Master Gunner Les Puttee
France, Far East
Les Puttee was only 19 years when he joined the
Royal Navy in 1941, born in Woolwich London, a young cockney lad
from a family with limited means, and having left school at fourteen,
he was often seen selling flowers at the local cemetery on a Sunday,
or selling horse manure off the streets to local market gardeners,
so that he and his family of three sisters and two brothers and
could earn an extra couple of bob.
After joining the Royal Navy Les did the usual basic training and
passed through several ships until joining the newly formed Combined
Operations force. his keen eye for accurate gunnery, and gaining
his crossed rifles to boot, meant he was soon awarded leading Seaman
rank..."Quarter Master Gunner". While serving aboard a
ship tied up alongside at Chatham, Les fell in the Duty Watch one
evening ...as the names were being called, and as that the various
'duties' were being issued out, a familiar voice came from the second
Rank..."Here Leader"...behold Les had his father in the
"duty watch", and as an Able Seaman, Les was his Boss
that night.... and as a consequence, my grandfather was posted to
the North of Scotland the following day.
Les now a Leading Hand in Combined Ops, completed crew training
for LCT's a few months before the big one in early 1944.. and as
the coxswain of LCT 1086 he would crew the vessel in one of the
first waves into Omaha..... Crews of the invasion fleet never knew
their destinations right up until congregating at "Piccadilly
Circus" the night of June 5th having already been on alert
for nearly a week and one 'cancelled" trip already, the Poms
were keen get it done.
Les recalls how in dim light of dawn that day the young soldiers
of the" Big Red 1`they had onboard that first trip, with their
Comanche "hairdos" and "warpaint" were quite
a source of amusement for the crew of the landing Craft. The first
landing was hell, but on the second trip after another load of troops
had been seconded from an LST waiting a couple of miles off shore,
was when the crew of the floundering "1086" copped it.
An HE shell ( an 88mm Les thought), hit the 10 ton ramp and removed
it totally from the vessel in a mighty explosion! They lost three
crew in that incident, looking for the bodies under fire was very
stressful he tells, and with great sadness the fate of their "Jimmy
the One" was never determined, his body was never recovered.
Well it was "make into the Beach" and 'scrap" the
craft...or return home best way they could..it took only a couple
of seconds, and quick glance of the mayhem further inshore they
turned the 'craft" around and at an ungainly 4 or 5 knots returned
across the channel backwards!
Two weeks survivors leave was very welcome after
the shell-shocked trips into "Bloody Omaha", and Les returned
home to the "Ol dart" and a welcoming "What the bloody
heck you doin'ere then"...
That very evening in the twilight another "doodlebug"
raid hit SE London, the docks being only a short distance away,
but that didn't stop downing a couple of tasty ales at the "Percy",
that was until an almighty explosion devastated the river end of
the street. After trying to get a brief glimpse of the huge pile
of rubble, and being fended off by the wardens, Les knew this was
no "doodlebug". A huge crater now occupied the space of
what was previously four houses. this was something much bigger,
they of course didn't realise it then, but this was the nasty work
of the new "V2".
Les decided the next morning, that after having
his living away allowance" confiscated his mum (grandma), that
it was safer back down at the channel, and on the beaches of Normandy,
'cos at least you knew where the bloody enemy was going to come
from down there".....
Les made several more trips in the coming weeks,
and after the front was going well there, he was posted to Combined
Operations, Far East, and spent a more 'pleasant " time transporting
Commonwealth troops and dining on the new taste of "Jipatti".
Les passed away from Cancer aged 76 in 2000, God Bless you Les ...sleep
Ron , Carole and Barry.
Les' shoulderpatch of the Combined Ops.
Les Puttee in the Far East