One of the last surviving Second World War veterans from east London has died of coronavirus at the age of 95.
Len Brace, veteran British Army driver who left his Ilford home at 18 in the height of the blitz and served in the D-Day invasion, died on Saturday at King George Hospital, Goodmayes. Len, who received the Legion d’Honneur in 2015 in recognition of his contribution to the liberation of France, travelled back to Normandy annually with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. Len and his wife had seven children, two who died in recent years. Son Tony said: “We are all heartbroken, he was such a loving, caring bloke and it’s really upsetting to have lost him like this but at least he is now with my two sisters,” Tony said his dad, who worked at Ford in Dagenham for 38 years following the war, was healthy and driving a car up until September. His children hope to spread his ashes on the beaches of Normandy after the lockdown is lifted.
Len’s first visit to France was on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 landing on Gold Beach as part of Operation Overlord. Following D-Day, Len advanced through Europe finally reaching Denmark in May 1945. Speaking to the Recorder last year Len reminisced about his time dodging bullets as they whipped around his Ford Jeep during the Normandy landings. 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. He told the Recorder: “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 Villers-Le-Sec, which was to be home for the next 10 weeks until they broke out of Normandy. They arrived at the beach amid scenes of chaos - exploding shells, bodies and burning vehicles. “It wasn’t like a day at Southend! “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.” Secretary for east London branch of the RSA Alan Turner said this week: “It has been a privilege to know Len and as one of the last of the Second World War veterans, we have lost a link to that time.”
Chairman Neill Keen added: “Our oldest member and last Second World War veteran. He was always a very active member of the branch and a lovely man.” Dick Goodwin, vice president Taxi Charity, recalled: “I first met Len in 2014 on one of the Taxi Charity trips to the continent. “He had an immense knowledge of aircraft and tactics and always had so many stories about his time in Normandy which he loved sharing with us. “He will be greatly missed by everyone on the charity committee, the volunteer cab drivers and the other veterans.” Cllr Linda Huggett said: “He used to reminisce about his wartime experiences when he landed on the Normandy beach on D-Day and he then went back in 2017 to commemorate it in a London taxi which formed a convoy of 90 taxis. “We shall remember his service to his country with honour and pride and are so sorry to learn that he tragically lost his life to the dreadful coronavirus.” On the 73rd anniversary of D-Day Len told the Recorder he was pleased to have served his country. “It’s sad to reflect on people being killed, but I do feel proud of being in the army, I did what I wanted to do. I look back and there’s a certain pride.” Len is survived by his five children, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.