Les and Jean Hanks, 97 and 93, were admitted to Queen Alexandra Hospital last month due to ‘age-related medical conditions’. After both contracting Covid, Jean passed away on January 31 with Les succumbing to the virus on February 2 – the same day fellow World War Two veteran Sir Tom Moore also died of the disease.
Family friend and fellow member of Portsmouth’s Submarine Old Comrades Association, Peter Goodwin, said: ‘They were very close as a couple and would always come to our dinners dressed to the nines. Jean was a very quiet lady but a strong character and Les would always wear his medals from his time as a submariner.
‘They met at the Savoy Ballroom at Clarence Pier and as a young couple in the forties they were known for dancing the jitterbug. They would enter competitions and became Portsmouth’s jitterbug champions.
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‘Despite struggling with Covid himself, Les was allowed to be with Jean when she passed away.’
Les led a colourful life with his epic adventures starting at the age of just 15 when in 1940 he was sent to Singapore for naval training on HMS Ganges. Les’s arrival coincided with the Japanese invasion of the island.
Peter, 69, said: ‘Upon arrival Les and the other boys were told they needed to leave. Les and four other boys gathered up food and weapons and trekked for two months through the jungles of Malaya. They eventually stole a boat and made their way to the British Naval Base at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.’
This was just the first part of Les’s involvement with the conflict as he joined HMS Warspite where the ship was bombed when engaging with enemy gunfire at Salerno in Italy.
Peter added: ‘Les was on the gunning platform when the ship was hit. It was his job to see where shells were landing and to adjust the distance. After being bombed the ship was crippled and towed back to Gibraltar.’
In 1944 Les took up his first position as a submariner on HMS Truculent where his love affair with submarines began.
‘After the war Les went on to serve with Dutch Navy as a submariner on Zardfisch and in his latter years he would make model submarines which he kept in his house,’ said Peter.
Les married Jean in 1947 and they lived in their Hilsea home until their recent passing. After leaving the navy in 1955 Les worked for the telecommunications company Marconi. They had no children.
A popular character, Les was elected president of the Portsmouth branch of the Submarine Old Comrades Association and was due to open a commemorative plaque at the D-Day Museum in recognition of the role submarines played in the landings mission.
‘Unfortunately that will no longer be able to happen,’ said Peter.
‘We will miss Les and Jean greatly. They were such a popular couple and despite his advancing years Les would always attend our events and memorials. He would often speak to Prince William at the Embankment Memorial Service and they seemed to have a real rapport.
‘He always enjoyed his tot of rum and was a jolly good fellow,’ added Peter.