Cayton veteran awarded France’s highest honour

Navy veteran Len Woodhead has been presented the Lgion d'honneur medal.
Navy veteran Len Woodhead has been presented the Lgion d'honneur medal.

A Navy veteran has been awarded France’s highest honour for his role in helping to liberate the country from German occupation.

Len Woodhead, 93, volunteered for the Navy when he was 17 and was posted across the world during his years on HMS Roberts.

Mr Woodhead, of North Lane, Cayton, has been recognised for his efforts after being awarded the National Order of the Légion d’honneur.

He said: “It is an honour to receive this medal. I was surprised too because I certainly wasn’t the only one on the ship. It is a great feeling and it is now my sixth medal.”

Mr Woodhead was called up in February 1941 and set sail in October 1941 for Suez to help guard the canal. HMS Roberts called at the Azores, Cape Town, Durban, Simon’s Town, Mombasa and then Suez.

After going to Gibraltar for landing in North Africa, HMS Roberts anchored in Algiers Bay at bombarded shore bases on November 10 1942.

Moving on to Bougie, now Bejaia, 130 miles east, German bombers and JU88 attacked HMS Roberts releasing 500kg bombs from 1,000ft the following day.

Mr Woodhead said: “I was in the shower when the bombs were dropping so I quickly wrapped a towel around me and I ran up. Someone was doing my job and I was being ordered to man a gun, until they realised I had nothing on!”

The ship got a direct hit producing a hole seven feet by six while 17 shipmates were killed and 35 wounded, other ships were also hit.

Mr Woodhead said: “HMS Tynwald was sunk and we had to pick up survivors who came on board our ship. We also had to bury those killed at sea.

“The bomb had also gone through the bakery on the ship meaning we had no bread and only had biscuits and corned beef for weeks.”

Setting sail for Malta for the landings in Sicily, Operation Husky, HMS Roberts then continued on to the Italian landings.

Mr Woodhead returned to England to prepare for the D-Day landings on June 6. After VE Day he was sent back to Japan and was in the Suez Canal on VJ Day. He also stopped in Mombasa for a few months, then returned to the UK.

Mr Woodhead said: “I was on the Roberts from the beginning to being the last one to leave, going on to a frigate.”

After being demobbed, Mr Woodhead moved to Scarborough from Huddersfield with his wife and children where he ran a catering business, a hotel in Blenheim Street, a toy shop and Oasis Cafe in Newborough.

He also worked as a butcher, in laundry services and at the Post Office during his career after the Navy.