Lewis David LEICESTER OAM, DFC & Bar

LEICESTER, Lewis David

Service Number: 416687
Enlisted: 16 August 1941, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Last Unit: No. 35 Squadron (RAF - No. 8 Group PFF)
Born: Unley, South Australia, 30 June 1923
Home Town: Mitcham, Mitcham, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Warehouseman
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World War 2 Service

16 Aug 1941: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 416687, Aircrew Training Units, Adelaide, South Australia
17 Aug 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2 (WW2), SN 416687, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
20 Jan 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, SN 416687, No. 158 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45
16 Jan 1945: Honoured Distinguished Flying Cross and bar, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
15 Aug 1945: Discharged Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 416687, No. 35 Squadron (RAF - No. 8 Group PFF)

"We were the lucky ones"

With thanks to Veterans SA - http://anzaccentenary.sa.gov.au/story/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.”

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

SQN LDR David Leicester, OAM, DFC and Bar, Ld'H.

David Leicester was born at Unley in Adelaide's inner south, on 30 June 1923.   from Mitcham, South Australia enlisted in late 1940 and was posted to No. 1 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) at Parafield to train on Tiger Moths.

After moving on to Wirraways at Point Cook, was disappointed to be put onto twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords. The 18 year old was destined to be a Bomber pilot.

With more training at Honeybourne on Oxfords and Whitleys in the UK, he experienced his first major incident when he had an engine fire on take-off on his first
night solo. This required a wheels-up forced landing of his Whitley bomber, which earned him a “green entry” in his log book: “14/1/1943. “Commended for coolness and calmness in
emergency.” AOC 91 group

Before leaving OTU he completed his first operation against the enemy with a leaflet raid over France. After OTU, he was posted to No. 1658 HCU (Heavy Bomber Conversion Unit) to convert to the Halifax bomber and to pick a crew, all RAF sergeants.  Before finishing HCU, David had to fly as a second Dickie pilot with a raid on Stettin on 20 April 1943 and on Duisburg on the 25th. He and his crew were posted to 158 Sqn RAF at Lissett in Yorkshire in No. 4 Group flying Halifax B Mk II aircraft, powered by Merlin XXs (Halifaxes were normally powered by Bristol Hercules radials)  and assigned to ‘C’ Flight, commanded by Squadron Leader Smylie DFC.

Quickly in action,. their first operation was to Duisburg On 11 May 1943, followed by 26 more through to December flying Merlin-powered Halifax IIs to targets including Bochum, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Essen (twice), Wuppertal (twice), Krefeld, Mannheim, Gelsenkirchen (twice), Cologne, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Leverkusen (twice), Berlin, Modane, Kassell and Stuttgart. David in his monograph somewhat laconically related that “…we got through the raids relatively unscathed although we had to withstand ack-ack fire, nightfighters and searchlights etc.” He went on to say: “Afew very bad moments when we thought a bail out was necessary and an occasion when the bomb aimer was injured – but not seriously. A return to base with a badly holed aircraft – through shrapnel – and/or on three engines was not an uncommon experience.

It was while still at Lissett that David, then a 20 year old Flight Sergeant, was commissioned and promoted to ‘C’ Flight Commander. This unlikely circumstance – he had only been a Flight Sergeant for six weeks - was a result of the 158 Sqn Commanding Officer, WGCDR Hope DFC, deciding, against regulations, to take a crew on an operation. He selected as his crew the ‘C’ Flight Commander, Sqd Ldr Smylie, as navigation leader and all the various bombing, gunnery, wireless, engineer leaders, plus a gunner from another crew. They were shot down near the target, survived to become prisoners of war, but left the squadron and ‘C’ Flight completely leaderless.

David, in spite of his youth, was the most experienced pilot left on the squadron. A new CO, Jock Calder, was appointed in August 1943 and David, with no replacement flight commander available, became the youngest Squadron Leader in the RAF – and in all the allied air forces - as Flight Commander ‘C’ Flight. During this period, on 14 January 1944, David was awarded his first DFC. The award was flagged on 31 December 1943 in a telegram to him from the Commander in Chief, Bomber Command. David has said that No.4 Group gallantry awards were not for individual acts but for sustained exposure to extreme danger through completion of multiple missions. An undated press clipping in his book readshe “...has been awarded the DFC for bravery while attacking heavily defended targets in Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne.”

