The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. L A Komaroff
Lennert Axel Komaroff was born in China on 27th May 1917. His father, Charles David Komaroff, was a merchant who had been born in India in 1881 and who had travelled widely before settling with his young family (Lennert and his older sister, Ada) in Shanghai in 1920. He had married Elsa Korff in London in 1908. Both were of Jewish extraction (he from Russia, and she from Germany). Both their children held British citizenship.
Although Shanghai in this period was popular with many different immigrant nationalities, it was particularly so with White Russians (Lennert’s father appears to have been part of this group) and Russian Jews fleeing from persecution in the newly formed Soviet Union. They made up the second largest foreign community in the Chinese city. The 1930s were to see another large influx, this time of European Jews.
Lennert was enrolled in the Cathedral School, Shanghai in 1923 and attended there until 1929 when his family travelled to Berlin for his mother to undergo treatment at a sanatorium. He went to a private day school in Berlin until May 1930. It was then decided that the 13-year-old Lennert would continue his education at Sevenoaks School in England where the headmaster, James Higgs Walker, was appointed as his guardian.
Above: Komaroff appears in a school group of 1933 (standing rear row sixth from left).
He entered the Fourth Form and boarded in School House. There are few references to him in the School magazine, the Sennockian, during his time there and none in the sporting field, although one of the two known photographs of him show him in the School House rugby XV in 1934 (below).
Komaroff passed the Royal Drawing Society’s examination (Division 3) with Honours in June 1933 and the following July was the runner up in the school’s Masujima Essay Prize, awarded on writings about the Far East. He helped build the set for the school play, The Devil’s Disciple, in 1933 and played Gilles de Rais (Bluebeard) in St Joan in April 1934.
He left at the end of the summer term in 1934 and immediately returned to Shanghai where he got a job on the night shift at Reuters, decoding and coding telegrams concerning the financial markets. According to a letter he wrote back to the Sennockian, the hours did not suit him and he resigned after six months. At that time Shanghai was the centre of the Chinese tobacco industry and Komaroff was employed by one of the many companies in this field from 1934 until 1939. In his spare time he played rugby for the Shanghai 3rd XV, served in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps (Armoured Car Company) and studied Mandarin.
Komaroff wrote several times to the Sennockian about his life in China; that for 1938 reflected despondency about the state of the country following the Battle of Shanghai the previous year and the resulting Japanese occupation.
The circumstances of his leaving China and making his way to England are currently unknown but he is recorded as being posted to the Civil Flying school Gatwick on 30th May 1939 to commence pilot training for the RAF. By 13th August 1939 he had achieved 19 hours of solo flying but was assessed as being unable to progress quickly enough for the requirements of a wartime syllabus and he was reclassified as a Sergeant Air Gunner. He was sent for training to 5 Bombing & Gunnery School Jurby, Isle of Man on 4th December 1939. Passing out on 27th February 1940, he was posted to 141 Squadron at Acklington, operating Defiants. He served throughout the Battle of Britain. When in August 1941 the squadron began to replace its Defiants with Beaufighters, Komaroff retrained as a Radio Observer. On 25th August 1941, flying with F/O IH Cosby, he assisted in the destruction of a Ju88 south of the Isle of Wight.
He was commissioned on 11th March 1942 and promoted to Flying Officer, still with 141 Squadron, on 1st October 1942. His was then posted to 51 OTU Cranfield to instruct radio navigators on 1st January 1943, this detachment lasted two months until he arrived at 29 Squadron on 5th March 1943. The squadron operated Beaufighters from Bradwell Bay, Essex.
On 5th June 1943 Komaroff was aloft with F/Lt. C Kirkland in Beaufighter 1F X7826. They engaged a Junkers 88 over the Thames Estuary. The Beaufighter was hit by return fire and badly damaged. The pilot managed to get it back to Bradwell Bay but Komaroff was injured. The aircraft was written off.
He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 11th March 1944, still serving with 29 Squadron which now operated Mosquitos from Hunsdon, Hertfordshire. On 19th September 1944 Mosquito NF XIII MM463 set out on an intruder sortie but was recalled due to bad weather. The aircraft came down, cause unknown, near Groede in the Scheldt Estuary. Komaroff and the pilot, F/Lt. HH West, were both killed.
Komaroff was 26. He is buried in Bergen-op-Zoom Cemetery.
Above image courtesy of findagrave.
He left a widow, Helen (nee Miller), they had married on 21st October 1941 at St. Cuthberts Church, Prestwick.
His parents left Shanghai after the communist revolution of 1949, they both died in London, his father in 1950 and his mother 1970.
Additional research and all photos courtesy of Sally Robbins MA, Sevenoaks School Archivist.
Additional research courtesy of Melissa Litwin, great-niece of Lennert Komaroff.