Leslie (Les) DUNSTAN

DUNSTAN, Leslie

Service Number: 2628
Enlisted: 24 April 1915
Last Rank: Driver
Last Unit: Mechanical Transport Companies (AIF)
Born: Moonta, South Australia, 24 December 1895
Home Town: Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Queensland
Schooling: Central Boys State School, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Carpenter
Died: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 11 August 1952, aged 56 years, cause of death not yet discovered
Cemetery: Mount Thompson Memorial Gardens & Crematorium, Queensland
Memorials: East Brisbane War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

24 Apr 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2628, 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance
16 Jun 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 2628, 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance, HMAT Borda, Brisbane
7 Mar 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 3rd Field Ambulance
30 Apr 1917: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 1st Division Supply Column
24 Feb 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Driver, Mechanical Transport Companies (AIF), 12th Army Brigade Australian Field Artillery Park Section
11 Aug 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Driver, 1st Mechanical Transport Company
Date unknown: Embarked SN 2628, 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance
Date unknown: Involvement SN 2628, 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance

Help us honour Leslie Dunstan's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Sue Smith

Leslie Dunstan was born on the 24th December 1895 at Moonta, South Australia, to his parents, Rev. Richard and Martha Dunstan.  Les came from a large family having 5 sisters, Clementine, Annie, Dorothy, Jean, Marjorie and 5 brothers, Sydney, Frank, Edmund known as Albie, Donald and Douglas.  Two other brothers, Bennett and Victor, both died in infancy and another sister was stillborn. 

Les’ father was a Methodist Church Minister so the family moved regularly.  By 1897 they had moved to Geraldton, Western Australia, and moved 3 more times over the next 10 years before making the move to Rockhampton, Queensland in 1907.  Les went to primary school at the Central Boys State School at Rockhampton.  When the family moved to Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1910 Les started a 5 year apprenticeship with G. S. Smith & Sons as a carpenter.  He was also a keen tennis player while living in Toowoomba.

Les was my Great Uncle…his sister Annie was my grandmother.  Many of the details shared in this biography come from Les’ World War 1 diaries which he commenced on the 2nd April 1915 and concluded on the 17th December 1919. 

With outbreak of war Les applied to join the Australian Medical Corps and was accepted on the 14th April 1915.  Two days later he went into camp at Enoggera in Brisbane QLD.  At the age of 19 Les enlisted in the Australia Imperial Force on the 24th April 1915 as a Private, becoming a Mounted Stretcher Bearer with the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance.  His service number was 2628 and in his service records he’s described as being 5ft 8ins tall with a dark complexion, blue eyes and black hair. 

Les embarked from Brisbane on the 16th June on the HMAT Borda and disembarked at Suez, Egypt, on the 22nd July 1915.  Initially he was at Almaza Camp at Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, then in late August he moved to Camp Gabbari at Alexandria where his job was unloading hospital ships with the wounded from Gallipoli.  Three days after arriving there he met Corporal William Dunstan, no relation, who was being invalided home to Australia from Gallipoli after being temporarily blinded by a bomb blast at Lone Pine in an action that saw him awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery.  Over the following 4 months Les spent most of his days unloading wounded Australians, New Zealanders and British soldiers off numerous ships culminating with a record of 1,010 patients unloaded in one day from the hospital ship Essequibo in early December.  Les spent his 20th birthday and Christmas Day at Alexandria then in early January 1916, moved back to Almaza Camp at Heliopolis and then to Maadi Camp at Cairo 2 weeks later.  While in Egypt Les was able to visit many of the famous places including the Mosque and Citadel at Cairo, the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, Rameses Statue at Memphis, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and also Pompey’s Pillar and Nouzha Gardens at Alexandria. 

In early March Les moved to Tel-el-Kebir Camp, 40 klms west of Ismailia, and was transferred to the 3rd Field Ambulance as Stretcher Bearer.  It was here that he met up with Cyril Morsley, my grandfather who was also serving in the 3rd Field Ambulance and who would become his brother-in-law in 1924.  On the 27th March 1916 the 3rd Field Ambulance embarked from Alexandria for France on the HMAT Kingstonian arriving at Marseilles, France, on the 4th April.  While at sea Private Percy Fennell was lost overboard while walking in his sleep.  Also during the time at sea, 3 ships following them were torpedoed 3 days in a row.  After entraining at Marseilles Les disembarked at Godewaersvelde in northern France. 

In early May the 3rd Field Ambulance was inspected by Lieutenant-General Harold Walker, a senior British Army Commander who was in command of the 1st Australian Division.  Walker’s Ridge on the Gallipoli peninsula is named after him.  In early April Les moved to Strazeele, then Doulieu and then to Nouveau Monde.  During this time he experienced building bomb-proof shelters for the wounded in the trenches, marching through a snowstorm, heavy bombardment, being part of a burial party and a gas attack while at an Aid Post called Rifle Villa.  This entry from his diary on the 16th June 1916:

“While on guard from 12-2am I smelt a slight odour of chlorine.  It gradually became stronger so I woke up the Corporal of the guard and rang the gong for a gas alarm.  Throat & lungs stuffing up, could hardly breathe.  Stopped ringing gong to put on helmet.  Whole village was soon up.  Church bell rang.  Gas came from Armentieres, 6 miles, 600 casualties, 160 died (Tommies), 2 N.Z. Officers.”

In early July the 1st Australian Division became a mobile division which meant they could be moved anywhere at a moment’s notice.  Throughout July Les moved several times to different places including Outtersteene, Berthen, Doullens, Wargnies, Bouzincourt and Albert where their billet was shelled 10mins after their arrival.  These entries from his diary:

Thursday July 20

“2.30 am Fritz strafed us again lobbing shell after shell in the railway a few yards away.  Pieces of stone etc. falling all around us.  No one hit.  Left Albert at 2.30pm for the trenches, 30 of us told off to go as bearers.  Trenches three miles from Dressing Station, 4 squads volunteered to carry from front line.  In old German trench captured last week.  Dugouts open out to present German line.  10 minutes after arriving a shell hit the parapet & nearly hit us.  Exciting time carrying first patient.  Nearly hit.”

Sunday July 23

“One o’clock this morning our boys went over the parapets.  Casualties began to come in by 3am.  Bob Scott & myself went down to Contalmaison for a case.  At 5am 4 of us walked down to the 4th trench for cases.  Sniper tried us with a dozen shots while coming back through the valley in the open.  By 4pm just about done.  Sent off for a sleep till 8pm.  Carried again till 10.30pm...about 2,500 casualties.  Dead everywhere.”

Monday July 24

“Another advance was made last night taking one thousand yards, entrenching on other side of village (Pozieres).  General Ware (Toowoomba) killed.  Our artillery gave two heavy bombardments during the night.  Every gun opening up.  Several successful moves made by Australians.  British advanced level with us on left.  French attempted on right.  No news of French yet.  Expected to be relieved by 2nd Division but none came.  Just about worn out.”

Tuesday July 25

“Went to aid-post in shrapnel gully.  Very hot with shrapnel at present.  Large shell fell within a few yards of us while carrying a stretcher up the gully, nearly blowing us off our feet but no one was hit.  17th Battalion (2nd Div.) came in today, also 5th Field Ambulance.  We were withdrawn at about 5pm & driven back to Albert in motor lorries dead beat.  Had no wash or shave for 6 days and only 10 hrs sleep since Saturday night.  Australian casualties heavy.”

Thursday July 27

“Very cold night.  Big German bombardment started at 9am.  Cases began to roll in.  Big shells falling on our tracks.  Just as we arrived at the aid-post (Reynolds & myself) after carrying a case, a shell fell on the bank above the door of dugout, exploded a bomb nearby, killed a Regimental Stretcher Bearer, broke another’s leg & wounded several others, not touching either of us two although only 10ft away.  Worked very hard.  Fell exhausted at the second last case.  Had a drink & felt better.  Relieved by 6th Field Ambulance after bringing back next case.  Walked back to dressing station.  Rode back to Albert on ambulance waggon.  Slept out in open on the green fields outside Albert.  Looked for Frank in 25th Battalion.  Hadn’t arrived.”

(NB: Frank was his brother)

Les witnessed some incredible things while in the operating tent…a man’s leg amputated, a bullet removed from a man’s heart and sewn up again.  In late July Les was detached to serve at the No. 44 Casualty Clearing Station near Puchevillers.  During one of the battles in August, 3 of the men from the 3rd Field Ambulance were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their actions.  These were presented to them some time later by General Birdwood, Commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. 

