Leslie Varley DUXBURY

DUXBURY, Leslie Varley

Service Number: 2868
Enlisted: 20 September 1915, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Second Lieutenant
Last Unit: 32nd Infantry Battalion
Born: Parkside, South Australia, 3 January 1891
Home Town: Wayville, Unley, South Australia
Schooling: Gilles Street School, Parson's Public School, Caterer's College Semaphore, University of Adelaide
Occupation: Sales manager
Died: Died of Wounds, Peronne, France, 6 September 1918, aged 27 years
Cemetery: Heath Cemetery, Picardie
Plot IX, Row A, Grave No. 17
Memorials: Adelaide Gilles Street Primary School WW1 Honour Board (Original), Adelaide National War Memorial, Adelaide University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Goodwood Public School WW1 Roll of Honor, Goodwood St George Anglican Church Memorial Tower, Unley South Park Bowling Club Memorial, Unley Town Hall WW1 Honour Board, Unley Wayville Honor Roll
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World War 1 Service

20 Sep 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 2868, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1,

--- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Aeneas embarkation_ship_number: A60 public_note: ''

20 Sep 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Adelaide, South Australia
11 Apr 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, HMAT Aeneas
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, 2868, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)
1 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 2868, 32nd Infantry Battalion, "The Last Hundred Days"
6 Sep 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Mont St Quentin / Peronne,

--- :awm_ww1_roll_of_honour_import: awm_service_number: awm_unit: 32nd Australian Infantry Battalion awm_rank: Second Lieutenant awm_died_date: 1918-09-06

Reflections on "the ANZAC Spirit"

The essence of a true Anzac spirit will always vary in meaning among individuals and I cannot tell you what the concept means to everyone. I can however provide my understanding of this great and highly regarded Australian and Kiwi value.

The Anzac spirit is a character trait that originated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps fighting in the First World War and was carried on with the different generations of servicemen and women throughout both nations’ histories. The Anzac spirit still continues and is highly valued among the Services and within the community as a whole.

I think that the Anzac spirit is a set of values that you stick by through thick and thin until to very end. These values are of self-sacrifice – giving your all for the greater good. Loyalty - to your mates and your country. Endurance – sticking at it and keeping your head up through the toughest times. Courage – standing up to defend your values, country, friends and family. Integrity – always giving everyone a fair go and standing up for what’s right. Motivation – facing challenges with enthusiasm and keenness. Mateship – making good friends and sticking by them. And of course, deeply embedded in the Anzac spirit; good humour – not taking yourself or things too seriously and never losing your ability to laugh and have a good time, no matter what appalling conditions you were in. This ability to still have a good time was essential in getting the soldiers through the horrible reality of war.

Often singing and music was used for motivation and mateship. One popular song of the time was, “Come on, Australians” featuring cheeky sporting analogies such as, “And when we face the Kaiser’s stumps, We’ll bowl him for a “duck.”

Sport, as well as being a way to keep fit, was also a way of having a bit of fun and muck around. Footy and tug-of-war were popular and battalions would often face off against each other in championships.

There is also one more thing that set the Anzacs apart from other forces; they weren’t conscripted. They were volunteers, keen and willing to do their part for their country.

Thanks to all the Australian servicemen and women, like Leslie Duxbury, who have proudly reflected the Anzac spirit in defending our country I am safe. I am free. I have rights. I am healthy and I am happy.

I believe that Leslie Duxbury was very much the image of the Anzac spirit. He, along with his comrades, was the flower of Australia’s youth. He was a capable, enthusiastic and natural leader, and talented both musically and athletically… but he also had the courage to put that all on the line to ensure we, as Australians, had a free and fruitful future. His integrity saw him giving his services freely at patriotic concerts, raising money for the cause and then saw him sign up to give his all. He endured a war of catastrophic proportions but managed to still find fun in singing and his role of sports officer of his battalion. Finally Leslie paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending our nation. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Lucy Duxbury

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93 years ago, 4 months after the First World War had come to an end, a parcel arrived at 11 Rose Terrace, Wayville - addressed to Lucy Kate Duxbury. In it a revolver, pack of cards, handkerchief, socks, watch and photo wallet - the salvaged possessions of her only son.  The last remnants of a brave young Anzac who made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country.

Fast forward 70 years and we, the only Duxbury’s in the Adelaide phonebook, received a letter from a man, asking if we were related to a digger named Leslie Varley Duxbury who was killed in action in France, 1918.  The inquiry came from Roger Freeman1 (footnote) who was researching a book that would become Second to None – A Memorial History of the 32nd Battalion A.I.F. 1915-1919, Duxbury’s battalion. We looked into it at the time but found no family connections so thought no more of it – until now. 

My Duxbury family branch comes from Victoria and although I have several Great Grandparents and Great Uncles who served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front they are not South Australian.  But Leslie Duxbury was, so now after some research I am privileged to be able to tell the story of an all but forgotten fallen hero.

Leslie Varley Duxbury was born on the 3rd of January 1891 at 11 Rose Terrace, Wayville, South Australia to parents Lucy Kate Varley and William Duxbury2. He was to be their only son.

As a boy he attended Parson's Public School and Caterer's College in Semaphore and after leaving school became a Sales Manager in Wayville.  Leslie was an active and passionate contributor of Adelaide musical and sporting communities, his keen interest in sports apparent in his enjoyment of football, baseball and rowing, as well as his involvement in the South Park Bowling Club3.  Leslie was a capable and excellent singer; music must have run in the blood as his younger sister, Violet Varley, later became a renowned Sydney opera singer.

When war broke out in 1914, Leslie’s maternal Uncle, Thomas Varley was among the first to sign up, enlisting in the A.I.F. on the 17th May 1915.

Although Leslie was not amid these preliminary forces he was actively involved in “freely lending his services to patriotic singing concerts around Adelaide”4. He was the first to sing Miss Gertie Campbell’s famous patriotic marching song, “Come on, Australians” and the sheet music boasts, “Sung with great success by Corporal Leslie Duxbury”. 

Miss Gertie Campbell was a popular pianist of the time who owned a music store in Bowman’s Arcade, King William Street where she would sell her songs.  Campbell is said to have often demonstrated popular pieces to a small crowd of customers.  It is easy to imagine that at times Leslie would join her to inspire the gathered with an array of uplifting and patriotic tunes. And later discussing “The land of hope, the land of joy, The land of liberty,” and other themes from the song.

Meanwhile his Uncle, Thomas Varley, was in starkly contrasting conditions.  He had landed on the other side of the world, on the shores of Gallipoli, to find himself in the midst of a raging war.

Upon their arrival, Varley’s battalion were sent straight into action.  He survived the initial attempt to take Hill 60 in which half of his battalion was lost to casualties.  But then, on the 27th of August, barely a week after his arrival, Thomas Varley was killed in action as Australian and New Zealand forces renewed their attack on the Turks.  The exact grave site of Thomas Varley is unknown but he is commemorated at the Lone Pine Memorial, along with the other 3,700 Anzacs with no known burial site.  

Following the devastating death of his Uncle, Leslie Duxbury was now fully motivated to join the cause.  In the September of 1915, at the young age 24 he enlisted in the A.I.F.

He embarked from South Australia on the 11th of April 1916 on-board HMAT A60 Aeneas as sergeant-major, 6th Reinforcements in the 32nd Battalion. He trained in Egypt for a short while before arriving in France in June 1916. A few weeks later and the 32nd Battalion had their baptism of fire at the Battle of Fromelles, where soldiers poured over the trenches into an oncoming hailstorm of bullets.  This was one of the bloodiest battles in the whole war that saw 5,533 casualties in just 24 hours.  I was unable to track Duxbury’s actions during this battle.

