Leonard Jack Gardner was born in 1917, the eldest of four children of William Larcombe Gardner and Louisa Harriet Gardner, of Portsmouth. He volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1942 while serving as a Corporal in the Royal Artillery. After attending a basic induction course at the Glider Pilot Regiment’s Depot at Tilshead he progressed to train at No 21 Elementary Flying Training School RAF Booker, High Wycombe. While attending No 21 EFTS he qualified as a light aircraft pilot flying Tiger Moths and Miles Magisters. He then moved to No 3 Glider Training School at RAF Stoke Orchard to qualify on the Hotspur. This was followed by a course on Horsa gliders at a Heavy Glider Conversion Unit until 4 January 1944, when he qualified as a 1st Pilot with the rank of Staff Sergeant. He was then posted to Battle School to develop his infantry skills. He married Sheila Elaine Wingham at St Marks Church, Portsmouth on 13 February 1943, during his training to qualify as a glider pilot
At RAF Stoney Cross he teamed up with Sergeant Fraser as his second pilot and they were together during the intensive preparation for active operational duties during the summer of 1944.
Operation Market Garden
Just after 10.00 hours on Sunday 17 September 1944 sixteen glider and tug combinations took off from RAF Keevil for Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden. Horsa Glider RJ113 (Chalk 389) was in this group of aircraft and contained 21 men from No 1 Platoon 9th (Airborne) Field Company Royal Engineers. The glider was flown by S/Sgt Gardner with Sgt Fraser as the second pilot, both were from D Squadron, 1st Wing The Glider Pilot Regiment. It was towed by a Short Stirling, No LK 148 of 299 Squadron, 38 Group.
The tugs and gliders took a course north-west towards Gloucester to pick up squadrons from Fairford and then headed out over the Severn and Bristol Channels to form up. Stirling LK 148 with Horsa Glider R113 then took a turn south-west down the Bristol Channel with other aircraft and gliders, and made a turn east over Weston-Super-Mare to head for Arnhem.
While over the village of Farrington Gurney an explosion occurred in RJ113 splitting the glider in two. With no tail section the glider lost lift, broke its tow line and crashed into the Double Hills meadow near Paulton killing all occupants. The event was witnessed by the Stirling’s rear gunner who recalls watching the glider falling like a rock to earth after the explosion had occurred.
One villager was in the field picking blackberries at the time of the crash and was injured by flying metal fragments. The Stirling marked the spot by circling until they could see locals running to the crash site. This included Farmer Teak: “When I arrived at the place of the crash I could see that there was nothing I could do. The soldiers had all been killed. It was gruesome.”
As a result of the explosion on board S/Sgt Gardner and his comrades became the first casualties of Operation Market Garden. He is commemorated on the Double Hills memorial at the site of the crash along with the other 22 occupants of the glider.
Staff Sergeant Gardner died on 17 September 1944, aged 25 years old, and is now buried in plot Y 294 at the Milton Road Cemetery, Weston Super Mare, along with other soldiers killed by the crash. Relatives have been traced by the Double Hills Memorial Group.
Pronk, P, Airborne Engineers: The Shiny 9th (2001), R.N. Sigmond Publishing.
Profile compiled for ParaData by Harvey Grenville based on the work of Bob Williams, Peter Yeates and the Double Hills Memorial Group.Read More