Obituary: Leslie Victor Puckering, 93

Leslie Victor Puckering, a talented cyclist and former prisoner of war, has died, aged 93.

Les was born in the Hampshire village of Hurstbourne Priors in the weeks following the end of the Great War which resulted in his middle name – V for victory!

Aged nine, his family moved to London, where he became a member of the Belle Vue Cycling Club. On leaving school he worked with the Raleigh Cycle Company, which sponsored his commitment to compete in the Great Britain cycling pursuit team at the proposed Helsinki Olympic Games.

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The Second World War ended that dream, however, and in 1940 Les was called up and found himself in the heart of rural Scotland as a member of the Lanarkshire Yeomanry. In September that year, the regiment moved to Haddington on defensive duties at the airfields of RAF Drem and RAF Macmerry.

Les and the QM Stores were billeted in a former shop in Haddington’s Market Street and, on their first day, discovered that a dance was to be held in the local town hall. There he met the love of his life, Jean Cumming, whose memory would later keep him alive as he struggled to survive as a prisoner of war.

In December 1941, the regiment was deep in the jungles of Malaya when the Japanese invaded through neutral Siam, and in February 1942, Les and his fellow Gunners found themselves prisoners of war. Held first at Changi, Les spent the next year in the depths of the Kinkaseki Copper Mine.

In August 1943, the labour force was so depleted by cruelty, starvation and over-work that survivors were lined up on “thin man parades” to select the very worst of the sick who would be moved to another camp.

Les was in a desperate state but, to his horror, the guards walked past him. Knowing he would not survive much longer, Les managed to struggle to the end of the line where he was picked out. He was always troubled by the fact that he was given a “second chance” while many of his friends were left behind.

Moved to the camp at Shirakawa, Les once again evaded death when, during a raid by American bombers, a piece of shrapnel embedded itself in his forehead.

Reunited with Jean, they married in St Mary’s Church in Haddington in 1946. He joined the Civil Service and then the Ministry of Defence.

In the years to follow, Les became a proud “Scotsman” although he never lost his allegiance to Chelsea FC. He was closely involved in the community at Haddington where he was an elder at St Mary’s Church and treasurer of the local Probus Club.

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In an item in the church newsletter, Les said: “People ask if I can forgive those who treated me as a slave labourer. I have no hatred for them, nor do I love them. They did what they were ordered to do.”

He is survived by Jean, son Ian and his family.