Leon Maxwell GELLERT

Badge Number: 2837

GELLERT, Leon Maxwell

Service Number: 392
Enlisted: 22 August 1914, F Company - a battalion original
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 10th Infantry Battalion
Born: Walkerville, Adelaide, 17 May 1892
Home Town: Leabrook, City of Burnside, South Australia
Schooling: Adelaide High School
Occupation: Teacher
Died: Natural Causes, Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, 22 August 1977, aged 85 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Adelaide High School Honour Board, South Australian Education Department Roll of Honour, Tusmore Burnside District Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

22 Aug 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, 392, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1, Appointed Corporal for the voyage. Later Acting Sergeant
22 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 392, 10th Infantry Battalion, F Company - a battalion original
20 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Corporal, 392, 10th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '10' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Ascanius embarkation_ship_number: A11 public_note: ''
1 Jan 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 10th Infantry Battalion, Appointed Acting Sergeant
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, 392, 10th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC / Gallipoli
30 Jun 1916: Discharged AIF WW1, Sergeant, 392, 10th Infantry Battalion, Evacuated to Malta with Dysentry / enteric ever (typhoid) Evacuated to the UK. Assessed as Medically unfit returned to Australia and discharged July 1916. One of the few soldiers to have departed and subsequently returned to Australia on the same ship albeit 18 months apart - HMAT Ascanius

The Jester in the Trench - Leon Gellert

"That just reminds me of a yarn," he said;

And look for the body of Lofty Lane

He had a thousand yarns inside his head.

They waited for him, ready with their mirth

And creeping smiles, - then suddenly turned pale,

Grew still, and gazed upon the earth.

They heard no tale. No further word was said.

And with his untold fun,

Half leaning on his gun,

They left him - dead.


Place that bayonet in my hand,
And fill this pouch with lead;
Show me the blood and leave me, and let me
By my dead.

Cover those staring eyes and go
And stab in the red, red rain.
Show me that blood and leave me. They groan
In the snow.
With the pain.

Cover his head with a scarlet cloak,
And run to your scarlet strife,
Show me that blood and leave me, where white
Snows choke
Out the life.

Turn his face to the sanguine skies,
The skies where the red stars move.
Show me that blood and leave me; a dead man lies
With his love.


'ANZAC Cove' by Leon Gellert, 10th Battalion - Soldier Poet

There’s a lonely stretch of hillocks:
There’s a beach asleep and drear:
There’s a battered broken fort beside the sea.
There are sunken trampled graves:
And a little rotting pier:
And winding paths that wind unceasingly.
There’s a torn and silent valley:
There’s a tiny rivulet
With some blood upon the stones beside its mouth.
There are lines of buried bones:
There’s an unpaid waiting debt :
There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the South.

Leon Gellert


Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Australia's Soldier - Poet of WW1 Leon Maxwell Gellert (1892-1977)

The titans of English language WW1 'soldier-poetry' are generally listed as Britains Wilfred Owen MC, Robert Graves , Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon among others.  Their works persist over time to define the war through the eyes of the young men of that generation who paid so dearly for the freedom of NW Europe, bought as it was with their blood and sacrificie.  And who but a soldier could adequately describe what they had endured?

Australia had its own, but these days,  much less well known soldier poet.  Leon Maxwsell Gellert.  Gellert (a former Herald journalist) was generally regarded as Australia's finest war poet - "the Rupert Brooke of the Australian Imperial Force" according to his biographer (and a former Herald colleague), Gavin Souter, and by the same man, Australia's greatest war poet until Kenneth Slessor in WW2. 

Some of his most confronting poems are published in the 'Stories' section of this page.

The following biography was writtern by Gavin Souter and first published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in 1996.

Leon Maxwell Gellert (1892-1977), soldier, poet and journalist, was born on 17 May 1892 at Walkerville, Adelaide, third child and elder son of James Wallis Gellert, an Australian-born clerk of Hungarian descent, and his wife Eliza Anne, née Sutton. A sturdy child who was indulged by his mother and 'flogged' by his Methodist father, Leon eventually acquired enough knowledge of self-defence from the Young Men's Christian Association to throw the astonished parent on his back. He remained grateful to his father for introducing him to books, starting with Coral Island, but resented James's refusal to sponsor his education beyond Adelaide High School.

