The son of a British D-Day veteran has been ordered to appear before a French judge. Why? Because he asked ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy to recover his father’s “stolen” medals.
Tony Berridge, 68, from Oxford has been instructed to travel to Paris in March to be “placed under formal investigation” for making “false” allegations against a woman who tricked him into handing over his dead father’s medals nine years ago.
Four years after the medals were returned – partly thanks to President Sarkozy’s intervention – Mr Berridge faces another legal struggle thanks to the delusions of a woman who claims to be the only true guardian of Pegasus Bridge, one of the most revered sites of the Normandy beachheads.
For two decades, Françoise Gondrée-Anquetil, 70, has pursued a legal claim – three times dismissed by French courts – to own exclusive rights to all memorabilia and sites connected with the British airborne landings of 6 June 1944. Her one-woman association claims that its patron is Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who died in 1976.
In pictures: D-Day 70th anniversary
In pictures: D-Day 70th anniversary
1/41 D-Day anniversary
British World War II veteran Frederick Glover stands as soldiers parachute down during a D-Day commemoration paratroopers launch event in Ranville, northern France
2/41 D-Day anniversary
D-Day veterans (L-R) Wally Beale (90), Doug Lakey (94), Bernie Howell (89), Bob Conway (88), George French (88), Gordon Smith (90), and Albert Williams (96), from the Royal Wootton Bassett Normandy Veterans Association share a joke during a group photograph on sword Beach after the Royal Artillery Commemoration Parade and service in Hermanville, France
3/41 D-Day anniversary
French Prime minister Manuel Valls (L), British Prime Minister David Cameron (C) and his wife Samantha Cameron (R) at the D-Day commemoration ceremony at the Cathedral in Bayeux, Normandy
4/41 D-Day anniversary
Prince Charles reacts as he watches teams of French, US, Canadian and British paratroopers jumping from aeroplanes during a D-Day commemoration in Ranville, northern France
5/41 D-Day anniversary
D-Day veteran Bill Price (99) who celebrates his 100th birthday on 24 July stands on Gold Beach for well wishers after the last ever flag raising ceremony by the Surrey Normandy Veterans Association in Arromanches Les Bains, France
6/41 D-Day anniversary
Veteran Frederick Carrier (89) who served in the 1st Engineer Special Brigade of the U.S. Army and landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, prays for the 171 men of his unit who died at a monument to them at Utah Beach, France
7/41 D-Day anniversary
D-Day veteran Jack Hamlin (93) who served in Rescue Flotilla Number One of the U.S. Coast Guard, took part in the invasion landing at Omaha Beach and is from Springfield, Missouri, attends the U.S. D-Day Ceremony at Utah Beach, France
8/41 D-Day anniversary
A D-Day re-enactment enthusiast wears the American flag at a re-enactment camp near Utah Beach in Sainte Marie du Mont, France
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British World War II veteran Jock Hutton (89), poses following his landing after he and teams of French, US, Canadian and British paratroopers jumped from aeroplanes during a D-Day commemoration in Ranville, northern France
10/41 D-Day anniversary
The Red Arrows display team perform over Southsea Common at the end of a commemoration service of the D-Day landings in Portsmouth, England
11/41 D-Day anniversary
Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (3L) are welcomed by French President Francois Hollande (2L) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius (R) at the Elysee Presidential Palace as part of a bilateral meeting during an Official visit in Paris ahead of the 70th Anniversary Of The D-Day in Paris, France
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The RAF's Red Arrows perform over Southsea Common in Hampshire, to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
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A French man dressed in vintage military clothing drives an old American military jeep on the beachside in Arromanches-les-Bains, northern France
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Czech citizens Gallomichal Seznam and Zdznek Barchaler, dressed in old vintage military uniforms, walk on the beach in Arromanches-les-Bains, northern France
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British Marines and their Dutch counterparts demonstrate a beach assault near Southsea Common in Hampshire to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
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WW2 veteran Fred Holborn, from the Fleet Air Arm, salutes as he looks at British Legion Union flags carrying thank you messages planted in the sand on Gold beach near Asnelles, France. 20,000 paper flags are being planted. Each one carries a personal message of Remembrance submitted by Royal British Legion supporters
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A paratrooper lands on Sword Beach near international flags during a D-Day celebration rehearsal in Ouistreham, on the Normandy coast
18/41 D-Day anniversary
Helen Patton, granddaughter of General Patton, is parachuted during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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French 1st RCP paratrooper carrying US flag is seen over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France
