Book Review 'Escaping with his Life - From Dunkirk to D-Day and Beyond' by Nicholas Young

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Jonathan Ball, Jun 26, 2019.

  1. Jonathan Ball

    Jonathan Ball It's a way of life.

    ‘A Boys Own Adventure’ doesn’t even come close to describing Leslie Young’s war. Nicely retold by his son, Nicholas, this memoir ticks all the boxes. On reading it I’m firmly of the opinion that there's probably not many who had as full a war as Leslie?

    He started it with the 2/Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment sent with the BEF to France in 1939 and commanded the Carrier Platoon. When the Germans attacked in May 1940 ‘Porky Young’s Carriers’ were right in the thick of it. The fighting retreat to the Channel is described in detail.

    Young and his men landed in Folkestone. The British Army had survived to fight another day but Leslie Young wasn’t prepared to hang around waiting for that day. Instead, following an interview with his namesake Peter Young, Leslie was off to command F Troop of No.4 Commando. He must have impressed in the interview because in Leslie’s words, Peter Young had a keen eye for the men he wanted to lead his Commandos and later wrote “You look at them, don’t you? You talk to them a bit, make up your mind if he’s a bullshitter or has something to contribute…”

    F Troop was an eclectic lot. In Leslie’s words they consisted of men such as ‘A Poacher, a Colonel’s son, a Wall of Death rider, a surveyor and an artist’. They went to Scotland and they must have been in mind for a job as they trained continuously for landing and embarkation, day and night. They also had lessons in hand to combat from a pair of former Shanghai coppers, a Mr Sykes and a Mr Fairburn. Young recounts the many memorable lectures from Sykes on the various ways of incapacitating an opponent which always seemed to end with the advice “…and then you kick him in the Testicles”

    The Operation they trained for was Claymore, the raid on the Lofoten Islands in Norway. After a rough crossing the raid was launched, destroying Fish Oil factories, rounding up the Quislings and managing to recover Enigma code books and rotors.

    A new CO arrived after Claymore who Young patently disliked to the point he felt his time in No.4 Commando was up. He returned to the Bedfords and was promoted to Major and given a Company. Next up, North Africa in January 1943 and the fight for Tunisia. After a fierce battle for control of Hill 583, excellently retold by Young Jnr, Leslie was captured by the Germans and shipped to Italy as a POW. The Officers were indignant about being handed over by the Germans to the Italians. Their new captors wanted the Officers in the Hold of the ship and an argument developed. The point made forcefully that British officers don’t do Holds.

    It was in captivity that Leslie started an illicit diary. The men were let out of the camp by the Italians on furlough after promising not to escape. News of the war came via a wireless, fashioned out of tin cans, bits of wire and some valves bribed from the Guards. Following the Italian Armistice the men were released. The Germans were moving south now in greater numbers and obviously were going to do everything they could to round men up. For Leslie and the other 30,000 who went on the run the journey ahead of them was anything but simple. 400 miles with the German Army in between them and the Allies.

    What follows is, for me, the best part of the story. Leslie traveled for 21 weeks, helped by Italian peasants who had very little to offer but did so all the same. In the end he made it to Anzio, crawling through German lines and belts of minefields to freedom.

    His war wasn’t over by any means. Leslie Young returned to the UK in March 1944 and quickly found another Company to command with 1/6 Queens who were with the Desert Rats of 7th Armoured Division. He landed in Normandy and fought through the dust of Goodwood to Bluecoat and on towards Falaise. Following the breakout Leslie took part in the Great Swan across France, crossing the path he had taken in 1940, ending up in Ghent. It wasn’t long after this that due to a shortage of manpower the Brigade was broken up and sent elsewhere. Elsewhere for Leslie Young was the UK and landing in Folkestone, as he had in 1940. He’d done his bit.

    An incredible story of one man’s war. It’s excellent.

    Escaping with His Life

    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
    CL1, tedfromscrubs, Drew5233 and 7 others like this.
  2. tedfromscrubs

    tedfromscrubs Junior Member

    CL1 likes this.
  3. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Thanks for bumping it - missed it the first time round. Think I need to get it for 1/6 Queens but nice to see the Beds and Herts getting some exposure.

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