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Posted by: Lizzie Gurr, on 23/03/2015

A war time story with resident Les Williams

As part of Remembrance Day we have been listening to our residents stories about the war, these conversations are fascinating and we're privileged to spend time with such remarkable people.

Les Williams, resident at Woodlands Care Home in Crowborough shares his story:

“I joined the Territorial Army (TA) in 1938 whilst still at school. When World War 2 broke out I wanted to serve so I told them I was 18 even though I was only 17. I was in a summer camp with the TA in Folkestone when the news came through that the war had started.  

During the war I started as a Lance Corporal and soon became a tank driver, then I graduated to the reconnaissance troop where I eventually obtained the rank of Sargent Major, bossing just under 200 soldiers. I served in North Africa, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Italy and North Europe. I had an armoured car unit and then a tank regiment. I was the commander of the tank and would direct the crew where to go and where to shoot.

I was badly burnt on my face whilst serving in Iraq and had to go to a specialist burns hospital in Lebanon – burns treatment was just becoming available. I was very fortunate to retain my sight but my face was sore and even to this day I have no hair on my eyebrows. The tanks tracks were blown up in this attack and we had to get out of the vehicle quickly. The worst place I went to was Iraq, it was very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer which made the job hard.

Eventually having taken Sicily we reached the river Sangro in north east Italy and were pulled back into Egypt and eventually shipped back to England. I took part in a second front with the invasion of Europe. While there I helped teach the Americans how to employ armoured air support. This is when you’d be advancing as a regiment and you’d come across buildings and other tanks. Support such as typhoon fighter bombers would come and destroy these obstacles. This was a tough job and we experienced some of the coldest weather, it didn’t help that our clothing wasn’t suitable for these cold conditions in the Ardennes in Belgium.

After the war I had a job to find suitable work, no one was interested and I became disappointed. I was fortunate to land a job on the railways as a revenue accountant and from there I gravitated to being the hotels executive. I travelled around the UK auditing all the hotel’s books, those were the days when the railways owned hotels. Word used to get around that I was coming and they’d say “watch the books!”

It was during this time I was able to make up the lost years with my love of sport including; rubgy, rowing, boxing and cricket. I lived my life for sport and for my wife.

I seemed to have led a life of responsibility from becoming captain at school, captian of cricket, right through to commander in the army and my responsible career.”


Added on 12/11/18 by Julia Styles

Dear Les,

What an amazing life you share with us, and I'm sure there's so much more. You should be so proud of what you have achieved through your own determination and responsibility.

My son Max is 10 years old, and he is very respectful and interested in all sorts of people. He is a gentleman just like yourself.

Something funny from my side. When my dad was a boy being raised in East Grinstead. During WW2 a 1 tonne bomb landed at the bottom of the garden. However, it landed in the cesspool and failed to explode. The street was evacuated. The bomb disposal unit disarmed it, and now it is in The Imperial War Museum in London. My dad always got a laugh from friends saying 'shit' literally saved his life. Oh, and he had a very contagious laugh.

It's been lovely reading your personal story, and I hope to hear much more.

On Monday mornings I help Beverly with the Artytime sessions at Woodlands. The 'Young at Heart'(young children come in to play) runs from 10.30 until 11.45. We sometimes sing, paint and draw or just chat. You can all decide for yourselves what you would like to do, or if you prefer to watch that's also fine.

With kind regards

Julia Styles

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