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Starcevich, Leslie Thomislav (Thomas) (1918–1989)

by Keith D. Howard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Leslie Starcevich, 1945

Leslie Starcevich, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 124956A

Leslie Thomislav (Thomas) Starcevich (1918-1989), soldier, was born on 5 September 1918 at Subiaco, Western Australia, third of ten children of Croatian-born Joseph Starcevich, miner, and his English-born wife Gertrude May, née Waters.  In the 1920s the family moved to Grass Patch, near Esperance, where Tom was educated at a local school.  After working in a gold mine at Norseman he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 April 1941 and joined the 2/43rd Australian Infantry Battalion.  Of dark complexion and 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, he embarked for the Middle East on 9 September.  On 17 July 1942, during the battle for Ruin Ridge at El Alamein, Egypt, he was wounded in the thigh; he returned to Australia in February the following year.  In August 'Starcey' was posted to New Guinea and served in the campaign against the Japanese, at Lae and Finschhafen (Finschaven).  He was promoted to acting corporal in December, although later he relinquished the rank voluntarily.  In January 1944 he returned to Australia.

From May to December 1945 the 2/43rd Battalion participated in the Australian invasion of Japanese-occupied Labuan and British North Borneo.  On 27-28 June it attacked the town of Beaufort.  Approaching a thickly wooded spur, Starcevich’s company encountered the enemy at a position where movement off the single track was difficult and hazardous.  The leading platoon found the enemy well dug in and, as the Japanese in the first post opened fire, Starcevich moved through the forward scouts firing his Bren-gun from the hip and silencing the post.  Fired upon immediately by a second light machine-gun emplacement, he coolly changed his magazine, advanced upon this post and, standing in full view of the gunners, destroyed it.  Encountering a third post, he and a fellow soldier moved forward and kept the post quiet with a hail of fire.  For this outstanding display of gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross in November.  After the war the people of Beaufort erected a memorial to Starcevich and named the jungle track 'VC Road'.

Returning to Australia in January 1946, Starcevich was discharged from the AIF on 12 February.  He took work as a car salesman in Perth.  On 10 December 1947 at the district registrar’s office he married Kathleen Betty Warr, née Hardy, a divorcee.  The couple lived at Subiaco until 1951, when they moved to a two-thousand acre (809-ha) war service property near Carnamah and farmed wheat and sheep.  Divorced in 1969, Starcevich returned to Grass Patch in 1981 and took up a one-hundred acre (40.5-ha) farmlet, where he lived in a small shack.  A modest and serious man with a liking for music, he was described as 'a good mate, with a quiet smile and dry sense of humour', who enjoyed sharing a few beers with old comrades.  Survived by his two sons and one daughter he died on 17 November 1989 at Esperance and was buried with full military honours in the local cemetery.  His portrait by George Browning is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.  A bronze statue of him was unveiled at Grass Patch on 28 June 1995.  The Tom Starcevich VC memorial park at Campbell, Canberra, was dedicated on 10 December 2005.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (1963)
  • L. Wigmore, They Dared Mightily (1963)
  • G. Combe et al, The Second 43rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1940-1946 (1972)
  • B2458, item 5/16739 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Keith D. Howard, 'Starcevich, Leslie Thomislav (Thomas) (1918–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/starcevich-leslie-thomislav-thomas-15544/text26755, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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