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A Spitfire (R) and an "Eurfighter" both painted with invasion stripes fly over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France
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Queen Elizabeth II arrives at the Gare du Nord during an Official visit in Paris ahead of the 70th Anniversary Of The D-Day in Paris, France
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The Prince of Wales meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge (Also known as the Benouville Bridge - The taking of the Bridge was an important strategic victory) during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
24/41 D-Day anniversary
A US WWII veteran stands in front of US flags during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
25/41 D-Day anniversary
US veteran Edward Oleksak looks on during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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World War II Allied members Canada's, United States', France's, and United Kingdom's flag hanging in Ouistreham, western France
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British and Canadian flags laid at a military cemetery in Ranville, northwestern France
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A British soldier pays his respects as he visits a military cemetery in Ranville, northwestern France
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A visitor examines a gravestone at the German Cemetery where approximately 21,000 German World War II soldiers are buried at La Cambe, France
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Normany veteran 90-year-old Geoff Pattinson sits at his home in London, England. On D-Day he set out in one of three gliders that were meant to crash land at the Merville battery and the troops were tasked with taking out the long range guns. However during the flight to France the tow rope snapped and the glider was forced to land in England. He flew again later that day and was a few weeks later was wounded in Normandy by a German machine gun. Asked what his most vivid memory of D-Day was he replied: 'Most of us thought we had landed in France. When we got out though, low and behold we were still in England and that was the anti-climax of my life. I couldn't believe we had missed our target and I couldn't believe we had landed in England'
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Normandy veteran 92-year-old Vera Hay stands outside the Grange Hotel in Grange over Sands in Cumbria, England. Vera, who was in the Queen Alexandras Royal Army Nursing Corps one of the first nurses to land at Normandy shortly after D-Day. Vera, who was a Junior Sister, then travelled 10 miles to the Chateau de Beaussy and took care of up to 200 injured soldiers a day. Asked what her most vivid memory of D-Day was she replied: 'The need of the casualties both our own troops and the German prisoners of war. They all were patients to us. They needed rehydration, rest, morphine to keep the comfortable and we were using the new penicillin'
32/41 D-Day anniversary
British World War II veteran Harry Humphreys (92) from the 4th Royal Dragoon Guard, reacts after his visit at Bayeux's war cemetery, while an old allied military vehicle passes by, in northern France
33/41 D-Day anniversary
Lewis Trinder formerly of the Royal Navy poses for photographs as he walks through Arromanches in Normandy, France
34/41 D-Day anniversary
Soldiers travelling on a vintage jeep cross Pegasus Bridge (also known as the Benouville Bridge) during D-Day Commemoration in Ranville, France
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Pipers march past Cafe Gondree, the Pegasus Bridge Cafe, the first house in France to be liberated during the last hour of 5 June 1944, during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
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British soldiers stand next to their weapons placed on the ground, in front of Bayeux's war cemetery, northern France
37/41 D-Day anniversary
Italian and British military enthusiasts watch from Utah beach as Dakota aircraft flypast near Saint Marie du Mont, France
38/41 D-Day anniversary
World War II veteran Charles Alford of the 6th Armor Division, from Waco, Texas, climbs the stairs with his son David on Omaha Beach where he landed as part of the invasion of Normandy in Vierville-Sur-Mer, France
39/41 D-Day anniversary
British World War II veteran reacts as he visits the war cemetery of Ranville, northwestern France
40/41 D-Day anniversary
Paul Clifford (70) from Boston stands after placing flowers on the grave of Walter J. Gunther Jr, the uncle of his best friend, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in Colleville sur Mer, France
41/41 D-Day anniversary
Harry Grew (92) who was in the Royal Navy, gets fussed by the Candy Girls, (R) Elkie Jeffery (L) Freyja Sculpher and Debbie Watt on board the Brittany cross channel ferry Normandie, travelliing from Portsmouth to Caen in Portsmouth, England
Her website used to carry a photograph of her standing jovially beside Prince Charles on the day that a fine British, French and European-funded museum was inaugurated at Pegasus Bridge in 2000.
