Les Wales, one of South Yorkshire’s last WW2 veterans, who appeared in film with Hollywood star, dies aged 98

One of South Yorkshire’s last surviving veterans of World War Two, who appeared in a film with a Hollywood star, has died aged 98.

Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 8:14 am

Les Wales, who trained to drive Bedford three ton lorries in Sheffield in 1943, died after a short illness on May 4, said his son, Frank, just a few weeks short of his 99th birthday.

Les, who worked at British Ropes in Doncaster before the war, originally applied to join the RAF, hoping to be an air gunner on Lancaster bombers. But he was turned down because of arthritis in his left foot, which doctors thought could cause him a problem at high altitude. Bomber aircrews had some of the most horrific casualty numbers in the war.

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Les Wales, pictured, front left, with actress Annette Bening. Mr Wales, who was one of South Yorkshire's last surviving veterans of World War Two, has died aged 98

Three weeks after he was rejected by the RAF, he received his call-up papers from the army, and joined the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). He was trained up as a lorry driver, using his previous experience from the garage.

After receiving his training in Sheffield, he was sent to serve in North Africa and Italy, meeting Anna, his Italian wife, while serving in Italy. He drove supplies of ammunition to the Royal Artillery as the allies fought their way north after landing in Southern Italy. Anna died in 2004.

He said in 2018 that his experiences in the RASC included being bombed by the Germans as he arrived in Sicily on a tank landing craft, which was damaged in the raid, and being shelled by Nazi artillery in the advance north.

After the war, he returned to his job at British Ropes, later moving to work at Brodsworth Colliery as a diesel engine fitter. He also worked in railway engineering at the Doncaster Plantworks, and at an International Harvesters tractor factory, before he retired in the early 1980s.

He remained closely involved in veterans organisations, having been chairman of the Fellowship of the Services’ 51 Mess, and remaining involved with the Royal British Legion.

He hit the headlines in 2018, when he was give a role in the film Hope Gap, starring Annette Bening and Bill Nighy, which had scenes shot in Doncaster.

The director wanted a genuine veteran to read to the ‘The Exhortation’ at Doncaster war memorial on South Parade. That is the reading of the words: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

As one of South Yorkshire’s last veterans of the war, Les was selected, and appeared on the credits.

He was pleased to see the film streamed and said he was pleased with his performance.

He said at the time: “I never expected to be a film star.”

He had previously appeared as an extra in the 1959 Italian movie, Hercules Unchained, which he said involved charging old Roman walls waving papier mache swords.

Les, from Balby, leaves a son and two grandchildren.

His funeral will be held at St Peters in Chains Church on Chequer Road, Doncaster on Friday June 10.