2016 Premier’s ANZAC Spirit School Prize Essay – A letter to Leonard Ray Adams
2016 PREMIER’S ANZAC SPIRIT SCHOOL PRIZE
As part of ANZAC commemorations, I am entering the Premier’s Spirit of Anzac School Prize competition, which this year relates to a soldier who fought on the Western Front in World War 1. My Mum works with your great nephew David Adams who by chance mentioned that he will be travelling to visit your gravesite in May this year. It is by this coincidence, that I have chosen you as my soldier for this project.
Whilst researching, I have learnt a lot about you and now feel that I need to write to you about what I have learnt, to let you know how much all Australians valued the sacrifice that you made for our country and also of the impact on the loved ones you left behind.
You were born Leonard Ray Adams on 20th June, 1896. Ironically we share the same birthday. I was born 104 years later in the Millennium year of 2000!
Your parents Alfred and Eliza Adams owned a property in the suburb of Edwardstown. Your father became a farmer and I have heard how the whole family ran a market garden together which included a fruit and almond orchard. Additionally, how you kept cows and poultry for further income and as a source of food. You must have really loved life on the farm and the time you got to spend with your family.
Edwardstown Public School was the first school you attended with you then completing your senior education at Adelaide High School. Throughout this time, you also regularly attended piano lessons. I have no musical talent!
Besides the farm, you were employed at the South Australian Water Utilities Company as a Clerk and also joined an SA battalion of Senior Cadets for three years, before serving in the Citizen Forces for 18 months in an Infantry Battalion. Life for you must have been busy!
World War I began on July 28th, 1914 and you enlisted as a Private in the Australian Infantry Force on the 11th December 1915 at the very young age of 19. I have seen the letter that your father wrote to acknowledge and give consent to you going to war since you were under the required age of 21. My brother is almost the same age. I can’t imagine him heading off to face something so horrific whilst so young.
On the 9th March, 1916, you boarded the RMS Mongolia in Adelaide as part of the 27th Infantry Battalion and set sail to Egypt to begin training as part of the 10th Reinforcements.
Your Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Dollman, under the 2nd Division, embarked for Marseilles in April 1916. Once here, you boarded trains and began the journey to Northern France, almost reaching the Belgian border. My research tells me that this journey involved many hours of marching and that you and many other exhausted soldiers were often billeted out to local families overnight, sometimes in very poor villages. Any train trips that you took were reportedly overcrowded and extremely uncomfortable. Upon arrival, your unit was stationed around the Armentieres sector, know as “The Nursery.” This was where you were first exposed to trench warfare on the Western Front.
Sergeant Archie Barwick wrote:
‘All day the ground rocked and swayed from the concussion… we were all nearly in a state of silliness and half dazed, but still the Australian’s refused to give ground”.
With such enormous casualties so early on, the Commander of British operations, General Sir Hubert Gough, ordered your Division to take the Old German lines on Pozieres heights. This attack commenced at 12.15am on 29th July, but the German machine-gunners were prepared. Another 3,500 soldiers were added to the growing list of casualties.
On the 41h of August, the 27th Battalion was on the left side of the 2nd Division attack, which was aimed to capture the heights above Pozieres. You succeeded, even though you were faced with remorseless artillery fire and counter attacks.
Sergeant R. Baldwin of the 27th Battalion wrote: ‘We came out this morning as best we could. We are a very shaken lot. Well, we went in and relieved the first division on the night of August 1, six days ago. I saw some awful things although I never got a mark, we are all on the edge, all our nerves are wrecked, and we lost some fine men”.
Two days later the 481h Battalion took over from yours. Tragically it was reported that no one had survived the forward positions. The 481h suffered similarly high losses, and ‘The Windmill’ is said to contain a lot of South Australian DNA of which yours would be included. The battle left the village of Pozieres demolished.
The Battle of Pozieres is considered one of the four hardest battles ever fought by Australian troops. It is interesting to note that in less than seven weeks of fighting at Pozieres, three Australian divisions had 23,000 casualties. The losses during the Gallipoli campaign were similar, but over an eight month period.
You were initially reported as missing on the 4th of August up until the 14th October, which is when you were officially considered as “killed in action”. Your recorded date of death is 4th August, 1916. It is heartbreaking to think that you may have been left lying up there in the dirt either dead or dying for weeks, and I know that that time was extremely hard on your family, particularly your mother.
The ANZAC spirit is regarded as being the qualities that soldiers who fought in World War 1 possessed. These include courage, endurance, bravery, ingenuity, good humor, larrikinism and mateship. You are not considered a war hero and you are not famous because of your contribution. In fact you had a short war life. You went to fight for Australia, to another country on the other side of the world and like many, you went into the war not knowing if or when you would return home. You sacrificed your life to serve our country, and you were a great man who fought until the end.
Like other ANZAC’s you did not ‘give’ your life. It was taken from you. Our soldiers knowingly put themselves in harm’s way. It was an honourable, selfless, heroic decision that was replicated by thousands of other men and women.
The attributes that are considered part of the ANZAC spirit we can see related to you in letters from families and friends during and after your lifetime. I think we can all say that any soldier would have required courage, endurance, humor and mateship to withstand the horrendous conditions you experienced.
The main qualities in which you possess towards the ANZAC Spirit are courage and strength. You volunteered to fight in the war, even though you were underage. Australia did not have the conscription but many people would have felt obliged to go, but you being underage didn’t have to do so- which is why you represent courage and strength. You also represent bravery as you fought in the Battle of Pozieres, which you would have known the outcome of the battle before experiencing it first hand and how many people’s lives were lost- yet you still fought without hesitation.
Some soldiers are remembered more than others for specific heroics that they accomplished. Many, many more soldiers died way before they should have, and maybe even before they too could have done something considered worthy of receiving one of the many medals awarded to others. However, it is important to remember every soldier who fought.
You may not be well known, but you are a very important representative to other young men who fought and served their countries.
To me, you are the perfect example of what having a true ANZAC spirit means.
The impact you had on families and communities left behind was significant.
With your grandfather having 13 children, you certainly had plenty of relatives. They were close-knit as you can gather from the letters sent to your family from cousins and friends across the state. The uncertainty of your death was heartbreaking, due to your family not knowing for certain until over two months after you were reported missing, that you had in fact been killed.
Your workers at the Hydraulic Engineers Office in Adelaide described you as “a fine character and a sterling worker”. I am sure that after you left for war, there was a “hole” in the office that you left behind. You were surely missed by your co-workers, a missing which became permanent when you were never to return. It is apparent that your impact on your employer and workmates from letters your parents received once advised of your death, was significant.
Your parents lost a son, your brothers and sister lost a sibling, your co-workers lost a colleague, and your many friends have lost a great mate. Perhaps even greater was the loss of what might have been. We see a family tree extending down through the years from your brothers and sister, yet yours becomes sadly silent terminating in 1916.
Your legacy is still alive today with your great nephew, David Adams who is conducting research on your life and your experiences during WW1.
I thank you on behalf of myself and all Australians, and I am proud to have had the opportunity to learn so much about you.
I will be sure to remember you each year on our birthday – 20th June. Yours sincerely,
Sophie Mae Hodges
Read the PDF version of the essay below: