I would like to introduce the ninth man – our centenarian, Les Oakley. Les turned 100 on October 24th 2019.
I had selected 8 men for this project when a friend asked if I would include his neighbour, Les. We met and Les talked to me for a couple of hours. Out of 100 years, Les chose to tell me about his time in the navy as a young boy.
Les joined the Sea Scouts at the age of 16 and when he turned 18 he joined the Reserves. Just eleven months later war broke out; Les was called up two weeks later and was away for two and a half years.
In November 1941, Les was drafted to HMAS Nestor, one of the N-Class destroyers on loan to Australia. They sailed with a convoy to Gibraltar and then on to Malta, arriving on Christmas Day. While having Christmas dinner, they were interrupted three times by the Germans bombing.
Later they joined another convoy heading for Malta. Malta was desperate for fuel, food and ammunition as the Germans and Italians were sinking most convoys, so the Admiralty sent one convoy from Gibraltar and one from Malta.
I was able to track down the official version of the sinking of the Nestor, which Les was on when it was bombed and later scuttled.
In telling me his story, Les relived his wartime experience and brought it to life (far more than the official version). Even though 8 decades had passed, he still recalled that time as a wonderful experience, “because it was dangerous”.
I am very honoured to include Les as one of the nine men in my exhibition.