Now in the UK, Leonard was posted to East Kirkby Airfield in Lincolnshire as part of 57 Squadron Bomber Command.
At 22.12 on the night of 22nd May 1944 Lancaster ND879 took off from east Kirkby in Lincolnshire headed for Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Germany. As was usual, once airborne there was no radio contact. The crew members were:
Pilot:: F/O John Colin Marland 22
Flight Engineer: Sgt. Denis Charles Gallagher 23
Navigator: Sgt. William Low 26
Air Bomber: F/O Leonard Eric Mason 35
W/Op Air: Flt Sgt. William Thomas Nichol Norris 22
Air Gunner: Flt Sgt. Harold Roy Bailey 21
Air Gunner: Sgt. John Wilson 27
The aircraft was reported missing on the morning of 23rd May, and the next of kin of the crew members were notified immediately by telegram. The following day a letter was sent to Leonard’s brother, Arthur Hayter Mason, confirming that the aircraft was missing and the crew were presumed dead although “there was of course every possibility that they were able to abandon the aircraft and land safely in enemy territory”.
In October 1946 an investigation into the crash reported that the plane had crashed at Schleptrup, north of Osnabruck in Germany. The investigating officer found wreckage of a British aircraft in the forest about half a mile from the road. An eye witness, Herr Hatke , stated that he saw the aircraft over his house at about 2000 feet , on fire with one wing burnt off. It dropped some bombs and crashed into the forest. The local Chief of Police also witnessed the crash and stated that the Lancaster came in from the west and was attacked by a night fighter. Both men went to the scene of the crash but the aircraft was burning fiercely and they were unable to get near because of the exploding ammunition. The next day six bodies were removed from the wreckage and a seventh was found a few hundred metres away.
The bodies were buried at Achmer Airfield Cemetery by the Germans and in March 1946 they were exhumed and removed to Achmer Temporary British Cemetery. At this time one of the bodies was identified as that of Sergeant John Wilson and it was therefore presumed that the other victims were the rest of the crew.
In May 1948 Leonard’s brothers received confirmation that his remains had now been moved to Reichswald Permanent British Cemetery.
The Canadian war service records on Ancestry.co.uk give far more detail than I have provided here. It is heart-rending to read the communications between the family and the authorities, and to read, for example, the list of Leonard’s personal effects which were to be returned to his next of kin. Out of respect to the family I have not included these here but the records are readily available on Ancestry if you wish to read them.
Leonard Eric Mason was 35 when he died. He was the oldest member of the crew.
He is commemorated in the naming of Mason Rapids in the Caribou River, Manitoba as part of the Canada Geographic Renaming Project.
Acknowledgements, and thanks to :
Mr John Mason