A LEDBURY pensioner and war veteran, who rides out with the Ledbury Hunt every Boxing Day, has an extra special reason to celebrate Christmas this year.

Ivor Stephens, aged 93, has been awarded the Legion d'honneur, the highest decoration France can offer, and one which was first established by Napoleon in 1802.

Mr Stephens has been given the rare award because the minesweeper he served on, ML 143, was in the fifth flotilla on D-Day - and the minesweepers were first into action, to help clear the way for the invasion fleet.

Modest Mr Stephens, declining to sing his own praises, said: "There is so much more that could said, about other people, besides me."

But former Naval Seaman, Mr Stephens, has given an account for posterity to the Royal British Legion, which is now to be found on the Legion's "D-Day Dozen" online archive.

Mr Stephens who was positioned off Omaha Beach on D-Day, said: "I was a gunner on a twin Oerlikon cannon. For the landings we were all on duty all the time and, being the gunner, I was on the upper deck. We were close to the shore the whole time so I could see quite a bit of it.

"The ML 143 was a small boat. We weren’t big enough for the Germans to want to shell us. The big ships were firing and shells were whizzing over the top of us, in both directions, not dropping on us, thank goodness."

Two or three days later, while on minesweeping duties off Cherbourg, he saw three ships strike mines in just nine minutes, and go down.

The letter announcing the award, from French Ambassador Sylvie Bermann, is no doubt that, because of his steadfast service on the minesweeper during D-Day, Mr Stephens is considered a hero by the Republic of France.

The letter states: "I have the pleasure of informing you that the President of the Republic has appointed you to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur. I offer you my warmest congratulations on this high honour in recognition of your acknowledged military engagement and your steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War."

The letter adds: "We must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth, to begin the Liberation of Europe by liberating France."

Mr Stephen's daughter, Helen Moss, of Much Marcle said: "I do think it's a shame it has taken so long, and many others should have got it too; but we are thrilled that his contribution has been recognised. It is lovely, and we are so proud of him.

"He did a terrible, dangerous job on D-Day. He really was in a dangerous position."

It has been a remarkable run up to Christmas for the Moss family.

His two youngest granddaughters, Beatrice aged 9 and Isabella, aged 6, were able to take the letter into Ashperton Primary and tell fellow pupils about their grandfather's remarkable honour.

His other grandchildren, Charlotte, aged 20 and Harriet, aged 18, have posted the good news on Facebook, to widespread goodwill and acclaim.

Mr Stephens is a keen hunter, and a recent post about the award on the Countryside Alliance website attracted almost 5,000 "likes".

Mrs Moss said: "He is phenomenal and still goes out every Boxing Day with the Ledbury Hunt. It's very likely he will be out again this Boxing Day."

And when Mr Stephens had to travel to Bromsgrove, recently to have the ribbon fitted for the medal, he insisted on driving himself, independent as always.