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One of last French D-Day soldiers dies aged 95

Jean Masson was one the 177 French soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches in June 1944 as part of the legendary Kieffer Commando
Jean Masson was one the 177 French soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches in June 1944 as part of the legendary Kieffer Commando AFP/File

France has announced the death of one the few surviving members of the legendary unit of French resistance soldiers who fought alongside American and British troops on the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

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Jean Masson died on Saturday at the age of 95.

His death means there are now only three surviving members of the original First French Marine Rifles Battalion led by the Free French commander Philippe Kieffer are still alive, according to the D-Day Overlord website.

Monument en hommage au commando Kieffer, l'un des premiers à poser le pied sur le sol français, lors du débarquement en Normandie le 6 juin 1944.
Monument en hommage au commando Kieffer, l'un des premiers à poser le pied sur le sol français, lors du débarquement en Normandie le 6 juin 1944. (Photo : AFP)

Masson left France when World War II began and he was imprisoned for a time in Spain before being able to reach England.

After joining the Free French recruits for training in Scotland, the Kieffer Commando unit stormed the Sword Beach sector at Colleville-sur-Orne, where Masson was seriously injured by a mortar shell.

He later returned to keep fighting in the Netherlands and into Germany.

He told French television in an interview that he had to swim while holding his rifle out of the water at one point.

The 177 commando members were the first French uniformed troops to set foot on French soil after Paris capitulated to Germany in June 1940.

Yet they were only granted France's highest award, the Legion of Honour, 60 years later in 2004.

General Charles De Gaulle had long considered them a British unit.

Historians have suggested De Gaulle may have been miffed at being largely excluded from D-Day plannings by British and American military leaders.

"In tribute to this brave soldier. My condolences to his family and relatives," secretary of state for the armed forces Genevieve Darrieussecq said on Twitter.

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