Born: 9th May 1921, Wandsworth, Surrey.

Died: 28th December 1940; age 19; aircraft crashed at Debach, Suffolk.

Residence: 99, Red Post Hill, Camberwell, London.

Joined the R.A.F in August 1939 on a short service commission. On the 18th May 1940, after training he went to 6 OTU, at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire, before joining 17 Squadron on the 25th May 1940.

David went to France in early June 1940, operating from Dinard, Brittany and Le Mans, Pays de la Loire.

David was an “Ace” as he had shot down five or more aeroplanes.


Rank: Pilot Officer/Pilot; Service Number: 42756.

Regiment: Royal Air Force, 17 Squadron.


Medals Awarded: Distinguished Flying Cross. Gazetted 26th November 1940.

Citation: “In November, 1940, this officer was engaged with his squadron in protecting two destroyers which were being attacked by a formation of enemy dive bombers heavily escorted by fighters. Showing magnificent courage and determination, Pilot Officer Cooper destroyed two of the enemy bombers and assisted in the destruction of another.
He has now destroyed at least five enemy aircraft.”

Details: LG 35001/6754.


Grave Reference:


Ipswich Old Cemetery,



Father: Frank Cooper Leary, born Decmber 1881, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand – died 1942, Camberwell, London. A lithographic artist. Frank joined the Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Artists on the 11th September 1909. During the Second World War Frank was an Air Raid Precautions – part time.

Mother: Ruth Winifred Leary (nee Harris), born July 1885, St. Pancras, London – died 1941, Camberwell, London.


David attended Hitherfield Road School, Streatham, London, followed by Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, South London – entered 17th September 1932 – 23rd July 1938. House – Brown’s. His address whilst attending Alleyn’s School: 123, Lyndhurst Avenue, SW2, Wandsworth. David’s end of term reports generally showed he was absent a lot, near the bottom of the class and that his artistic temperament was getting in the way of  learning. In December 1934 Class U.M.B.II reported ” absent minded, a good artist. Writes good English.” In July 1935 Class U.M.B.I reported ” a dreamer, son of artist, good English, and good art. Mr. Doubleday wants him to take extra art.”

David went on for further education at St. Martin’s School of Art.


School information courtesy of Nicola – Alleyn’s School Archivist – https://www.alleyns.org.uk/


28th December 1940

Aircraft: Hawker Hurricane; serial number: V6791. David was flying in fog and low cloud when he lost formation and dived into the ground.

One Comment

  • David was my mother’s elder brother. Her younger brother, Sean O’Leary, became locally famous as a painter in Strathpeffer on the east coast of Scotland and the Isle of Islay in the Hebrides where he painted many murals, some of which are still visible. My mother, Sheila Mary, also lost both her parents during the war, and as a teenager, was left to look after her younger brother, named John.

    After the war, John soon disappeared. He did stay in Folkestone for a while, and did spend some time in North Africa before heading to Scotland. He did trace his ancestry back to when the Leary’s left Ireland and for four generations were in Australia before moving to New Zealand where they stayed for three generations, becoming brewers in Dunedin, before Frank decided to come back to the old country. My mother only became aware of John/Sean when a friend of hers in the war sent her an article about Sean, the artist on Islay with a picture of him. My parents and I went up to meet him around 1972. Both Sheila and Sean still grieved over the death of their elder brother. I got to know Sean and Islay quite well. Both Sean and his older sister died at the age of 57, three times the age of their elder brother, David.


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