, south of Bulawayo. He was appointed to headships in Gweru and Hwange, very close to the Victoria Falls.
He made contact with Old Brentwoods Jim Shoubridge, Secretary of the Hwange Colliery, Tom Walmsley, an Inspector of Schools, and Harold Pitwood, who headed the other primary school in Hwange.
The Andersons left Rhodesia before the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. “We managed to get all our furniture, household goods and money out of the country.”
Back in the UK, Dennis taught at Didcot Primary School, Berkshire before becoming head of Longworth School, Oxfordshire, from where he retired in 1980. “I did my best to make the schools of which I was head aspire to the very best standards. I paid particular attention to manners and learning----shades of Brentwood School---and caring for one another.”
Margaret Anderson died in 1984. Two years later he married Christina. The couple moved to Hovingham in North Yorkshire but Dennis was widowed again a few years ago. An accomplished water colour artist, he has made several trips in recent years to photograph wildlife in southern Africa.
In 2015, Frank Morrell (1933-38) was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur. As a Fleet Air Arm Officer, he had been in charge of VHF communications on Sword Beach, at the start of the Normandy invasion.