Leslie King TONKIN MID

TONKIN, Leslie King

Service Number: SX6911
Enlisted: 29 June 1940, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Minlaton, South Australia, 16 November 1915
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Minlaton School then Prince Alfred College, South Australia
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Killed in Action, Libya, 1 May 1941, aged 25 years
Cemetery: Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma, Libya
grave 7 A 9
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Minlaton District Council Honour Board, Minlaton War Memorial WW2
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World War 2 Service

29 Jun 1940: Enlisted Private, SX6911, Adelaide, South Australia
29 Jun 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Sergeant, SX6911, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
1 May 1941: Involvement Sergeant, SX6911, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, Siege of Tobruk
Date unknown: Involvement

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

Biography contributed by Kaye Lee

‘Called to Higher Service’

Leslie’s parents, Frank Herbert and Elsie May Tonkin farmed at Minlaton on the Yorke Peninsula of SA. an area known as the ‘Barley capital of the world’. Leslie born on the 16 November, 1915, was the second son of five boys, Darcy Charles, Stanley Percy, Dungey and John and daughter Dorothea.  

As a twelve-year-old, Les was successfully competing at the Maitland Show in ’28, winning the inaugural Illawarra trophy which was awarded for a calf reared by children. He scooped first and second places by scoring 103 and 102 points for his two calves.

As with all his siblings, Les attended the local Minlaton School, where his unbroken regular attendance was awarded with an end of year prize in ’29. The following year he was named as one of three from the school who had done well in their Qualifying Exam and were then accepted as boarders at Prince Alfred College. All three were later involved in WWII, Frank Parsons joined the RAAF and became Flight Lieutenant 416542 with the 71 Squadron and Jack Mumford S73902 in the militia.

An outgoing young man, he was also chosen to be Best Man at the weddings of his brother Darcy with fellow PAC boarders, Keith Roberts and Harold Jaehne and also at his only sister, Dorothea’s wedding, with brother Stan being the groomsman.

Post school, Les returned to Minlaton to farm. He celebrated his 21st birthday at his parents’ home where a number of school and sporting friends gathered to help celebrate. A quirky presentation was made to Leslie from his father. The local Pioneer reported that Frank ‘presented his son with a five-pound note to redeem a promise made years ago, when his family was small. He promised each one of his boys £5 on their coming of age if they refrained from smoking until they reached the age of twenty-one, after which he thought them able to decide such matters for themselves.’

Typical of country communities, Leslie played football for Minlaton in the Southern Yorke Peninsula Association, eventually captaining the side with the highlight being the 1939 Premiership against Curramulka. All three Tonkins, Darcy, Stan and Leslie played with Darcy and Leslie described as being ‘outstanding’ both being goal scorers and named in the best players in a team that had ‘no weak links’. Les’ form had been consistently impressive throughout the previous seasons, with his handball skills being praised as being particularly effective. Probably his most productive match was against Western United where he scored seven goals of the team’s 26. At a Victory Ball at Minlaton, Leslie, as Captain of the Minlaton team, was presented with the Lloyd Shield, to be held by his Minlaton Club for twelve months as Premiers of the 1939 season. A similar trophy, donated by Dr. A. H. E Watson, was also presented to Minlaton, to permanently remain in their possession.

With the outbreak of WWII Leslie enlisted on the 29th June, 1940. He was assigned to the newly formed 2/48th Battalion, with his initial days spent in the cold of the Pavilions, now part of the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds, before the new enlistees headed to Woodside for their preliminary training. While on pre-embarkation leave in September, Leslie became engaged to his long-term local girlfriend Florence (Judy) McPharlin who, not unexpectedly was a talented sportswoman, debater and member of the Red Cross. After pre-embarkation leave, the 2/48th contingent borded the Stratheden for the Middle East, on the 7th November 1940, arriving on the 19th December 1940.

