Welshman recalls leaving railroad to serve in air war

In 1943, Kenneth Leak and his fellow crewmen were flying from Malta to Marseille, France, when one of the Dakota aircraft’s two engines stopped.

“The pilot said, ‘Well, fellas, this is the point of no return. We had two engines and now we have one. We’re too far to turn back,’” Leak said.

The transport aircraft had 30 men aboard, but landed safely in France.

“As a youngster, it was an experience,” he said. “We didn’t have a care in the world. We had many experiences where we had to land with engine trouble in heavy seas (and) it never fazed us at all.”

Leak, originally from Cardiff, Wales, was 19 when he first volunteered for the RAF. He worked on the railway as a locomotive firefighter before he was permitted to volunteer in either aircrew or as an army commando. For Leak, that decision was simple. He jumped at the opportunity to serve his country, leave behind the railway and fly.

“I wanted to help to get the war over,” Leak said. “As a little boy I always wanted to fly, and I did fly.”

Leak was initially trained in bombers, but became an air gunner in a Catalina flying boat. He and his crew were stationed in India to escort ship convoys and provide air-sea rescue over the

Indian and Pacific Ocean. Enrolling in the RAF gave Leak the opportunity to travel and explore the world.

Leak went on to join the police force in Canada and later the United Nations as a field service officer.

“If they put a cap for every service that I’ve worn, I wouldn’t have a coffin big enough to carry all the hats,” Leak said.

As much as Leak wanted to serve his country, the war itself helped introduce him to a world of possibilities.

“All the people who didn’t go, still remain on the railroad… I did learn a lot and had experiences which I wouldn’t have got otherwise,” he said.