Interview with Les Manning


Interview with Les Manning


Les Manning grew up in London and worked in a factory before he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He flew operations with 57 Squadron before being shot down over France. He spent three months living with supporters of the Resistance in a small French village and hiding from the Germans while he recovered from his injuries.



IBCC Digital Archive




Christina Brown


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00:51:15 audio recording






SB: Okay, so, let’s start off with a, a very brief introduction, for my own benefit, it’s, um, it’s the 2nd of April, 2015, and this is Sheila Bib speaking with Leonard Manning. [Pause] So, I understand from our talk yesterday, be it a brief one, you were born in Paddington -
LM: Yes
SB: But basically brought up in Walthamstow.
LM: Yeah, yeah.
SB: Okay, perhaps to start off then, could you just tell me a little bit about your family, and living in Walthamstow and life before the war?
LM: Um, we had [? unclear] pretty standard life, I mean w- there was nothing special the family [?] my dad was an engineer, and um, mum used to do odd jobs around, and I went to one of the local schools [pause] didn’t get very far there because I failed the eleven plus, and then didn’t get a chance to do any more because the war started and [pause] I went to school until I was fifteen but some of that was up in Norfolk ‘cause we were evacuated - in 1938 I think it was, just before the war - up to Windham in Norfolk, and we stayed up there, as a number of people did, while it was – they thought things were gonna happen and they didn’t so [laughing] we all came back, and then later on it started again so [laughing] we went back up to Norfolk and I stayed up there until we came back. After I left school and started working uh, at, at a wood woodwork factory. I was a wood machinist, all like wood turning [? Unclear] that sort of thing, until I was called up, and I was called up at seventeen and a half, and always having wanted to get into the RAF I joined the Air Cadets in 1938 - which was the Air Defence Cadet Core in those days, it changed after the RAF took it over it became the ATC, and then you had to belong to that if you wanted to be into Air Crew, so obviously I joined that, and, um, when we moved up to [pause] Windham in Norfolk I, I did work up there for a time in a woodworking factory, but I did start a squadron of the ATC up there, because they hadn’t got one, and we started that, and, as I say, we came back and I worked for a time until I, I was eventually called up, and, [laughing] they said, asked the usual questions ‘what would you like to do?’ and like all the other lads ‘I wanna be a fighter pilot’ [laughs]. So he said ‘well, if you want to be a fighter pilot we’ll send you home on two years deferred service and then we’ll call you up and send you to Canada’, so I said ‘I don’t want that’ [laughing] so he said ‘why not?’ I said ‘all my friends are gone, I’ve got no one around me at the moment so I want to go, what can I do?’ so they said ‘well if you volunteer for air gunner we’ll take you in in a fortnight’s time’ so, that’s what I did, idiot [laughs]. And, it went off there – couple a weeks’ time I was called up and sent to Regent’s Park, in the blocks of flats opposite the zoo, where we were kitted out, and did a lot of drill and inducted into the rules and regulations of the Air Force, and then having got that sorted out they then sent me up to Bridlington, which was initial training area, where we did lots [emphasis] more drill, lots more aircraft recognition, which we did all the way through – you never, never missed aircraft recognition [laughing] no matter what else you had, you always had that. And we did clay pigeon shooting on the beach up there which was quite something – the weekends all the locals used to come out and watch us and cheer and clap if we hit anything, if [emphasis] [laughs]. And they said one day ‘right, it w- today will be the day you’ll fire a machine gun’, so we said ‘ooh that’s a good’ – so they took us up onto Flamborough Head, and sitting up on the cliff was, um, a Browning machine gun on a tripod, pointing out to sea, and an amourer sitting there with a box of ammunition, and we lined up, and, as we- when it was our turn, the armourer gave us a, a belt of am- ammunition, five round [laughs], which we had to put into the breach – far in, ‘cause didn’t last a second did it [laughing] it was a real waste of space. And that was that, so, having got all the initial training over was then sent to [pause] Bridgenorth, which was elementary gunnery school, was there for six weeks, doing all the normal gunnery things and hydraulics and what have you, and then having finished the course there we sent to number one gunnery school, which was in Pembrey in South Wales, and, um – where we started flying, that was where we first started, and the pilots, who were piloting the planes for us, were all ex Battle of Britain [pause] pilots so that, that, they were a bit, bit lunatic [laughing]. They tried, I think they, they were trying to frighten the daylights out of us, which they did [laughs].
