Post memories: Hero who fought Nazis at sea and found peace in Dagenham
- Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant
After joining the Royal Navy in 1940 as a 15-year-old boy, George Lester embarked on a life-defining series of missions during the Second World War – including working for Churchill – before finding peace at home
So says 90-year-old George Lester, of Hamden Crescent, Dagenham, whose astounding career in the Royal Navy included missions in North Africa, Italy, Normandy – and a slap on the back from Winston Churchill.
“I joined the Navy in December 1940 when I was 15 years and three months old,” he said.
“Then in 1942 I joined HMS Nelson – one of the biggest battleships in the fleet – as a telegraphist.”
One of his first missions was Operation Pedestal, which was an attempt to get supplies to the vital but besieged island of Malta.
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“We lost nine merchant ships trying to relieve Malta,” George said. “It was very hard for us.”
George then took part in Operation Torch – the invasion of French North Africa – with the Nelson in November 1942.
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After a swift victory, the battleship was sent to support the invasion of Sicily and the Italian mainland in 1943.
“We bombarded the coast at Salerno with 16-inch guns – they were enormous,” he said.
It wasn’t long before George was snapped up by a small command ship whose responsibility was to oversee the Normandy landings at Gold beach.
“We had to do all sorts – including dealing with human torpedoes and all the other silly things the Germans were sending out to stop us landing,” he recalled.
Towards the end of the year, George went to the Yalta Conference – and there met his ultimate boss.
“We were responsible for Churchill’s communications while he was at Yalta,” he said.
“He came to see us once and said, ‘thank you for being my eyes and ears and mouth’ – it was a privilege to meet him.
“I also remember seeing President Roosevelt being pushed around in his wheelchair by his son – but I didn’t ever see Stalin.
“The Soviets were secretive.”
George left the Navy in the 1950s – but didn’t join his beloved RNA in Dagenham until 1983.
“The problem is, I was a young man, starting a family, working – I simply was not thinking about anything else,” he said.
“But when I did go, I had a wonderful time, and I ended up being the chairman for 27 years.”
George is now hoping to bring fresh blood into the association.
“Not so many people are joining now – and that is a real shame,” he admitted. “They are missing out – last Saturday was my birthday, and I spent it at the RNA. That’s what it means to people like me.
“The members there became my closest friends.”
If you are interested in joining RNA Dagenham, call 0208 2209 391 – the branch welcomes enquiries from all people, male or female, who have an interest in the Royal Navy