Flying Officer Marcel Gustave Louis Trapagna-Leroy
On 7th July, 1923, Tragedy struck No.24 Squadron, when two of their pilots were killed in an Airco DH.9a (H3431) shortly after take-off from Kenley. One was the vastly experienced F/O Marcel Trapagna Leroy and the other was his pupil, F/O Edward William Logsdail, who had only been with the squadron a few days.
Here is a newspaper report from the Western Daily Press – Monday 09 July 1923:
‘TWO FLYING OFFICERS KILLED.’
‘PLANE IN FLAMES CRASHES ON A HOUSE.‘
“Two flying officers were killed in an aeroplane crash at Kenley, Surrey on Saturday, and a house on which the aeroplane fell was almost totally burned. The victims of the accident were Flying Officers Marcel Gustavo Louis Trapagna Leroy (pilot) and Flying Officer E. W. Logsdail (passenger). The machine was a D.H.9a from Squadron 24, Kenley, and the flight was an instructional one.
Flying Officer Leroy, a distinguished and experienced airman, had been at Kenley about three years, but Flying Officer Logsdail had only been at the aerodrome a few days and was receiving instruction in flying. The aeroplane, which went up from Kenley Aerodrome shortly before ten o’clock, was noticed in difficulties, when the tail appeared to crumple up. In its fall the machine collided with some trees and telephone wires, and finally crashed in flames on to the centre of the roof of a house named Colescroft, in the occupation of Mr and Mr Collinson.
Immediately the machine struck the roof flames shot up and the whole house was quickly alight. Mr Collinson and his daughter, with the servants, managed to get out of the house in time. Mrs Collinson was out shopping.
A staff of men from Kenley Aerodrome arrived soon afterwards and removed fragments of the machine, among which were found the two bodies charred beyond recognition.”
This report differs, in some particulars, from other accounts of the crash. Some witnesses heard the engine splutter and saw smoke coming from the exhaust prior to the disaster. Others reported a terrific noise or scream from the engine.
There is, however, no doubt that the petrol tanks were full as the DH.9A clipped the oak tree flanking ‘Colescroft’, in Firs Rd, Kenley, and dived through the roof of the house, into a second floor room used as a nursery, exploding on impact.
Burning petrol sprayed everywhere and the upper floor was soon consumed by flames. Again, reports differ as to how many people were in the house – but most of the family were out and Mr. Collinson, who was in the hall, escaped through the side porch.
Neighbours telephoned for help and at 10.11am, the Coulsdon and Purley Fire Brigade arrived under the command of Chief Officer Carter, closely followed by the aerodrome ambulance. A contingent of RAF men had already arrived on the scene. They tried to get up the stairs of the house but found it hopeless to attempt to get anywhere near the two airmen. One of them fainted from the heat of the burning building. They appear to have stayed on the scene and helped the fire brigade to save some of the family’s possessions from the fire.
It took an hour for the firemen to gain some control of the blaze, by which time the main roof of the house was destroyed and seven rooms on the upper floor, completely gutted.
Eventually, F/O Trapagna Leroy’s remains were found still in the cockpit and F/O Logsdail’s a few yards away.
MARCEL GUSTAVE LOUIS TRAPAGNA-LEROY was born in June 1899 in Kensington’ to French parents, Jean Clement and Blanche. His Father was a florist and in 1911, the census shows them living at 153 High St, Notting Hill Gate, with one servant. Marcel had a younger brother, Charles.
Blanche Leroy was Jean’s second wife and former mistress. His first wife, Marian Green, had divorced him in 1896, after an abusive and violent marriage.
Leroy served with distinction during the Great War and was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1919. Air Chief Marshal Sir James Robb remembered Trapagna Leroy as a “remarkable character,” and “the finest De Havilland 9a pilot in the country” who did “a phenomenal amount of flying and instruction on this type, before one day an engine finally packed up over Purley.” He even demonstrated the DH9a for Crown Prince Hirohito when he visited RAF Kenley on 16th May, 1921. Contemporary newspaper reports remarked on how his display: “gave some illustration of how these cumbersome machines can be flown and manoeuvred and made to perform tricks.”
Only a week before his death, Trapagna Leroy had represented Kenley in the team race at the Hendon Flying pageant. He was well known for ‘stunt’ flying. He was buried with full military honours at St. Luke’s churchyard, Whyteleafe.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.