SB: What year was this?
LM: That, um, that would have been forty [pause] forty-three I think [pause] yeah. And we did all sorts of things there, dingy drill, firing machine guns into the see at, at targets and firing on drogues that were towed by aircraft [pause] and all the other stuff that air gunner had to do. And having passed out there, was another six weeks training, we got our wings and became sergeant straight away, and they sent us off to [pause] OTU, which was Operational Training Unit, which I think was Silverstone, where we flew Wellingtons. We picked up our crew there and it’s true what they say, they put us all in a hangar, mixed us all up, ‘sort your crew out yourself’ and you went, just went round them [laughing] it was, it was hit and miss really ‘cause you, you didn’t know them from Adam and yet you saying to somebody, you know, ‘do you want an air gunner’ or [laughs] ‘I want a pilot’ and that was it, and you picked your crew, and that was it, you stuck it. The only one you didn’t have was the flight engineer because the Wellingtons were, weren’t four-engine so they didn’t have e- enough instruments there for a flight engineer. So we flew cross countries there and did fighter affiliation battles with Spitfires, and [pause] having done that – um, where did we go to from there? [pause] – yes went to Swinderby which was where we transferred to four engines – they had Stirlings up there, terrible old things they were, and got used to flying four engines, and we were flying out, doing circuits and bumps [?] one night at Coningsby – when they were out on operations we used to do, do circuits and bumps while they were on ops – and we landed on the main runway and our, our [laughing] undercarriage collapsed [laughs] right in the middle of the intersection of the main runway so they couldn’t use any of the runways, so they weren’t very happy with us because they hadn’t got the equipment to move it because the Stirling is a lot bigger aircraft than the Lancaster so they obviously hadn’t got the equipment to shift it so they had to wait until the next day to move it. And from there we went to, what they called? Lanc conversion unit where they converted some to Lancasters, and we had a few weeks there, that was at Silestone [pause] and that wasn’t very long but we got used to the, we picked up the, our flight engineer when we started flying Stirlings so we’d now got a full crew. And from there we were sent to a squadron, which was East Kirby, and we were there for a few weeks doing circuits and bumps and the usual cross countries and gunnery exercises until our first operation, which was [unclear, possibly Rouergue] in the South of France. Well, we, flew that one and [pause] it was quite spectacular because we hadn’t seen anything like this before and we flew over- flew into the target and it was all lit up, flares were being dropped and bombs were going down and it was all, all happening down there, but nothing was happening above [emphasis] it so we had quite a, an, an easy flight so we thought ‘if this is gonna be it [laughing] it’s a piece of cake’, how wrong we were [laughing]. And the next flight we did was daylight raid on Cannes when they were having problems getting the Canadians out of there so they sent a thousand bombers over in daylight, and that was unusual, and you know, it was quite unusual to fly along and see all of the other aircraft because at night you didn’t see them. It made you think [laughing] how close they were [emphasis] to you and how many there were there. And we flew in there and, um, dropped our bombs, and we, when we turned ‘round I had a good view of the target because it was smoke and debris flying out to about five hun- five thousand feet – was quite spectacular. But when we got back, we were told we were on again that night! So we thought [laughing] ‘we don’t like this’. So, anyway, we had a sleep, and some food, and [pause] then we were briefed for a raid on [pause] [unclear] in Northern France which was a railway goods yard, and we took off for that [pause] I suppose that would have been about [pause] ten o clock, and as we crossed the Dutch coast we got coned by searchlights, which isn’t very good. And having dived and turned and done all the evasion bits we were fortunate that we managed to get out. But having done that we got out of the bomber stream, which was our defence against the German radar, because if you got out of the bomber stream they could pick you up individually on radar which they couldn’t do when you were in the bomber stream. So, anyway, we altered course for the target again, and a little, little while later there was a massive explosion in the, our port wing, and immediately flames started coming past the tu- my rear turret which stopped to wo- stopped working immediately, because the hydraulic motors that drove the turret were operated from, from the port engine. So that was that. So I had to wind the turret round by hand to get the doors lined up with the fuselage, and climb out into the fuselage, which was really burning then, it w- when I looked up the fuselage it was just like looking up the mouth of a blow lamp. It was frightening it really was. And my s- parachute, which was stowed in the fuselage, was smouldering, that was already going, so I went and got it and tried to get it on my, the two hooks on my [pause, laughs] parachute