Editors note: - see further elaboration from Leslie Duxbury's service record below

In October, 1917 Leslie was sent to the Officers’ Training Battalion at Balliol College, Oxford.5  There he received an outstanding report that highlighted his great potential.  His report card reads, “Standard of Education: Very good, Military Knowledge: Excellent, Power of Command and Leadership: First rate.  This cadet has done exceptionally well in everything and is the best Australian in the corp which in itself is a great feat- a very good leader indeed- and knows his job thoroughly.  He has played the game all through and has been very keen - Will make a splendid officer.” Other sources also describe him as a most “zealous and capable officer”.

On May 1, 1918, he was appointed as a second lieutenant in the 32nd Battalion and was placed in charge of the 8th Platoon of B Company.  Leslie was also appointed as the sports officer to the battalion, something in which he took “great interest”4

At the time of Leslie’s appointment as 2nd lieutenant, the 32nd Battalion was serving in French trenches on the Western Front.  Then in the late August and early September of 1918 the 32nd Battalion was involved in the fight for the French towns Mont St. Quentin and Péronne, a German stronghold.  What followed was a fierce battle that claimed many casualties, 3000 men were lost in 3 days and amidst the fighting 7 Victoria Cross Medals were awarded to heroic Anzacs.  The Germans began to speedily retreat and in less than two weeks the Australian forces had marched forward over 90 kilometres.

Despite the military success of the action, it came at a cost. Australia suffered the loss of a fine young officer. For on the 3rd of September 1918, in the fields of France, Leslie Duxbury was hit in the thigh by a stray high explosive while taking some well-earned sleep.  He was then transferred, unconscious, to the 5th Clearing Casualty Hospital, where he subsequently died on the 6th of September.

Back home in Australia the news brought more grief and tragedy to Lucy Duxbury, Leslie’s mother.  She had already lost her brother at Gallipoli.  Now she had lost her only son.  And this was just after the passing of both her parents.

The news of the loss of her beloved child far away in a distant country must have devastated and shattered her completely.  But still, somehow, she kept on going, and after the tragic death of her husband in 1921 she moved to Waikerie, where she lived with her only daughter until her own death in 1937.


Until I wrote this essay Leslie Duxbury was all but forgotten, the last of his line.  It seems so cruel for the life of this young man who had so much more to offer to be taken when victory was so near.  It is a small comfort, at least, to think that now he has not been forgotten and I feel honoured and privileged to be able to tell his incredible story. 

I hope that someday, perhaps, someone will place a poppy on his grave saying “Thanks, Mate.  Rest In Peace.”  And we will remember them. 


1 Roger has recently received an Order of Australia for his work in researching war history. (Editors Note: note Roger Freeman passed away on 10 November 2013)

2A Photograph of Leslie’s Parents- Lucy and William Duxbury

3 A memorial plaque at the South Park Bowling Club, where his sacrifice to his country is acknowledged by a small memorial plaque at the original grounds of the club

4As quoted by his mother in the AIF project records: http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=86734 (www.aif.adfa.edu.au)

5 Group portrait of Australian Contingent No 6 Officer Cadet Battalion, Balliol College, Oxford, February 1918, his report states that he was the finest cadet of the lot. Source: http://www.awm.gov.au/


  1. Freeman, Roger R., Second to None – A Memorial History of the 32nd Battalion A.I.F. 1915-1919, Peacock Publishing, Norwood, South Australia, 2006.

