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Leonard Maurice Keysor (1885–1951)

by Dudley McCarthy

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Leonard Maurice Keysor (1885-1951), soldier and businessman, was born on 3 November 1885 at Maida Vale, London, son of Benjamin Keysor, a Jewish clock importer. The name was sometimes spelt Keyzor. After education at Townley Castle, Ramsgate, Keysor spent ten years in Canada. He migrated to Sydney, where he found employment as a clerk, about three months before the outbreak of World War I. On 18 August 1914 he enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and embarked for Egypt on 18 October. Keysor landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was promoted lance corporal on 20 June. His deeds during the second (and last) great effort to take the peninsula are among the most spectacular individual feats of the war.

At 5.30 p.m. on 6 August the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade launched a diversionary attack at Lone Pine and by nightfall had seized the Turkish trenches; but bitter fighting with bayonets and bombs continued for three days and nights as the Turks retaliated. Keysor, a master of bomb-throwing, scorned danger. As Turkish bombs lobbed into his trench he would leap forward and smother the explosions with sandbags or coat. If time allowed he would throw a bomb back; he caught several in flight and smartly returned them as though playing cricket. Twice wounded, he nevertheless maintained his efforts for fifty hours. His bravery saved his trench and removed the enemy from a temporarily commanding position. Charles Bean recorded that 'the battalions of the 1st Brigade lost so heavily that few witnesses of its efforts remained. Consequently of the seven Victoria Crosses awarded after this fight, four went to a reinforcing battalion'. Of the other three, one was awarded to Keysor.

After Lone Pine Keysor went to England suffering from enteric fever. Rejoining his battalion in France in March 1916, he took part in the fighting at Pozières. On 17 November he was transferred to the 42nd Battalion and promoted sergeant on 1 December. Commissioned second lieutenant on 13 January 1917, he was promoted lieutenant in July. He was wounded on 28 March 1918 while fighting on the defensive Méricourt-Sailly-Le-Sec line and evacuated. Back with his unit, he was again wounded on 26 May in a gas bombardment near Villers-Bretonneux.

In October 1918 Keysor, an uncompromising advocate of conscription, returned to Australia with other veterans and assisted in the recruiting campaign. Discharged from the army as medically unfit on 12 December, he resumed clerical work but in 1920 he entered business in London. There, on 8 July at the Hill Street Synagogue, he married Gladys Benjamin.

Keysor was persuaded to re-enact his bomb-throwing exploits in a film, For Valour, in 1927, but he was essentially a shy man who shunned publicity. White-haired and deaf when interviewed in the 1940s, he described himself as 'a common-or-garden clock importer' and remarked that 'the war was the only adventure I ever had'. Keysor was rejected for military service in 1939 on medical grounds. He died in London of cancer on 12 October 1951, survived by his wife and daughter, and was cremated after a memorial service at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood. His Victoria Cross is held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore, They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • Sydney Mail, 16 Oct 1918
  • Times (London), 13 Oct 1951
  • Sun (Sydney), 29 July 1977
  • war diary, 42nd Battalion, AIF, 1916-18 (Australian War Memorial).

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Dudley McCarthy, 'Keysor, Leonard Maurice (1885–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Leonard Keysor, c1917

Leonard Keysor, c1917

Australian War Memorial, P02939.007

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Keyzor, Leonard Maurice

3 November, 1885
London, Middlesex, England


12 October, 1951 (aged 65)
London, Middlesex, England

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Political Activism