John Edward Leach
1917 - 10 April 1943
Toronto, Ontario - IJlst
John Edward Leach was born in 1917 and was from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was the son of Son of Son of Thomas A. and Beatrice M. Leach. He was married to J.E. Leach.
He became a pilot with 410 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. 410 Squadron operated Mosquito fighter/bombers and flew out of Coleby Grange.
On 10 April 1943, F/O Leach and his Navigator, P/O Roland Bull, were tasked to fly a "Ranger" mission over North West Germany. On the way to their operational area, they observed a train in the station of the town of IJlst.
Intend on attacking the train, F/O Leach flew low-level over the station several times, indicating to the people on the platforms that they were about to attack and give them opportunity to seek cover.
Passing over the station, the Mosquito hit a tree and crashed, killing both of the crew.
Dirk Marius, at the time an 11-year old boy, witnessed the crash: "On 16 April 1944 I was 11 years old and playing with friends outside our house in a small town called Sneek in the province of Friesland (Holland). Our house was just opposite the railway station and we were often playing at the station, as my father was the stationmaster.
Suddenly, an aero plane came over very low. We could clearly see the markings, and someone shouted: 'Engels vliegtuig!' (English plane). Of course, we all looked up, and saw the plane turning around and flying back in the direction it had come from, still flying very low.
Immediately thereafter we could hear heavy gunfire, and we realized that it was the plane firing at something, very close by. Almost straight after hearing the gunfire, we heard an enormous explosion and saw large flames and smoke rising up behind the railway yard, about three or four kilometers away.
We all ran across the yard to have a better look, and my father shouted to me that the plane had crashed. German soldiers stationed at and near the station were already making plans to rush to their army trucks to check it out, but they had to go via the main road. A friend and I, anxious to look for souvenirs (especially perspex to make rings), did not hesitate for a minute - and off we went along the railway line, running like hares.
We knew that this was an enormous shortcut to where the plane had crashed, just outside a little village called IJlst. We could now also see that there was a train stationery just outside the little station of IJlst, blowing off a lot of steam. Flames and smoke were rising into the air, indicating the place where the plane had crashed.
When we arrived at the scene there were people running around, trying to get close to the plane, but the only policeman in IJlst had also arrived and tried to keep everyone at bay. By now we could also see the German army arriving in their lorries, and we realized that they would slowly but certainly tell people to disperse.
Looking around, we saw that the trees in the area had their tops sheared off. Someone said that the plane had been shooting up the train's engine and, on turning back to have a second go, had flown into the trees. We now made our way back home, disappointed that we could not have any souvenirs, but I did ask one of the German soldiers I knew from the station if he could get me souvenir. Although he did not say yes, he winked and told me to go home.
It was a few days later, on talking to the soldiers again, that I heard what had happened. The plane had spotted the train and had warned the train crew by flying very low over the train. It then flew low over us in Sneek and turned back. By now the train crew had stopped the train (luckily a freight train) and had taken cover. The plane shot up the locomotive, and then turned to have another go when the pilot flew into the trees, causing the plane to crash. Both crewmen were killed.
Now, the story that has always remained with me was told to me by the German soldier. He said that the two crewmen were New Zealanders, and the plane's compass was pointing in a south easterly direction, the way to New Zealand. The crew's names were RM Bull and JE Leach, and they are buried in the churchyard at Ijlst. And yes, I did get a piece of perspex."(*)