Veteran profile: Royal Navy conscript, D-Day telegrapher - and portrait artist - Leslie Stonell
PUBLISHED: 08:30 07 November 2013 | UPDATED: 09:03 07 November 2013
A grenade case, a half-finished portrait and some snatches of Morse code - these are the souvenirs Leslie Stonell, now 89, took home from the Second World War.
Normandy veteran Mr Stonell, of Gidea Park, was conscripted and trained as a telegraphist with the Royal Navy in the early 1940s.
He spent three and a half years abroad, returning home for marriage leave in 1945 and finally being demobbed in 1946.
But Mr Stonell, who had trained as a commercial artist, found a niche quite apart from his day job lugging around 30lb communications kits and relaying messages in Morse code.
“I used to spend my time drawing portraits of all the fellows,” Mr Stonell told the Recorder. “I’ve still got some.
“It started because I sat and did someone’s portrait, and they liked it – so its fame spread.
“I painted a picture of our second lieutenant – but when I got marriage leave I had to leave it, so I’ve still got this picture half-finished – and I still can’t remember his name.
“I don’t know what the rest of them used to do with their time.”
Although he landed at Normandy in June 1944, Mr Stonell didn’t see a lot of fighting.
But he did find himself caught in the crossfire while staying at Arromanches.
“We were in an old farmhouse on top of the harbour,” he said, “and there were two or three battleships out to sea and they were lobbing 15inch shells inland over us.
“At the time we didn’t really know what was going on. Everything was very secretive.”
Once he was out of the navy, he didn’t look back.
“I’ve never been to any reunions or anything like that,” he said. “I was so glad to get out of the war. Everybody had had enough.
“It was such an austere time and a waste of youth. I spent three and a half of my best years abroad.”
Mr Stonell ended up working for the V&A Museum in central London, where he was a conservation officer and master craftsman – a far cry from his days as a telegraphist.
“I’ve forgotten Morse code now,” he said, “except ‘SOS’.”
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