Their 2/48th Battalion completed a few months training in Cyrenaica before going to Tobruk at the start of April 1941 where the dust, flies, heat, minimal water supplies and constant bombardment were quite a challenge to these fresh new enlistees. They were to become the famed Rats of Tobruk.

Almost exactly a year after enlisting, Les was killed on the 1st May 1941. He was 25 years old. That day was tragic for the 2/48th Battalion.  Mark Johnson in his recent book, ‘Derrick In His Own Words’ explained that ‘On 1 May the 2/48th suffered 51 casualties, including 16 killed. Besides Les, the South Australians included Herbert Neumann SX8014 from Aldgate, Robert Carey SX7943 from Portland, John Christerson SX7791 from Yorketown, John Marshall SX7759 from Hawthorn, William Gates SX6867 from Brompton and Allan Glanville Porter SX7315 all from the 2/48th Battalion.

John Glenn in his book, ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’ described conditions that day at Dimra :“At 3:50 am on 1st May the men of the 2/48th stood-to to await the outcome of the battle which had raged all through the night. In thick mist, darkness, and bitter cold they snatched a quick breakfast of bully beef and hard biscuits.” In an attempt to take Hill 209 in the heavy dust storm marked by overhead enemy aircraft targeting their carrying vehicles, ‘D Company moved out steadily with two platoons forward- 18 Platoon under Lieutenant Larkins on the right and 17 Platoon with Sergeant Tonkin in command on the left.’ ‘The company then moved well forward under control, and came under small arms fire, but continued until they came under very heavy machine-gun fire from the direction of the Water Point and Post S4’ Glenn continued that ’18 Platoon was suffering casualties as it advanced, and as a result became somewhat disorganised. The left platoon also came under heavy and accurate fire, and then the platoon commander, Sergeant L.K. Tonkin was killed.’

The remainder of that day was chaotic, information scant, the men weary and under heavy fire and a sandstorm raged. The next morning there was a terrific dust storm but a foot patrol set out to find their soldiers who had not returned. For a few of those missing men it was some time before their fate was confirmed. An appalling day for the close knit 2/48th.

Back home, the Advertiser reported the casualties on the 21st May ‘41. Then in June, the local Pioneer carried the news that ‘Mr and Mrs. F. H. Tonkin, of Mount Rat, have lately received word that their son, Cpl. Leslie K. Tonkin, recently killed in action, bad been promoted to the rank of Sergeant shortly before his death.’ It gave some sense of pride in the midst of their deep grief.

Les and his fellow 2/48th soldiers were re-buried on the 17th May ’44 at the Knightsbridge War cemetery, Acroma, Les in grave 7 A 9. and surrounded by others from the 2/48th Battalion including Private Raymond J. Cooke SX8862, Pte Douglas E. Bagshaw SX7468, Private John H Marshall SX7759, Private Walter A. Birrell SX6060, Robert Carey SX7943 and Private Raymond G. Young SX6607 all of whom lost their lives on May 1st. The inscription on Les’s headstone now reads ‘Called to Higher Service’.

At the end of 1943, Leslie’s fiancée Florence (Judy) also joined the war effort as 111621. Towards the end of the war, she became engaged to local John Ford in August ’46.

In a tribute to Les, brother Darcy and his wife Gladys named their son Leslie in honour of the uncle he would not meet. Similarly, the Minlaton Football Club had an annual trophy in memory of the late Leslie K. Tonkin, for the Fairest and Most Brilliant Player in the team. In 1950, a miniature of the trophy was presented to Les’s father, Ken who expressed his pleasure for the thoughtful and kindly gift of the Minlaton members. Leslie’s parents Frank and Elsie are both buried in the Minlaton Cemetery where there are memorial plaques to both Les and his brother Stanley

Each year family and friends and fellow enlistees from Minlaton continued to remember Les.

Advertiser May 1941, TONKIN. —On the 1st of May, killed In action Private Leslie King Tonkin. —inserted by his loving brother, sister-in-law and nephew. Darcy, Gladys and Leslie. TONKIN. —On the 1st of May (killed ln action). Leslie King, dearly loved second son of F and E. Tonkin, or Claremont Minlaton. "One of God's best." TONKIN. —On the 1st of May (killed on active service). Corporal Leslie K. Tonkin, loving brother of Dorothy, Art and dear uncle of Judith 22 Sheffield Street Malvern. Loved by all. TONKIN. —On the 1st of May, killed on active service. Corporal Leslie K. Tonkin, loved elder brother of Stanley, Dungey, and John, and dear cousin of Jean and Coral His duty nobly done. 

Advertiser Friday 1 May 1942, TONKIN. —In loving memory of Sgt. Leslie K. Tonkin who paid the supreme sacrifice at Tobruk on May 1. 1941. "From active to higher service.'—inserted by his old pal, Vern. Croser. TONKIN. - In proud and loving remembrance of the sacrifice made by Sgt-Leslie King. 2/48th. at Tobruk, May I 1941. 25 years. A wonderful brother who heard the call. And for those he loved he gave his all, magnificent courage, unselfish and kind. What beautiful memories he has left behind. —Dearly loved and deeply mourned by his only sister Dorothy, Art and Judith. Sheffield street. Malvern. TONKIN—In loving memory of our dear son and brother Sgt. Leslie King. 2/48th. who made the supreme sacrifice on May 1. 1941. Beautiful memories. — Inserted by his mother, father, and brothers, Stan, Dungey and John. TONKIN. —In loving memory of Les (late Sgt. 2/48th Battalion, killed at Tobruk. May 1. 1341.—Inserted by uncle Sid. Auntie Vera. Jean and Coral. TONKIN. —In loving memory of Leslie Sgt. L. K Tonkin. 2/48th Btn, killed at Tobruk on May 1 1941. Sleep on in peace, brave soldier boy, Till the bugle sounds again. —Inserted by G. S. and V. King. Doreen and Tom (abroad).

Advertiser Saturday 1 May 1943, TONKIN. —Fond memories of dear Leslie, who gave his life for his country at Tobruk, May 1, 1941. "Resting where no shadows fall."—Inserted by his loving mother and father. TONKIN. —In proud and loving memory of our brother. Sergeant Leslie King Tonkin, killed in action, Tobruk, May 1, 1941. —Ever remembered by his brothers, Stan (R.A.N.R.). Dungey (R.A.N.R.), and John (A.M.F). TONKIN. —In loving memory of Les who gave his life for his country at Tobruk. May 1, 1941. "His sun has set. but his name will live on."—inserted by G. S. and V. King, Doreen and Tom (A.I.F.). TONKIN. —In proud remembrance of Les. Killed Tobruk, May 1, 1941. We miss you and mourn you, the face that's unseen, and live in the memory of days that have been. —Dearly loved by Dorothy, Art, Judith. TONKIN. —In loving memory of Sgt. Leslie Tonkin, Tobruk, May 1, 1941. "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."—Ever remembered by his old friend, Vern Croser. 

Advertiser Monday 1 May 1944, TONKIN. —In loving memory or Les, killed in action at Tobruk. May 1. 1941. He died as he lived, everyone's friend. — Ever remembered by his friend. Vern-TONKIN. —In proud remembrance of brother Les who lost his life at Tobruk. May 1 1941. Tranquil you lie your knightly virtue proved. —Deeply mourned by Art Dorothy and Judith. TONKIN. —Sacred to the memory of dear Les who died of wounds at Tobruk May 1. 1941. Years roll by but fond memories linger for ever. —Sadly missed by parents and brothers Dungey and John TONKIN. —In memory of Sergt Les Tonkin. 2/48th Batt. who paid the supreme sacrifice at Tobruk Mar 1. 1941. —Inserted by Mr and Mrs. G. King and family.