  2. www.firstworldwar.com/posters/australia.htm

  3. australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/songs-of-war-patriotic

  4. www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/battlefields/mont-st-quentin-peronne-1918.html

  5. www.anzacsite.gov.au/5environment/timelines/australia-gallipoli-campaign/august-1915.html

  6. trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/5591775

  7. www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson

  8. www.awm.gov.au/

  9. www.mundia.com/au/

  10. www.angelfire.com/trek/a_couzens/my_family/

  11. recordsearch.naa.gov.au/

  12. www.uhr.gravesecrets.net/d.html

  13. www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11219.asp

  14. www.warandidentity.com.au/ADCCweb/history/ww1/homefront/homefront.html

  15. www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/anzac-day

  16. www.worldwar1.com/

  17. http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/Imagine.asp

  18. www.tributesofhonour.info/

*All websites last accessed on the 20/09/2012


Leslie Duxbury’s enlistment paper

Reverted to the ranks, 13 September 1916.  (Ed:  It is not clear why this reversion took place - by direction, at Member's request - unclear)

Appointed Acting Sergeant, with pay, 13 September 1916; reverted to Acting Corporal, 2 October 1916; appointed Acting Sergeant, 11 October 1916; reverted to Acting Corporal, 30 October 1916.

Transferred to Headquarters, 5th Australian Division Base Depot, 18 February 1917. (ed  - an instructional facility)

Appointed Temporary Regimental Sergeant Major (Warrant Officer Class I), 18 February 1917.

Detached to 1st Anzac Corps School, 26 August 1917; rejoined unit, 28 September 1917.

Selected to attend Infantry Cadet Bn course, England, commencing November 1917.

Appointed Cadet, No 6 Officer Cadet Bn, Oxford, 9 November 1917. Confidential Report stated: 'This cadet has done exceptionally well in everything & is the best Australian in the Company which in itself is a great feat. A very good leader indeed & knows his job thoroughly. He has played the game all through & has been very keen. Will make a splendid officer.'

Appointed 2nd Lieutenant, 1 May 1918.

Proceeded overseas to France, 9 May 1918; marched out to 32nd Bn, in the field, 14 May 1918.

Detached to Australian Corps School (Bombing), 27 July 1918; rejoined unit, 20 August 1918.

Wounded while asleep, 3 September 1918 (High Explosive shell wound, left thigh), admitted to 6th Australian Field Ambulance, and transferred to 5th Casualty Clearing Station.

Died of wounds, 6 September 1918.

Buried in Proyart Communal Cemetery Extension; subsequently (1923) reburied in Heath Military Cemetery.

Commemorated in St George the Martyr's Anglican Church, Goodwood, Adelaide, South Australia. Inscription reads: 'To the Glory of God. In Honour of Our Lady, Blessed Michael the Archangel, Blessed George the Martyr & of all the Blessed Saints. To the dear Memory of all those who went forth from this Altar, where they offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, to give their lives in the Great War. This Screen is Blessed on Anzac Day 25 April 1922 being the Feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist.' Parents: William and Lucy Kate DUXBURY, 11 Rose Street, Wayville, South Australia



Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Lieutenant LESLIE VARLEY DUXBUBY, who has been killed in France, was the only son of Mr and Mrs. William Duxbury, of Rose-terrace, Wayville. He was born at Parkside on January 8, 1891, and he  enlisted in September, 1915, so that he had just completed three years of military service. He left Australia on April 11, 1916, as sergeant-major of the 6th Reinforcements of 32nd Battalion, and was  in Egypt for a short period. He arrived in France in June, 1916, and was promoted to be warrant officer, class 1, and attached to headquarters staff of 5th, A.D.B.D. In October, 1917, he was sent to the Officers' Training Battalion at Balliol College, Oxford, and on Mar 1, 1918, was cmmissioned as a second lieutenant in the 32nd Battalion, which he then rejoined, and was placed in charge of the 8th  Platoon of B Company. He was appointed sports officer to the battalion, in which he took the greatest interest. He died of gunshot wounds in the thigh at 5th Clearing Casualty Hospital, France, on  September 16. He was a most zealous and capable officer. Before leaving Australia he was well known for his ability as a singer, and he introduced Miss Gertie Campbell's famous patriotic song, 'Come on, Australians.' Large numbers of friends will greatly miss his cheery presence.