Oldacres, Leonard John
He was the elder (and only surviving) son of Frederick James Oldacres, of Hornscross, Devon. His mother, Fanny Kench Oldacres – daughter of Sheldon Kench– moved to Pyrford House, Woking, after her husband’s death. He was very able; he was in Sixth Book, the senior prefect of his house, and a Commoner Prefect. In 1935 he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a 3rd Class in “Modern Greats” in 1938, and served in the University Air Squadron. He was then articled to a Chartered Accountant.
He had wide interests. As a boy he was devoted to horses and riding. Later he generally spent his holidays abroad. He had driven over the mountain passes across the United States, through Canada to the Pacific, and returned by way of the southern states, making many friends during his tour. When working in London, he never failed to visit the Crown Club at Hoxton at least once a week.
On the outbreak of war he joined the RAFVR, and was immediately given a commission, as he had previously served in the Oxford University Air Squadron. His early training as a pilot was at Montrose. In May 1940, newly-qualified and lacking any combat experience, he was sent to France with 4 Squadron, equipped with army co-operation Westland Lysander II aircraft, and based at Lille-Ronchin landing ground.
During the hectic spring of 1940, many Lysander squadrons were sent to fight in Belgium and France. It soon became apparent that the concept of a slow army co-operation aircraft was outdated unless the users had air superiority, which the British did not have and the Lysander squadrons suffered terrible losses. Out of one hundred and eighty Lysanders, only forty flew back to England at the end of May 1940. The commander of British air forces in France wrote: “The Lysanders are quite unsuited for their tasks.
Five days after arriving in France, on May 19th 1940, Oldacres was making a practice flight in what was thought to be a safe area. Two Lysanders were practising circuits and landings at Lille-Bondues airfield. At around 1000, the British aircraft were attacked by seven German Bf109E fighters of 2(J)/LG2, and were both shot down. One of the Lysanders crashed in the Fives area of Lille, and the other near St André. The slow Lysander aircraft had stood no chance against their modern opponents, and all four crewmen were killed.
At Lille that day was Hurricane pilot Peter Dawbarn of 17 Squadron: “The first German I remember seeing was one day when we landed at this field, and there were two of our Lysanders on the circuit. Suddenly, out of the blue, came two Messerschmitt 109s and shot them both down. That was the first thing we’d ever seen. We all stood there and gaped. They could have killed us all if they’d thought; but as soon as they’d shot the Lysanders down off they went. We were just standing there gaping at them – we were just kids.”
The victorious German pilots were Oberleutnant Friedrich von Wangerow of 2.(J)/JG2, and Leutnant Werner Tismar of 3(J)/JG2. Hurricanes of 87 Squadron, based at Bondues, took off and pursued the Germans, and von Wangerow was shot down near St. Amand.
Oldacres, who died at the age of twenty-three, is buried in grave AA.7 of the St. André Communal Cemetery near Lille; the other three airmen are buried alongside him.
On May 31st, Pilot Officer 76908 Charles John Francis Hare (K1921-1926), a rear-gunner in 16 Squadron, was also killed in a Lysander (see individual entry).
- Surname: Oldacres
- Forenames or initials: Leonard John
- House: G
- Years in School: 1930-1935
- Rank: Flying Officer
- Regiment: RAF
- Date of Birth: 6th December 1916
- Date of Death: 19th May 1940
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner G1
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: St Andre Communal Cemetery, Lille: Grave AA.7