Sneaking around the open sea
PUBLISHED: 15:21 22 May 2008 | UPDATED: 09:13 11 August 2010
TWO WEEKS ago we told the story of life-long Dagenham resident Leonard Platt and his aim to immortalise the town within the fun and familiar lyrics of his song, Dagenham Blues. Now Len recounts some of the highlights of his incredibly colourful life, fro
TWO WEEKS ago we told the story of life-long Dagenham resident Leonard Platt and his aim to immortalise the town within the fun and familiar lyrics of his song, Dagenham Blues.
Now Len recounts some of the highlights of his incredibly colourful life, from his attempts to cheat his way into the Air Force to his arrest for being a stowaway.
Len moved to Dagenham in 1929 when he was just three years old.
He recalls growing up in a town with no electricity and no motor vehicles on the roads, an image that will be difficult for some of our younger readers to imagine.
Len was just 14 when the war broke out and recalls the day when the children of the borough were evacuated to the countryside: "We were marched from the Chequers past Fords to get onto the jetty," he said.
"There were two boats - the Royal Daffodil and the Sovereign - and there was a Destroyer which escorted the boats to Lowestoft.
"I liked it, it was an adventure."
Len then recalled the moment he was picked by a family: "My brother and I were the last ones to be picked.
"We were taken by a farm labourer and his wife with big buck teeth.
"I was a bit of a jack-the-lad so we didn't get on very well at all.
"I can remember him ducking my head in the water trough...I came home quite early."
When Len returned to the borough, still aged just 14, he heard that there was a job going on the fish market and jumped at the chance.
"I was fascinated," he said.
"The workers were all tough men and they swore like troupers."
When Len was 16 he wanted to join the army but he was still too young.
Not to be deterred, he changed the numbers on his identity card to look like he was 17 and went to sign up in Romford.
"I was as silly as a two bob watch," he said.
"I asked if I could join the Air Force I think they mistook the school I went to for a public one because they sent me on a three-day training course in Bedfordshire with a bunch of high school and college lads."
At the training centre Len was tested along with the other boys in aptitude, writing and arithmetic.
He said: "I just copied off the lad next to me but at the end of the three days the Officer said that my arithmetic wasn't good enough.
"He told me to go away to night school and try again."
Len joined the army instead and came out at the end of the war with one court marshal under his belt.
He then began stowing away on boats, blaming his jack-the-lad antics on the cold British weather.
He said: "It was freezing when we come home.
"There was a ship in the docks heading for Jamaica and I thought, 'I'm getting on that regardless.'
Len hid himself away in a grain store as the ship set sail.
"I was soon caught and put to work," he said.
"But the first port of call was Bermuda and they put us off there.
"It was like one big holiday.
"Funnily enough I bumped into two of my friends from Dagenham who were working on a different ship so I went back with them.
"They hid me all the way back to England and then I hitch hiked to Dagenham where no-one would believe I had been to Jamaica."
Due to his habit of popping up on boats where he didn't belong Len was twice deported from America and eventually spent 28 days in prison for stowing away on a ship trying to get home to Dagenham from New York.
Fast forward 30 years and Len was still up to his old tricks.
He tells the story of a journey he made in a small aircraft in the 1970s, flying from Melbourne to Singapore.
He said: "I'd had a few drinks and I was feeling a bit merry so I asked if I could go up on the flight deck.
"I said I was in the same business so a member of the crew took me straight into the cock pit.
"I could tell the pilot was dying to ask me what I did for a living and eventually he said 'I understand you're in the same business' and I said 'That's right, I used to be on the London buses.' The pilot wasn't happy but the co-pilot couldn't stop laughing."
This final story seems to sum up Len's life rather eloquently - he would always anger those in authority with his likely-lad antics, but most people would be laughing right along with him.
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