harness, but as the plane was going down I could only get it on one, couldn’t get it on the other. And my rear g- my mid upper gunner, he got out of his turret, I saw him get out, he came down towards me and went out the door which was down towards the turret, and he went, and, um, I didn’t struggle any more with the parachute because I thought ‘if I hang about here I’m not, I’m not gonna make it’ so, I just jumped out and into the night, just jumped [emphasis]. Hit my head on the tail plane [laughs] which wasn’t very good. You weren’t supposed to do that, you were supposed to roll out you see? You got time to do all this, you take your helmet off and you sit down and you roll out – no way [laughs]. So, anyway, I’m counting down and I thought, I don’t know, I looked up and I saw the thing was smouldering away there and I thought ‘I hope I get down before this thing catches fire and drops me off’. But anyway, on the way down I felt s- I was leaning to one side and I felt something brush my face, I put my hand up and it was the intercom cord on my helmet which was caught up in the parachute which was fortunate because I hung on that, and that probably took some of the weight off the para- off the harness that was burning, and [coughs] being that it was night I was thinking well we- where am I gonna land, am I gonna land in a tree or [laughing] in a pond or somewhere nasty. In fact I landed in the middle of a field flat on my back, and as soon as the parachute dropped around me it, it burst into flame, so I jumped on that and put it out and stuffed it in a hedge. And by this time I was badly burned on my face and all down my arms, and I thought ‘well let’s see if I can find a lane’, which I did, came out on a lane and I thought ‘if I head South, I might meet up with some troops eventually’ and that’s what I did. And I walked for about, I suppose eight miles, and I was really [emphasis] in pain then and I could feel this running down my face, I thought I was bleeding to death – of course it wasn’t, it was the burns, and as I say I collapsed on this farmer’s doorstep and they must have heard me moaning and came out, took me in, and I was fortunate because they were members of the resistance. So they took me in and put me to bed, and, um, the following day they got a doctor to me - uh, a, one of the resistance people – came and sorted my burns out, and moved me to another house in the same village. And because of course the Germans started looking for me then, they were hunting all over the place, so they, they moved me from one house to the other, and eventually they decided that enough was enough and that, they moved me out of that village and they sent, sent a resistance bloke to take me to the next house, and [pause] he came and his code name was Lulu [laughs]. And off we went through the woods and we got to a stage where he suddenly said to me ‘I’m lost’ [laughing] [unclear] good thing for a guide. So anyway he said ‘I’m going, I’m going to that house to s- see if I can find directions’, and he stuffed a Luger pistol in my hand, sat me in the hedge and said ‘If, if I get into trouble don’t ask any questions just shoot’. Well he came back and he, he, he hadn’t had any trouble, and off we went, and we finished up in a tiny little village called Latretoise, and um, to a little café. Well when I say café all it was, was a room in a house although they had, not only had the café they also had a small hotel on the other side of the courtyard which the Germans used to use when they came into the village, and it was run by two elderly ladies. I think the youngest one was, when I was there I think she was fifty-seven then, how old her mum was I don’t know. But I mean for two old ladies to, you know, take in somebody like me and risk their lives, if they, if they’d have been caught they’d of shot me and them no, no argument. So, anyway, they – oh they, in the meantime, before they moved me up there, they, they sent um, a resistance man to interrogate me to make sure I wasn’t a German because Germans were dropping people over there to get in with the resistance to find out what was going on. So anyway I’d got all over that and [pause] anyway these these two old ladies they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak French so there was a lot of arm waving and shouting. And [pause] they gave me a bed in the hotel across the yard and I used to have my meals in the- behind the café, in the room there, and [pause] I lived with the family, you know, as w- as one of the family. But there were three other people there, men there, who were hiding from the Germans, the Germans wanted them for forced labour in Germany and they weren’t gonna go so they went into hiding, and we used to all have our meals together, and there was also a young lady that used to come in to see us, brought us cigarettes and money, and she was about the same age as me ‘cause I was nineteen then, and she was a forger, she used to forge papers, she was brilliant she really was. And, um, anyway we had one or two nasty scrapes there [pause] they came, somebody came into the café one day and said that [pause] German tanks were coming towards the village so that, when anything happened like that I, they used to put me upstairs in the ladies’ bedroom, and I’d stay there until the Germans went, and anyway the following morning I got up and looked