Portsmouth Local: Exploring the Stories of ‘The Few’ Heroes

Sgt Pilot Leonard Vivian Toogood 4

Remembering Sgt Pilot Leonard Vivian Toogood, RAF VR of No.43 (F) Squadron, a Portsmouth Local and one of “The Few”. Leonard was born in Portsmouth during March 1920, he carried out his further education at the Portsmouth Municipal College. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve as an Airman under training Pilot in July 1939 and on September 1st, like all other members of Britain’s reserve forces he was mobilsed to full-time service in the Armed Forces for the duration of hostilities.

After completing all of his basic flying training he was sent to No.5 (Fighter) Operational Training Unit (5 OTU) at RAF Aston Down in Gloucestershire to carry out a conversion course onto Hurricane Fighter aircraft on September 1st 1940. Following the successful completion of this intensive course Leonard was posted on September 28th to No.43 (F) Sqn at RAF Usworth in No.13 Group of RAF Fighter Command where the unit was recovering following a long and costly period in the frontline at RAF Tangmere, West Sussex in No.11 Group on the South Coast of England.


The Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Fighter Command – Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding had heavily reorganised his Command in an attempt to maintain his fighting strength while also simultaneously allowing those pilots who had been in constant action to have some relief from intense operational flying, but at the same time be passing on their hard learnt experience to the new pilots now joining the frontline from the training pipeline. No.43 Sqn was at this time designated as a ‘B’ Class unit, this meant it maintained an operational flight with a core of experienced personnel that could carry out the local aerial defense and patrol taskings in a quieter area, but at the same time, it could also handle the continued operational training of new pilots direct from OTU and help build their hours on type and their confidence in the role they were intended to fulfil. Flying was still a dangerous business without the input of an enemy and no more so than in wartime Britain, on October 27th 1940, Leonard was nearing the end of his time to be spent gaining his experience and was likely to be posted to a forward operational Sqn as a casualty replacement any day now.

But tragically while performing high level aerobatics at 20,000 ft over County Durham, his Hurricane L1963, without warning dived vertically out of the sky and impacted the ground at a terminal velocity at Congburn Dean, Edmondsley and was totally destroyed. The cause was never officially determined, but it is believed that it might have been due to a failure of the aircrafts oxygen system, resulting in Leonard becoming unconscious.

Sgt Leonard Vivian Toogood, RAF VR, was aged just 20 years old and like many young RAF Fighter Pilots still in the flying training system at the height of the Battle of Britain was killed in an accident without ever facing the Luftwaffe in aerial combat. But his loss and sacrifice is no less significant because of the fact that he was a volunteer and by late September and being posted to a Sqn, he would have been under no doubt at all of the great losses that RAF Fighter Command had suffered throughout August and September 1940.

His body was returned to his family in Portsmouth and today he lies at peace in Kingston Cemetery within the City.