Remembrance Day 11 November 2015
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.
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.
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.
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….
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.