The WCDR Hope episode resulted in the AOC 4 Group issuing instructions that squadron COs were not permitted to fly on operations and flight commanders were allowed only one a month. David’s crew were ready to be rested by then, but it is a tribute to his leadership that they all agreed to continue, and to assist with the training of new crews assigned to his Flight. In late 1943 a new squadron was formed at Leconfield in Yorkshire, less than 20km south-west of Lissett. David’s 158 Sqn ‘C’ Flight was to be the nucleus of the new squadron, No. 640, and David was made its acting CO and ‘A’ Flight commander until a new CO was appointed. He moved to Leconfield on 7 January 1944 to take up his new duties. He had previously flown the Merlin-powered Halifax IIs from Lissett, but the new squadron was equipped with Bristol Hercules XVI radial-engined Halifax IIIs.

His time with 640 Sqn was short but he did undertake another four operations (from Lissett) to Stuttgart, Trappes (in France), Essen and Nuremberg. The last, David’s 31st Operation, was on 30/31 March 1944 and was the worst night in RAF history. David and his crew were included on the mission to Nuremberg, although his 30-mission tour of operations was already complete, because the size of the operation called for squadrons to ‘make maximum effort’ to contribute aircraft to it. Of the 779 bombers taking part, 96 were lost and another 10 written off after landing back in England and 545 crewmen were lost. Little was gained – due to adverse weather conditions, Nuremberg was only lightly damaged.

David’s aircraft was attacked by a German night fighter over the target and suffered severe damage including loss of one engine and the nose perspex at the bomb - aimer’s position being shot out. Fortunately his bomb aimer was only lightly wounded but this damage made for a difficult and hazardous flight home and landing. After this David and his crew, understandably, felt they had done enough and requested a rest from Ops and appointment to non-combat duties. Those appointments went ahead and the crew went their separate ways and never flew together again. All had been commissioned and some decorated while on the squadron.

David was posted to the RAF College at Cranwell to attend a course for junior commanders. He did well in spite of his lack of interest in the subjects, and especially well in Air Force Law. This resulted in his appointment to assist with the conduct of Courts of Enquiry in aircraft accidents in training programs, a job he hated. He asked for a posting back to flying only to be told that his only course back into operational flying was to volunteer for the Pathfinder Force (PFF). This he managed through his acquaintance with the 4 Group AOC’s secretary, who he was visiting, when a phone call came in to her saying 35 (PFF) Sqn needed an experienced SQLDR-Pilot to replace a pilot wounded the night before on a raid. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people resulted in David being a quick appointment to 35 Sqn. When he reported to 35 Sqn, however, he learned that the wounded pilot was expected to be recovered by the time his crew came back from leave.

David’s next best option was to report to the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit (PNTU) at Warboys, complete the PFF navigation training course, form a new crew and start a new tour of operations with the Pathfinders. This he did with his new crew all being RAF officers who had completed a full tour of operations. In July 1944 they were posted back to 35 Sqn at Gravely. The first Op was to Kiel, then Stuttgart then Hamburg – then 34 more to make up a total of 68 including his 31 trips with 158 and 640 squadrons.

There were normally 20 to 30 Pathfinder aircraft included on an operation performing various functions of increasing hazard. As crews gained experience they progressed from ‘Supporters’, who were spread throughout the bomber stream; to ‘Illuminators’, who were first at the target to illuminate it with flares when weather conditions were suitable to enable more accurate marking; to ‘visual or blind markers’, who dropped colour-coded flares to mark the aiming point for the bomber stream, either visually or by instrument flight calculation depending on the weather; and ultimately to ‘Master Bombers’ and re-mark the aiming point with different coloured flares to counter any decoy flares placed by the Germans. All these roles were extremely hazardous, both because their arrival at the target ahead of the bombing stream resulted in the loitering over the target for extended periods exposing them to sustained attacks.

David performed all of these roles during his 37 Pathfinder operations. Pathfinders suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the armed services. David received a Bar to his DFC on 16 January 1945 when his tour with 35 Sqn finished he and seven others were ordered to an investiture at Buckingham Palace, where his DFC and Bar were presented by the King. With the citation: “Since the award of the DFC, S/L Leicester has continued to operate with undiminished efficiency, determination and enthusiasm. Under his fine captaincy his crew has achieved many successes and has set an example to all the Squadron. This officer’s attention to every detail, combined with his cool courage in the face of the heaviest opposition is worthy of high praise.

In 2007 David was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), “For service to the community through ex-Service, heritage and local government organisations”. David also received the Legion d’Honneur for his role in the liberation of France. David lives with Joan in Adelaide


From the Bomber Command Association in Australia newletter https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3445