LESLIE WILLIAM JOHN KING DFC was serving as a Flying Officer, Flight Engineer with 617 Squadron, The Royal Air Force when he was killed in action on 24th June 1944. He was aged 30 and is buried in Longuenesse St Omer Souvenir Cemetery in the Pas de Calais.
He was the son of William and Emily Maria King, of Enstone, at the time of his death his parents had moved to Chipping Norton.
He had joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in September 1939 at RAF Uxbridge and trained as an engine fitter on ground crew. In September 1942 he joined 57 Squadron and had qualified as a Flight Engineer with the rank of Sergeant. They were based at RAF Scampton flying the Vickers Wellington Mk111, converting to the Avro Lancaster from September 1942. He was promoted to Flight Sergeant and took part in the famous low level raid on the Schneider factory at Le Creusot, on 17th October 1942, being seriously wounded when a bird strike shattered part of his windscreen. He was hospitalised until January 1943. Returning to operations he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 9th May 1943 and by September that year had completed 29 missions with 57 Squadron, including raids on Wilhemshaven, Nuremberg, Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Essen and Spezia in Italy. In October that year he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his persistent achievements but citing the incident in October 1942:
"As flight engineer Pilot Officer King has completed many sorties and displayed skill and keeness of a high order. One one occasion, at an early stage of a daylight sortie on Le Creusot, Pilot officer King was badly injured in the face by flying splinters when the windscreen of his aircraft was shattered. Although in considerable pain and unable to see, this gallant flight engineer refused to allow other members of the crew to leave their stations and come to his aid. During the remainder of the flight he showed great fortitude and constantly attempted to render assistance. His courageous example proved most inspiring. Upon recovery, Pilot Officer King resumed operations and has executed his duty with rare zeal"
He spent a time in early November 1943 with 1168 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Balderton, training crews converting to the Lancaster. On 14th November he joined 617 Squadron, picked by Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire who had been his pilot at 1168 HCU, for his personal crew. Based at RAF Coningsby the rest of 1944 was spent on training flights. In January 1944 the Squadron moved to RAF Woodhall Spa carrying out several raids on France. Bill King was promoted to Flying Officer on 25th January.
The squadron now began a series of accurate attacks on industrial targets in occupied Europe. An aircraft factory at Albert was attacked on 2nd/3rd March, the La Ricamerie factory was attacked on 10th/11th March, the Michelin tyre factory at Clermond-Ferrand on 16th/17th March, an explosives factory at Bergerac on 18th/19th March and another at Angoulême on 20th/21st March, an aircraft engine factory at Lyons on 23rd/24th March.
Bill King, extreme left with Leonard Cheshire's crew
Wing Commander Cheshire along with Bill King as his flight engineer had been using their Lancaster to mark targets but in April 1944 Cheshire was presented with a single seat Mustang fighter by the Americans, which he successfully used to mark targets. As F/O King was now redundant he was transferred to the crew of Flight Lieutenant John Edward DFC. On June 5th and 6th they were involved in "Operation Taxable" to deceive the Germans into thinking the Allied invasion was taking place in the Pas de Calais. They returned to more conventional targets from 8th June and bombed railway tunnels at Samur, used to bring men and supplies to Normandy, using the Barnes Wallis Tallboy bomb for the first time. On 14th and 15th they bombed E-boat pens at Le Havre and Boulogne. on 19th June 1944 they bombed a V-weapon store at Watten.
On 24th June 1944 Bill King set out on his 54th sortie, a daylight attack on V2 rocket storage at Wizernes. He took off at 1630 from RAF Woodhall Spa aboard Avro Lancaster Mk1 DV403 KC-B, armed with a Tallboy bomb,along with 16 other Lancasters from the Squadron, the target being marked by De Havilland Mosquitos.
There was more than usual apprehension from the crew about this particular raid. firstly they were flying a strange aircraft, there normal Lancaster had been grounded after a heavy landing, aircrews were often superstitious about a strange aircraft. There was known to be a flak emplacement on high ground above the V-2 store and this was a daylight raid, which was unsettling for the crew. A Spitfire fighter escort was promised and their Lancaster carried an extra gunner, making the compliment of the aircraft to 8.
They began their bombing run at just before 1700, on a straight and level approach the aircraft was hit by flak, and Bill King killed instantly. The port inner engine burst into flames and the pilot called for the crew to bail out. Two of the crew, the Navigator and the Bomb-aimer managed to bale out and became prisoners of war. Bill King's body was flung from the aircraft as it crashed in flames near the French village of Leulingham. The wireless operator was pulled from the wreckage with broken limbs as was one of the air gunners, but he died in hospital in St Omer a few hours later. The pilot and two other gunners both died in the crash. The Germans moved in quickly to secure the prisoners and remove the bodies, except Bill King whose body was not discovered until a few weeks later lying in a cornfield. later the three bodies were dumped at Leulingham church, where a local resistant worker arranged a funeral. The crew on Lancaster DV403 that day were;
Flight Lieutenant John Andrew Edwards DFC, aged 29, pilot, Royal Air Force. He wasthe son of Harold Westbrook and Harriet Emily Edward, of Willand, Devon. Killed in the crash and buried in Leulingham churchyard.
Pilot Officer Thomas Williard Percy Price, aged 20, Air gunner, Royal Canadian Air Force. He was the son of Willard and Edith Price of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. Killed in the crash and buried in Leulingham churchyard. He was the additional air gunner aboard.
Flight Sergeant Samuel Isherwood, aged 22, Air gunner, The Royal Air Force. he was the son of Lucy williams and was the husband of Mary Isherwood of New Springs, Lancashire. He was killed in the crash and is buried in Leulingham churchyard.
Flying Officer Leslie William John King DFC, aged 30, Flight Engineer, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was the son of William and Emily King of Enstone. He was killed by flak and is buried in Longuenesse St Omer Souvenir Cemetery in the Pas de Calais.
Flying Officer James Ian Johnston DFC, aged 26, Air gunner, Royal Canadian Air Force. He was the son of Craig and Jean Johnston and husband of Marian Johnston, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was pulled from the wreck alive but died a few hours later in St Omer hospital. He is buried in Longuenesse St Omer Souvenir Cemetery in the Pas de Calais.
Flight Sergeant Gerrard Hobbs, Wireless operator, was pulled from the wreckage and became a prisoner of war.
Flying Officer Lorne Thomas Pritchard, aged 22, Navigator, Royal Canadian Air Force. He came from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada and baled out of the stricken Lancaster to become a prisoner of war.
Sergeant Jackie Brooks was the bomb-aimer and baled out of the stricken Lancaster to become a prisoner of war.
Flying Officer Leslie William John King is not on the town war memorial, but is due to be added this year. In a postscript to his service and a further link to the town, his flying log book was found when an old school at 28/30 New Street, Chipping Norton was being converted to recording studios in 1972.