out the bedroom window and there’s all these German tanks [laughing] lined up in the courtyard, Germans strutting around I thought ‘here we go’, and um [pause] that was quite nerve wracking because we didn’t know when they, if they were gonna come into the café and come up stairs and you know find me, but they didn’t, and the following day they moved out so things got back to normal. There was a big orchard behind the hotel where I used to be able to go in and walk about, play about, and, um- but I wasn’t allowed in the café itself, because you know, you never know when the Germans were going to be in there. And another time we were sitting in the back room – I think there were five of us, having our evening meal – and the Germans were in the village and they came into the café and that that was alright because normally they didn’t used to come into the back of the café so we thought we’d be alright, and anyway, Madame Beaugart [?] came back to get some change, and this German followed her out, followed her back, [laughs] stood in the doorway, and he looked all round and I thought ‘this is it, we been caught’, but um she gave him his money, just turned round and walked out and that was that so that was a bit of a relief. But I could wander about, I could get out into the village, not very far but I was told not be about when the postman was about because he was suspected of being a collaborator. So we carried on like that, and [pause] one day, not thinking, I thought the Germans had gone and I walked into the café and there were two German stranglers sitting there having drinks. Anyway, Madame Beaugart [?] she, she realised what had happened she started beating me about the head with a, with a dish cloth ‘get back to work!’ [laughs]. And beat me out and I went out and we got away with that one. But I think that was the last time we saw the Germans because the next day I think, the, a couple of resistance lads came into the village on a German motorcycle and sidecar which they’d taken off the Germans [laughs] somewhere, and they said that the Americans were on their way to the village and were setting up a field hospital in one of the fields outside the village. So the next day I went down and found an officer who said he’d take me into Paris [pause] in a couple of days’ time, where they’d set up a reception centre for people like myself ‘cause there was thousands of us, floating about in France. So they set up this hotel in Paris, a Hotel Maurice, which had been the headquarters of the Gestapo, and he said he’d take me there in a couple of days’ time so I went back, they gave me lots of tinned fruit and coffee and stuff as, as they always did, for my friends in the village who were very grateful for that, and the following night there was a massive [emphasis] party, there really was. And all the good wines came out and it went on nearly all night, and the following day I said goodbye to them, went back to the Americans, and he took me into Paris in a jeep to the Hotel Maurice where we stayed, I think, for a couple of days, and um, we did roam about Paris a little bit but it was quite dangerous because the resistance were rounding up all the people that had been collaborating and- were shootings going on in cafés it wasn’t very safe. And, the- they then flew me back to Hendon, where I was interviewed by MI5 and they took any guns or knives you had on y- they took them off you and interviewed you to make sure you were, you were who you said you were [laughing]. And having got over MI5 they then took me to Hotel Maurice, um, in London, where I was interrogated by bomber intelligence, who wanted to know what I’d done with their Lancaster [laughs]. Having got over that, they- we sent telegrams home, and they said ‘right, you can go home on leave’, and the only identification was a piece of paper, a scrap of paper about three inches by two inches, type written, ‘this is to certify this is Len Manning’ and that was it, nothing else. So anyway, having sent the telegram, I went home, and of course living in London I got home before the telegram obviously, and I always remember I walked into our road, and one of the neighbours was coming down pushing a wheelbarrow, he was going over to his allotment, and he looked up and he saw me [background noises] and he thought he’d seen a, seen a ghost, and he ran back up the road to my parents, and then all hell let loose, they all came out because they hadn’t heard from me for three months. So, that was that. I went backwards and forwards to the RAF hospital, I think it was at the Middlesex Hospital, for medicals and eventually I was given [unclear – perhaps ‘no on sick leave’] and medically discharged, and that was that.
SB: What a fascinating story.
LM: I’m glad you enjoyed it.
SB: Yeah, yeah. Can I just go back over a few –
LM: Yeah [emphasis] sure.
SB: a few bits and perhaps, clarify – um [pause] going back before you said you were in the A- ATC because you wanted to [pause] fly and -
LM: Yeah
SB: So on, um, [pause] what were your feelings, you know, you said you were sent up to Norfolk in thirty-eight because you said they thought something was gonna happen, how did you feel were you eager for this, or –
LM: Oh yeah, I was keen for it, yeah. Always been interested in aeroplanes and things like that so obviously I was keen to get in the ATC and do some of the training.
