JAMES LESLIE RANSOM
EULOGY TO A WAR HERO
Anybody meeting Les for the first time could be forgiven for classing him as just another “carrot cruncher from the East Riding of Yorkshire” (these are his words, not mine), they would be greatly mistaken, because deep down within this apparently very ordinary man lies a character moulded and matured through his many life experiences throughout his 98 years. I, along with many are truly grateful to have made his acquaintance and I consider it a real privilege to have this opportunity in passing comment on the character of this man who was old enough to be my own father.
Les was never the perfect man, far from it, he had all the faults that we all have, but knowing him over the many years I feel his ‘BASIC’ honesty, tinged with a touch of humility placed him up there as an exceptional human being, this also brings the respect he so rightfully deserves. He walked and talked with Kings and Queens, Field Marshals and the private soldier alike, never a hint of inferiority or superiority, everyone treat with equal respect. The few days before he died and was still of sound mind, I managed to talk with him, and I asked him if there were any messages for me to give out on his behalf at his funeral, he replied “that he hopes to find everybody sober, on what he hopes will be a very solemn occasion” this is typical of Les, who was so disappointed at not reaching his hundredth birthday, yet still wanted to leave you all a little ‘funny’ from the other side, great stuff.
Les was born 5/4/1922 to Charles and Annie of Market Weighton, he was a sickly child who struggled from the start, he learnt to drive as soon as he could reach the peddles and was destine to finish up in the RASC when called up in 1942 and immediately volunteered for Churchill’s new Airborne force, he did this solely for the extra money on offer. He had tried to join the RAF by volunteering for Air Crew (Gunner), but it was not to be, this was to try and avenge his older brother Charles Edgar who had failed to return from a bombing raid on Lorient, presumed KIA 15/1/1943 aged 31yrs out of Chedburgh in a Sterling Mark 1 (W7637 BU-W) with 214 Squadron (FMS) RAF, Charlie left a wife and daughter.
After completing selection at Hardwick and Parachute training at Ringway he was sent to North Africa as part of the 1st Airborne Division in preparation for the Italian campaign. One of the 1st Division’s orders were to take the deep water port of Taranto (Italy) using American Destroyers, close shave avoided by getting on the right ship, the other hit a mine and went straight down with heavy casualties, but luckily the Italian government capitulated the night before the invasion sparing many 1st Division lives. After a month of steady fighting against the Germans the majority of 1st Division were withdrawn back to blighty in preparation for the Normandy landings as reserves to the 6th Division, the main British Airborne force to be used on D-Day. Intensive training became the order of the day for everybody, whilst the 1st Div. remained at a constant state of readiness and the war moved on, eventually plans were drawn up for the ‘big one’ at Arnhem.
Sunday 17th September 1944 L/Cpl Les Ransom arrived on Ginkel Heath in one of the first gliders to land as a part of 3 Plat. 250 Comp. RASC whose main duties were to capture/acquire any Dutch or German vehicle’s to be used in the coming battle. Lt Col John Frost leading the 2nd Batt Para Regt needed a Platoon of RASC men for his march on the bridge, the intended Platoon had been smashed up upon landing, therefore Les and his Platoon were ordered to stand in. After 4 days of hard fighting the men at the bridge were eventually over run and Les was taken POW. Most of the bridge POW’s were marched to Apeldoorn for processing with Les eventually being sent to Dresden where he finished up in the tram sheds as a part of the cities maintenance personnel. These men were treat well by their old German guards who by now were fed up with the war, but nobody got enough to eat, including the guards who shared their meagre rations with the POW’s. Between 13th-15th February 1945 Dresden was completely destroyed by aerial bombardment, the RAF by night, and the USA Army AF by day and the POW’s feared for their lives locked in the tram shed throughout the bombing, the guards disappeared and the POW’s managed to break out the shed. Dresden was not a safe place to be seen in a British uniform, the dead were stacked up in the streets and the escapee’s scavenged civilian clothing from the dead and in small groups joined the endless stream of displaced people leaving the city, eventually making their way to Czechoslovakia. By now this small group of escaped POW’s were fully aware of the advancing Russians and were well versed in avoiding the fanatical Nazi’s who would kill them given half a chance, but eventually they reached American advanced troops and safety at last. They were taken to a forward base, deloused, showered, and fed ice cream with cigars whilst watching Laurel & Hardy in the cinema tent, of course they were all promptly very sick after not eating properly for many months.
