Sergeant Leo Wardell  -  431 Squadron  
   

Sergeant Leo Thompson Wardell  - RCAF

 

Sergeant Leo Thompson Wardell  was serving as an Air Gunner aboard  Halifax Mk.V LK-705 coded SE-X during  a Gardening operation over the Baltic on February 25/26 1944. The aircraft was shot down by a night-fighter and crashed some 10 km N of Holsted village, Denmark, all aboard perished.

The crew consisted of:

Name Service Trade Hometown  Age
F/Sgt Edward Howey  RCAF Pilot Chatsworth, Ontario 26
Sgt Edward Metcalf  RAFVR Flight Engineer Gosforth,Newcastle on Tyne 20
F/Sgt George Stevenson  RCAF Navigator Wawanesa,Manitoba 25
Sgt Alexander MacGillivray  RAFVR Bomb Aimer Tradespark,Nairn 22
Sgt Raymond Bates  RAFVR W/Op/AG Fareham,Hampshire 21
Sgt Alexander Munro  RCAF Air  Gunner Glenwood, Newfoundland 19
Sgt Leo Wardell  RCAF Air  Gunner Waterford, Ontario 20

 On the evening of February the 25th, Knud Ostergaard, was returning home from an evening out in Glejberg and heard a terrific explosion. The next morning he  was told that an aircraft had crashed in the Klelund plantation, southwest of the house of forest inspector C.J. Madsen. Mr Madsen rushed from his house to find  the forest was burning making it impossible to get near to the aircraft. Using a light, he shouted in German and English but received no answer, only the sound of burning wood. In the darkness he stumbled over something and found that it was a boot with an English name and number (later to be identified as Sgt MacGillivray’s). He ran back to his house and telephoned the policemaster, Mr Hansen in Holsetd. When he had arrived they searched the forest and found two dead airmen and their parachutes hanging in the trees. Soon German troops from Astrup came and sealed off the area. They ordered Madsen and Hansen to stay by their car and not to leave the forest. Tired of waiting they informed the Germans that they were returning to Madsen’s house. Before they left, Madsen retrieved the airman’s boot from the car where he had hidden it.

Map of Crash Location

The following day Madsen returned to the crash scene. Using two large tree trunks, he made a cross which he raised at the side of the crater. Over the following days the Germans excavated the site, finding several of the crew dead. The crew were placed in coffins and taken to the cemetery at Fourfeld, Esbjerg. Amongst the personal belongings of the crew, a glove, compass, money, a bible and charts. A golden ring was also said to have been found and a Swiss watch.

The Howey crew

A few days after the crash Mr Madsen found the German pilot who had shot down the plane, the fifth he had shot down,. Together with another night fighter he had left the airfield at Esbjerg and spotted the Halifax. They attacked it and one of the night fighters was shot down by one of the Halifax’s gunners. The German pilot then lost sight of the Halifax before seeing it again at Holsted where he proceeded to attack, hitting the Halifax in the gasoline tank. The Halifax’s rear gunner had also managed to hit the night fighter, causing the pilot to parachute out at Brammings as his plane exploded. There was time for two of the Halifax’s crew to parachute out and the parish priest Viggo Knudsen Astrup remembers seeing the flames coming from the Halifax after it was hit.

After the war, the boot that was found was sent to the airforce in London and it was verified that it belonged to Sgt MacGillivray.

In the summer of 1946,the wooden cross that was erected at the crash site was replaced with a eight ton stone, found in the heath at Astrup.

Memorial Stone

The owner of the forest donated the land for the memorial and the costs of moving and inscribing the stone were covered by a collection in the neighbourhood communities. ”Moriana” firs from British Columbia were planted near the stone. Relations of the crew were traced and the stone was unveiled on May the 5th 1947 by the State Secretary, Per Federspiel and attended by three RAF representatives. Some of the crew’s relations attended while others were too distressed to attend but each year send wreaths.

Grave marker for George Stevenson and Leo Wardell 

 

 Sergeant Leo Thompson Wardell was the son of  Mordwan and Pearl Wardell of  22 Ormwood Crescent, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. His schooling was in Simcoe and he was due to start at Universal Coolers in Brantford. He trained at Lachine and Mont Joli, Quebec leaving for England in August 1943. He had two brothers, Lance Bombardier Glen Wardell and Allan Wardell and two sisters, Mrs Louis Smout of Simcoe and Mrs Charles Barber.

 His family received a telegram on February the 27th 1944 but had to wait till after the war till they were informed of the circumstances of Leo and the crew’s deaths.

All of the crew are buried in Esbjerg (Fourfelt) Cemetery.

  Special thanks to Glejbjerg Lokalarkiv and  Soren Flenstead (Airwar over Denmark) for photos and information. Grave photos courtesy of Knud Riis, research by Linda Ibrom