SB: And then when nothing happened in thirty-eight and you were all sent back again
LM: [laughs] yeah
SB: Frustrated, or-?
LM: Yeah I was frustrated, yeah, yeah.
SB: Um, did you have any brothers or sisters who fought.
LM: I had a brother, yes, he eventually joined the RAF. He was [pause] an aircraft fitter. He used to repair the fuselages, do repairs and stuff like that. He finished up down in Saigon I think it was [pause] and eventually he was discharged and, but while he was in, there, East there, he contracted TB. And you know what they used to do then was then they carve half your ribs out, so he didn’t have a very good time, and [pause] dad was in the, at that time when I came out he was in, that time he was in the control commission in Germany. He had the equivalent rank of a major, and he was looking after again the transport going in Hamburg. Mum was in the Land Army, so we all did our bit [laughs].
SB: Yeah, yeah. And had your dad fought in the First World War?
LM: Yeah he was in the First World War yeah and he wasn’t in the Second World War obviously, he was too old and I think he was in a reserved occupation anyway, being an engineer. [coughs]
SB: So [pause] y- your parents, well, your dad had been in the Army, your mum was Land Army, how did they feel about you boys going to the Air Force?
LM: Um, I can’t remember them ever, ever saying anything about it really, I can’t remember their, their attitude to it, not really, no.
SB: Ok. So, after the war, what happened then?
LM: I was registered disabled for a time, which meant that I could – most companies had to take a certain number of disabled people so it meant that I could get a job fairly easily, and a light job anyway. And I found a job in a plastics company, looking after their duplicating and printing office, which was quite good, and being nosey I used to get down into the factory and find out what was going on and what how they did this, that and the other, and eventually I got out onto the technical side, and spent the rest of my life playing about with plastics, in various stages. And I didn’t have any qualifications, because at that time while I should have been studying I couldn’t, and all my knowledge was picked up, actually on the shop floor, practically. And I finished up as a Works Manager of plastics company Wood Green, which eventually went bust,
SB: So, how do you think your experience during the war affected life afterwards?
LM: [pause] I don’t think it did really. [pause] No really no. But when I came out of the war – not when I came out, a long time afterwards, when I got to a stage where – and I had two daughters, by the way – and, when they were off hand and we wanted something to do and I joined the RAF Association and became their Welfare Officer, and their Chairman. I was Welfare Officer in London for fifteen years I think [clears throat], ‘cause when I moved up here, I joined the RAF Association again and straight away the had me awarded a Welfare Officer so that was it.
SB: So, it has impacted you in some ways, but just, what you, doing for hobby or [unclear]
LM: Yeah, that’s right.
SB: Yeah, um, can I just, o- over some of the place names, obviously this is going to be typed up, could you just clarify the spelling of some of them, so that –
LM: Um
SB: The village you stayed at in France
LM: Latretiose, which is capital L-a-t-r-e-t-i-o-s-e. Latretoise.
SB: Right, okay, and then the hotel in Paris –
LM: Hotel Maurice
SB: Is that -
LM: M-a-u
SB: r-i-c-e?
LM: Yeah
SB: Okay, and then in South Wales you were at Pembrey?
LM: Pembrey yup.
SB: Which is P-e-m
LM: P-e-m-b-r-e-y I think it was.
SB: b-r-e-y. Okay, yeah, I think that was it. Just ones which could be slightly confusing when we’re writing it up.
LM: We know [unclear] – we know it’s [laughs]
SB: Yeah, yeah, but those I know so that’s not, that’s not a problem, but those were just three which I thought ‘I’d better check that spelling’. Right, so [pause] let’s get back to the time when you were actually in France. How frustrating was it to be [pause]
LM: Stuck there? It was, it was frustrating because at that time, um, obviously it was after D-Day and the Germans were on the retreat, which meant that they were guarding all the bridges and main roads so they could get back easily which meant that it was difficult for us to move around so that’s the reason I, I stayed in the café for three months. Because they wouldn’t move me any further away. Although I did get taken out one, one time, a chap turned up in a car [emphasis] I couldn’t believe it, and he took me to a ch- a big chateaux, somewhere, don’t know where it was, and they obviously didn’t like giving you names, but he had a big library there and he had a lot of English books and he lent me some English books which I took back with me, but when I came back he wrote to me because he was, evidently, he was the Chief of the, one of the segments of the resistance, and he came over to be interviewed by the BBC and I went up to Bush House to see him when he was being interviewed, which was quite interesting. But [pause] I didn’t go back to – you see there’s two places involved here I don’t think I told you this, where the bomber crashed was Basvelle [?] and that is not a ‘ville’ it’s ‘velle’ – I have this argument with [unclear] ‘it must be ‘I’!’ [laughs].
