World War Two veteran, Len Gibbon, came to live at Care for Veterans in December 2019.
Originally from Elephant and Castle in London, Len joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a Despatch Rider when he was just 20 years old. In early June 1944, Len got married and four days later he was posted to Normandy as part of the Normandy Landings. He arrived on the 14th June, eight days into the operation. He explained, “You had to climb down this rope netting which hung down the side of the boat. Each of us was carrying a pack of ammunition on our back which weighed pretty much the same as you. Then when we got down to a certain point, someone shouted ‘Jump!’ and you had to fall backwards, someone caught you and pushed you onto the smaller landing craft to take you to shore.”
As a Despatch Rider, jobs included delivering despatches to units or escorting convoys. Len explained, “You were often on your own for long periods of time. I used to carry a tin with me that had holes punched all around the sides, half filled with soil. Then you would add some fuel and light it, and that was your stove! I’d cook my tins of meat and veg on there for dinner.”
Len was in Normandy through to the end of the invasion, then went to the Netherlands via Brussels, and was part of Operation Market Garden in September of 1944. From there, he was posted in Germany, which is where he was when the War ended: “I was on my way to Hamburg, riding my motorbike along the autobahn by myself. The woodland which ran alongside the motorway was alight where they’d destroyed the German ammunition stores. Suddenly a Spitfire was flying above me, came right down as if it was going to and on the road, then flew back up and did a loop! The pilot shouted down to me with thumbs up, shouting ‘victory!’ Then I knew it was over. I stood up on my bike, arms in the air, cheering!”
Len left the Army in 1947 and returned home. He started out as a fitter in the building trade, then went on to become manager of plant and transport for a large building company, which is what he did until he retired. In 2006, Len received the Medal of Remembrance “Thank You Liberators 1945” as a token of gratitude for contributing to the Liberation of the Netherlands in the Second World War. Then in 2017, he received the Chevalier in the Ordre nationale de la Légion d’honneur ‘in recognition of his acknowledged military engagement and steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War.’
Len came to live at Care for Veterans as he realised he needed extra help. He had had several falls at home and his walking was unbalanced. He also has a foot drop from an old ankle injury. He explained, “I thought I’d give it a try. I’d been to another place before, but the residents just sat around doing nothing. I like it here as there’s so much to do. I’ve been drawing and painting and today I got to pot some tomato seeds for the gardens. They keep you occupied, which I like.”
At Care for Veterans, the physiotherapists have been working with Len on his ankle strength, overall endurance and also his balance. Len is able to walk safely around with a mobility frame and supervision. He feels that his leg strength and overall fitness have improved with physiotherapy.
Len has worked with four physiotherapy students that have been on placement at Care for Veterans from Brighton University, and has been very helpful, participating in assessments with them so they can practice their skills.
Len loves dancing and so our physiotherapists incorporate this into his sessions; he loves to do the ‘Cha Cha’.
He said, “Although I’m 96, I still like to be doing something. I was up dancing yesterday at the concert they had on in the day room. I have physio as well, which I enjoy. I went on the bike today. I like going on the trips too; been to Devil’s Dyke, and I’m going to the rugby soon. It’s wonderful!”
In 2020, Len took on an epic cycling challenge and recreated the 104-mile distance of the original journey between Portsmouth and Gold Beach on a static bike. Read more here.