Leonard Arthur Favell of the 1st Kings Dragoon Guards, was my Great Uncle. Len died on Thursday the 22nd June 1944 while serving in Italy. His grave is in the Assisi War Cemetery.
In June 1944 the Germans were making their first attempts to stop the Allies advance North of Rome. There was heavy fighting in the areas around Perugia and Assisi where he is buried and the Allies suffered a high number of casualties while facing crack regiments of German troops. Len enlisted on the 1st May 1944 and was posted to the 50th Battalion, the Green Howards at Ripon in Yorkshire. He was transfered to the 12th Battalion Green Howards, a Reconnaissance (Recce) Battalion which in 1942 then became 161st Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps. Recce Regiments operated in armoured cars and would very much be the spearhead of any advance. A history of the Recce corps is entitled "Only the enemy in front (every other bugger behind!)" He attended a wireless and gunnery course at Scarborough and in February 1943 passed the standard test for 'gunner opertaor group C, Class III'. By late 1943 he was training at Trowbridge in Wiltshire and on the 13th December he embarked with the British North Africa Force, landing in Italy on Christmas day.
On 29th april 1944 he was reposted to the King's Dragoon Guards, an armoured regiment who had previously been in action in North Africa. Landing on the beaches at Salerno the allied armies endured a long and protracted fight up the mountainous spine of southern Italy. The German defenders fell back to a fortified and well defended line that cut across the country and centred on Monte Cassino. Between January and March 1944 there were four battles of Monte Cassino before the 'Gustav' line as it was known was finally broken and the allies made for Rome which fell on the 4th June, just two days before D Day. Hitler was forced to send four fresh divisions of reinforcements to Italy at this crucial point.
The fighting in Italy was slow progress in the hills and mountains, clearing each village and vantage point before proceeding. The German troops fought for every inch and when they fell back under the cover of darkness often left mines and booby traps for the advancing allies. Tanks and other armour often had to be separated from the infantry due to the torturous mountain roads and supplies were often brought in by mule train. In a letter home Len described it as "hard going alright….mostly on foot too, we don't have a lot of chance to use our armoured cars….I have met a couple of my pals since I have been here and there are a couple of them with me….I have never been in so many different houses in my life since I have been here, some queer places too, of course we sleep in the open a lot too , but we are on the move all the while slowly but surely if you know what I mean" The letter, to his brother Sidney, was dated the 25th May 1944 and sent from "D Squadron, !st Kings Dragoon Guards, CMF."
I recently learned of Len's last hours from Walter Beevers, now aged 90. I am very grateful for the memories that he passed on to me and this is roughly what he told me: -
“I was in the Kings Dragoon Guards, the same regiment as Len Favell. We were in Italy where my main job then was driver for the Squadron Leader (if I remember rightly, he was Major Delmege, who we used to call “Fluff” Delmege). The Squadron Leader was in wireless communication with the troop ahead (Len’s troop) and heard that they were unable to push on. They were in a nearby village, pinned down by enemy fire. He told me to get the car (a Dingo Scout, one of the small 2 man jobs) ready and take him to where they were bottled up.
We got there ok - the Germans were letting us in, but not letting anyone move on or out. When we arrived, the Major walked up to the front whilst I stayed with the car. Another Trooper came over to and told me that Favell had been hit. I asked “is he dead?” and he said “no but he is in a bad way”.
After a while, the squadron leader came back to the vehicle and asked me to take him (the Squadron leader) back to the Squadron. He must have had some faith in me getting him there, even though I was only about 19 years old. He said to put the car seats down as low as they would go and drive back up the hill as fast as I f*****g could! I did – and we went back like a bat out of hell.
Then I had to get the ambulance and its driver and go back to collect Len. We expected to be fired on all the way but luckily for us some of our big guns had turned up and the Germans had moved on. We managed to get back and Len was lifted into the ambulance. He was in a bad way. I sat with him whilst the driver went as quick as he could to the nearest town hospital. On the way, in the ambulance, Len was trying to talk to me all the way. He was talking about his wife and what he wanted me to tell her but it was really difficult to tell what he was saying. We got him to the hospital but they wouldn't let us go in with him so we had to leave him there and go back to the squadron. Sadly, soon after that, we heard that Len had died.”
Len in The Green Howards
Len in with Royal Armoured Corps shoulder flash and 'Tankers' type beret
Dingo Scout Car - Walter was told to 'lower the seats' before heading into the gunfire