Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Raymond Leeson

Raymond Leeson : Photograph of Raymond in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: Acc.3318

Photograph of Raymond in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: Acc.3318

Raymond Leeson : (L to R) Military Medal; 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaf

(L to R) Military Medal; 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaf

Raymond was born on the 10th November 1919 in Chadderton, part of Oldham in Lancashire. We don't know anything about his family or his early life.

The Second World War broke out in September 1939 and Raymond joined the Army in Manchester on the 18th January 1940. We don't know whether he was conscripted or volunteered. He joined the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 3533443.

We don't know anything about Raymond's service between 1940 and 1944. We believe he was originally assigned to the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and stayed with this unit when it changed its name to the 1st Battalion in June 1942. This had been done because the original 1st Battalion had been captured at Singapore in February.

Raymond soon acquired the nickname 'Trapper'. This came from his excellent fieldcraft. The 1st Battalion was a mechanised machine gun battalion. It used the Vickers Machine Gun and the 4.2" Mortar to support infantry units with extra firepower. These weapons, and the vehicles that carried them, were heavy and difficult to quickly move. This meant that their best chance of survival came from not being seen. Fieldcraft included skills such as camouflage and concealment, so Raymond's abilities will have been extremely valuable to his comrades.

The diet of Raymond's comrades also benefitted from his skills. As his obituary in the Regimental Gazette stated 'on exercise in England he could always be relied on to snare the odd rabbit'.

Between October and December 1943 Raymond married Olga Butterworth in Middleton, near Oldham. The couple made their home in nearby Rochdale. Their first child, Linda R., was born between July and September 1944. It is unlikely Raymond was there when she was born.

This is because the 1st Battalion had landed in Normandy, France on the 26th July 1944. By this time Raymond had been promoted twice and held the rank of Corporal. He was a member of A Company, and commanded the crew of one of its Vickers Machine Guns.

During the battalion's time in Normandy they suffered from attacks by German snipers. They decided to use their Vickers guns against them. Raymond 'crawled out and laid in wait in the dusk, peering at trees which were suspect. After a while he was rewarded and saw the sniper arrive, climb a tree, harness himself high in the branches and then begin his camouflage ready for his next day's work. However Leeson trained his Vickers with such accuracy that one burst was sufficient to blow the sniper out of his position'.

Raymond and the 1st Battalion had fought through France and into Belgium by early September. He then took part in fighting around Nijmegen in the Netherlands. At some point he was promoted to Lance Sergeant and became commander of a section of 2 Vickers guns and 10 soldiers. During October he took part in the liberation of the Dutch town of s'Hertogenbosch.

In December the Germans launched an attack known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 1st Battalion helped to defeat it and then advanced into Germany. It fought in the Reichswald forest during a cold and wet winter and then advanced eastwards into Germany.

During late February 1945 the 1st Battalion was supporting other British units in their attack on the village of Holst, near Goch on the German - Dutch border. Two British battalions were forced back by the Germans, but 'after [they] had drawn back from the anti-tank ditch, Sergeant Leeson saw several wounded in front of his position. He left his gun pit, and, not once but several times, traversed the shell swept zone before him and brought the wounded in'.

At some point during early 1945 Raymond was able to return to the UK for a time. We know this because his second daughter, Jean, was born between October and December 1945.

When the Germans surrendered on the 7th May 1945 Raymond was in Hamburg with the rest of the 1st Battalion. He had carried out many other acts of bravery during the final months of the war. Two of them were described in the citation for his Military Medal. This was awarded in the London Gazette of the 24th January 1946. He was also Mentioned in Despatches on the 8th November 1945.

Lance Sergeant Leeson has served first as a Machine Gun Corporal and later as Section Commander throughout the whole North West Europe campaign. He was always the first to volunteer for any dangerous job and his courage and coolness under fire have been a magnificent example to all around him.

On 8th January 1945, at Champlon Famenne near Marche in the Ardennes, owing to a re-adjustment of the line, Lance Sergeant Leeson's MG Company was left without any infantry support for about 24 hours. Contact was lost with the enemy and the situation was most uncertain.

Lance Sergeant Leeson volunteered to take forward a patrol and re-establish contact.

He succeeded in this and maintained contact so effectively that the enemy were apparently unaware of any relief taking place in our lines until after it was completed.

Between 20th and 22nd April 1945, Lance Sergeant Leeson's Company was acting as garrison of Hiddingen. This Company was acting in an infantry role and the position of the enemy was most uncertain and confused. The Company was very weak and had great difficulty in fulfilling their role. On three consecutive nights Lance Sergeant Leeson volunteered to take out patrols. On all occasions his patrols were completely successful due to his initiative and leadership, and in the three nights he took nearly 30 prisoners and gained much valuable information.

These are two examples only of the enthusiasm, keenness and aggressive spirit which has typified this Non Commissioned Officer. His personal gallantry and cheerfulness at all times have been an inspiration to the whole battalion.

After the end of the war the 1st Battalion stayed in Germany on occupation duty. They spent some of this time in the city of Essen in the Ruhr. Whilst they were there the 1st Battalion held an athletics competition. Raymond took part, and won the 800 metres. He also came second in the 400 metres and the pole vault.

We don't know exactly when Raymond left the 1st Battalion and returned home, but it was before the middle of May 1946. He had been a member of 4 Platoon before he left Germany, and on the 13th his former Platoon Commander wrote to him. He was glad that 'you have arrived home safely', but was 'very unhappy to hear that your homecoming should be marred by such a blow'.

The blow was Jean's death. She died in April or early May, before her first birthday.

Raymond and Olga lived in Rochdale for the rest of their lives. Their son John was born between July and September 1957 in the Littleborough area of the town. We don't know what jobs Raymond had.

By 1985 Raymond and Olga lived at Springfield Park Cottages in Rochdale. In October of that year they travelled to the town of s'Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands for the celebration of the town's 800th anniversary. Raymond was one of 10 members of the 1st Battalion at the ceremony. They 'were made to feel like part of the family' by the citizens of the town, and 'none of us will ever forget' the occasion.

By 1994 Raymond and Olga lived at 7 Mulberry Close in Rochdale. Towards the end of the year Raymond was taken ill. He died in Rochdale Infirmary on Christmas Day 1994, aged 75. He was buried at Heywood Cemetery on Friday the 30th December.

Raymond's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1995.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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