Charles Leslie Stokell
Born 27 September 1919.
Died 20 January 2001, Sidmouth, Devon.
Joined 18 September 1946, rejoined 17 October 1955.
International vests Canada (1954).
Charles Leslie Stokell grew up in Eltham with his two brothers and three sisters, and from tales told to family and friends in later years, the exploits of his childhood “gang” were comparable with those of William Brown of ‘Just William’ fame. He would often regale his family with stories that would have any audience crying with laughter.
Les enlisted as a professional soldier before the war and as a first class sportsman became a Physical Training Instructor and eventually Sergeant Major with Royal Marine 41 Commando. He was involved in the storming of southern Sicily at Anzio before the beach-heads were secured. There was a night excursion to enemy held Norway, there was the post D-Day landing at Walcheren on the Netherlands coast where he finished up with the loss of two fingers and a shattered left shin; and there were so many other military actions which tended not to be talked about unless they gave rise to some funny story. Nobody seems to know how he came to win the Military Medal. If ever mentioned by him at all after questioning it was just in terms of, “they were given out to everyone who was ‘there’.” ‘There,’ of course, was some unrevealed exploit on a dark night somewhere in enemy occupied Europe. Les was injured seven times in all. On one occasion he fell 30 feet from a cliff where he was free-climbing in preparation for a night ‘visit’ to occupied France and, despite landing on his feet, his own knee fractured his skull.
A spell in military hospital recovering from one of these injuries put his appearance at the D-Day landings in jeopardy but determined to be with his unit, he ‘discharged’ himself at night, shinning down a drainpipe but not forgetting to take with him his cricket bat and ball and a football.
Les later admitted that he was, “lucky to ‘make it’ ” but would always add, “They were the best days of my life.”
With the war over, Les joined Belgrave Harriers and was soon making his presence felt in our cross country teams, running to 7th place in the South of the Thames Championship at Windsor Great Park in 1947, scoring in our Surrey County Cross Country teams, twice being selected to run for Surrey in the Inter-Counties Championship and three times appearing in our ‘National’ teams. In the ‘National' of 1950, at Aylesbury, he was first Belgravian home and therefore took possession of the prestigious ‘Parker Bowl’ for a year.
Around 1952 life in the Dominion of Canada drew Les over the Atlantic and before long it was reported that he’d won the Canadian 10 miles championship on the road in an extraordinarily fast time. As a resident of Canada he was selected to run for his new country at the marathon distance in the British Empire & Commonwealth Games of 1954. The ‘Games’ were held in Vancouver and on the last day – 7th August 1954 – one of the most dramatic marathons of all time unfolded. England’s Jim Peters built up a huge lead but was dangerously dehydrated; he collapsed repeatedly when on the final circuit of the track and was eventually prevented from attempting to continue by the England team manager. Others similarly found the conditions beyond them and Scotland’s Joe McGhee, sitting at the roadside and waiting for an ambulance, heard that the runners ahead of him had collapsed, so wearily got himself to his feet and painfully continued and eventually won the title. Only six men finished the race and among those who did not – Leslie Stokell (Canada).
A return to the UK saw Les working for the P.E. Department of H.M. Prison Service and then, after gaining a physical education teaching certificate, came a move to Archbishop Tenison’s School where he taught P.E. and Mathematics – and was known by the pupils as ‘Blockhead’. Under his wing the P.E. department widened considerably to include alongside football and cricket – rugby, hockey, sailing, canoeing and orienteering. Of course athletics flourished and eventually tennis, badminton, basketball, gymnastics and rock climbing all became regular features of the P.E. programme. The school entered the Ten Tors competition and on wildest Dartmoor Les was to be seen rounding up those schoolboys who had gone astray, striding through pouring rain and a howling gale, wearing a battered pair of shorts and an open necked shirt.
Of course he renewed his membership of Belgrave Harriers and in 1959 became the club’s first ever Junior Secretary and along with Tom Carter introduced a crowd of lads to the joys of cross country running.
An interest in antiques first had him running a Sunday stall in Petticoat Lane, then a shop, Mr. Bumble’s, and finally setting up his own antique market with Dot in the village of Henfield, West Sussex. Nothing in his home was considered safe from the stock list, even if nailed down. His family learned to lock away their treasured possessions from a very early age. One of his best lines was ‘genuine’ Russian icons, which he was rumoured to have knocked up in his garage.
Les was always a law unto himself, a non-conformist; some might even say an eccentric. He appeared to be half a pace out of step with the rest of the world but was ever confident that it was they who were out of time with him. It was said by his teaching colleagues that they would have gone through fire and water for him. As a Royal Marine he had been an inspiration to his comrades and he was honoured at his funeral by the presence of a Royal Marine bugler in full ceremonial dress who sounded the Last Post and Reveille.
ARM – with thanks to Eric Herbert and courtesy of ‘Motspur Mumblings’
We would welcome any photographs of Les Stokell - please email