Queensland's first Victoria Cross recipient
The Governor and Mrs de Jersey today are in France, proudly representing the people of Queensland at the Commemorative Service marking the centenary of the First World War Battle of Pozières on the Western Front.
The contribution of Australia to this battle was such that war historian, Charles Bean, described the ridge above the French village of Pozières as “more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”.
Among those who survived the battle and were honoured for extraordinary courage was Private John Leak, Queensland’s first Victoria Cross winner.
Records of Leak’s life are scant, but military records reveal that the 23-year-old enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in Rockhampton on 28 January, 1915, and sailed from Brisbane three months later.
Barely a year later, at the Battle of Pozières, Leak was one of a party which captured an enemy strong-hold . The citation for his VC recounts the full story: “At one assault, when the enemy's bombs were outranging ours, Private Leak jumped out of the trench, ran forward under heavy machine-gun fire at close range, and threw three bombs into the enemy's bombing post. He then jumped into the post and bayonetted three unwounded enemy bombers. Later, when the enemy in overwhelming numbers was driving his party back, he was always the last to withdraw at each stage, and kept on throwing bombs. His courage and energy had such an effect on the enemy that, on the arrival of reinforcements, the whole trench was recaptured”.
Leak was wounded in 1918 and discharged the following year, living out his life in Australia where he died in 1972 in Adelaide.
Image (courtesy of the Australian War Memorial): Pte Leak in late 1916 outside Buckingham Palace, holding the hand of his Welsh wife, Beatrice, and surrounded by her proud family, after being awarded the VC by His Majesty, King George V.