The Fighting Leanes of Prospect – Wendy Frew
In 1917, 25-year-old Doris Leane came home to find her favourite brother Allan dressed in full uniform and waiting for her in the garden of the family home.
All of her brothers except Max, the youngest, were on the Western Front, fighting in the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.). Doris’s father Ted Leane, had also enlisted, along with his brothers. Letters from the front were infrequent and even cheery letters from Ted and the boys couldn’t dispel the anxiety the women experienced when they read about the war in the newspapers.
Doris and her 22-year-old brother Allan were close. Overwhelmed with excitement to see Allan after so long apart, Doris quickly shut the garden gate and turned back to embrace him only to find that he had disappeared.
She rushed into the house, calling out to her mother and sisters that Allan was back. Had they seen him? Had he gone to the back door to play a joke on them? The other women, equally shaken by the news, ran around the house and into the back yard looking for him. Excitement quickly turned to anger when it became clear Allan simply wasn’t there, no matter how much Doris – an otherwise sober and sensible young woman – insisted she had seen him.
Months later, the family learned Allan had been killed in battle in France. Until the day she died, Doris believed she had seen her brother that fine summer’s day.
Five Leane brothers and six of their sons – most of them from Prospect in South Australia – enlisted in WW1; four of them never came back.
During the war, they were held up as a model Australian family and their story was told many times over in newspapers across the country. There were so many of them in the 48th Battalion, AIF that it was dubbed the “Joan of Arc” battalion because it was made of all Leanes. The men loom large in Charles Bean’s official history of Australia in WW1, and he described them as ‘the most famous family of soldiers in Australian history’.
In South Australia, they became known as “the Fighting Leanes of Prospect” and their stories of war are still well-known by military historians today.
Less well-known is the impact their sacrifice had on the women who were left behind in Australia, women like Alice Leane, who watched five sons and six grandsons march to war. Alice’s daughter-in-law Phyllis was widowed at age 24 with two infants to care for; another daughter-in-law, Martha, lost her oldest son at the Somme, and was left alone with 10 other children to care for. Katie Leane waited at home for four long years, fearing every knock on the door would herald a telegram telling her the worst about her husband or one of her four sons who were on the Western front or at sea.
One hundred years after the end of the Great War, we must remember the sacrifices those men made, and never forget the families they left behind and what they went through during the long years of the war and the hard years of peace that followed.
The story of the Leanes is told in a new book, Leane Times; One family’s transformation from Cornish farmers to Australian fighters, by Leane descendant Wendy Frew, published by Broadcast Books.