Les Burns D-Day+22
|January 10, 1923
|Date of Death
|January 1, 2005
Leslie John Burns Royal Artillery
Leslie (always known as Les) Burns was born in West Gorton, Manchester on 10th January 1923 and lived in a ‘two up, two down’ terrace house with his parents, an older brother and three younger sisters within the sound of Belle Vue Zoo (particularly the lions) for the first 15 years of his life before moving to North Reddish, Stockport. He attended Armitage Street Elementary School until he left school at 14 to work in a Cotton Warehouse in Manchester. When the Second World War started in 1939 Les had to register for war work with the Ministry of Labour, and was directed to work at the Stockport Manufacturing Company (SMC) which made and assembled aluminium aircraft parts and later in the war the Fairway Engineering Company.
Les was called up in September 1942 and following basic training joined the 53rd Welsh Division.
The 53rd Division landed on Gold Beach at Arromanches on 28th June 1944 (D+22) and soon was called into action, firing with other batteries and regiments in large concentration in support of attacks. Within a few days, following several moves, the division relieved elements of Scottish units. The actions in the area were many and varied as it worked its way through Caen (where Les saw the many casualties of the intense fighting to capture the city) and the ‘bocage’ country. (Bocage was the name given to an area composed mainly of very small fields surrounded by earth banks and overgrown hedges.) Les described this as ‘a hard slog nearly all the time’ and this was where the artillery really supported the Infantry regiments. The 53rd moved towards Falaise and were part of the ‘killing zone’ where bombardment and artillery fire had a devastating effect on the German soldiers trapped in the Falaise Gap. Les recalled: “It was a great relief to drive out of the area; there was no gloating, it was almost possible to feel sorry for the blokes lying there. They never had a chance.”
From Normandy the 53rd moved on to northern France, Holland, Belgium and finally crossing the Rhine into Germany.
The following article written by Victor Thompson appeared in the DAILY HERALD on 12th March 1945. In it he tells the story of the action of the 53rd Division in February 1945.
Following the end of the war in 1945, Les stayed on peace-keeping duties in Germany and was involved in Operation Woodpecker in 1947 in which timber and peat were supplied to the civilian population of northern Germany as reparations after the war, working through one of the coldest winters on record. Les was issued with rubber boots and jerkins and his division was detailed to Goslar with instructions to cut as near to the bottom of the tree as possible to avoid waste. He commented: “It was really hard work, harder than I’d ever known before.” It was whilst he was at Goslar that his demob papers arrived.
Back home in North Reddish he joined a French firm of West African Merchants (having having picked up a basic level of French whilst in the army) and met (and married) his wife Sheila in 1950. They were married for 54 years, living in Marple and High Lane, Stockport.
This account has been compiled by Linda Varley using Les Burns own story (For Gunners’ Sake) published in 1998 by A Lane Publishers, Stockport.