Former soldier achieves lifetime wish of wearing ceremonial uniform ahead of 100th birthday
PUBLISHED: 12:23 01 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:27 01 April 2019
A former soldier who celebrates his 100th birthday this week has achieved his lifetime wish of wearing the red ceremonial dress of his old regiment, complete with bearskin hat.
Leonard Boxall, who lives at Linden Court in Watton, enlisted in 1939 before the start of the Second World War, signing up for 12 years. He said he chose the Grenadier Guards because he liked the red uniform and distinctive bearskin ceremonial hat, which date back to the 17th century.
Len spent seven years in active service and five years in the reserves. During his service he only ever got to wear fatigues but always wanted the opportunity to wear the ceremonial dress. He only recently spoke about this and said it was his last wish to be able to wear this uniform.
Ahead of his landmark birthday he finally got his wish, courtesy of Steve Hayes and Terry McLenahan of the Norfolk branch of the Regimental Association of The Grenadier Guards.
When he first enlisted, Len worked at Windsor Castle, where he remembers the Queen as a young girl. He served in France, Italy and Africa.
When the war started, he was sent to the front line and was captured in Italy two years before the war ended, spending the remainder of the conflict in a German Prisoner of War camp.
Len, who is originally from Ifield in West Sussex but moved to Norfolk to be near his daughter who lives in East Tuddenham, says that it was not all bad; he remembers learning to dance and said that he could not wait to get home and dance with his sweetheart Nora Abbott who eventually became his wife. They were married for 77 years, before she passed away in 2018.
While in Africa, Len’s unit was spotted by a German patrol and dug into shallow foxholes – a shell exploded and shrapnel went through his helmet into the side of his head. He remembers having a near death experience. He also remembers one time he was marching and happened to be the one to carry the radio battery. They were fired at and he heard a ricochet very close by. Later on when inspecting his kit he realised that the battery had been hit – another near miss.
Len will celebrate his 100th birthday on April 5 with a party at Linden Court followed by a family gathering on Saturday at Dereham Church Hall with his daughter Sue, granddaughters Debbie and Rachel and his great grandchildren: Jack, James, Luke, Joshua, Emily and Sarah.