THE amazing story of how a heroic British soldier armed with PENCIL and PAPER took on the Germans in World War One has been revealed.
Artist Len Smith risked his life sneaking up to enemy lines and drawing detailed sketches of troops, equipment and positions — providing valuable intelligence.
In one of his most daring missions, Len crept within yards of a German HQ and drew a bomb-damaged tree so accurately British experts made a perfect hollow steel replica.
The real 15ft tree was cut down under cover of darkness and replaced by the fake, which became a listening post with a soldier spying from inside.
In another sortie Len spent four days dodging mortar shells and sniper fire to produce a 6ft-long, panoramic view of the enemy’s front line at Vimy Ridge. He wrote in his diary: “It was utterly fierce — the Huns’ shelling was almost incessant.”
Of the tree episode in Arras, France, in 1915, he wrote: “The tree was standing among the Hun’s barbed wire. I would make a careful sketch, which would be sent to the workshops, where they would make a facsimile tree.
“The old tree would be brought down, the new steel one take its place, all in one night.
“If all went well, a man would be able to sit among the tangled branches seeing much, hearing plenty and coming in at night full of information.”
Len, of Bexhill-on-Sea, Essex, had joined up in 1914 aged 22, and died in 1974 aged 83.
His courage has been a secret to all but his closest family.
Now his exploits with the 7th London Battalion have emerged in a book called The Pictures and Diary of a Wartime Artist.
James Taylor, head of research at London’s Imperial War Museum, said: “The work of artists was absolutely crucial but extremely dangerous. To crawl into No Man’s Land and make these sketches was very brave.”
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