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Spalding son of veteran to see Arnhem for the first time




Spalding grandad David Dakin will see Arnhem for the first time this month as he makes an emotional pilgrimage to the place where his father, Les, fought valiantly.

Les, who was born in Barry, Wales, had been a professional footballer with Barry Town.

But war intervened and his military service brought him to Spalding with 3 Para - and changed the course of his life as it was here that he met his wife-to-be, Joyce, and was eventually to live out the rest of his days.

Wounded soldier Les Dakin is pictured centre with a bandaged head and the man helping him, Joe Spicer, became his brother-in-law.
Wounded soldier Les Dakin is pictured centre with a bandaged head and the man helping him, Joe Spicer, became his brother-in-law.

Like many in the 3rd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment, his first home in Spalding was a Nissen hut on the grammar school field.

"Dad actually took off from Folkingham to go to Arnhem," said David (73). "There was an aerodrome there."

Les ended up in a schoolhouse on the bridge in Arnhem - fighting alongside a wartime legend, Johnny Frost, then a lieutenant colonel.

Les Dakin in wartime uniform
Les Dakin in wartime uniform

Ten thousand Paras took part in Operation Market Garden, which Winston Churchill described as "the largest airborne operation ever conceived or executed".

Some 6,000 were captured - including Les - and 1,400 were killed in the fighting.

A famous picture shows Les - with his head bandaged - marching along with fellow prisoners.

The brother-in-arms who gave Les a helping hand was Joe Spicer, who married Joyce's sister, Renee, in Spalding, and became his brother-in-law.

Proud son David Dakin with the book his dad, Les, received as a prisoner of war. Left, the words of Winston Churchill from thebook
Proud son David Dakin with the book his dad, Les, received as a prisoner of war. Left, the words of Winston Churchill from thebook

David said: "Dad got some shrapnel in his head and a bullet in his thigh ... the bullet went straight through his thigh."

Les went to a prisoner of war camp, not far from the Nazi Belsen concentration camp, and once more found himself in the company of a legend, John Lord.

John, later a regimental sergeant major at Sandhurst, also parachuted into Arnhem as a member of 3 Para and, after being captured, worked tirelessly to improve conditions in the prisoner of war camp.

Les Dakin at a Paras reunion
Les Dakin at a Paras reunion

In 1959, John was the subject of the TV show This Is Your Life and Les was one of the guests along with King Hussein of Jordan, who had attended Sandhurst.

After Les came home from the war, he returned to the football field with Holbeach United until illness intervened.

David said: "He got TB (tuberculosis) from the prisoner of war camp so that finished his football days. The Paras actually sent him out to Switzerland so he had six months convalescing in the mountain air."

The words of Winston Churchill in a book given to Arnhem veterans who were prisoners of war
The words of Winston Churchill in a book given to Arnhem veterans who were prisoners of war

Les and Joyce waited until the war was over to marry.

David was about six months old when Les and Joyce and Joe and Renee moved out of his grandparents' overcrowded home in Pennygate and squatted in a wartime Nissen hut opposite the grammar school.

A blanket hung up in the middle of the hut was the dividing wall of privacy.

David said: "We then shared a house down Cherry Tree Grove. We were downstairs and they (Joe and Renee) were upstairs."

Les spent his working life with the Post Office engineering department - later British Telecom - and retired aged 65 after 38 years' service.

He died aged 73 in 1993 while Joyce lived to the age of 92, passing away three years ago.

Les and Joyce returned several times to Arnhem and David wishes now that he had gone there with them.

"Dad was very proud to have been a paratrooper, " said David. "They are all heroes, really. You can't sort of appreciate what they went through. He never glorified war or anything. He was just very proud to have done what he did."

David has a huge archive relating to his dad's military service.

Part of the archive is a book sent to every prisoner of war who took part in the Battle of Arnhem.

One page - headed 'The Prime Minister's Tribute - is a speech made by Churchill in the House of Commons on September 28, 1944.

It reads: "Finally, by the largest airborne operation ever conceived or executed, a further all-important forward bound in the north has been achieved. Here I must pay a tribute, which the House will consider due, to the superb feat of arms performed by our First Airborne Division...

"The cost has been heavy; the casualties ina single Division have been grievous; but for those who mourn there is at least the consolation that the sacrifice was not needlessly demanded or given.

"The delay caused to the enemy's advance upon Nijmegen enabled their British and American comrades in the other two Airborne Divisions, and the British 2nd Army, to secure intact the vitally important bridges and to form a strong bridgehead over the main stream of the Rhine at Nijmegen. 'Not in vain' may be the pride of those who survived and the epitaph of those who fell."

While "not in vain" was the pride of paratroopers like Les, David recalls a softer side to his dad.

He said: "I can never ever remember him losing his temper with me. He was a very mild mannered man. He wouldn't say a bad word about anybody."



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