A D-DAY veteran who helped ferry troops to the Normandy beaches and then evacuate the wounded has finally received a medal he feared he’d never get.

William Walker, 95, who lived in Basildon for much of his life and is now a resident of Springfields Nursing Home, near Colchester, received the Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military honour, at a special ceremony attended by French military representatives.

At the presentation Mr Walker was joined by former radar operator and Legion D’Honneur recipient Russell Spencer – who happens to be his brother-in-law.

Now both 95, the duo became friends as teenagers at a Sea Cadet group in east London.

They lost touch, but a chance meeting during a training exercise off the coast of New York led to them rekindling their friendship.

After the war, the two friends even went on to marry two sisters – Barbara and Rita.

After the war, Mr Walker went on to work in finance. He and wife Barbara were a big part of the creation of St Luke’s Hospice in Basildon, near where they lived.

Clare Moles, Mr Walker’s granddaughter, said: “It is such a lovely story. They married sisters and they are still great friends now. We are incredibly proud of them both.

“Grandad is an incredibly humble man and he would not just start talking about the war. But once you start him talking he has amazing stories.

“I am sure it means the world to him but he would not have pushed for the medal himself, that was down to his daughter-in-law. She took it on as her project.”

In fact, Mr Walker had to wait half a decade for his medal, despite watching his brother-in-law and another friend receive theirs.

Daughter-in-law Lynda Walker said: “He applied five years ago with Russell and another friend they served with. They both got theirs but he didn’t get his.

“This year was the 75th anniversary of landings and he said to me he did not think he was ever going to get it.

“So we wrote to our MP, Mark Francois. He got involved and managed to get it sorted.

“He rang us excited when it finally arrived. It means a lot to me to see him presented with it.”

The coveted Legion d’Honneur is generally reserved for French nationals. However, many brave British and American veterans have been given the honour for their service during the First and Second world wars.

Mr Walker’s distinguished military career began when he joined the Navy in 1943 at the age of 19.

He served on a Landing Ship Tank, or LST, for most of the Second World War including during the famous D-Day landings.

His unit picked up tanks, lorries and their crews before ferrying them to Juno beach for the landing operation on June 6, 1944.

Once the troops were on the shore, the boat began to evacuate casualties.

Mr Walker said: “We were one of the LSTs designated for this purpose and we had on passage a medical team led by a surgeon commander with 14 other Navy surgeons and 30 sick bay attendants. When the ambulances started arriving everyone who could be spared helped to unload the wounded.

“I was one of the four helmsmen given this job. I saw first hand the personal cost of war.”

By 3pm that day the ship had its full quota of more than 350 wounded soldiers on board and it headed for British waters.

Mr Walker’s LST was reloaded with troops and vehicles and back again it went to France.

He said: “The fighting was further inland now, field hospitals were established, so there were no wounded to evacuate. So after a rapid unloading we were on our way back home and so it went on.”

During the war Mr Walker and his colleagues visited the French coast 33 times, even delivering train carriages full of supplies.

When the conflict was over he served on HMS Fraserburgh, a minesweeping ship, until it was demobbed in 1946.

Mr Walker said he was delighted to finally receive the Legion d’Honneur.

He was presented with the medal by a delegation from France who were joined by Colchester mayor Nick Cope in paying tribute to his service.

“Some of the war you will never forget,” Mr Walker said.

“A day like this brings all the memories back. I am very proud to receive the medal.”