Fl Sgt John Leak
- Created: 15 November 2013
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John Henry Starmer Leak
LEAK, John Henry Starmer, 1682798
Rank when shot down: Flight Sergeant
Flight engineer on “Daring Diana”
Born 12 December 1922, son of John and Ada Leak of Hull
Grandson of Mrs. Ada Glenville of Hull and Aldbrough
Date of RAF enlistment: 22 December 1941
Missing, declared killed in action, 29 February 1944, age 21
Commemorated on Singapore Memorial, Column 436,
at Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
Biography written in 1988 by Matt Poole . Photograph from Leslie Leak
The eldest of five children, John was born during a period when his parents lived in the Hull home of his paternal grandparents. With John’s mum pregnant with brother Leslie and there being, in Les’ words, “no room at the inn,” it was decided that John would go to his maternal grandparents, the Glenvilles, also in Hull. John was their first grandchild, and the move seemed a happy arrangement in a nurturing, loving household.
By Leslie’s birth in March 1924, John senior and his wife had a place of their own, but baby John remained with his grandparents. Three more siblings followed, all of whom lived with their parents from birth. Naturally, John saw them frequently (his parents, two brothers, and two sisters), though not on a day-to-day basis. After a long illness, Ada, their mum, died in 1937.
John’s Uncle Bill Glenville and his five sisters - John’s aunts - adored the boy. Said Bill in 1995: “He was our main lad, was John.” A dressmaker widowed in 1930, Grandma Glenville doted on John and raised him to be a loyal, caring, and thoughtful young man with a fine sense of humour. Clever and very bright, John took an apprenticeship in plumbing upon leaving school and was doing quite well when an opening arose for him in the colour matching department of Reckitt & Colman, the highly-regarded Hull firm. With such secure, quality jobs scarce, he accepted the position with Reckitt & Colman after much soul searching, and he quickly embraced his colour striker’s responsibility: inspecting the blue laundry powder, heated in kilns, for proper colour parameters. He was well liked at Reckitt & Colman and took night courses to improve himself even further.
In 1940 or 1941 the Glenville home was seriously damaged in a German Luftwaffe raid, so John’s grandmother led the Glenvilles to the safe haven of the family’s Aldbrough summer bungalow, roughly 12 miles to the east. On mornings when their schedules - and the Luftwaffe’s - allowed, Bill and John commuted together to and from Hull, first by motorbikes and then in a three-wheel car that John was quite fond of.
John’s decision to volunteer for the RAF was a surprise to the family. His position at Reckitt & Colman allowed him a military deferment, but he felt it was time to do his duty by joining the RAF. Trained initially as an aircraft fitter and flight mechanic, his career shifted in June 1943 when, at St. Athan, Wales, he was chosen for aircrew training as a B-24 Liberator flight engineer. His coursework in Wales and at Harwell, Oxfordshire completed, he bade farewell to his large family and to his Gosport girlfriend and sailed on the troopship Strathmore in late October 1943, bound for India and 159 Squadron. Along the way he survived unharmed a German air attack on his Mediterranean convoy, alongside fellow flight engineer Norman Davis (also shot down on 29 February 1944).
After conversion training aboard B-24’s, John arrived at 159 Squadron in early January 1944. The first of his six combat ops with 159 was flown on 16 January, to Rangoon’s central rail station. His other sorties were to Meiktila, Mandalay, Sagaing, Mingaladon (Rangoon), and finally to Rangoon on the 29th of February. Ken Baverstock, his mate on 159 Squadron, said this of John: “He was a very decent man who lived quietly, sending most of his pay to support his grandma.”
John is survived by brothers Les and Lawrence, sisters Vera and Jean, Uncle Bill’s widow Olive, Bill's sister Jean, and several cousins. Said Bill: “He is never out of our thought.” You can see the page for the Daring Diana here