We were the Lucky Ones
Sergeant David Leicester, a young Australian Pilot, was 19 years of age when he first flew a Halifax Bomber over Germany. After casualties in his squadron rendered it short of pilots he was promoted directly to Squadron Leader. David flew a total of 68 missions over Europe.
David volunteered to become a pilot with the Pathfinder Force. Pathfinders were selected for their flying skill. Pathfinder aircraft preceded the main bomber force and flew into the teeth of battle to mark intended targets with flares and incendiary bombs.
Of those who served in RAF Bomber Command, approximately 44 percent did not survive the war. This figure rises to 50 percent for Pathfinder crews. A heavy burden for David to carry, but one he has learnt to shoulder with the support of family and friends.
In the 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honours David was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through ex-service, heritage and local government organisations. A fitting and appropriate honour for such a fine citizen.
On Thursday 28 June 2012, 70 years after his first flight over Germany, a reflective and at times tearful Squadron Leader David Leicester DFC and Bar, OAM (Retd) found himself at Green Park in London with more than 100 Australian veterans and their families to witness the dedication and unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. A fitting memorial unveiled to ensure the noble sacrifice of such enormous magnitude will never be forgotten.
The memorial was built to commemorate the airmen who gave their lives serving in RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War. The ceremony was attended by veterans and relatives of the 55,573 airmen from across the Allied nations.
Some 10,000 Australian airmen served with the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command during the Second World War, during which almost 3,500 were killed in action with another 650 dying in training accidents in the United Kingdom. So many lives lost, but a democratic and free way of life defended from tyranny due to the service and sacrifice by so many brave men and women.
Having been invited to recite the Ode of Remembrance at the ceremony in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, the combination of pride and sadness felt by SQNLDR Leicester is unimaginable.
SQNLDR Leicester is to soon turn 94 years of age and still attends commemorative events when he can. David enjoys the company of his wife, Joan and sons Michael and Graham. The attached picture of David being introduced to the Queen hangs in pride of place in the Leicester household and says so much about arguably the greatest generation we have seen.
SQNLDR Leicester offered this memory from his service with RAF Bomber Command:
“One of the worst nights for me was March 30/31 1944 when 96 aircraft were shot down and a further number crash landed. It was the worst night for Bomber Command casualties and we had a particularly bad time, returning on three engines and severe damage to the aircraft. It was a very rough landing, but we were the lucky ones.”
Lest we forget.