Leonard William Hayden

Leonard William HAYDEN appears several times on this site inc. ‘Burials from 1930 to 1989’, ‘Gravestones pt. 2’ and ‘Independent Chapel Records 1806-1829’. Leonard was a British NCO who served as an engine fitter with the RAF at Duxford Aerodrome, at RAF Hornchurch during 1939-1940, and in North Africa and Italy in 1941-1943.

During 2016 we found some interesting information about him on the website of the Imperial War Museum (Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ) website (www.iwm.org.uk). The material was 13 audio tapes, recorded by the IWM in 1983, which contained more than 366 minutes of Leonard being interviewed about his World War 2 1939-1945 experiences.

We are very grateful to the IWM for their permission for us to create links to the following 13 tapes and to produce a transcript of Leonard’s recording of village life in Henham. To listen to the tapes in full please visit the Imperial War Museum webpage HERE.

When you first open the webpage it will indicate that there are 26 tapes. This is because the 13 tapes have been produced in two formats – mp4 or wav. The alternative format begins at Reel 14.

Below is a table containing a summary of the contents of each tape. This is followed by a number of family photos kindly given by Leonard’s son John Hayden and then by a transcript of Leonard’s childhood memories in Henham.

Reel 1
Reel 2
Reel 3
Reel 4
Reel 5
Reel 6
Reel 7
(28.15 mins) (27.54 mins) (28.8 mins) (29.15 mins) (28.20 mins) (26.41 mins) (28.11 mins)
Background in GB, 1920-1939: story of joining the RAF, 1939; civilian employment in factory; reasons for enlisting with RAF and reaction of parents; childhood interest in aircraft and photography; educational qualifications; reason for training as mechanic; opinion of skill levels among RAF mechanics. Continues: Aspects of training with RAF in GB, 1939: basic training at RAF Cardington; attitude to discipline; uniform and kit; drill; marathon run in gas mask; dress parades; posted to St Athan, Wales for further training; opinion of training; sporting activities; reaction to outbreak of war, 3/Sep/1939; technical training; exams; drop-out rate; passed fitter’s course as aircraftman; duties of fitter and rigger; relations between ground crew, senior officers and pilots; story about stealing rations; reason for being posted to fighter squadron at Duxford, 10/1939. Continues: description of duties with 617 Sqdn RAF in Italy, 1943; comparison of duties with bomber and fighter squadrons; opinion of American air crews. Aspects of period as engine fitter at Duxford Aerodrome, GB, 10/1939-8/1940: opinion of Blenheim bomber; daily routine and duties of flight mechanic; parades; problem opening No 1 hangar doors; organisation and role of 222 Sqdn; further comments on Blenheim; story of death of air crew in accident; description of Duxford Aerodrome and airfield; opinion of accommodation; story of arrival of WAAFs; memory of cold weather; Continues: messing arrangements; Christmas dinner served by officers; opinion of officers; technical equipment; use of tents to cover Spitfires; priming engines according to temperature; reliability of aircraft and engines; personal toolkit; problem of lifting heavy loads without cranes; problem of lack of spare parts; security on airfield; opinion of RAF Regiment; guard duties; opinion of preparations for war; fire service; painting Spitfires; aircraft identification system; question of camouflaging aircraft on ground; story about American NCO; description of picketing aircraft to prevent blowing over; story of servicing Blenheims for use by Russians; problem of shortage of ground crew for fighters during Battle of Britain, 1940. Continues: shifts and guard duties; opinion of food. Aspects of period as engine fitter at RAF Hornchurch, GB, 8-11/1940: air raid and damage to airfield; accommodation and messing arrangements; sleeping arrangements and description of ‘biscuit’; daily routine and duties; granted four days ‘war strain’ leave; attitude to bombing of airfield; story of visit from Duke of Kent during air raid; story about pilot Willie Atherton; land mine dropped on airfield and defused; first impressions of Bristol Beaufighter; comparison of day and night duties in GB and North Africa; maintenance and preparation of aircraft. Continues: opinion of Merlin engine and reliability; comparison of various fighter aircraft; attitude to loss of aircraft due to poor maintenance; story of Spitfire crashing on airfield and investigation; attitude to fear; fatigue and mental condition of pilots; length of time taken to prepare aircraft during action; opinion of Len Deighton’s book ‘Fighter’; willingness of pilots to continue operations. Continues: scramble procedure and preparations for take-off; reason for leaving canopy open on Spitfire; attitude to politics; story about RAF Manston; rate of replacement of aircraft; opinion of Air Transport Auxiliary; various memories of pilots; duties as flight mechanic with 89 Sqdn RAF in North Africa.
Reel 8
Reel 9
Reel 10
Reel 11
Reel 12
Reel 13
(27.55 mins)
(30.07 mins)
(28.01 mins)
(28.25 mins)
(28.13 mins)
(26.48 mins)
Continues: construction and lighting of runways; story of Spitfire crashing with mechanic on tail plane; description of Spitfire undercarriage and flying characteristics; problem caused by fitting IFF system on Spitfire; reaction to loss of air crews; attitude to danger and being under fire; description of air raids on airfields. Continues: further description of air raids; attitude to using air raid shelter; problem of recurring nightmares; story of Beaufighter crashing on airfield and casualties; leave; attitude to courage; memories of black US air crew in Naples, Italy. Continues: reason for nicknames ‘junior’ and ‘square wingtips’; explanation of term ‘mickey-mouse raid’; opinion of effectiveness of bombing airfields; attitude to outcome of war; composition of A Flight at RAF Hornchurch; number of personnel; opinion of pilots; story of applications to be air gunner and flight mechanic; reason for volunteering for overseas service. Continues: story about Jewish mechanic; comparison of bomber and fighter pilots; relations with pilots; pride in unit; story of fight with French soldiers in Ismailia, Egypt; confidence of pilots in ground crew; opinion of competency of pilots; story of flying in Beaufighter; various memories of Douglas Bader. Continues: further memories of Douglas Bader; modification of gun button; use of battery trolley to start engine; extra time required for Bader to climb into aircraft; RAF jargon; swearing; pilots’ attitude to enemy kills. Continues: air displays by pilots over airfield; attitude to CO; further memories of Douglas Bader; role of camp commander and CO; flights for ground crew in Miles Magister; opinion of army; problem of lack of information; story of manning Lewis gun in Italy; attitude to rumours.