The picture was a fake. Ms Gondrée-Anquetil had been substituted in – in elegant coat and hat – for one of the Prince’s actual companions that day, Alain Richard, who was French defence minister at the time.
In 2006, the website and the fake image misled Mr Berridge into handing Ms Gondrée-Anquetil the six campaign medals earned by his father, Sergeant Wilfred Berridge, one of the British soldiers who captured the bridge in the early hours of 6 June 1944.
When he discovered that the medals had never reached the museum, he made repeated approaches to Ms Gondrée-Anquetil and the French authorities.
Nothing happened until Mr Berridge wrote to Mr Sarkozy in 2010, telling the tale of the captive medals. The then President demanded action. The following year, the medals were returned by Ms Gondrée-Anquetil’s lawyer. Mr Berridge handed them straight to the Memorial Pegasus museum – where they are proudly displayed to this day.
He thought that was the end of the affair. A few days ago, Mr Berridge – who is recovering from a heart operation – received official letters in French and English from an investigating judge at the Palace of Justice in Paris.
The letter from judge Marion Potier summoned him to appear before her on 5 March and warned that she was “contemplating” placing him under formal investigation for having made “fully or partly” false claims against Ms Gondrée-Anquetil in his letter to Mr Sarkozy in 2010.
The letter told Mr Berridge that Ms Gondrée-Anquetil was seeking “damages” and advised him to seek a French lawyer.
“I was shocked, flabbergasted,” Mr Berridge told The Independent. “I thought I had seen the back of this woman. And then this! All her claims about Pegasus Bridge have always been dismissed. She put that fake picture on her website which misled me into giving her my dad’s medals. And now the French legal system is after me?”
Mr Berridge has been advised that, in the long term, he has little to worry about. Under the French justice system, an investigative judge is obliged to open a formal inquiry when a complaint of this kind is made. The case is likely to be dropped once the judge hears all the evidence on both sides.
The Airborne Assault Normandy Trust, which keeps alive the memory of British paratroopers and glider troops on D-Day, has offered to help.
So has the mayor of a French commune, near Pegasus Bridge, who runs a Franco-British association to preserve another of the cherished D-Day sites, the Merville gun battery. The association has hired a Paris lawyer to represent Mr Berridge, at its own expense.
Mr Berridge faces an awkward decision, however, on whether he should go to the cost and trouble of attending the hearing in Paris in March. If he fails to do so, he is unlikely to be extradited but his absence may be held against him.
Lieutenant Colonel Alan Edwards, chairman of the Airborne Assault Normandy Trust, told The Independent: “It is extraordinary that this woman, whose claims have been shown to be baseless, should be so vindictive as to make a legal complaint against Tony Berridge. He was the victim in this affair, not her.”
Why, then, is the French judicial system taking her complaint seriously?
Olivier Paz is the mayor of Merville-Franceville, a few miles from Pegasus Bridge. He is also chairman of the association which runs the site of the Merville battery, which was also stormed by British airborne troops in the early hours of D-Day.
“In the French judicial system, this judge is bound to open an investigation if she receives a direct complaint from this kind,” he said.
“I’m sure Ms Gondrée-Anquetil’s case will be dismissed. She also claims to own the site of our battery.
“Our association therefore thinks that it is important that we help Mr Berridge, who has already suffered enough.”
The first and true battle of Pegasus Bridge took just 10 minutes, soon after midnight on 6 June 1944. British glider-borne troops from the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, under Major John Howard, captured and held the bridge to allow reinforcements from the British beachheads to pass through the next day.
Mr Berridge’s father, Sergeant Wilfred Berridge, then aged 34, was part of a second wave of Ox and Bucks Light Infantry glider troops that landed near the bridge on the morning of 6 June 1944. He died in 1969.
Ms Gondrée-Anquetil’s lawyer, Charles Morel, told The Independent that she had made her complaint of “false accusation” in 2011. It was the fault of the slowness of the French justice system that Mr Berridge had only received his summons now. This appeared to be contradicted by the judge’s letter, which spoke of a complaint made in 2013.
Mr Morel said that his client insisted that she had always acted in “good faith”. Although her claims had been dismissed by courts until now, “we have other legal procedures which are still in course”, he said.
The Independent put it to Mr Morel that the legal harassment of the elderly son of a man who had helped to liberate France would cause extreme anger. “I hear you,” he said. “I hear you.”