Medal of honour for his wartime Morse code
AS DAWN rose on D-Day over the beaches of Nazi-occupied Normandy, decorated World War II veteran Harry Wadleigh manned a British Royal Navy operations room, sending vital Morse code messages during the Allies' landing.
Through his fingertips, the Royal Navy radio operator relayed battle-changing messages from spotters onshore, who braved gunfire to help him plot targets for the British bombardment ships.
"Those ships were anchored near to us, too near for our liking," Harry recalled.
It was the finest hour of the man who earlier in the war survived the U-boat sinking of a British naval vessel in the Atlantic.
"After the initial phase (of the D-Day landing), I had to take over control of the TBS (talk between ships) system in our sector," Harry said.
"This worked well but asking the top brass to keep their chatter short was often the hardest part."
The war would take him to some of the most dangerous stretches of ocean across the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific oceans.
The now 98-year-old Sawtell resident has again reflected on his war years after being awarded one of France's highest military decorations, the French Legion of Honour Medal.
Flanked by his son Rick, his grandson Joel and great-grandson Louie, Harry was recently presented with his decoration by the French Grand Chancellor at the war memorial in Sydney.
It was a special family moment for a man with a remarkable tale of war to tell.
For Harry, his six years of service started with eight months of Morse code training at signal school in Portsmouth.
"I was drafted to my first ship, which was a converted cargo-passenger ship to be a commodore convoy escort," he said.
This was a dangerous time in the Atlantic as British escort ships ran short, fishing trawlers began to be armed and the German U-boats ruled the seas.
"Then one stormy day our luck ran out through a torpedo," Harry said.
"I was lucky enough to be rescued. I lost many friends who bravely served on the Atlantic convoys trying to dodge the German U-boats."
As a survivor of that sinking, he was drafted to a combined headquarters ship that was converted for beach landings.
"Our first operation was in Sicily and then a hard one at Salerno," Harry said.
Here, troops were being landed under shellfire on September 3, 1943, during the Allies' amphibious landing on the Italian mainland.
From there the D-Day invasion on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, followed for Harry, and as the war focus shifted to the Japanese in the Pacific, eventually his final mission.
"My last draft was to accompany a LST (landing ship tanks)," he said.
"We sailed from the UK with a complement of Indian troops, Gurkhas and equipment to retake Singapore from the Japanese. We got as far as the Red Sea when the Japanese surrendered.
"We offloaded all troops in Bombay and then proceeded to Singapore, helping in the clearing up of all the mess.
"The LST could land on beaches as most of the ports in the area were wrecked.
"We finally reached home in England in March 1946. I was discharged as Royal Navy signals operator on September 1st, 1946."
After the war, Harry married Elizabeth Mills and the couple raised two children, now having four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Harry worked at Charter House College in London as a technical laboratory assistant before the family moved to Salisbury, in southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
Harry eventually retired to Australia and is living independently in a villa at Sawtell.
Today the wartime Morse coder has continued his mastery of communications, using Skype and email to stay in touch with family and friends.
After learning of his service, the Department of Veterans' Affairs organised flights, accommodation and a chauffeur-driven limousine to ensure Harry could be awarded his decoration of honour - 74years after he helped to turn the tide of the war off the shores of France.