In late August Les moved to Belgium spending time at Bosechepe, Reninghelst and Ouderdom, 5 miles from Ypres.  It was while he was here that he heard an Australian Chaplain, Major William McKenzie, preach at a church parade.  He was known as “Fighting Mac” to the troops & he was awarded a Military Cross for his actions at Gallipoli. 

In mid October Les moved to back to France to Becourt Wood in the Somme area.  In early November Les spent 3 days at the Corps Rest Station with a septic toe and trench-feet.  His unit experienced heavy bombardment during November as this entry from his diary states on the 10th November:

“At about 7pm enemy planes were again heard above us.  At 10.30pm I was awakened by the explosion of a bomb behind my bivouac.  Then another fell near the hospital.  Ten mins later another plane flew over & dropped 6 right on the hospital tents, killing 6 & wounding 30 or 40 including 2 of our office-staff killed & 3 or 4 wounded.  A heavy bombardment opened up at midnight on the front before Bapaume.”

In late November Les was temporarily attached the Constructional Royal Engineers doing carpentry work making carriages for stretchers on light railways.  In early December Les moved to Longueval where he experienced some heavy snowfalls.  He spent a very quiet day for his 21st birthday on Christmas Eve doing the usual fatigues and Christmas Day was very blowy and raining. 

In late January 1917 Les applied for a transfer to the 1st Australian Divisional Supply Column but was denied.  Also in late January he experienced the coldest temperatures that France had felt in 22 years.  In early February Les and 2 others reported to the No. 61 Casualty Clearing Station near Dernacourt to help unload hospital trains.  It was while doing this work that a rather important patient came in.  This entry from his diary on the 22nd March:

“Local train came down again at 7.30am with 31 more stretchers mostly 21st Battalion.  A special train brought eleven more in at 10am.  Prince Henry of Prussia brought in last night being wounded by machine gun after being brought down in aeroplane then trying to escape.”

(NB: Prince Henry was actually Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia and he died of his injuries 2 weeks later on his 24th birthday on the 6th April 1917.  In 1912 he won a bronze medal for Germany at the Olympic Games in the equestrian team jumping event.)

On Anzac Day, 25th April, the whole unit left the main dressing station bound for Bapaume and then on to Armentieres.  He’d just settled in at his new quarters when his brother Frank walked in.  They spent several hours together that evening and then twice more over the next few days.  On the 30th April Les reported to ‘K’ Corps Supply Column at Albert and was temporarily attached as a ‘wheeler’, someone who repairs wheels and works on wooden carts and waggons.  Just 4 days later Les was admitted to hospital with trench fever.  He was evacuated to Boulogne by train and then to England on the HMHS St Denis arriving at the Brook War Hospital at Woolwich on the 19th May.  He was transferred 3 weeks later to the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford where he once again met up with my grandfather Cyril who was convalescing from an illness.  Two months later Cyril returned to duty working at that hospital until his return to Australia in May 1918.

In the process of convalescing for returning to the front, during the month of June, Les spent time at Westham Camp at Weymouth, Wareham Camp at Dorset and Codford Camp on the Salisbury Plain.  He spent the first 3 weeks of July on leave at Cornwall visiting relatives and also managed to wave to the King and Queen as they drove past him while he was seeing the sights in London.  Soon after returning to Codford Camp he moved to Perham Down Camp on the Salisbury Plain.  Just 2 weeks later he received a letter from his sister Annie with the distressing news that his father had died while in Melbourne attending a Church Conference in June.  In mid October Les moved to Sandhill Camp at Longbridge Deverill and then to Parkhouse Camp in early November.  Two weeks later he was informed that his brother Frank had been gassed in France and was in a hospital at Lancashire.  On Christmas Eve, his 22nd birthday, Les went on leave to Liskeard to spend Christmas with his relatives. 

