Remembrance Day: Clayhall veteran reminisces
PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 November 2019
Armistice Day brings back some very poignant memories for 94-year-old Len Brace, a veteran British Army driver from Clayhall.
He reminisced with the Recorder about his time dodging bullets as they whipped around his Ford Jeep during the Normandy landings.
It was the height of the Blitz when the 18-year-old first got the call from his home in bomb-battered Ilford.
After training in Scotland as a British Army driver, he made the journey from Tilbury across the Channel together with thousands of lines of boats, part of the largest sea-borne invasion in history.
"There were war ships firing behind us, we were hastily told to make our wills out on scraps of paper, it was terrifying.
"As we approached the shore, we just saw burning."
His regiment, the 11 Air Formation Regiment, arrived about five o'clock that afternoon on Gold beach and had to get to a place called Villers-Le-Sec, which was to be home for the next 10 weeks until they broke out of Normandy.
They arrived at the beach to see chaos - exploding shells, bodies and burning vehicles. "It wasn't like a day at Southend!"
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"When I think about it now, and when I see it on the TV, I just can't believe I was really there among them." he explained in disbelief.
Len recalls a hairy moment his jeep went up in flames, giving him just a few seconds to abandon it.
"I was on my way to help set up airstrips, so that planes could be re-fuelled and re-armed without having to fly back to Britain, when the jeep turned over and the petrol ignited."
Miraculously, he escaped from the wreckage unscathed with little more than a bit of a shock.
As the convoy moved inland, they pitched camp wherever they could, sleeping in barns and monasteries and surviving off their tinned Spam.
"There was eight of us sleeping in the hay, one was good at cooking and another good at building and eight weeks later it was a hotel!
"And we made life-long friends."
After four years in the army, Len returned and worked as a stockman at Ford in Dagenham with his wife and seven children.
Now, aged 94, with 18 grandchildren and eight grandchildren he still owns a car and enjoys an occasional spin, although he admits: "It doesn't get many miles on it!"