Taking tea with Leon Bloom, his wife of 72 years Margorie (née Loebascher) and daughter Judith at their lovely family home they built together as a young couple, was a warm family experience. The sideboard behind Leon is covered in framed family photos, and facing him at the other end of their sunny dining room table is the large TV for family Zoom meetings.
As Leon had recently been interviewed on Zoom by his London grandchildren about his past, the answers to our questions were ready and fast.
Leon, who was born in Footscray, was studying Engineering when he decided to enlist. He wanted to enlist because he considered Australia was doing badly in the war and he wanted to help. It was 1942 and his employer rejected his application. Determined to help Australia’s war effort, Leon also met fierce opposition from his mother. She was British and had been through a war already in the UK, so she wasn’t happy about Leon’s enlistment. She knew that once he flew out, she would not know where he was or what he was doing. Leon was living at home with his mother at the time of his enlistment; his father had passed a few months before.
Leon finally attested in 1943, joining the RAAF - 1 Airfield Construction Squadron (ACS). This Squadron was deployed to build new airports and prepare airstrips as the Army left, so the RAAF could land. Training had been very quick and he picked the RAAF as he believed there were more opportunities to progress through the ranks. They had to ‘clean up’ as the Japanese had been bombing Darwin. Later, more airports had to be built on Morotai Island, Indonesia and Borneo.
Correspondence was censored as their manoeuvres were confidential. Leon received a letter from home approximately once per month and would write back - again all mail was censored and much of the letter he wrote was blacked out by the Censor. He missed his family and friends.
Concerned that his mother should know he was in Borneo, he devised a code. He had an Aunty Minnie whose partner had such fuzzy hair that he was teased as ‘the wild man of Borneo’. His grandma received Leon’s letter asking after Aunty Minnie’s partner. And so they knew.
In Borneo their commander was a rather inexperienced SGT Burke. They could easily influence him, so he and a friend could take ‘unofficial leave’ to see the town, but they were caught by the Second in Command. Lasting friends were made when in the RAAF. Serving alongside Leon was the Tasmanian Government Surveyor. All deployments were the same, after the infantry cleared an area from the Japanese, they would go in and construct airstrips to allow fighter and bomber aircraft to land.
Leon’s time in the RAAF made him more disciplined and organised to allow him to progress better in civilian life. He learned that he could cope with all of the day to day issues of life. One of his greatest wishes is peace and a good life for all. It was difficult to live away from his family and to exist and fight day by day, not
knowing if this will be the last day of his life.
Leon was awarded:
1. 1939-1945 Star
2. Pacific Star
3. Defence Medal
4. War Medal
5. Australia Service Medal 1939 - 1945
6. Australia Service Medal SW Pacific 1945 - 1976
Discharged at the end of the war, Leon returned with enough engineering experience to become an engineer at Port Melbourne City Council and he continued studying at Swinburne’s night school. It took him a couple of years to settle down again.
Attending a singles function at Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, in Toorak, he met his future wife. Margorie’s father, David, was an engineer and so took Leon into his business. The couple has since been active members at Temple Beth Israel.