SB: Bas-
LM: -velle.
SB: Ok, yup.
LM: And the other place was Latretoise so there’s the two different things. And [pause] fifty years afterwards I hadn’t heard a- um, mum used to write to [pause] the, the girl that [pause] used to bring us cigarettes and stuff – Madeline her name was, and [pause] so, they kept in touch for a while but then it all petered out. And then fifty years afterwards, I was reading the Air Mail, which was RAF Association’s magazine, and one of the adverts was for anybody that flew in a certain Lancaster get in touch with these people in Basvelle. So I wrote to them, I didn’t know what they were after, and they wrote back and said they wanted to have a memorial service over there, and they’d like me and any others, members of the crew to [pause] attend, which I did. But they went to an awful lot of trouble to find that the rest of the crew – because amazingly I had some addresses, of the [pause] relatives of the crew members, which I was able to give them, and amazingly, quite a number of them had moved on, the, I think it was the Bomb Aimer, he had an address up in Blackpool, and he, they were still [emphasis] there. Couldn’t believe it. Fifty years after the war and they were still there. Unbelievable.
SB: Quite incredible.
LM: Anyway, his parents were still there but he wasn’t, he’d been, ‘cause he, um, I didn’t, I didn’t tell you this, when the bomber crashed, four of the crew went down with the plane, and three of us got out, the Gunner who I said I saw jump out before me, he had a very similar experience to me, he got in touch with, eventually with – funnily enough the first house he went to they wouldn’t have anything to do with him, the woman said ‘no I’m sorry, I can’t take you, I daren’t do it’, and she gave him another address, I the next village, and he went there and they, they took him in. But the amazing thing is the house that he went to at first was the house that the actual Mayor, there now, lives [laughs]. And the navigator, who also got out, which I can’t make out why, I never could, because all the others around him was killed, but he got out somehow or other, but anyway he landed and he was the only one in the crew who really knew who we were, being a navigator. Hopefully [emphasis] he knew where he was [laughs]. Anyway, he wandered off, and I think he spent a couple of days [pause] rummaging around and keeping out of the way, and begging food from various farms, but funnily enough he didn’t get taken in, and he came to a river, which he knew would eventually lead him into Paris, and he started wandering along there and walked into a German [unclear] battery [laughs] he got caught. So he spent the rest of the war as a Prisoner of War. And the [pause] what a, oh yeah the Flight Engineer, he was found some way away from the others with his parachute unopen beside him, so whether he was blown out or panicked and didn’t pull the red cord we don’t know, but he was found quite some way away. But it was his relations that were still living in the same house, fifty years on. And by the side of him they found a silver Florin which they gave to his, I think it was his, his sister, who I’d met, Joan, who I’d met up with – I’d met up with him several times, but eventually they died, well they’ve all died now, I’m the only one left. [Pause] and I think that’s about it. The four of them are buried at, in, in Basvelle, and that’s where we go every five years, in fact we were there last year, and, for a small village, I mean the, the, the Basvelle was a village, I should, I should think that it’s probably fifteen, twenty houses. But thousands [emphasis] of people turn out, it’s unbelievable. I can show you [gets up].
SB: Please.
[Background noises]
LM: [unclear] that’s the Len book. [laughs] Now how often do you get a book specially for you? And what she’s done she’s put together the whole story of our visits over there, and [pause] she’s really thorough, she’s really good, a real good organiser.
SB: That’s fascinating.
LM: Are you still recording?
SB: That alright? [laughs]
LM: [laughs] yeah, I gotta watch what I say [laughs].
SB: This is lovely.
LM: It must have cost them a fortune.
SB: Yeah
LM: Because she, I think she had six of those – she had one done for each member of the crew, with just their story, and there you are, there’s some of the crowds. And I mean, look at the standards. I turned up outside the Town Hall one, one day and there were fifty standards, lined up outside there, couldn’t believe it.
SB: Did they manage, well, when they, located you were any of the others still alive at that point and able to go to Basvelle?
