From Zoo Clerk to Air Gunner …
75 years ago today on 18 December 1940 one of London Zoo’s young clerks Leonard James Peachey was killed in an RAF air crash during WW2.
The first of ZSL’s five WW2 casualties, ZSL London Zoo Clerk Leonard Peachey is buried among the RAF graves at North Coates (St Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs.
ZSL Clerk Leonard Peachey, RAF Volunteer Reserve, died aged 32 as Sergeant Wireless Operator / Air Gunner in an air crash, serving with 22 Squadron in Lincolnshire at RAF North Coates / Cotes (various spellings exist!).
He is buried in North Coates (St. Nicholas) Churchyard, Lincs alongside the rest of his crew from 22 Squadron, and buried alongside in adjoining graves in the same row:
- Sergeant Pilot Dennis George How, RAFVR (aged 23)
- Sergeant Observer Paul Victor Renai (aged 22, from Wellington, New Zealand)
- Sergeant Wireless Operator / W.E. Mechanic Ralph Gerald Hart (22).
Air gunners at their positions on board a Beaufort Mark I, L4461 OA-J, of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. One gunner occupies the Bristol Mark IV turret, mounting a single .303 Vickers K-type gas-operated machine gun. For added protection against beam attacks, 22 Squadron has installed another K gun, mounted in the port entry hatch. IWM photo CH 637
Peachey’s headstone can be seen at http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=4066060
Leonard Peachey in the London Zoo staff records
ZSL London Zoo has not only a fine library but an amazing archive including staff records cards dating back to Victorian times.
Leonard was born on 19 October 1909. He joined the zoo as a young Office Boy on July 17 1927 on 27 shillings and 6d a week, promoted to Messenger by 1928 and finally Clerk on 20th December 1935.
His Pay increases and records then tended to be in mid December eerily almost on the date or day of his air crash. On the 17th December 1938, his Clerk’s pay went up a further 5 shillings to 95 shillings a week.
The following year, he would be dead in an air crash.
His record card mentions that he was a ‘Territorial called RAF 16 September 1939′ two weeks into the war (presumably the RAF VR Volunteer Reserve). His record card simply recalls 18.12.40 Killed in Air Crash North Coates Lincs.
A married man, his family address like many London Zoo staff shifts around the North London area, in his case finishing at Woodhouse Road Finchley (with a temporary address in 1936 curiously at Veyges, Bystock, Exmouth, Devon; a long journey to work!)
From zoo clerk to air gunner … Peachey’s life in the wartime RAF
Peachey’s 22 Squadron brought the Bristol Beaufort into operational service in 1939/ 1940: a preserved Beaufort can be seen at the RAF Museum Hendon RAF Museum Bristol Beaufort In their illustration, Peachey’s exposed position as a dorsal (mid to back of plane) ‘rear gunner’ can again be seen.
There is an interesting Wikipedia Bristol Beaufort article describing and picturing the Beaufort.
Several of the first production Beauforts were engaged in ‘working-up trials’ and final service entry began in late November 1939 / January 1940 (according to different sources) with 22 Squadron of RAF Coastal Command.
After this intense work up at RAF North Coates in Lincolnshire, the Squadron resumed operations in April 1940, beginning with mine-laying sorties.
The Squadron’s torpedo operations against enemy shipping used several bases during the war including RAF North Coates, RAF Thorney Island Sussex, RAF Abbotsinch and RAF Portreath and RAF St Eval in Cornwall, only a few miles from where our project base at Newquay Zoo for the World War Zoo Gardens allotment is based.
It was presumably during these operations that ZSL London Zoo clerk and RAFVR Sergeant Leonard Peachey and his fellow Sergeants in the crew were killed on 18 December 1940.
22 Squadron was re-formed at RAF Thorney Island in 1955 as a Search and Rescue Helicopter Squadron and was finally stood down from Search and Rescue duties with the Bristow privatisation in October 2015. Further squadron information from http://www.22squadronassociation.org.uk/Hist1546.html
Peachey’s airfield is now home to the North Cotes Flying Club but the main concrete runways that Peachey’s 22 Squadron have now been removed for agriculture. Photos of the now discontinued airfield can be found on various sites including http://i388.photobucket.com/albums/oo322/Ossington_2008/NorthCoates39-94.jpg
These photos are amongst others on the informative Airfield Information Exchange website: http://www.airfieldinformationexchange.org/community/archive/index.php/t-1068.html
I came across the Airfield Information Exchange website whilst researching a forthcoming 2016 blogpost on British zoos that were once wartime airfields. Watch this (landing) space.
The circumstances around his air crash 18 December 1940
Researching the crash there appeared to be one most likely candidate (right type of plane, right squadron, right date) for Peachey’s fatal air crash.
Leonard Peachey and crew were the crew of 22 Squadron’s Bristol Beaufort L4516 OA-W which crashed on 18 December 1940 listed as “Marshchapel – Engine Failure after take off for Wilhelmshaven, aircraft stalled and crashed.” (Source: http://www.bcar.org.uk/1940-incident-logs)
This plane L4516 OA-W is photographed around the same time in the Imperial War Museum archive by official RAF war photographer Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry in 1940.
The caption for one IWM photo (CH 1851) offers some interesting additional information: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210000 :
Mark XI aerial torpedoes being taken out on trolleys towards a Bristol Beaufort Mark I, L4516 ‘OA-W’, of No. 22 Squadron RAF at North Coates, Lincolnshire. Shortly after this photograph was taken, L4516 was destroyed when it stalled after a night take-off from North Coates and hit the ground near Marshfield, detonating the mine it was carrying.© IWM (CH 1851)
Is this Peachey’s crew and aircraft? A helpful aircraft historian at the RAF Museum sent me the following helpful infomation from the first volume of Coastal Command Losses by Ross McNeill confirming that the crew of L4516 is that resting in the churchyard at North Coates after taking off at North Coates at 20.10 for the target of Wilhelmshaven
Stalled due to an engine failure shortly after take-off and crashed at Marshchapel, Lincolnshire. The Time Impact Mine exploded setting the aircraft on fire and killing all the crew. Sergeant Renai of Wellington, New Zealand and the other crew members (Hart, How and Peachey) rest locally in St. Nicholas Churchyard, North Cotes, Lincolnshire.
Wilhelmshaven was a German naval base and port, hence the mines and torpedoes that these 22 Squadron Coastal Command aircraft were pictured carrying.
Leonard Peachey and crew / colleagues are mentioned in this RAF North Coates related blogpost, showing the original preserved airfield gates that Leonard and crew would have known.
Peachey is also remembered on the ZSL London Zoo staff war memorial WW2 plaque.
Leonard Peachey and his Crew L4516 OA-W remembered, each November by London Zoo staff and 75 years on by the World War Zoo Gardens project online.
Posted in remembrance by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo