The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

Len Manning’s war 1944: Tuesday 14th January 2020


A Lancaster bomber ablaze and rapidly losing height; a rear gunner with clothes and parachute alight. This was the situation which faced 19th year-old Len Manning in March 1944 as his aircraft was attacked as it returned from a bombing raid on Italian marshalling yards. As he rotated his turret and tumbled out, the tail plane hit Len's head but he landed safely in a field and his injuries were confined to the serious burns he sustained before bailing out. Told with a nonchalance no doubt induced by the 76 year time span this would have been an absolutely terrifying experience for anyone let alone one so young. Len Manning - President of the Sudbury branch of the British Legion - captivated an audience of about 40 members and guests of the Foxearth and District Local History Society on Tuesday 14th January with his account of this episode in his war service. 


Len recounted how he had always wanted to join the Royal Air Force and he formed an Air Training Corps in 1942 with 19 friends before joining up and being trained as a gunner. Familiarization with Wellington, Stirling and finally Lancaster planes was followed by posting to an operational squadron and participation in sorties over enemy territory. On the night he was shot down over France - and after disposing of his still -burning parachute - Len used his compass to walk south for some miles before collapsing in the doorway of a French farmhouse. Fortunately the residents were members of the Resistance and they arranged his treatment from a French doctor and for him to be hidden in a small village. Several times he had to be moved to avoid German military and there was a memorable occasion when he was in a cafe into which several German troops walked; the quick-witted Madame threw him a tea towel and said "get back to your work" thus saving the day! After 3 months the Americans arrived and Len was taken to Paris to the Hotel Meurice which only a week before had been the headquarters of the Gestapo in the city. At this stage Len had no knowledge of what fate had befallen his flight colleagues. 

Back in civvy street Len took employment in the plastics trade rising to become Works Manager of a factory in Wood Green but he retained his interest and involvement in the Royal Air Force through membership of various associations. As well as his important role with the British Legion he is currently President of No.1 Leicester ATC. Some years after the war a researcher was able to identify the name of the Luftwaffe pilot that shot Len's plane down and the two men met. Len described his adversary a quite a nice chap who, after all, was only doing his duty! 

This was a wonderful evening's entertainment from a sprightly nonogenarian who happily agreed to share his 95th birthday with us. So in addition to warm thanks from an appreciative audience he received the usual choral rendition and Clare produced a large cake which we were all able to share. 

|Next meeting Tuesday 11th February 7.20pm in Foxearth Village Hall when Mark Mathieson will give a computer demonstration and talk on Overlaying Victorian OS maps with the latest satellite images . 

 Ken Nice                                                                                               


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