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Leane, Sir Raymond Lionel (1878–1962)

by Ronald Hopkins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

This is a shared entry with:

Raymond Lionel Leane (1878-1962), by George Bell, 1919

Raymond Lionel Leane (1878-1962), by George Bell, 1919

Australian War Memorial, ART00100

Sir Edwin Thomas Leane (1867-1928), Allan William (1872-1917) and Sir Raymond Lionel (1878-1962), soldiers, were sons of Thomas John Leane, shoemaker, and his wife Alice Ann, née Short, daughter of an Adelaide shoemaker. They and two brothers all served in World War I. Nine of their sons served in either World War I or World War II.

Thomas John (1842-1900) migrated to South Australia from Cornwall, England, in 1857 with his parents, three brothers and three sisters. He followed his father in the shoemaking trade. As he grew older he was strongly attracted to Nonconformist religious teachings, became a temperance adherent and was accepted as a Wesleyan lay preacher. He married Alice Short in 1865 and they settled in a house in Rose Street, Prospect, which remained the family home for the rest of their lives.

Edwin Thomas, eldest of eight surviving children, was born on 25 August 1867 at Prospect and was educated at North Adelaide Public School and Whinham College before becoming a bookkeeper and later an insurance manager. He joined the South Australian Garrison Artillery (militia) about 1888 as a gunner and transferred to the 3rd South Australian Infantry Regiment in 1890, reaching the rank of captain. On 15 June 1891, at St Paul's Church, Adelaide, he married Katie Mary Walker Machin; they had eight children. Edwin volunteered for service in the South African War in 1900-01 as a subaltern with the 4th South Australian Contingent of Imperial Bushmen and was mentioned in dispatches. After the war he settled in Sydney, becoming resident secretary of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd. He was described as 'a big man, both physically and mentally'.

On 14 September 1914 Leane joined the Australian Imperial Force as a captain in the 12th Battalion. Because of illness in Egypt, and possibly his age, he was transferred to the Australian Army Ordnance Corps; his administrative ability was finally to carry him to the top levels of the A.I.F. Ordnance Service. Promoted major in April 1915 he served at Gallipoli as deputy assistant director of ordnance services, 2nd Division, from late July until the evacuation, and held the same appointment in Egypt in January-March 1916 and until July in France and Belgium. In August he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and transferred to A.I.F. Headquarters, London. After leave to Australia in February-July 1917 he was posted to France and in November became the head of the ordnance services, 1st Anzac Corps. From February 1918 this responsibility was widened to include the whole A.I.F. in France. He was promoted colonel in November and became a deputy director in the A.I.F. Repatriation and Demobilization Department, London, before returning to Australia in September 1919; his A.I.F. appointment ended in November.

He had been mentioned in dispatches five times, appointed C.B.E. and awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. Three of his sons, Allan Edwin (died of wounds 1917), Geoffrey Paul and Reuben Ernest, served with the 48th Battalion, and a fourth son Maxwell with the Royal Australian Navy. Edwin Leane was appointed administrator of Norfolk Island in 1924; although he was officially commended for his administration, the Australian government terminated his office in 1926 because of his personality clashes with prominent Norfolk Islanders. Survived by his wife and six of their children, he died of cancer at Camberwell, Melbourne, on 27 August 1928 and was buried in Box Hill cemetery.

Thomas Leane's second son Ernest Albert (b.1869) enlisted at the age of 45 and served with the 27th Battalion as a warrant officer. His two sons, one of whom, Arnold, was killed in action in 1916, also served in the battalion.

Allan William was born on 11 May 1872 at Mount Gambier. When 18 he joined the militia and was commissioned as an infantry officer in 1893. He later moved to Perth where he worked as an indentor and estate agent and in 1908 joined the 11th Australian Infantry Regiment as a lieutenant; he was promoted captain in 1912. Leane enlisted in the A.I.F. as a major in the 28th Battalion on 28 April 1915 and reached Gallipoli in September. He was second-in-command of his battalion from January 1916 and commanded it in France from 29 July as a temporary lieutenant-colonel, providing inspiring leadership during the battle of Pozières. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 29 November but died of shrapnel wounds received at Delville Wood on 4 January 1917 and was buried at Dernancourt. He was married with one son.

Raymond Lionel was born on 12 July 1878 at Prospect. Educated at North Adelaide Public School until 12, he began work in a retail and wholesale business. After his firm sent him to Albany, Western Australia, he became interested in militia soldiering and was commissioned in the 11th (Perth Rifles) Infantry Regiment in 1905. On 14 June 1902, at Christ Church, Claremont, Perth, he married Edith Louise Laybourne, sister of Louis Laybourne Smith. For six years they lived at Claremont where Raymond was elected to the local council. At the time of his marriage he was employed as a commercial traveller. In 1908 he bought a retail business at Kalgoorlie and became a successful merchant. He also resumed militia training with the Goldfields Infantry Regiment and was a captain by 1910.

