Applauding David Leicester’s contribution to world history
David Leicester OAM, DFC & Bar made the ultimate sacrifice in 1941 when he was sent off to England to join the Allies in World War II. He was only 19.
David arrived to find he would be part of the Pathfinders Force, a team of pilots in the RAF Bomber Command who would mark targets for the bomber teams, and he would go on to complete 68 missions – 38 more than the average Pathfinder would carry out.
Now 97 and named the ‘most distinguished veteran in Australia’, David is very humble about his experience, despite receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses, a French Legion of Honour, the Order of Australia Medal, service ribbons from France and Germany and three service medals from Australia.
“My father was in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in World War I and so when the opportunity came to join the air force in World War II, here was my chance to fly and perhaps be one of these pilots who were fighting the Germans in the air,” said David.
“I’d trained on single engine fighters but when I got to England, bomber command were losing a lot of personnel and they had no replacements for the air crew they were losing – so we trained very quickly for four-engine bombers and went out on our first mission.”
The missions were so dangerous that the Pathfinders would rarely return with all four engines.
“I remember one fella took it so seriously he actually got back on four engines but when he got his turn to land, he was on his downward leg and cut one motor so he landed on three engines anyway,” laughed David.
David’s son Mike said he is ‘extraordinarily proud’ of his father as more details about his experience have come to light over the years.
“I think a lot of veterans don’t get as much recognition as they should – when I think about Dad doing 68 bombing missions as a 19-year-old, it’s pretty astounding and hearing him talk about it has brought it home for our family,” said Mike.
Mike said that a lot of people turned on the Bomber Command at the end of the war because of all the pain and suffering that was inflicted on the Germans.
“Eventually though, they woke up and said ‘without what they did the war would’ve been going on for another two years or more’, so after 70 years a Bomber Command memorial was unveiled in London,” said Mike.
Even though David didn’t talk about his experience much soon after the war, he was a guest speaker for many groups including rotary clubs, RSLs as well as schools across Adelaide for over 50 years, where people were very interested to hear his story.
David said he is ‘very pleased’ that younger people today know a lot about the ANZACs and that people seem to have a lot more respect for commemorating them compared to previous years.
“If we had another war today, I think it would be very different,” said David.
“There wouldn’t be any aeroplanes like I flew – but I think the young ones today would join up in exactly the same way as we all did.”
Thank you to David Leicester OAM, DFC & Bar for your contribution to Australia’s history.
The 77th anniversary of D-Day was celebrated on Sunday 6 June 2021.
Image: David Leicester at home with his two Distinguished Flying Crosses. Photo by Roy Vandervegt.