One of Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans who took part in the first wave of Normandy landings dies aged 97
- Leslie Stocking was thought to be one of about 20 Normandy veterans still alive
One of Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans has died aged 97.
Leslie Stocking took part in the first wave of the Normandy landings which turned the tide of the Second World War.
As an 18-year-old in the Royal Engineers, Mr Stocking landed on Gold Beach and helped to clear land mines for the Allied assault.
The grandfather, who lived most of his life in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, was thought to be one of only about 20 Normandy veterans still alive.
Ahead of his funeral, his daughter Tracey Stocking, 56, on Tuesday said she will fulfil his last wishes by scattering his ashes on the beach at Ver-Sur-Mer on the spot where he landed on D-Day.
Leslie Stocking, (pictured) one of Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans, has died aged 97
Ahead of his funeral, his daughter Tracey Stocking, 56, on Tuesday said she will fulfil his last wishes by scattering his ashes on the beach at Ver-Sur-Mer on the spot where he landed on D-Day. Mr Stocking is pictured with his daughter Tracey
Mr Stocking, who lived most of his life in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, was thought to be one of only about 20 Normandy veterans still alive. Pictured: File photo of Allied forces landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France during the World War two D-Day landings 1944
She said: ‘He showed me where it was on a visit there 13 years ago. He remembered exactly where it was.
‘He was my absolute hero. I am sure all daughters say that about their dads but he was. He was just an absolute gentleman, he was really kind, he was the best dad in the world and he would do anything for me.’
She added that he had seen the British Normandy Memorial overlooking Gold Beach in Ver-Sur-Mer – built with the help of donations from generous Daily Mail readers – during its construction and had always wanted to see it finished but was unable to do that because of the Covid pandemic.
Nicholas Witchell, a trustee of the British Normandy Memorial, yesterday told the Mail: ‘Les Stocking was another of those indomitable figures who did not hesitate to do their bit when Europe’s freedoms hung in the balance. We must never forget what we owe him and the remarkable generation of which he was a part.
‘Next year will be the 80th anniversary of D-Day. It will be the last major commemoration which Normandy Veterans will be able to attend. The British Normandy Memorial will be proud to host them as we re-double our efforts to ensure that future generations not only remember them but understand what they did for all of us.’
Born in Kanpur, India, where his soldier father was serving with the 21st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, Mr Stocking joined the British Army at 17 in December 1942. The minimum age for conscription was 18, but he was able to volunteer with his father’s consent.
He had been scheduled to arrive in Normandy after the first wave, but the delay to the landings caused by foul weather over the English Channel which forced the attack to be postponed for 24 hours meant he became part of the force which landed on June 6, 1944.
In interviews after the war, Mr Stocking, who returned to France several times for D-Day anniversaries, once said: ‘Everyone keeps asking us about our experiences and what we went through, but none of us saw it like that.
British Prime Minister Theresa May (right) chats with veteran Leslie Stocking (left) following a service of remembrance at Bayeux cemetery on June 06, 2019 in Bayeux, France
Born in Kanpur, India, where his soldier father was serving with the 21st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, Mr Stocking joined the British Army at 17 in December 1942. The minimum age for conscription was 18, but he was able to volunteer with his father’s consent
‘We did a job – and a bloody good one at that – and we did our duty by fighting for this country. That’s it. We never saw it as heroics. We didn’t have time to.’
Recalling the moment when his boat’s doors opened and he and his comrades disembarked, he said: ‘We came off in about 4ft of water and one thing that struck me was the incessant noise.
‘As we were going up the beach to find protection under the sand dunes, one of our lads stood on something. I heard later that he lost his foot.
‘I will always remember the lads who didn’t make it, lying there at the water’s edge and the soldier about our age who was sitting on the bank and didn’t know what day it was. He was obviously shell-shocked.’
He added: ‘You can’t describe the scenes because they’re impossible to describe. My abiding memories are of discomfort, pure discomfort. We were either living in holes in the ground or being dreadfully seasick. Yet despite it all we did the job.
‘I fought all the way to Germany and lost countless colleagues in the constant onslaught of enemy fire. It was something I can never forget.’
Mr Stocking was photographed chatting with Prince William at the 70th anniversary D-Day events in France in 2014 and with Theresa May at the 75th anniversary in 2019.
His daughter Miss Stocking, an event manager who lives in Manchester, said he told her that on the first night after he landed on D-Day he was putting camouflage on a lorry when he heard a buzzing noise and asked another soldier: ‘What are the bees doing buzzing around at this time?’ – only to be told: ‘Don’t be silly, there’s a sniper up there in a church steeple shooting at us. If it hadn’t been dusk he’d have shot us.’
On VE Day May 8, 1945 Mr Stocking’s regiment found themselves in Germany – next to a schnapps brewery. ‘I don’t need to tell you what happened next. And anyway, I think we were entitled to it,’ he recalled.
After the war, Mr Stocking stayed in the Army until 1947, stationed in Italy, then returned to England and became a fuel tanker driver for Shell in civilian life. He was married to his late wife Mary for 59 years and had one daughter, Tracey, and one grandson, Dylan, 23, a DJ.
After the war, Mr Stocking stayed in the Army until 1947, stationed in Italy, then returned to England and became a fuel tanker driver for Shell in civilian life
Mr Stocking received the Legion d’Honneur – the highest decoration in France – in recognition of his wartime service on the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009.
His daughter said: ‘He was really proud of that. and I think as he got older it became more important in his life.’
He was a former chairman of the Shropshire branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, and a regular poppy seller for the Royal British Legion’s appeal.
Mr Stocking died on August 31, shortly before his 98th birthday, at the care home in Manchester where he lived for the last six months of his life. His funeral is due to take place on Friday at Shrewsbury Crematorium.
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