An Officer and a Gentleman

 Remembrance Day   11 November 2015

My poppies.

David Thomas LEE was my Dad’s cousin (and for the family’s information Ron Lee’s brother).

He was to be the best man at my parents’ wedding in January 1943, but he was unable to attend due to RAAF training commitments in preparation for action in WWII.

On the 5th November 1944, David was pronounced ‘missing, presumed dead’ after a flying mission over Solingen, Germany, and later that day, pronounced, ‘presumed dead’.

Today, Remembrance Day, I’d like to dedicate this post to him.

David Thomas LEE30 Nov 1918 – 5 Nov 1944


According to David’s war records (obtained online from the National Archives of Australia), David enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Reserve on 23 October 1941 as a 22 year old. I presume he had some flying experience as his record states he was qualified to fly with the Royal Victorian Aero Club.

He transferred to the RAAF on 4 February 1942.

And in March 1943 he transferred to Canada for further training.

He spent 8 months in Canada, as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) continuing his training and then he was transferred to England and attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF), 15 Squadron. Following all the training he was classified as a ‘Navigator’.

He logged 19 flying operations over Europe in Lancaster Bombers as part of Bomber Command.

His first flight was on 31st July 1944.

Family folklore states that David was a member of the ‘Pathfinders’.

The Pathfinders were target-marking squadrons in RAF Bomber Command. They located and marked targets with flares that a main bomber force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing. A very vulnerable position I would imagine.

David Lee's 'extract from Log Book'

Extracts from Flying Log Book of Pilot Officer D T LEE. Personal war record is courtesy of National Archives of Australia.

He was 25 years old at the time of his last operation.

He was granted a ‘commission’ on ‘discharge’ from the RAAF.

On ‘discharge’ he was Pilot Officer David Thomas LEE.


The only letter Mum kept from those war years was the letter David wrote to her and Dad expressing his regret and disappointment at not being able to be their best man.

A few years ago I asked Mum…

‘What happened to all the letters you and Dad wrote to each other during the war?’

‘They were private,’ she said.

Fair enough.

Mum and Dad had become engaged just before Dad (also in the RAAF) left for overseas, after a whirlwind romance of three months so no doubt the letters were pretty lovey dovey; not to be read by anyone else, let alone her children!

I suspect David’s letter became increasingly special, considering his tragic death, as time went on.

And…it is a beautifully written letter with plenty of sentiment.

It starts off….

419688. 31 Course, B FLIGHT

No. 8 E.F.T.S.

Narrandera, NSW  12/1/43

Dear Jack and Berna,

Your telegram came today and I have also sent the reply but I feel that a few words of explanation will go a long way.

First of all, I feel greatly honoured by your asking me to be the Best Man and thanks very much. And I’m truly sorry that I can’t even attend the wedding.

E.F.T.S. Elementary Flying Training School. Courses there were part of the training to eventually fly with the RAF.

and goes on…

So you possibly know I have been unable to attend the recent weddings of five other first cousins and I had hoped I would have been in a better position when it came to yours. However, the way things are make me feel I must not propose to any girl until after the war, ‘cos I’m sure to leave her at the altar. Anyhow once again, Thanks.

and a little of the Tactical Situation, for David…

Well the TOC (“Tactical Situation”) Sugar is this. I’m in Narrandera which is on a Branch railway line. Then I’m not only in the RAAF (which you may know something about), but I’m in Aircrew, and

the discipline here at Narrandera is pretty tough. Leave for marriages, births and deaths is forbidden, wives are not allowed (?) in town etc. so after a couple of feeble attempts, I gave up the idea of getting to Melbourne. We actually have a couple of days standdown but not for Sunday and I wouldn’t be able to get back here until Monday. So, Jack, there you have it.

∗Dad was a wireless operator in the RAAF.

and finally, some good wishes and the flourish of David’s signature…

And now, I guess there’s very little I can do except wish you and Bernie every Happiness and Success. You know Old Man that my prayers and good wishes have followed you half way round the globe, and believe me, I haven’t forgotten you now. May you have many children!

Your sincere cousin,

David Thomas Lee


In 2013, I attended the Australian Palliative Care conference in Canberra.

On the last day of the conference, I joined a busload of attendees, on a visit to the Australian War Memorial.

To many of us it seemed a fitting end to an intense few days of listening and reflecting on life, death, grief; human stories.

After we laid a wreath at the nurses’ memorial I walked along Anzac Parade with a colleague. I told her David’s story. She joined in my growing enthusiasm to find his name on the Roll of Honour in the imposing War Memorial ahead of us.

With the aid of Google, we found DT Lee on Panel 125.

6th September 2013. DT Lee on memorial board, Roll of Honour, for RAAF. Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Author’s collection.

 

6th September 2013. Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Author’s collection.

His name was one of thousands.

I placed a poppy beside it and joined my fellow conference attendees in the forecourt as we waited for the daily closing ceremony.

In that peaceful, sacred place I felt the urge to share my find with those around me. In the telling, David seemed to come alive and in the sharing, I felt he was honoured.

I saw tears in their eyes and I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I was moved by their emotion but not surprised. I knew there would be a knowing and understanding amongst this particular group of the profundity of loss.

We acknowledged the grief of his loved ones and of my parents who obviously held David in high regard.

The piper played, cutting through the respectful silence with incredible clarity.

And we remembered David, who became real for me that day, and the many thousands, on both sides of war, who had lost their lives in that terrible time.

