2nd Lieutenant John Leask

John Leask was born in Forres on 1 September, 1891, the second eldest son of John, Solicitor & Bank Agent, and Mary Kirk (nee Raff) Leask. He was widely known as Jack.

A trained electrician, at the age of 22, John Leask joined the Royal Flying Corps on 18 August 1914 as an aeroplane mechanic.  He was assigned to the newly reformed No. 7 Squadron, which was equipped with the Royal Aircraft Factory (R.A.F.) R.E.5, and deployed with the Squadron to France 2 April 1915.  He quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant.  While flying as an observer he was wounded and returned to Britain for treatment 15 September 1915.

Back home, he joined No. 7 Reserve Squadron, where he was promoted to Acting Sergeant Major.  It states in Flight Magazine that “he was engaged in England as an expert engineer on all types of aeroplanes.”  He next moved to No. 42 Squadron, where, according to his service record, he requested to revert to 1st Class Air Mechanic.  This did not last long at his next unit, No. 38 Reserve Squadron, as he soon was promoted to Corporal and to Sergeant, on the same day, 9 June 1916.

After training with No. 4 Reserve Squadron, Sergeant Leask gained his Royal Aero Club certificate on 9 December, 1916 and posted to No. 56 Squadron on 14 December.  He was graded as a 1st Class pilot on 1 February 1917.  On 13 February 1917, he would go to the School of Aerial Gunnery in Hythe, in preparation for the Squadron’s upcoming deployment to France.  On 24 February, he was promoted to Temporary 2nd Lieutenant and appointed Flying Officer.

On 26 March 1917, while on a cross-country flight, Flying Officer John Leask was killed in an accident in the vicinity of Crookham, Hants.  The incident is described in Flight Magazine:

“A VERDICT of "Accidental Death" was returned at an inquest at Aldershot on March 28th on Lieut. J. Leask R.F.C., who was caught in a blizzard while flying in a singleseater aeroplane [R.A.F. S.E.5]. Witnesses stated that the wind swung the machine completely round, but the pilot regained control. The machine was swung round a second time, turned two somersaults and nose-dived from a height of 500 ft. The pilot's neck was broken.”

John Leask was buried on 30 March in Forres (Cluny Hill) Cemetery, Morayshire, in a military funeral.  In a letter from the Officer Commanding No. 56 Squadron, as quoted in the Forres, Elgin and Nairn Gazette, 4 April 1917, Major Blomfield stated: “His loss will be very much felt by everyone in the Squadron and by none other than myself, as I had a very high opinion of his capabilities as an officer and a pilot.”

Many thanks to the Mr. Derek Bird, Chairman Scotland (North) Branch,The Western Front Association, who kindly provided information and photos for this article.