At Cattistock, they were told they would be re-equipped and would be going back to France. However it was clear to Len that they were not ready.
At this stage Len was involved in a game of deception with the Germans. They used many vehicles and were moved around regularly across the South coast to fool the Germans into thinking that there was a lot of military activity and that the British forces were stronger than they actually were. In reality much of their equipment had been left at Dunkirk and the Germans could have just walked in.
The enemy initially sent over spotter planes, which were left alone, the British wanting them to take photos of the apparent military activity. Len witnessed one of these spotter planes when he drove along coastal roads from Margate to Beachy Head in a convoy of military vehicles. They travelled along the East coast and as far down as Weymouth along the South coast. This game was mainly played during daylight hours. The vehicles headlights were directed to the ground with special covers for night time driving.
Eventually America came into the war and Len was taught to drive troop carrying DUKW amphibious vehicles. They were easy to turn over if the driver didn’t ‘ride the waves’. They did some of their DUKW training at Towyn on the coast of Wales (the Welsh coast was chosen because the Irish Sea was known to be difficult). Len enjoyed much of this training it was certainly a change from the previous experiences.
Early 1944 – serious training
Len continued training in the Hampshire Regiment and was sent to the town of Thorne, South Yorkshire, a few miles North of Doncaster. He had many of his teeth removed while training near Thorne, something he regretted later in life.
They continued training with Bren Gun Carriers and other small armoured vehicles, driving up and over the huge coal stacks, left around the coal mines in the area.
As a result of driver in-experience some BG Carriers flipped over as they went over the top of the coal stacks and came down the other side, however Len had previous experience with the vehicle and knew how to control it down a steep slope. He used the engine as a brake on the way down, so that he maintained control. There were a number of casualties, however Len is not sure whether there were fatalities, as these vehicles were open topped and heavy, it is likely that there were. Len was picked out for his driving skills, which allowed him to drive any vehicle with the exception of a tank and he re-joined the 5th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Len never wanted to drive a tank, because he feared being trapped, this fear of being in an enclosed space and being trapped would haunt him later in life.
D Day preparations
Preparations for D Day were proceeding and Len was sent to Southend, Leigh On Sea, to wait for the command to go over to Normandy. The Canadian forces were also at Leigh On Sea, whilst there they were got up one morning at about 5 AM, thinking it was another training session or manoeuvre, they got their vehicles ready to set off and were sent to Tilbury Docks. They drove their vehicles on to a big landing craft, at this stage they thought that they were being sent to Normandy, however they didn’t initially get that far.
The landing craft anchored about 2 miles off Southend Pier, where they remained for 3 days and 2 nights. Len felt vulnerable to German bomber attack while the craft was anchored. He believed they took them out in the craft, 2 miles off the coast so as to stop them getting off whilst they waited for the order to go to Normandy. The Canadians had already been told and were probably better informed of what was about to happen. Len was more concerned that Luftwaffe Stuka dive bombers would come and bomb them, this was probably due to his experiences at Dunkirk.
Whilst he was anchored at Southend, the Normandy invasion had already started. D+1 on 7th June and D+2 on 8th June were successful and the allies had a foothold in France. Len and his mates thought they would be going on D Day, mainly because of their experience and skills. But they didn’t realise just how big the preparations had been and on D Day specially designed armoured vehicles were used to penetrate the German defences.
The beaches were being cleared of mines by ‘flail’ tanks fitted with chains that span in front of the tank, exploding the mines ready for Len and his lightly armed unit to follow up, days later.