Leslie Laver and His Mother

Leslie Laver, probably 1942. Courtesy of Jessie Course.

This page has been set up on 14 January 2019, on the 75th anniversary of the death of Leslie Laver. ‘Les’ was my father’s rear gunner before the Thackway crew was broken up by death and injury. He died with most of the Steven crew on the Dutch island of Texel.

At the time of his death Leslie was just 20 years old. He came from a poor London family, his mother Jenny being a widow who worked as a cleaner at the London theatres. She had three boys, Cyril, Walter (or Wally), and Leslie, and four girls, Marjorie, Irene, Jessie and Dorothy.

Leslie was the youngest of the family, He had been a most endearing little child and they had all made of him something of a pet. One of the most prized family stories about him was the time when, as a boy, he had draped a large towel round his shoulders, placed a paper crown on his head, and walked around the house, aping the priests at the local Catholic church, singing hymns with nonsense words but the correct tune. He had been quite serious about it and naturally his family thought the whole thing hilarious, and never let him forget it.

After he disappeared, his death was not confirmed for a long while. Jenny was heartbroken. She used to say to her daughters, ‘I wish I knew what happened to him, I wish I knew’. In her desperation she even went to a spiritualist to find out. The medium, holding the dead man’s glove, had told her of the moment of Leslie’s death, ‘he’s in a tight cage trying to get out’. The family felt sure this referred to his gun turret, and their only consolation was that the medium had added that he had not suffered long but had died quickly.

The Netherlands War Graves Committee arranged pilgrimages for almost thirty years after the war to British and Dominion war graves in the Netherlands. A visit by two of the relatives would be financed, and thus, around 1950, Jenny went out to Texel to see his grave with her eldest daughter Marjorie. It is Jenny’s tribute which appears on her much-loved son’s tombstone:

Although you’ve gone, my Boy,

I know that some day

We’ll meet again

In a world of gladness.

Though she lived to be 89, Jenny was never reconciled to the loss of her youngest child. Though her daughter Jessie would gently remind her, ‘Mum, so many other boys were killed in the war,’ Jenny would reply almost with anger, ‘What consolation is that to me?’

Sometimes, in her grief, she believed that Leslie came to visit her. She continued to live on in the old Victorian family house. Upstairs there was still the big sitting room with the piano, in which once the whole family had gathered for parties and singsongs. Jenny had always been strict about having doors shut; she did not like open doors in the house, and in the old days she had forever been telling her children to shut them. Leslie, he was always leaving that dratted door open; he would go upstairs and tinker on the piano and leave the door ajar. One day, years after his death, when Jessie was visiting her mother, Jenny suddenly turned to her and said, ‘That front room door’s open again upstairs—Leslie must have been in’.

JENNIE MACK GRAY

BELOW: Jenny Laver with Cyril, her oldest son, on the day he returned home from being a prisoner of war for three years.