Royal Air Force Pass & Release Book issued 19th April 1939 and released 23rd Jan 1946. dated 18th Dec. 1947.

Leonard William Hayden’s wedding on Christmas Day 1945
1952 – Len, Sylvia his wife and John at No. 1 Building Yard, Henham.

Leonard William, Sylvia Joan & John Richard Hayden 1953:











1955 at Le Mans – Leonard W. Hayden and Mike Hawthorn discuss the D – Type Jaguar prior to winning the race.





1953 winning at Le Mans with Leonard Hayden changing the NSR wheels 1955 at Rheims – Leonard chats to Stirling MossLe Mans







Recollections of being carried to school on my eldest brother’s back because of chilblains remain very strong. Four and a half years old was the youngest that Mother could get us off her hands, “she would tell us later”, and although walking was painful and the school was over 3/4 of a mile away, it made no difference, space at home was of more importance, and two more younger ones had to be cared for. The school was a small red-brick building with grey slated roof at which we children would learn the 3Rs and a smattering of history and geography.

Those days of the early twenties come back vividly to mind. Being the fifth born of a family of nine children made life very hard for us. We children all had duties. Boys to chop firewood, fetch water, dig the garden and get in the coals etc. Girls – to clean all the shoes – boys and girls, help with the housework and look after the younger ones. It is not likely that memories of such hard work but happy times will ever dim.

Water had to be carried from the pump on the green both for drinking and washing, and sometimes from the next village during dry summers, when my father would place a large metal tank upon one if his wagons and harness up the horse to go to Sir Walter Gilbey’s old house at Elsenham Hall to get water from the natural spring there, which to my knowledge has never dried-up. We children loved to ride with him on these occasions and take the one penny he charged per two-gallon bucket from the villagers when we went around the village where the wells had dried-up.

