The stench of dead cows rotting in pastures in France; crossing a meadow that had been a minefield and realising you had only survived because the ground was frozen; thumbing a lift on a Jeep, which then hit a landmine and being the only one to escape.
Sgt Leslie Todd was breaking the rules when he kept a diary of his time in the 90th (Middlesex) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, from 1944 to 1945, but because he did, his sons Bill and John have a record of what he went through in World War Two. Now Bill has decided to share it by publishing the diary to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944 and the ensuing Battle of Normandy, which lasted until September 1, 1944.
Gunner is the diary, postcards and photographs that Leslie, who grew up in Winchmore Hill and went to school in Enfield, kept during his time with the regiment. Bill was always interested in hearing his father’s stories and looking through his wartime photographs as a child, and inherited them when Leslie died in 1985.
Bill says: “He was a man of relatively few words, and the diary itself is only about 1,400 words long – you weren’t supposed to keep diaries so it’s very much him jotting down his impressions.”
Leslie, who was 32 at the time, joined the Territorial Army six months before the outbreak of war in 1939. He and his fellow volunteers were away on a fortnight’s training camp when they mobilised. “They came back six years later,” says Bill, a former employee of the Enfield Independent.
Bill has supplemented his father’s diary and pictures with extracts from the official regimental diary, and also sections of the official war diaries, obtained from the public records office.
“He saw a lot of people he knew killed and nobody likes the idea of war, but I think it was probably the most exciting time for him,” says Bill. “He was quite aware he was taking part in something momentous.”
Gunner is available from Amazon with proceeds going to charity. Details: billtodd.co.uk