Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Axford, Thomas Leslie (Jack) (1894–1983)

by P. L. Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Thomas Leslie (Jack) Axford (1894-1983), soldier, labourer and clerk, was born on 18 June 1894 at Carrieton, South Australia, son of Walter Richard Axford, an auctioneer from Tasmania, and his South Australian-born wife Margaret Ann, née McQuillan. The family moved to Coolgardie, Western Australia, when he was 2. Educated at the local state school, he worked as a labourer for the Boulder City Brewery Co. Ltd. On 19 July 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Five ft 7¼ ins (171 cm) tall, with grey eyes, black hair and a dark complexion, he gave his religious denomination as Catholic. He arrived in the Middle East too late to serve at Gallipoli and in March 1916 joined the 16th Battalion at Tel el Kebir, Egypt.

Reaching France in June 1916, the battalion attacked towards Mouquet Farm, near Pozières, on 9 August. Axford was evacuated with shell-shock on the 11th, but he quickly rejoined his unit. A year later, on 10 August 1917, he suffered a shrapnel wound to his left knee at Gapaard Farm, Belgium. After treatment in hospital in England, he returned to his unit in January 1918 and next month was promoted to lance corporal. In March-April the 16th Battalion, as part of the 4th Brigade, stopped the German offensive at Hébuterne, France. Axford was awarded the Military Medal in May.

His most conspicuous hour came on 4 July 1918 at the battle of Hamel. The Allied barrage opened at 3.10 a.m. and when it lifted shortly afterwards the 16th Battalion attacked Vaire Wood. Axford’s platoon reached the enemy defences but a neighbouring platoon was held up at the wire. Machine-guns inflicted many casualties among Axford’s mates in the other platoon. He dashed to the flank, bombed the machine-gun crews, jumped into the trench and charged with his bayonet. In all, he killed ten enemy soldiers and captured six. Throwing the machine-guns over the parapet, he called the delayed platoon forward and then rejoined his own. In ninety-three minutes the victory of Hamel was complete. Axford’s initiative and gallantry won him the Victoria Cross. `I must have been mad’, he commented later. On 14 July he was promoted to corporal.

In December 1918 Axford came home to Australia on furlough. Discharged from the army on 6 February 1919, he recommenced work as a labourer. At St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, on 27 November 1926 he married Lily Maud Foster, a shop assistant. They lived at Mount Hawthorn and had five children. Axford was employed by Hugh McKay (Massey Harris) Pty Ltd and became a clerk. On 25 June 1941 he was mobilised in the Militia and posted to the District Records Office, Perth. Rising to sergeant in February 1943, he was discharged on 14 April 1947. In his leisure time `Jack’ regularly attended the races.

Axford attended the VC centenary cel­ebrations in London in 1956. He was returning from a reunion of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association when he died on 11 October 1983 on an aircraft between Dubai and Hong Kong. His wife had died three months earlier. Survived by their two sons and three daughters, he was cremated with full military honours. In 1985 his VC and other medals were presented to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Longmore, The Old Sixteenth (1929)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1916 (1929)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1917 (1933)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1918, 2 vols (1937, 1942)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily, 2nd edn, revised and condensed by J. Williams and A. Staunton (1986)
  • G. Gliddon, VCs of the First World War: Spring Offensive 1918 (1997)
  • Listening Post (Perth), Summer 1983, p 29
  • series B2455, item Axford T L (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

P. L. Edgar, 'Axford, Thomas Leslie (Jack) (1894–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/axford-thomas-leslie-jack-12159/text21787, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014