Our village was reported to be the highest point in Essex and was called ‘Henham-on-the-Hill’. Folks said that the church porch step was level with the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral and as we all believed it, that was so. Life in those days was governed by what we heard in the village or what we were able to read, but reading material was not easy to comer by. I remember being given ‘Black beauty’ by my grandmother and read it through many times. Later reading anything that was available absorbed all my working life and often my parents would come downstairs and wake me in the early hours and find me asleep in the horsehair sofa.

There were few families at that time who could afford a radio and those so fortunate had the battery-man call on them every Friday with a newly-charged wet-accumulator battery which he would exchange for the run-down one that would be charged-up over the next week at a cost of tuppence for small and threepence for large. His mode of transport was a motor-cycle with a box-like sidecar. Most of the transport seen in the village at this time was horsedrawn, but once in a while one would see the steam-driven trucks of the flour-miller and the steam ploughs would come in the autumn to plough the land and this would cause excitement among the boys, I can tell you.

One of the village builders had an old car and at one time my father had a solid-tyred ‘T’ Ford truck which we learned to drive at a very early age. To go to Bishops Stortford was an event, and one could hold forth on a trip to London for a whole month it was so unusual.

We Hayden children were lucky as father would load us in a wagon and place a pig net over us to prevent us falling out and with Mother sitting beside him in her Sunday bonnet with the youngest in her arms, we would trot to Wanstead to see Mother’s relations, stopping at the ‘Sun and Whalebone’ public house at Potter Street, Epping both going and coming back. More I suspect to water the horses than us. This was a round trip of some 56 miles drive in one long unforgettable day.

We made our own entertainment. There being no refuse collections, various places in the village became the local dumps and many wondrous things were done with what we found there. Trolleys from old prams would be the ‘in-thing’ for a few weeks, and then maybe sticks and hoops to bowl down the road would become popular, the hoops coming from old bicycle wheels with spoke and hubs removed. Depending on the seasons we would mount expeditions to collect wild flowers or nuts, blackberries and sticks from the woods to try and sell around for perhaps a penny or two to spend in the village shop as pocket money as far as we were concerned had not been invented and we only had what our own endeavours would bring.

Our house had only three bedrooms and not very big at that. People often asked how we managed as there were so many of us. My Mother managed it by having us all well-disciplined, we were allowed in the house only to eat and sleep except in the very bad weather. All washing and boot-polishing etc had to be done outside in the shed. The babies, the two youngest would sleep in cots in the front bedroom with Mother and Father, all boys ‘sometimes three to a bed’ in the middle room and all the girls in the back bedroom. Children of school age went to bed strictly at 6.30 pm except in high summer, when we could play out until 7.30 pm. The elder sisters had to look after the younger children, like washing and dressing us in the mornings and preparing us for bed at night and roughing us up was part of every day’s ablutions especially using the scrubbing brush with great gusto on my brother Jack’s and my chapped knees. Now we realise that they were mad because their boyfriends would have been waiting down the green for them.

Our father was seldom home during the week as he was a cattle dealer, buying stock for the farmers roundabout and at weekends he would be busy looking after his ponies and all the usual jobs to be done around a smallholding. In the winter months, he would take one of us with him to hold the cart lamp and I can hear him now saying ‘Can you see ?’ and if the answer was ‘No dad’ he would say ‘Well how do you expect me to’. When we got to about twelve years old we would try and get a job ‘brushing’ for the gentry. Rab Butler was one of the ‘guns’, a very young M.P. at this time. ‘Brushing’ was walking across the fields and through the woods to drive out the partridges and pheasants towards the guns. For this we were paid two shillings and sixpence – given lunch of a half-round of cheese and bread, one pint of mild beer and sometimes salt-beef. It was here that we boys started smoking as no one could see us when we were in the fields and we thought that we were such big men, entitled to anywhere as we were earning wages. The money we would save up so that we could add to it the money we collected singing carols at Christmas time and then the week before Christmas we would go off on the WEEKLY bus to Bishops Stortford to buy small presents for our younger brothers and sisters and always something for Mum and Dad. Oh! those long, long happy days which at the time we thought would go on forever as children do, especially when in Sunday School which we had to attend twice every Sunday. But, then even that had compensations as it entitled us to go on the once-yearly Sunday School outing which usually meant a day in Hatfield Forest during the summer and an organised ramble and picnic and, providing the weather held good, was thoroughly enjoyed by us all. Hot and sticky, we would return home and all try to talk at once and tell of the day’s happenings so great an occasion was this to us then.

