A D-Day sniper who was shot in the leg during the Normandy landings during the Second World War has been awarded the highest French decoration.
Lionel Ginger, 90, who was born at 88 High Street in Hemel Hempstead, was awarded the Legion D’Honneur order Chevalier, which is the highest honour bestowed on former military personnel by the French government.
Mr Ginger, who recently moved into the Water Mill House Care Home in Nash Mills, was called up to the army at the age of 18 and fought in the 6th Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
The young Lance Corporal was wounded at Normandy and returned to the battalion in Germany, where he served in the Royal Military Police until the end of the war, in places like Hamburg, Hannover and Braunschweig.
During the conflict, Mr Ginger returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart Winifred Floyd at St John’s Church in Boxmoor on May 1, 1943.
Mr Ginger said he had the opportunity to meet ‘a lot of important people’ during his time stationed in Germany.
He said: “I met Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton, but I didn’t know who she was until someone told me afterwards!
“I also escorted German heavyweight boxers Max Schmelling and Walter Neusel.
“I took Walter to the Hannover Stadium for an an exhibition, and I waited in the car outside. But he called me over and took me down to a ringside seat where I watched the whole match before I drove him back to the station.”
When the war was over, Mr Ginger returned home to his wife and enrolled on a hairdressing course before opening a barbers in Watford in 1953.
The salon, called Underhills, became very successful – partly thanks to the 1950s Teddy Boys, who according to Mr Ginger liked to have their hair ‘just so’.
He said: “They used to come in and get their hair done all big – the bigger the better – and they didn’t care what it cost them!”
In 1964, Mr Ginger decided it was time for a change so he, Winnie and their two children emigrated to Adelaide in Australia for a new life in the sun, where he found work as a prison officer.
Two-and-a half years later, after finding the climate too hot, the family returned home to Risedale Road in Hemel and Mr Ginger went about setting up another salon in Sheepcot Lane, Watford called Linfreds – which he ran with brother Fred. It enjoyed the same success at Underhills.
Mr Ginger, who moved to a bungalow in Belmont Road, Bennetts End, retired in 1985. Sadly, Winnie has since passed away. The Legion D’Honneur will join Mr Ginger’s collection of 13 other medals and one medallion.
He said: “It’s nice to have some recognition, 71 years later. I was only a young man of 18, like so many of us were.”
Mr Ginger’s niece, Sheila Stapleton, visits her uncle regularly.
She said: “I feel very proud of him – that medal is thoroughly deserved.”