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Boyce, Sir Harold Leslie (1895–1955)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Sir Harold Leslie Boyce (1895-1955), politician, businessman and lord mayor of London, was born on 9 July 1895 at Taree, New South Wales, son of Charles Macleay Boyce (d.1936), solicitor, and his wife Ethel May, née Thorne, and grandson of Charles Boyce. He was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, North Sydney, in 1906-11, and at Sydney Grammar School, 1911-13. Describing himself as a medical student, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force while on holidays in Adelaide in March 1915 and sailed as a second lieutenant with the 27th Battalion in May. He served in Egypt, at Gallipoli and in France where he was promoted lieutenant in the 10th Battalion and seriously wounded at Pozières in July 1916. Invalided back to Adelaide early next year he helped inventor L. E. De Mole with his 'tank', promoted recruiting and returned to England with reinforcements for the 10th Battalion.

After the war Boyce went to Balliol College, Oxford, on Huth and Rhodes Trust scholarships and read modern history (B.A., 1920; M.A., 1924). On a further Rhodes Trust award he read for the Bar and in 1922 was called to the Inner Temple. The same year he was legal adviser and substitute Australian delegate to the third assembly of the League of Nations; he was also adviser to Sir Joseph Cook at the Mandates Commission at Geneva.

Boyce made his home near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and soon became active in industry and public life. He revived the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co. Ltd and became chairman and managing director; it gained large contracts for rolling stock from Canada and Queensland. His business activities were extensive and varied: apart from a number of engineering firms in the West Midlands they included shipping, gas and newspaper interests.

Boyce entered the House of Commons as Conservative member for Gloucester in 1929, and in 1930 was a member of the Empire Parliamentary Delegation to Northern Rhodesia. An 'outspoken advocate of a forward Imperial policy', he exerted much influence on matters affecting the British Empire until his defeat in 1945. He was indefatigable in raising money for war charities and his K.B.E. in 1944 was held to be richly deserved. After the war he moved to Badgeworth near Gloucester and in 1946 he led the United Kingdom trade mission to China.

A liveryman of the Worshipful Companies of Loriners and Carpenters, Sir Leslie Boyce became an alderman of the City of London in 1942, high sheriff in 1947-48 and in 1951-52 lord mayor — the first citizen of a dominion to achieve the distinction. In recognition, the lord mayor's procession halted outside Australia House where the high commissioner (Sir) Thomas W. White presented him with an illuminated address from Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies. On 4 June 1952 Boyce presided at a court of common council which admitted Menzies to the freedom of the City. On retirement as lord mayor Boyce was created a baronet.

He was prominent in the Masonic craft and the Primrose League, and served on several hospital boards including the Masonic and Royal hospitals. Boyce was a knight of justice of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, his wife being a dame of grace of the order; high sheriff of Gloucester in 1941-42; a council-member of Bristol University; a commissioner of the Central Criminal Court; and a lieutenant and justice of the peace for the City of London. He was a keen and active outdoor sportsman; horticulture was one of his hobbies.

Though Boyce was very ambitious, hard working and unconquerably tough, he was unostentatious and genial; his courtesy and tact contributed much to the success of everything he undertook. In his public duties he was ably assisted by his wife Maybery Browse (d.1978), née Bevan, of Melbourne, whom he had married on 16 July 1926. His many friends included Leo Amery, Viscount Bruce, (Baron) Casey and the Cilento family. He died in hospital near Cheltenham on 30 May 1955, survived by his wife and three sons, the eldest Richard Leslie (1929-1968) succeeding to the title. A portrait of Sir Leslie by James Gunn is in the possession of the third baronet.

Select Bibliography

  • London's Roll of Fame (Lond, nd)
  • L. S. Amery, My Political Life, vol 3 (Lond, 1955)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Nov 1961
  • Lone Hand, 1 Apr 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Oct 1919, 29 Oct 1931, 1 June 1955
  • Times (London), 10 Dec 1920, p 8, 31 Dec 1930, p 11, 3 Aug 1946, p 6, 10 Oct 1946, p 3, 20 Dec 1946, p 8, 1 Oct 1951, p 6, 9 Nov 1951, p 2, 10 Nov 1951, pp 4 and 10, 9 June 1955, p 10, 10 June 1955, p 8, 25 June 1955, p 8
  • Manning River Times, 10 Nov 1951
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 22 Mar 1952.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Boyce, Sir Harold Leslie (1895–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyce-sir-harold-leslie-5321/text8989, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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