June 26, 2016

Riley, Len

Service number: 4803251 | Rank: Private | Regiment: 6th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment.

Killed in action,  April 22, 1943, in Tunisia.

Buried at MASSICAULT WAR CEMETERY, Borj el Amri, Manouba, Tunisia. (Massicault)


Len was not a native of Brandon and his connection to the town is by virtue of him, and his battalion, being stationed in (near) the town during the war.  Evidence of this is provided by a birthday card sent to him, by his brother Eric, while he was in Brandon in 1941.  The card reads,

Dear Len.  Just a card to wish you many happy returns.  From Eric.  Good luck Len

… followed by 22 kisses, one for each year of Len’s life.

len-riley-card2len-riley-cardThe card was postmarked Bourne, (Lincolnshire) which was Len’s hometown.

So what do we know 0f Len?

Len (Leonard) was born to John William and Harriet Emma Riley (nee Parker), of Bourne, Lincolnshire, and his birth was registered in the third-quarter of 1919 (July, August, September) of that town.  It seems Len had a sister, Kathleen (born 1923), and two brothers, Jeffrey (born 1926) and Eric (born 1929).  This would make Eric about 13 years old when he sent the card to his older brother.


Grantham Journal, May 28th 1943

We know that Len was in the Territorial Army when war broke out in 1939, and was one of those sent over to protect France from the German Army soon after.  The early years of war did not go well for Great Britain and soon the army was in retreat and thousands of soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940, Len was one of them.  After this time his unit would have had to regroup on the British mainland before being re-armed.  There would also need to be re-training in new tactics and the use of new weapons, hence his stay at Brandon in 1941.  Sometime after he was shipped out to the deserts of North Africa.

The following is an extract from a website featuring an account of Lance Corporal Derek Birch, who served with the Lincolnshire Regiment through WW2.  (http://www.thelincolnshireregiment.org/derekbirch/derekbirch.pdf)

After that we went to Thetford Forest.  That was a terrible place. There were Nissan huts all over the area but we only saw our own Company.  We saw the Battalion for meals but after that we dispersed among the trees and saw only the Company.  There were sixteen in each Nissan hut, bunk beds, a table at each end with an acetylene lamp and a large wash bowl on it.  Two of the lads went each morning to fetch a pail of water to share between the bowls and eight men washed and shaved in each bowl. There was an earth floor. We didn’t go out at night because there were slit trenches all over the place. About once a month we were taken by truck to King’s Lynn for an afternoon and evening…

In January 1943 Len’s battalion arrived at Algiers.  On 24th April 1943 Len was killed in action and buried nearby.  With the to-ing and fro-ing of action burial plots became scattered, so when the campaign in North Africa was over work began on consolidating these plots into large, more manageable, war cemeteries.  On 14th July 1944, his body was exhumed and reburied in Massicault.  His headstone is of a white cross with the inscription … “No morning dawns, no night returns, but what we think of you.

UPDATE: 23rd April 2017

I have been contacted by Jeffrey’s grandson, Daniel Riley, living in Australia, who contacted me and provided images of Len, thus putting a face to the name.  Thank you to Daniel.