January 1918 brought lots of heavy snowfalls and Les’ departure from England and arrival at Le Havre in France on the 20th.  He proceeded to the Mechanical Transport Base Depot at Rouen then in early February journeyed by train through Boulogne, Calais, Hazebrouck to Bailleul in northern France.  Two weeks later Les was transferred to the 12th Army Brigade Australian Field Artillery Park Section at Meteren doing carpentry.  Les moved off from Meteren in late March and journeyed for several days finally arriving at Verdrel where he stayed for 10 days before moving on to Bourecq.  Les was attached to the 51st Mechanical Transport Company, a famous Scottish division.  His job was driving lorries delivering ammunition, mainly for the big guns.  He travelled all over the place…every day it was a different assignment and destination.  When he wasn’t delivering ammunition he was doing carpentry work. 

In late May the whole Column was given orders to move immediately to Racquinghem.  Les remained there till early August when he was attached to the 4th Divisional Mechanical Transport Company and moved to St Sauveur on the River Somme west of Amiens.  Soon after he received a letter from his brother Frank saying he’d been wounded on the 17th July and was in hospital awaiting evacuation to England.  A few days later Les moved to Aubigny to the east of Amiens and remained there until the 1st September when he moved to Proyart east of Villers-Bretonneux then a week later to Mont Saint-Quentin, north-east of Proyart and south of Bapaume.  In late September Les was promoted to Driver and transferred to the 1st Divisional Mechanical Transport Company along with another move a few days later to Templeux-la-Flosse north-east of Mont Saint-Quentin.  The following day he had a close call as this diary entry explains:

“Left park this morning at 12pm & picked up a load of 18 pounders from Wyuna dump near Le Catelet & took them to Hargicourt.  Heavy shelling going on.  Half a minute before we reached the rail cross-roads at Templeux-la-Guerard a shell fell on the edge of the road & killed 3 horses & a man.  As we went further up, more similar sights met our eyes.  Horses were lying everywhere at the dump but while we were there no shells fell.  On our way back we were turned back twice on different roads because they were continually blown up in front of us.  At one point a H.E. (High explosive) fell only 20 yards from our tailboard and we felt the concussion.  General Service waggons, horses & men were lying everywhere.  A lorry was hit behind us.”

In mid November the unit moved to Bohain south-east from Cambrai and a month later to Chatelet, Belgium.  Les then took a month’s leave to England a few days before Christmas staying with relatives at St Just in Cornwall to attend the wedding of a cousin on the 26th.  He then spent some time with relatives at Liskeard before returning to his unit at Chatelet in Belgium in mid January 1919.  On the 12th February Les got word that he was being returned home to Australia having completed his time of service.  He left Chatelet the next day arriving the following day at the Base Camp at Harfleur just outside of Le Havre.  A month later he embarked from Le Havre on the ship ‘Princess of Devonshire’ arriving at Weymouth, England, the following morning.  He proceeded to Codford Camp on the Salisbury Plain and a few days later took leave to St Just.

On the 27th April Les embarked from Liverpool for Australia on the SS Runic.  The ship arrived at Adelaide on the 8th June and then docked at Melbourne 2 days later where he was met by family and friends before entraining for Brisbane.  He arrived at Central Station in Brisbane on the 12th June where his mother and siblings were waiting for him.  He was discharged from the Army on the 11th August 1919. 

Les lived with his family at Carl Street Woolloongabba until he married Mary Ann Brown at Toowoomba on the 21st November 1922.  Mary preferred the name May and her sister Gladys married Les’ older brother Syd.  May’s brother Edwin was a famous rugby league player whose nickname was ‘Nigger’.  He had a grandstand named after him at the Toowoomba Sports Ground. 

Les and May moved to 22 Lancaster Street Coorparoo in 1925 and had 3 daughters…Margaret, Ruth and Barbara.  Tragically, Ruth died from severe head injuries after a motorbike accident in 1951 aged 21.  Les became a builder and in 1951 was the President of the Queensland Builders Association.  He was a keen bowler at the Camp Hill Bowls Club and also belonged to the Valley Freemasons Lodge.  Les and May remained living at the same house at Coorparoo until Les’ death on the 11th August 1952 at the age of 56.  His funeral was held the following day at the Coorparoo Methodist Church and he was cremated at Mt Thompson Crematorium.  Les’ name appears on the East Brisbane War Memorial and on the Wesley Church Honour Board along with his brother Frank. 

Leslie Dunstan was awarded for service in WW1 the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Smith 22nd April 2021

 

 

 

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