On 25 August 1914 Raymond Leane enlisted in the 11th Battalion, A.I.F., as a captain and company commander. His battalion went ashore with the covering force during the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and Leane's 'C' Company moved into the Plugge's Plateau sector. On 4 May he led an attempt to capture Gaba Tepe fort, a Turkish position close to the beach which enfiladed the Australian trenches. Charles Bean considered him the ideal choice for this hazardous enterprise. After landing at dawn Leane's small force was pinned close to the beach by heavy fire so that no advance could be attempted. Having been given full discretion to depart from his orders as he thought fit, he organized a withdrawal and successfully brought off his men and their wounded with the aid of the Royal Navy. For this he was awarded the Military Cross. He was slightly wounded on 28 June in an assault on Pine Ridge and again on 31 July when he led a successful attack against Turkish defences and held the position thereafter against heavy counter-attacks. This position became known as 'Leane's trench'. Promoted temporary major on 5 August, he commanded the 11th Battalion from 11 September and was promoted temporary lieutenant-colonel on 8 October. He remained at Gallipoli until evacuation on 16 November. He was twice mentioned in dispatches for service at Anzac. While there he had been nicknamed 'Bull'; his 'tall square-shouldered frame, immense jaw, tightly compressed lips, and keen, steady, humorous eyes made him the very figure of a soldier'.

In Egypt, on 26 February 1916, Leane was confirmed as major and appointed commander of the 48th Battalion; promoted lieutenant-colonel on 12 March, he took his unit to France in June. After a week at Fleurbaix the battalion moved into the Pozières sector and on 7 August repulsed a heavy German counter-attack. The 48th served at Mouquet Farm and Gueudecourt in 1916 and at Bullecourt, Messines, Wytschaete and Passchendaele in 1917. At Bullecourt Leane's younger brother and second-in-command Major Benjamin Bennett Leane (1889-1917) was killed on 10 April and his nephew Captain Allan Edwin Leane died of wounds on 2 May.

Severely wounded at Passchendaele on 12 October, Raymond Leane did not resume duty until late January 1918. He commanded the 48th at Albert in March-April, was appointed temporary colonel commanding the 12th Brigade on 19 April and was confirmed in rank and promoted temporary brigadier general on 1 June. Under his leadership the 48th Battalion was prominent in halting the German advance on Amiens on 5 April and he commanded the 12th Brigade at Villers-Bretonneux in April-May, in the attack on Proyart on 8 August and in the battles of the Hindenburg outpost line in September. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 3 January 1920. He had been mentioned in dispatches eight times and his decorations included, as well as the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and Bar and the French Croix de Guerre; he was appointed C.M.G. in 1918 and C.B. in 1919. His brother Ben, three nephews and several other relatives had served under him in the 48th Battalion which led to its being known throughout the A.I.F. as 'the Joan of Arc Battalion' (Made of all-Leanes).

As a commander Raymond Leane won the affection of his men by his constant concern for their well-being; he gained their respect by his strength of character, firm discipline and high sense of duty. In action he was cool and alert, directing and encouraging, heedless of danger.

After demobilization he was appointed police commissioner by the South Australian government in May 1920, gave distinguished service until 1944 and was knighted on retirement. Leane had taken over a restive force which had been poorly led and whose morale was low. He soon displayed a capacity to remedy reasonable grievances, through both departmental conferences and the police union. His men remained in awe of him, but most came to see him as just and sensitive. He introduced a school for recruits and a system of promotion which stressed merit more than seniority; his major contributions were in police education and conditions of service. In 1928 with strong government backing he crushed the Port Adelaide wharf strike, enrolling some 3000 special constables; and during the Depression ruthlessly curbed demonstrations by the unemployed which he judged to be communist inspired. His son Geoffrey was deputy commissioner of police in 1959-72.

Raymond Leane had commanded the 3rd Infantry Brigade, Australian Military Forces, in 1921-26 as a lieutenant-colonel, was transferred to the unattached list in 1926 and placed on the retired list in 1938. In World War II he commanded a group in the Volunteer Defence Corps. After his retirement he lived quietly at Plympton, Adelaide, until his death on 25 June 1962. Survived by his wife, five sons and a daughter, he was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Bean described Sir Raymond Leane as 'the head of the most famous family of soldiers in Australian history'. The family was known during the war and for long afterwards as 'the Fighting Leanes of Prospect'. Raymond's wife Edith typified the devotion, courage and skill of the Leane womenfolk. His portrait by George Bell is in the Australian War Memorial. The Leane brothers and their sons provide a remarkable example of family enlistment—every male member of military age offered himself for active service and was accepted.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Devine, The Story of a Battalion (Melb, 1919)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Mar, Oct 1930, June, July 1932, July, Sept 1933, Dec 1934
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 May 1920, 24 June 1921, 30 Apr 1926, 28 June 1962
  • Observer (Adelaide), 7 June 1924, 21 Aug, 18 Sept 1926
  • News (Adelaide), 29 Apr 1926
  • Mail (Fremantle), 21 July 1932
  • E. T. and R. L. Leane files (Australian War Memorial)
  • B. B. Leane papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ronald Hopkins, 'Leane, Sir Raymond Lionel (1878–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leane-sir-raymond-lionel-7749/text12319, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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