There are sour memories too as our village was a poor village and many young people died of tuberculosis during our schooldays and memories come flooding back of individuals whose names would be spoken of in whispers, that we would see listlessly leaning in the doorways of their cottages. The post World War 1 depression was upon our country and times were very hard for all the working people, but to us children of the time only our parents really suffered as they gave all to their children first and they managed on what was leftover.

The headmaster of our school was an ex-Army Sgt. Major who always ended-up on the subject of his army days in Mesopotamia and consequently brainwashed us all into thinking that England was the saviour of the world and that we excelled all in everything; this I was later to learn was not quite so.

It was around this time that my brother Jack and I found a complete old belt-driven twin-cylinder Douglas motorcycle in one of the village dumps and it did not take us long to find out how to get it going and many happy hours were spent chasing round and round our father’s meadow. It was this that I think now, influenced my future to a larger extent than one would have thought. Often it would break and we would pull it apart and find the trouble, repair it, or get our Uncle Jack the village blacksmith to fix it, then by trial and error we would tune the valves and ignition until we got her going again to our satisfaction.

All good things must end and my Mother at this time was making arrangements to start me on the road of life as an adult. I was not to find out until many years later that the three sets of underclothes, pyjamas (something we never had), handkerchiefs, two long trouser suits, macintosh and trilby hat etc that she was packing into my trunk were to be paid for at so much per week and over so many painful years.

I was a small boy for fourteen years and must have looked quite incongruous on that day in August 1934 marching off beside my mother to catch the old tank-engined train that left Henham Halt three times daily to meet the Cambridge to Liverpool Street train at Elsenham station. Four feet nothing, blue serge suit, grey trilby, rolled umbrella, yes everything had to be done just so, as my mother was a Londoner by birth and she would see that her son was not let down by not fitting into his new environment which was to be a hostel at 69, Howley Place, harrow Road, London. Here I was to be looked after by a housemother employed by Spencer, Turner & Boldero of Lisson Grove (coincidentally where my paternal grandfather worked in 1920s/30s – RG) who for the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence were to employ me to check invoices all day, this being the start of my apprentice ship to be an accountant.

The Imperial War Museum, for copyright reasons, limits us to the percentage amount of the material we may reproduce. We have confined our transcription to Leonard’s childhood in this village until, like Laurie Lee, he walks out one morning to begin a new unknown life. Firstly in London, then his WW2 experiences followed by his life in motor-racing. The complete story is available from the Imperial War Museum website.

Leonard’s career from leaving school at 14 years to retirement
‘Speed My Journey’ (written by Leonard on October 25th 1982)

Left school aged 14 years

1934 to April 1935 London  (trainee accounts)

April 1935 to August 1936 Elsenham Hall, houseboy

August 1936 to May 1938 Eastern Railways (Fitters Mate)

May 1937 to October 1938 Bishops Stortford Mineral Water Co. making and bottling 

 October 1938 to April 1939 Ernest Lake Ltd. (milling machine operator)

19th April 1939 to February 1946 joined R.A.F.

February 1946 to June 1947 Ace garage (Fitter)

June 1947 to December 1948 Boyd Gibbons Ltd., Heavy Plant Fitter and Sand & Ballast Truck

December 1948 to February 1950 Driver Monaco Engineering Ltd. (motor racing specialist)

February 1950 to April 1951 Stewart Mechanicals Ltd.

April 1951 to February 1952 Developments of life-size walking elephants Skyways Ltd. Foreman, engine overhauls.

February 1952 to November 1952 H.W. Motors Ltd., motor racing specialist,

November 1952 to November 1953 Skyways Ltd., foreman – propeller overhauls.

February 1953 to July 1976 Jaguar Cars (motor racing specialist)

July 1976 retired