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Beavis, Leslie Ellis (1895–1975)

by John D. Tilbrook

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Leslie Ellis Beavis (1895-1975), by unknown photograher

Leslie Ellis Beavis (1895-1975), by unknown photograher

Australian War Memorial, 001852

Leslie Ellis Beavis (1895-1975), army officer, was born on 25 January 1895 at Bathurst, New South Wales, son of Horace Colin Dean Beavis, photographer, and his wife Emma Weston, née Bailey, both native-born. Educated at Bathurst District School, Les was a member of the New South Wales contingent of school cadets sent to England in 1911 for the coronation of King George V. In March 1913 Beavis entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory; his course was abridged because of the outbreak of war and he topped his graduation class in June 1915. Appointed lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force, he sailed for the Middle East in November with the 5th Field Artillery Brigade.

After service in Egypt, Beavis reached the Western Front in April 1916. His qualities were soon recognized: in July he was given command of the 12th Battery, 4th F.A.B., and promoted captain. In 1917 he spent six months undertaking staff training at Cambridge, England, and in the field at 2nd Division headquarters, France. Transferring to the 14th F.A.B. in September, he took command of the 53rd Battery and was promoted major. In the fighting east of Ypres, Belgium, his unit experienced sustained gas-attacks. Beavis remained at his post and assisted other batteries which had lost many of their officers until the effects of gas forced him to be evacuated to England on 4 November. For his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. On 21 April 1918 near Vaux-sur-Somme, France, he witnessed the last moments in the air of the German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron'. In the ensuing dispute over who shot von Richthofen down, Beavis was to remain adamant that his Lewis-gunners were responsible, an opinion which appears to be supported by the evidence.

Twice mentioned in dispatches, after the war Beavis remained in England to attend ordnance and advanced artillery courses at Woolwich. On 12 August 1919 in All Souls parish church, Hampstead, he married Ethel May Blumer, a Sydneysider. Following a short attachment to the Australian High Commission in London, he came home in 1922. He performed regimental and staff duties in several postings, then returned to England in 1928 as a student at the Staff College, Camberley. His experience was broadened by two years with the directorate of operations and intelligence, Imperial General Staff, and by a further posting to the high commissioner's office. Back in Australia, in April 1936 Beavis was appointed chairman of the Defence Resources Board, an organization established to advise the government on mobilizing industry for war; it was widely assumed that conflict in the Far East could occur by 1939.

With knowledge of the operations of a similar body in Britain to guide him, Beavis argued for the development of the manufacturing and technological capabilities of private industry before hostilities began, and, to that end, urged that work orders be placed with firms. He was aware that Britain's initial reliance on government munitions production in World War I had resulted in near disaster. Beavis's conclusions appeared in the board's report, a document notable for its command of the issues and for the practical solutions it offered. In contrast, A. E. Leighton, the controller-general of munitions supply, held that scarce funds should be spent on government factories in the first instance. To the probable detriment of Australia's early war effort, Leighton's view prevailed, the board was disbanded and in April 1937 Beavis resumed army duties.

Promoted colonel on 2 November 1939, he transferred to the A.I.F. in April 1940 and embarked for the Middle East next month. He rapidly assumed increasingly senior supply positions on the staff of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Blamey and on 17 December was promoted temporary brigadier and made director of ordnance services. In this demanding post Beavis was expected to supply the A.I.F. with the best equipment available, on time and within budgetary constraints. Changes in operational circumstances and the competing claims of the British forces added to his difficulties. Beavis's negotiating ability, perseverance, strength of personality and occasionally fiery temper ensured his success. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1942.

Returning with the A.I.F. to Australia, on 6 April Beavis was promoted temporary major general and appointed master-general of the ordnance, in which post he was the senior officer responsible for the logistic support of the army at home and abroad. Through his equipment, design, inspection and maintenance divisions, he co-ordinated the efforts of government and private producers with the needs of the army's supply service and operational formations. Beavis was at the pinnacle of his military career and his tasks demanded all his administrative and technical skills. Instead of easing his burden, the approach of peace placed new obstacles in his way: as some of the sense of urgency was lost from the war effort, he began to experience an increase in bureaucratic pettiness and obstructionism. In December 1946 he was seconded to the Department of Defence and appointed chairman of the new weapons and equipment development committee. He served on a number of other bodies that were charged with formulating and implementing policy on research and development, production-planning and supply. Held in high regard in international military and industrial circles, he was appointed C.B. in 1952. His rank had been made substantive in 1948; he retired from the army on 26 January 1952.

From 1952 to 1954 Beavis held the position of Australian high commissioner to Pakistan. He was honorary colonel of the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps in 1954-60. In retirement he took an interest in the affairs of the Citizen Military Forces and the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. Fair haired and 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, he was companionable and modest. His recreations were golf and tennis. Survived by his son and daughter, Beavis died on 27 September 1975 in the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne; following a military funeral, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941 (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • J. D. Tilbrook, To the Warrior His Arms (Canb, 1989)
  • D. M. Titler, The Day the Red Baron Died (NY, 1970)
  • Army Journal, no 322, Mar 1976, p 16
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Citation details

John D. Tilbrook, 'Beavis, Leslie Ellis (1895–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beavis-leslie-ellis-9464/text16647, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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