Sudbury war veteran recalls time behind enemy lines

5 Crofts Lea, Little Waldingfield, CO10 0SL.  Pictured; Len Manning, RAF WWII veteran.
5 Crofts Lea, Little Waldingfield, CO10 0SL. Pictured; Len Manning, RAF WWII veteran.

A Sudbury war veteran has spoken about how he evaded capture by the Germans after his plane was shot down.

Ahead of his involvement in the Remembrance Sunday parade through the town at the weekend, Second World War veteran Len Manning, 93, recounted the time the Lancaster bomber he was in was attacked by a German nightfighter and crashed in a French village, where he was subsequently protected by the French resistance movement.

“Immediately, the whole plane was alight and burning,” Mr Manning told BBC Radio. “I had to get out of the turret to get my parachute. By that time, the plane was going down at a steep angle.

“I said ‘it’s now or never’ and leapt into the night. On the way down, I could see the parachute smouldering above my head.

“I landed in a field flat on my back. I had no idea where I was. I walked for about eight miles and I was in quite terrific pain because my face and arms were badly burnt.”

Mr Manning described collapsing on the doorstep of a farmhouse, where members of the resistance took him in.

They proceeded to move him to different locations in the same village, and then to another village, as German soldiers persistently searched the area for him, knowing that some of the Lancaster bomber crew had survived.

For an extended period, he was safeguarded by a café owner, who would later receive the Legion d’Honneur for her efforts to provide safe haven for many people fleeing the Germans during the war.

He recalled: “They were taking an enormous risk taking me in. If the Germans found out, they would have shot them out of hand.

“Not thinking one afternoon, I walked into the café and there were some straggly Germans there. She realised what had happened and got a tea towel and started beating me around the head, as though I were a servant, and chased me out. Fortunately, we got away with it.”

Mr Manning, president of the Sudbury branch of the Royal British Legion, eventually joined up with American troops setting up an emergency hospital in the area, who then took him to Paris to reunite with Allied forces.