As you help to send Norfolk’s veterans on poignant return to Normandy, one Norwich man tells his story
12:51 01 November 2012
A campaign to raise £20,000 to send Norfolk’s Normandy Veteran’s back to France to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day is a third of the way towards meeting it’s target. Today, Stacia Briggs speaks to Norwich veteran Len Fox about the Longest Day.
In a simply-bound pamphlet filled with battered photographs that tell a thousand stories of their own, Len Fox has written the incredible account of his war.
Len is one of Norfolk’s D-Day heroes, a man who witnessed the horror of the Longest Day and who saw comrades pay the ultimate price for our freedom, but whose humility is typical of the Normandy veterans who survived to tell their stories.
After leaving school in 1938, Len was working at Roberts’ shoe factory in Fisher’s Lane, Norwich, when war was declared.
He volunteered as a fire-watcher on the factory roof “armed with a stirrup pump and some buckets of water, waiting for the incendiary bombs to fall” before joining his friend Cecil Mann to work on an aerodrome being built for the American Air Force.
Aged 16, he volunteered for the Home Guard, based at the Drill Hall on the old Cattle Market site in Norwich, and would patrol Mousehold Heath at night “to look out for German paratroopers and secret agents.
Len’s army papers arrived on July 1 1943 – he was 18. After training in Blackpool, he was sent to Hereford for unit selection and later posted to Basingstoke on a Royal Army Service Corp course, where he was taught to drive and became a dispatch rider.
On June 5 1944, Len and his friends were issued with life jackets, live ammunition, 24-hour rations, French currency and “a small book on how to get on with the French population”
He added: “We were all amazed when we were given some condoms, but disappointed when told they were to put over the spouts of our rifles and sten guns to stop the sea water getting in! Our platoon officers checked our AB64s – a soldier’s ‘bible’ with details of innoculations, postings etc – to make sure we had made our wills and all details were up to date. This really made us think.”
Woken early, Len joined a convoy to Tilbury Docks in London where he joined the American Liberty ships and was issued with seasickness pills.
“Information then came over the tannoy informing us we would be landing in Arromanches in Normandy, Gold Beach, and not to Calais as we all thought,” he said. “On the way over we were all sick due to the rough sea. On arrival the next morning we were offered breakfast by the ship’s crew but none of us could eat as we looked at the most awesome sight and sound imaginable.
“Warships, troopships, barges, landing-craft, inshore rocket craft, planes overhead, barrage balloons, all hell being let loose, the noise nearly bursting my ear drums.
“As a 19-year-old it was the nearest thing to hell and that’s where I thought I was.
“The big warships out to sea were pounding targets further inland with heavy shells which sounded like an express train going through a station and a continuous line of barges and landing craft were making for the beach, some of them catching their hulls on underwater obstacles and blowing up. It was very scary.”
At 18.00, the lorries from the ship were winched on to a Rhino barge and Len climbed down a rope ladder. Soaked to the skin, he watched as the ramps on the barge were lowered and the trucks drove on to the French beach.
“Mines were exploding everywhere and one of our trucks was blown up, killing one of the lads from our platoon. While all this was going on, Jerry was ‘stonking’ the beach with mortar and artillery fire,” he said.
“I remember seeing bodies, parts of bodies, arms and legs and so forth, floating on the sea and on the beach. It was the first time I had seen a dead man and I felt quite sick. I can recall seeing a Jerry helmet with part of a head in it.”
For much more on this story see today’s EDP. To contribute to the appeal click on the D-Day Norfolk’s Last Battle icon on the right-hand side of the website.