In 1935 at the age of 14 Len left Cowplain School. He had little in the way of qualifications but loved the land and had worked a traditional allotment (a small patch of publicly owned land allocated to a family). After leaving school he stayed at home for a few days before getting a job on a farm in the Waterlooville area owned by the Watson family. He worked as a general hand, loading lorries and transporting goods to the market at Charlotte Street in Portsmouth.
Len played football for Cowplain School Old Boys Club. It consisted of the same members of the team he had played with at the school. The game was to become an important part of Lens life after the war, as he later continued playing the game in various teams.
His job at Watsons lasted two or three months until he got a job as a trainee driver with Waterloo Laundry, Waterlooville. His driving instructor was a Mr Bottle and he taught Len the long forgotten art of ‘double de-clutch’, a difficult method of changing gears that required accurate timing of the vehicle’s foot pedals. Having successfully mastered driving, Len later moved to a job with Empire Fruit Stores in Waterlooville and in 1937, at the age of 16, he tried starting his own gardening business.
In 1939 news circulated about war with Germany. The order came through that all ‘boys or lads’ from the age of 18 onwards would be formed into ‘Militia Boys’. Len was summoned, with a broken arm from a cycling accident, to have an army medical check in Portsmouth along with about 250 other young men. The examination took place, just 2 months before war broke out, on the 15th of July 1939. Despite the injury, the psychologist and 4 doctors conducting the tests graded Len as ‘A1’ and fit for service.
After the ‘medical’, Len and the other lads were given a lecture and told that they were to be Militia. They were then given passes for the trip home. A week later (his official call up date was 19th July 1939), Len received a letter ordering him to report to Winchester Barracks for the start of Militia training with the 3rd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. It was the first time he had moved away from Waterlooville. His friend saw him onto the train at Cosham and at Winchester he was met by the ‘Red Cap’ military police, who made sure the recruits got onto the lorries.
At the barracks they were fed and put through their paces. The sergeants used strong language, getting the recruits into shape. They were issued with Lee Enfield rifles that hadn’t changed since the previous war. One Sunday morning, whilst Len was sitting on a windowsill listening to the radio at Winchester Barracks, Prime Minister Chamberlain announced that war had been declared. Len and his friends thought it would all be over in six months.