Jimmy Leask D-Day 6th June 1944

D-Day Hero

One of the most well known D-Day pictures is one of those taken by Sergeant Jimmy Mapham. Later to become Montys personal photographer.

It shows the 84 Field Company, Royal Engineers on Sword Beach, Queen Sector, Red, coming ashore at 08.15am. The soldier in the left foreground is claimed to be a Jimmy Leask. Jimmy and his colleagues have been further immortalised by having this photograph incorporated into the Overlord Embroidery at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth. I am not sure whether immortalised is the right word to use here but I feel a visit to Portsmouth coming up. Very often you will find these soldiers misreported, for instance as the 2 Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. In 1994, Fred Saddler, who is shown walking towards the camera in the right middle ground, contacted the Sunday Mirror and the true identites of the men involved came to light.

For details see the second volume of “D-Day, Then and Now” 1995. ISBN 0 900913 89 4.

D-Day Hero Updated

Well, back in October 2008 I visited Portsmouth to take a look at the D-Day Museum which features the tapestry as its centrepiece. One of the employees got a bit touchy when I asked if I could take a picture of the tapestry section that featured Jimmy. I shouldn’t have bothered, in the shop was hundreds of different publications, postcards etc featuring the whole tapestry.

Thats him bottom right. This is Panel 24, 6th June 1944 – Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches. What really stands out is the double T Badge on a colleagues shoulder. Now things get mmm, interesting here. The Double T Badge is that of the 50th (Northumberland) Infantry Division. I would have expected it to be that of 2 Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. What’s more if you take a look at the photograph at the top of the page I cant see the Double T Badge on the soldiers Shoulder. I wonder whether some liberties were taken or assumptions made when the tapestry was constructed in the late 1960s?

The same photograph “blown up” (Not sure if that’s the right phrase to use here) on the wall of the vehicle room at the museum. Its too tightly cropped to make out any badge. What a shame though that apart from a segment of Jimmys pack he is not visible.
Imperial War Museum

Say it quietly but here is small reproduction of the full photograph and accompanying description copied from the Imperial War Museum web site. I say quietly because as of this moment I don’t have permission to reproduce this stuff. That is about to change…..

The British 2nd Army: support troops of the 3rd British Infantry Division assembling on ‘Queen Red’ Beach, SWORD Area, near la Breche, Hermanville-sur-Mer, at 8.30 am on 6 June while under intermittent enemy mortar and shell fire. In the foreground and on the right, identified by the white bands around their helmets, are sappers of 84 Field Company Royal Engineers, part of No.5 Beach Group. Behind them, heavily laden medical orderlies of 8 Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (some of whom are assisting wounded men) prepare to move off the beach. In the background can be seen men of the 1st Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment and the Lord Lovat’s No. 4 Army Commando landing from LCI(S)s (Landing Craft Infantry Small) of Naval Forces..

In the foreground are Sappers Jimmy Leask (left, glancing up at the photographer) and Cyril Hawkins of No. 1 Platoon, 84 Field Company RE, whilst on the right, walking towards the camera past the medical orderlies of No. 8 Field Ambulance, is Sapper Fred Sadler of the same Platoon. All three members of 84 Fd Coy RE survived the war: see IWM HU 87440.

Shona Ward, nee Leask

In February 2009 I was contacted by a Shona Ward living in Canada. Shona is Jimmys daughter. Below are some highlights taken from our email correspondence.

“Jim Leask was my dad.. He served with the British 8th Army 1939-1945. He was a sapper. We lived in Portsoy, Banffshire, Scotland. He left for the war when I was 3 months old and came home when I was 6 years old. In 1950 he emigrated to Canada and in 1953 my mom and brothers and I followed. He was a stone mason journeyman by trade and here in Saskatoon he helped in the building of the University. Sadly he passed away in 1967 from cancer. I have pictures he sent from the war but unfortunately a lot were left behind when we moved here. He never spoke of the war. Of course he wasn’t going to tell his small children what he’d been through. He got malaria in North Africa but he had to keep on fighting but it stayed with him the rest of his life. He was a Lance Corporal. I still have his army pay book. His 2 brothers were also in the war. Donald Leask and Bill Leask. .They were navy men. My uncle Donald moved to Australia a couple of years after the war. He got married there during the war. They both have passed away too. He is buried in Soldiers Field, Woodlawn Cemetry here in Saskatoon .

He was born in 1909 in Buckie, Banffshire, Scotland. First born son of Helen Geddes and James Leask. There were two older daughters. There were twin brothers and another born after him and all three died in the same week and were buried at the same time. The twins were four years old and the other just days old. After that there were two more brothers Donald and Bill. In 1935 Jim Leask married Jessie Woodward of Portsoy and they lived there and had three children,.Donald, Robert and Shona. In September 1939 he told my mom he was going out for cigarettes and according to my mother was gone an awfully long time. When he got home she asked him what took him so long, he told her he’d joined. Thank goodness I was a baby and didn’t understand any yelling that may have gone on at that announcement. My oldest brother would have been just over three and Robert would have just been turning two and I was three months old. Just after he left for the war his mother passed away and my mother later told me about the letter she got from his sergeant expressing his condolences but they were leaving for parts unknown and my dad couldn’t get to come home for her funeral. My mother’s the one who provided me with all the information. She told me they had to be evacuated from France. He sent postcards from most of the places he was. I have one on my fridge door that he’d sent me from Belgium. On the back he wrote in pencil. He sent a lot of postcards from Italy. I remember him saying that Sicily was the worst hell hole they were in.”

Heres some Family pictures Shona sent me.

“The one with the family was taken when my dad came home on leave before being demobbed. I remember we went to Elgin to have it taken.

In the picture is my dad,my mom Jessie,my oldest brother Don,my brother Robert and of course me. I was 6 years old and had just met my dad for the first time. I was a 3 month old baby when he left and that’s what I looked like when he came home.”

Some Doubt

December 2011. Bill Leask has been in touch, leask21214@aol.com, concerning the Jimmy Leask story that appears here. Bill tells me that the person featured is a Jimmy Leisk of Sandwick in Shetland. He was born in 1911 and died in 1980. He was married to an Aunt of his mothers. Quite rightly Bill feels that if the story contains some wrong information then it needs to be corrected.



6 Responses to Jimmy Leask D-Day 6th June 1944

  1. elaine mitchell says:

    my father was/is sapper R.M Sparkes who was in 1platoon 84 field company .he has always said that jimmy Leask came from shetland.
    photo hu87440 Imperial war museum shows all 3 from the D day photo with their platoon in Uelzen germany 1945

  2. Ross Bray says:

    The photo is undoubtedly of old family friend and neighbour, the late Jimmy Leisk, builder, of Park, Sandwick. He is easily recognizable . He has 2 surviving daughters in Shetland who can confirm this.

  3. Seimon Pugh Jones says:

    Hello there, Great work! We believe we have Sgt James Mapham’s camera at our little museum in Wales.
    Drop us a line..
    Kindest regards,

    • Ray says:

      Hi Seimon, thanks for your email. Does your museum have a web site? If so whats the URL? Is there a photograph of the camera that I can put on my site?

      Best wishes, Ray

  4. Holly says:

    This is quite odd reading this as my mother is called Shona and her dad, my grandfather. was also called Jimmy Leask! We’re from Shetland too. However these photos were before their time.

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