Les, with the rest of his group were passed down the lines and returned to ‘blighty’ courtesy of the RAF and a Lancaster bomber, he was 5 stone lighter including the Army boiler suit he’d been given.
I first met Les in 1994, we roomed together for a week in a little village called Elst, (a few miles out of Arnhem), and I was privileged to witness him receiving his 50th Arnhem anniversary medal issued by the Dutch government to all survivors of the battle, this was his only, very lonely medal, because for whatever reason he had never received his medal entitlement, (probably because he couldn’t be traced), but he was not really bothered about them, he said “he’d only come for the beer,” this factor alone shows the measure of the man..! He was surrounded by other Arnhem Vets that day who were smothered in their own bravery, many thought he’d just walked in from the street, maybe taken the wrong turning by accident, nothing was said, though some evil minds were working overtime, but his name was on the list.
Les got 6 months sick leave before Demobilisation and was back driving in no time, he met his wife Peggy and they got married then he set about building a bungalow in his spare time, there was no shortage of work for those who wanted it, and Hull was a bomb site after the war. He built his haulage business up and started to employ drivers, his wife gave him a baby daughter (Jenny), who he would eventually train up to HGV standard and she would also become one of his drivers.
He also had a successful go at pig breeding, he built his own maternity sties, taking the pigs past weaners and selling them on for bacon. Bad luck was to strike when his wife Peggy got ill and went on to die in the late 70’s. He had to cut back, wife Peggy had been the main stay in running the pigs and his haulage business had grown significantly, therefore the pigs had to go.
Somehow Les found the time to court another lady friend, Jenny), ‘perhaps it’s all in the name’ they went on to marry and produced two lovely children, first Maryanne followed a couple of years later by Leslie James (Jamie), Les was now 60 + years, running a haulage company and often driving himself more than 100 hrs a week, doing most of his own servicing and repairs to keep the fleet on the road. He kept this up well into his late 70’s before he started to cut down a bit, but never gave his licence up until he was into his 90’s, it was only 4 years ago when he got rid of his last unit.
I had got to know Les via the PRA (East Riding Branch) and back in the early 60’s the young Sappers of 299 Para Sqn RE had built the ‘Pegasus’ club for them in Driffield, this is where Les met Jenny his second wife who had been working behind the bar. Tragedy struck again when his Jenny (2nd wife) got ill and died during 2011 followed a few years later, (2014) by the death of his eldest daughter Jenny, and for the first time since knowing him I saw his head going down, he told me “he’d had enough” but the lads from 299 Association, plus the love from his family and friends rallied him around for a bit longer innings, until now. Les died in his own home surrounded by his loving family and friends, even his little Jack Russell dog ‘Minnie’ lying at his feet. He could have died many times over in his long and eventful life in the most terrible of circumstances. I don’t believe we will ever lose the ‘Les Ransom effect’ at the 299 Association, those who knew him will take a little part of his love for life, his durability, and carry it in their hearts for the rest of their days. Les Ransom’s character typifies the airborne soldier, the never say die attitude whatever the problems, always just keep soldering on, remember, Les lived on his own right until the end, he was so fiercely independent, fighting against all the health issues that comes with old age.
The example he has set for us all, is delivered as from that special generation of which we may never see the likes of again. God bless him. His old friend Gaz Coe.
THE LESLIE RANSOM FOUNDATION
This is still at the planning stage, but there are moves afoot to set up a foundation in his name by taking a small group of school children across to Arnhem each year for the celebrations, we think we have a benefactor in place, and things are looking positive.
THE DEAN IDESON’S POEM
Dean Ideson one of our ex 299 Commando’s has put pen to paper and delivered a brilliant piece of work and a must for all to read. Dean delivered this at his graveside with much emotion, but controlled it well and we must thank him for this.
Gaz Coe 299 Secretary