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John Leak (1892–1972)

by Helen Mays

This article was published:

John Leak (1892-1972), by unknown photographer, c1916

John Leak (1892-1972), by unknown photographer, c1916

Australian War Memorial, P02939.009

John Leak (1892?-1972), soldier, teamster and garage proprietor, was born probably in 1892 at Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, son of James Leak, miner. He migrated to Australia before World War I, becoming a teamster at Rockhampton, Queensland.

Leak enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 January 1915 and embarked with the 5th Reinforcements for the 9th Battalion on the transport Kyarra, joining his unit on 22 June at Gallipoli. Early in 1916 the battalion was posted to the Western Front and disembarked at Marseilles bound for northern France to engage in the Somme offensive in July. The village of Pozières on the Amiens-Bapaume highway on a ridge overlooking the Somme was a vital objective of the allies and was taken after four days of savage fighting. The 1st Australian Division, flanked by British divisions, and with the 9th Battalion spearheading its attack, moved towards Pozières on 22 July. Next day Leak was one of a party ordered to capture a German strong-point which was holding up the battalion's advance. His party became pinned down in an old German trench by heavy machine-gun fire. Their grenades were outranged by the Germans' superior 'egg' bombs. Leak dashed from cover and, under heavy fire, ran towards the enemy post, hurling three grenades to great effect. On reaching the enemy trench he leapt in and bayoneted the three remaining Germans.

Later in this engagement his party was driven back. Leak was the last to withdraw at each stage, hurling bombs to cover his companions' retreat. By the time reinforcements arrived his courage and energy had done much to weaken the enemy's defence and the post was taken again. For 'conspicuous bravery' he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was wounded on 21 August 1916 at Mouquet Farm and rejoined the 9th Battalion on 15 October 1917. On 7 March 1918 he was severely gassed at Hollebeke, Belgium, and was unable to resume duty until 26 June. Late in life, he suffered from bronchitis and emphysema. He married Beatrice May Chapman on 30 December 1918 in the Parish Church of St John Baptist, Cardiff, Wales.

On 9 February 1919 Leak embarked for Australia and was discharged from the A.I.F. in Queensland on 31 May. After two years in Queensland he moved to New South Wales for two and a half years. Further moves took him to South Australia and then to Esperance in Western Australia where he became a mechanic and garage proprietor. He was married again on 19 January 1927 to Ada Victoria Bood-Smith. On retirement he settled at Crafers, South Australia. Survived by four sons and three daughters, he died at Redwood Park on 20 October 1972 and was buried in Stirling cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 9 Sept 1916
  • Reveille (Sydney), June 1931, Jan 1932, Aug 1935
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Helen Mays, 'Leak, John (1892–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Leak (1892-1972), by unknown photographer, c1916

John Leak (1892-1972), by unknown photographer, c1916

Australian War Memorial, P02939.009

Life Summary [details]


Portsmouth, Hampshire, England


20 October, 1972 (aged ~ 80)
Redwood Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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