Advertiser Tuesday 1 May 1945, TONKIN. —In proud and loving memory of Leslie (Sgt. L. K Tonkin who died of wounds at Tobruk May 1 1941. As the sun went down be opened the door and stepped out of the darkness into light. Holding the hand of God. —Inserted by his loving parents and brothers. TONKIN. —In loving memory of brother Les made supreme sacrifice Tobruk. May 1. 1941. Your pleasant smile and cheerful ways will linger with us all our days. —Ever remembered. Dungey. TONKIN. —Treasured memories of Les. Sgt. 2/48th. fell Tobruk. May I 1941. It's only those who have loved and lost know what that parting cost. —Deeply mourned by his sister Dorothy, Art, Judith. TONKIN. —In loving memory of Les (Sgt. L. K. Tonkin who gave his life at Tobruk. May 1, 1941. —Always remembered by G. and V. King. Doreen and Tom. 

Advertiser Wednesday 1 May 1946, TONKIN Sgt L. K, 2/48 Btn. —ln loving memory of Les who paid the supreme sacrifice at Tobruk, May 1, 1941. ‘There is no death’ Treasured memories —inserted by his parents and brothers Dungey and John. TONKIN, Sgt. L. K.—In proud remembrance of Les gave his life Tobruk, May 1 1941 You did not plead your destiny or shun the scars of war; yours is not death, but victory and peace for ever more Dearly loved. —Dorothy, Art. Judith. TONKIN. — In loving memory of Les (Sgt. L. K. Tonkin. 2/48th Batt) who made the supreme sacrifice at Tobruk on May l 1941 In silence we remember —Inserted by Vern Croser TONKIN. Leslie —In remembrance of Les. 2/48th battalion Killed at Tobruk May 1, 1941 Five years today Memory lingers Inserted by Tom and Doreen King.

Advertiser, Thursday 1 May 1947, TONKIN. —Treasured memories of dear Les, gave his life. Tobruk. May 1. 1941. Help us to be worthy of the sacrifice he made. Dearly loved. —Dorothy, Art Judith. TONKIN. —In proud and loving remembrance of the sacrifice made by Les, Sgt L. K. Tonkin. 2/48th. at Tobruk. May 1, 1941. Leaves of memory softly fall, tenderly we count them all and live again those yesterdays. —inserted by Vern Croser. TONKIN. Sgt. L. K.—ln loving memory of Les who paid the price at Tobruk, May 1. 1941. Your life a beautiful memory, your absence a silent sorrow. —Ever remembered by his parents and brothers. TONKIN. —In memory of Les who was killed at Tobruk on May 1, 1941. Not Just today, but every day in silence we remember. —Remembered by Gladys, D'Arcy and boys.  BAGSHAW, TONKIN. —In loving memory of our brothers Douglas Bagshaw and Leslie Tonkin, killed at Tobruk, May 1, 1941. —Inserted by Ruth and Stan Tonkin. Pioneer Friday 2 May 1947, TONKIN, Sgt. L. K.—In loving memory of Les who paid the price at Tobruk, May 1st, 1941. Your life a beautiful memory Your absence a silent sorrow —Ever remembered by his parents and brothers. TONKIN — Treasured memories of brother Les, gave his life at Tobruk, May 1st. 1941. Too dearly loved to ever forget —Deeply mourned by Dorothy, Art, Dorothy, Judith. TONKIN—In remembrance of Leslie, who gave his life at Tobruk, on May 1, 1941. —Silent thoughts from D. and A. T. King.

Pioneer Friday 7 May 1948, TONKIN—Treasured memories of dear Les, who gave his life at Tobruk, May 1st, 1941. Too dearly loved to ever forget —Sadly missed by Dorothy, Art, Judith. 

Advertiser Monday 2 May 1949, BAGSHAW-TONKIN.—In loving memory of Douglas and Les. killed at Tobruk. May 1. 1941. They shall not grow old. —Always remembered by Ruth and Stan. 


Researched and written by Kaye Lee daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion.