A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER who helped with the top secret D-Day preparations during the Second World War has been granted France’s highest military honour.

Dedham resident Marjorie West has received the Chevalier in the Legion d’Honneur for her part in the successful liberation of France by British and American troops in 1944.

Although women were not permitted to fight, the 98-year-old signed up to the Women’s Royal Naval Service, known as Wrens, after her husband Ted Graysmark was killed whilst serving in the RAF, aged just 21.

The couple had only married six weeks earlier, spending just a few days together as a married couple before he was posted to Malta.

Mrs West said: “My technical skills as a teleprinter operator for the General Post Office were needed in communications, and I was posted to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, known as SHAEF, which was located at Southwick House near Portsmouth.”


SHAEF was led by the famous General Eisenhower and amongst its achievements was helping prepare the final plan for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy.

Mrs West said: “Southwick House was under security lockdown, so we lived and worked in the fenced site, other than occasional outings under armed guard.

“Operation Overlord saw a huge build-up of troops and ships in Portsmouth harbour before their sailing for the Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“We prayed for their safety and their success, and, of course, many died that day.”


Once Normandy was sufficiently safe, Mrs West and the rest of SHAEF moved their operations to France.

She said: “Once Paris was liberated, the Palace of Versailles was commandeered for SHAEF, and I was billeted in Lascelles St Cloud in a former nunnery, rebranded by us cheeky Wrens as a wrennery, while working in Versailles.”


It was during her time in France Mrs West met the “handsome RAF radio operator” called Victor who went on to become her husband.

They continued corresponding when both went their separate ways due to the war effort, to Belgium and Poland, and after the war were married for more than 50 years.

Mrs West now lives in Dedham with son, Colin, and his wife, Lyn, and she also has a daughter Christine, who lives near Dover.

She was presented with the Legion d’Honneur during a special ceremony at her home which was attended by a French Attaché and Colchester mayor Nick Cope.

Mrs West said: “I view it as continued recognition and thanks from the people of France for all those who fought and served to achieve liberation of France.

“It was a huge commitment by so many people, and I am one of a reducing number who can represent those who served, those who died.

“We are the end of a generation; we can attest the horrors of war.

“I played a small part in this great enterprise which thank goodness was successful at the time and subsequently has led to 75 years of peace in western Europe.”

She added: “We were as one with France in 1944 and 1945, we remain as one in maintaining this peace for future generations.”