Memories of Mitcham

Memories of Mitcham for lunch. Two courageous World War II veterans met up again last week for their first reunion in more than 80 years. Keith Fowler, now 100, and David Leicester, 98, were neighbours when their families lived in Lorraine Ave, Mitcham SA during the 1930s.Then came the war.

Keith enlisted in the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, fought in the Syrian campaign and was taken prisoner by the Japanese when his battalion was sent to Java. David trained as a pilot, was posted to the UK and flew Halifax and Lancaster bombers on raids over Europe.They would not see each other again until the South Australian RSL ambassador, Bill Denny, discovered their pre-war connection and arranged a catch-up lunch at the Esplanade Hotel, Brighton. There was plenty to talk about.

After his wartime capture, Keith Fowler was dispatched as a slave labourer on the Burma Railway. He survived starvation rations, tropical disease and maltreatment – but today displays no sign of bitterness over the horrors of that experience. “I don’t regret being a prisoner of war,” he says. “I had to do it, to make myself a man.”

David Leicester’s survival is every bit as remarkable. Serving in Bomber Command, which recorded a 40 per cent fatality rate, he was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader at the age of just 19. All the more senior pilots in his unit had been lost in action. He logged a total of 68 bombing missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar. The citation for the second of those awards stated: “This officer’s attention to every detail, combined with his cool courage in the face of the heaviest opposition, is worthy of high praise.”

Over the reunion lunch, though, the conversation was more about their youth in Mitcham. “Back in those days,” says Mr Leicester, “it was a time when you knew everybody in the street.” His family lived at number 5, Lorraine Ave, while Mr Fowler’s lived at number 1. “It was just terrific to see David again,” says Mr Fowler. “I recognised him straight away.” (article contributed by Bill Denny).

Mr Leicester passed away in September 2021. Vale.