Leon became a pupil-teacher at Unley Public School. Financially assisted by an uncle, he attended University (Teachers') Training College, and passed modern European history and education (1912) and English language and literature (1913) at the University of Adelaide. Gellert taught physical education at Hindmarsh Public School until, eighteen days after the outbreak of World War I, 'dancing and singing', he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. In his troop-ship in the Aegean he diverted himself by writing verse. As a lance sergeant with the 10th Battalion, he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Wounded by shrapnel, and suffering from septicaemia and dysentery, he was evacuated to Malta in July and thence to London. He was diagnosed as having epilepsy, repatriated and discharged medically unfit on 30 June 1916. In November he re-enlisted in Adelaide, only to be discharged almost immediately, but the suspected tendency to epilepsy was not borne out in later life. He returned to teaching, at Norwood Public School.

Meanwhile, Gellert revised and added to his overseas verse. Songs of a Campaign (1917) was hailed by the Bulletin as one of the best verse collections to have 'come out of the war to the English language'; it won the university's Bundey prize for English verse, and, before the year was out, Angus & Robertson Ltd published a third and enlarged edition, illustrated by Norman Lindsay. Australia's closest approximation to a Brooke or Sassoon, Gellert looked the part, particularly in Lindsay's 1918 depiction of him as a knightly seraph. He was of strong build and middle height, with a fair complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair; sometimes, to his annoyance, his features were described by the press as 'sensitive'.

In the best of his verse Gellert used everyday language to express what would later be termed 'a perplexed disillusionment with the soldier's lot'. But he did not maintain the impetus. The Isle of San (1919), a cycle of 120 poems published as a limited edition, again illustrated by Lindsay, dealt with 'Youth's eternal awakening to the failure of ideals'. There were few reviews and H. M. Green subsequently declared that Gellert's 'best verse is almost all in his first book'.

Poetry gave way to journalism, and in due course to expected disillusion. Soon after his marriage to Kathleen Patricia Saunders on Christmas Day 1918 at St Margaret's Anglican Church, Woodville, she joined him in Sydney where Gellert taught English at Cleveland Street Intermediate High School until 1922. He took over a column, 'The Man in the Mask', in Smith's Weekly, and was introduced by Lindsay to an artistic and literary circle which included Sydney Ure Smith and Bertram Stevens. When Stevens died in 1922, Gellert replaced him as co-editor of Art in Australia and became a director of Art in Australia Ltd, which also published the Home.

The company was acquired in 1934 by John Fairfax & Sons Ltd. Ure Smith and Gellert retained their co-editorships until the former resigned in 1938. Gellert was sole editor of the Home from that year until its closure in 1942. He was then put in charge of the Sydney Morning Herald's magazine and book pages. Although deprived of the magazine pages in 1945, he retained the title of literary editor and wrote a graceful column, 'Something Personal', for the Saturday book pages; from 1949 he contributed a widely read humorous column to the Sunday Herald (later the Sun-Herald) and, following his retirement from Fairfax in 1961, the Sunday Telegraph. His Sunday columns, republished in Week after Week (1953) and Year after Year (1956), were usually set in Burran Avenue, Mosman, where he had built a cliff-top home in 1922. They portrayed him as a bespectacled curmudgeon—a far cry from Lindsay's angelic dry-point or Norman Carter's courtly oil painting of 1923.

The Gellerts' only child and grandchild had died in childbirth during the 1940s. After his wife's death in 1969, he returned to Adelaide and spent his last years with a beloved pet dachshund in a house at Hazelwood Park that he called Crumble Cottage. He died on 22 August 1977 at Toorak Gardens and was cremated.


Citation details

Gavin Souter, 'Gellert, Leon Maxwell (1892–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gellert-leon-maxwell-10288/text18201, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996


Compiled by Steve Larkins May 2019