The Last Post ceremony is a very moving experience and one I’d recommend to anyone visiting Canberra. From the website:

At the end of each day, commencing at 4.55 pm AEDT, the Memorial farewells visitors with its moving Last Post Ceremony. The ceremony begins with the singing of the Australian National Anthem, followed by the poignant strains of a Lament, played by a piper. Visitors are invited to lay wreaths and floral tributes beside the Pool of Reflection. The Roll of Honour in the Cloisters lists the names of more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations over more than a century. At each ceremony the story behind one of these names will be told. The Ode is then recited, and the ceremony ends with the sounding of the Last Post.

6th September 2013. Forecourt of Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Author’s collection.


My parents married as planned on 16 January 1943. Their bridesmaid was Dad’s sister, Nance, and the best man was Sgt J. L. Clarke, a RAAF colleague. I’m sure David wasn’t far from their thoughts on this day.

1943 30 Jan The Australasian Mum and Dad's wedding

Mum and Dad’s wedding as published in The Australasian on 30 Jan 1943

From what I can gather from David’s records he did not return to Australia between the time of the letter and his death. So my parents never saw him as a married couple.


There is a memorial to David at Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany erected and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

David Lee's certificate commonwealth war graves Rheinberg cemeteryDavid’s memorial headstone can be seen on the The War Graves Photographic Project through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

Vale David. Lest we forget.

David Lee RACF photo

1944 Pilot Officer David LEE. Royal Canadian Air Force RCAF

Poppies

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16 Responses to An Officer and a Gentleman

  1. Chrissy says:

    Such a nice read Marg! Gave me goosebumps xx

  2. Bern says:

    Goosebumps and tears from me Marg! So well written and you can see how much research and love has gone into your story. Having the photos makes it even more real! The hand written letters made it even more special.
    Thankyou so much Marg. Keep up these very special blogs for us. xxx

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Bern! David must have been one special bloke!
      I think blogging is the perfect medium to share the family stories. I’m so glad I started it and I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! xx

  3. Beautifully put together Margaret and made even more poignant being Remembrance Day. Dad, Max and I were all touched by it and wonderful seeing Mum there as the bridesmaid. You are certainly filling in the family history gaps for me.

  4. Heather says:

    wonderful story Marg. your well chosen words and images added reality and I found myself tearing up too. it made me think of just how many Australian young people whose lives were cut short. I am wondering why David started in the Australian forces and then enlisted in the Canadian AF. any clues to that move?

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Het for your lovely feedback. And yes, I did find something out about our RAAF training in Canada. It seems we were helping out the Empire! According to the Australian War Memorial:

      At the outbreak of the Second World War the British government realised it did not have adequate resources to maintain the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the impending air war in Europe. While British factories could rapidly increase their aircraft production, there was no guaranteed supply of trained aircrew. Pre-war plans had identified a need for 50,000 aircrew annually, but Britain could only supply 22,000.

      To overcome this problem, the British government put forward a plan to its dominions to jointly establish a pool of trained aircrew who could then serve with the RAF. In Australia the proposal was accepted by the War Cabinet and a contingent was sent to a conference in Ottawa, in Canada, to discuss the proposal. After several weeks of negotiations, an agreement was signed on 17 December 1939 which would last for three years. The scheme was known in Australia as the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS).

      Under the scheme 50,000 aircrew would be trained annually, each dominion would conduct its own elementary training; advanced training would be conducted in Canada because of its closeness to the British aircraft factories and the war zone. From November 1940, some training was also conducted in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).’

      Thanks for the question x

  5. Jana Last says:

    Marg,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/11/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-november-13.html

    Have a great weekend!

  6. Robyn Bainbridge says:

    A lovely moving post Marg,

  7. Ruth says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I’m late in reading the Remembrance Day blog. I am so glad that I finally had time to read it. Your portrayal of David is both well researched and very moving.You have so much love and respect for your family members! Thank you for sharing the results of many hours of research.
    I look forward to next week’s blog.
    Ruth

  8. Thomas Jhonston says:

    Hello

    My name is Thomas Jhonston.

    I found your blog post via a Google search I conducted in order to find out more information on my cousin David Thomas Lee.

    I am also related to David Thomas Lee. He is a cousin of mine.

    I’m in close contact with David’s brother; Ron Lee in Melbourne.

    David (and Ron’s) Lee’s mother was Grace Lee (nee Jhonston).

    My great grandfather William Jhonston was the brother of Grace Lee, thus making my grandfather Ryan Thomas Jhonston the first cousin of David and Ron.

    The name Thomas has been used consistently in our extended family for a long period of time.

    Thank you for the tribute to my cousin David Lee.

    I am also interested in learning who you are and how fit in to my extended family.

    Warm regards,

    Thomas (Tom)

    • Marg says:

      Hello Tom, Thanks for getting in touch.

      Ron and David were first cousins of my dad Jack Coghlan, on the Lee side.
      Dad’s mother was Mary Grace Jane Lee, known as ‘Doll’, the sister of Ron and David’s father.

      I remember ‘Auntie Grace’ really well. We used to visit her in the flat when we visited ‘Uncle Ron’ and family in High St in the 60s. I remember she had really nice cups and saucers!
      Dad was very close to his first cousins on the Lee side. Unfortunately, he died in 1974.

      I always loved that letter David wrote to my parents and they obviously felt very highly of him, as I said in the blog, it was the only letter my mum saved from those war years.

      Please give my regards to ‘Uncle Ron’ when you’re speaking to him,
      Cheers, Margaret (Coghlan)

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