LM: Yeah the Navigator, he was still around, but he was the only one, but he didn’t turn up at the first couple anyway. And I don’t know why. Yes they, they spent an awful lot of money, that village, on things like this, I mean they have a, a meal there for probably two hundred people. Guests and Mayors from all the villages around. You know they did one for each of my daughters, and my granddaughter.
SB: ‘Tis a beautiful record.
LM: ‘Tis int’it.
SB: I’ve never seen one like this.
LM: No. And the other thing is that they’re always giving me medals. Can’t get any medals over here but over there you can get medals every time I turn up [laughing]. The latest one, is that one in the frame there. [background noises] It’s very heavy. It’s like the old desk thing. But that’s a silhouette of my face, as I am now, and then w- as I w- was, and then the Lancaster. I mean that’s a one-off, must have cost a fortune.
SB: Yeah! Absolutely. Heavens. Well [unclear]
LM: Yeah I did that because I thought ‘well what do I do with it’, you can’t leave it lying about and you don’t want to stick it in a drawer, so.
SB: You make the point there, can’t get medals over here nut you get them there. How did you feel about that?
LM: Very annoyed. Because I did two or three campaigns for the Bomber Command, medal, which we didn’t get, we got a bar, to our other medals, but we didn’t get the, didn’t get a medal anyway. But they’re still fighting for it, I mean I, I, I got an award for what I did.
[background noises]
SB: [unclear] try and get the medals?
LM: Yeah, for that and the things I do with the school kids as well.
SB: Yeah. Yeah some recognition but –
LM: Yeah when I got, when we got, I’ve actually got the bar, they refused me three times [laughs], when I eventually got it, I rang Radio Suffolk to tell them that I’d got it because they’d been helping me with it, and somebody came on and said that ‘well how did you get your bar? Was it presented?’ I said ‘no, it came through the post’ they said that’s disgusting [emphasis]’. The next thing I knew the Mayor of Sudbury rang up and said, ‘Len, be ready tomorrow at ten o clock, I’m taking you up to Ipswich Town Hall where the Mayor or Ipswich will present you with your bar’ [laughs] we got it. But so anyway he picked me up and we went up to Ipswich, and there was the Mayor of Ipswich there, and the, um, Mark Murphy from Radio Suffolk was there, the press was there, and we were in the Mayor’s parlour, we had tea and they got all the silver out [laughs] you know, it was quite something, and so that was presented there. But that, that was presented by the, that award was presented by Mark Murphy from Radio Suffolk, but there was some, some people there and it was, you know, it was really something to be there w- in among that award. I mean that was a special award, I, I, the others, there were three of each, for each type of award they were, they were doing, there were firemen there, there were the police there, there was a little girl there that been in a fire and got, all her face was burnt away, terrible. And it was a real honour to be there it really was, but they really laid it, laid it on.
SB: So, so you personally have had recognition but a lot of them presumably haven’t.
LM: Yeah, that’s right they haven’t. But the other thing is that every year, and in fact I’m off at the end of this month to Holland, they invite Air Gunner, ex-Air Gunners over there, to, they been doing it for years, it’s only Air Gunners, funnily enough, and, to a town called Dronton, which is one of the towns that was built on reclaimed land from the Zuiderzee [?], and they tell you when you standing in the square, beautiful square, if you’d have been there fifty years ago you’d be six foot under water [laughs]. I mean it’s as new as that, it’s amazing, it really is. But I’ve had I think, four medals from Holland.
SB: At least your efforts aren’t totally unrecognised [laughs]
LM: [Laughs] no it’s amazing.
SB: Well I’m glad something came out of it, but this is a remarkable piece –
LM: That’s something else, isn’t it?
SB: That, that is, yeah, really remarkable. Ok, I think that probably covers –
LM: Yeah well if you think of anything else you can always give me a ring.
SB: Yeah, yeah, exactly, so I’ll stop recording.
LM: Oh sorry would you like a cup of tea or coffee?
SB: I’m fine, thank you very much.
LM: Sure?
SB: Yeah, absolutely. [background noises] I’ll stop recording, at this point.
LM: It was my ninetieth birthday in, in January, hence all these planes. Planes on cakes, I finished up near three birthday cakes [laughs].
SB: And lots of planes [laughs].
LM: There’s even that orange one from my great-granddaughter.



Sheila Bibb, “Interview with Les Manning,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 20, 2019,

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