I cannot comprehend the scale of the war, or what you went through. Nor do I think I ever will. But what I do understand is enough. Enough to make me care. Enough to make me know – there are things we can’t ignore. Things that must be remembered, understood and respected. And things that must never be repeated. Mistakes to be learnt from. But also courage to be admired.
Today we remember this all.
And in this remembering, we honour one of many.
You were but one of the 65 million young men to fight in the First World War. One of over 400 000 brave Australians to serve, and one of nearly 60 000 Australians who didn't make it home.
Today we remember you, 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Varley Duxbury – as you rest here in cold, hard, foreign soil. But rest easy, friend, for you will stay forever in our hearts.
You were very young, at your age you could easily have been my older brother. Like me you loved your sport, your music, your family and your country.
You laid down your life to protect your country, my country, our country. For your ultimate sacrifice we give you our upmost respect and thanks.
It is your self-sacrifice that gives us freedom and opportunity today. My life in Australia is filled with many fantastic opportunities. Opportunities like this prize. Opportunities to play sport or music – two pastimes that Leslie and I both share.
That’s one reason for why I have decided to bring this football here today. Let this be a reminder of your love of sport – something which I think is embedded in the Anzac spirit, and football in particular. Let it also be a symbol of your sacrifice that allows me to love this great game and play football (both Aussie Rules, and soccer).
I am also leaving the sheet music of the patriotic song “Come on Australians” that you sang with ‘great success’. I will now play a recording of this song and ask you to join me in singing if you wish.
Your parents never got a chance to visit your grave as I’m sure they would have dearly loved to. So I’m placing their photo here, so they can finally visit their son’s final resting place.
Leslie Varley Duxbury was born in Wayville, South Australia. Which, for those of you that don’t know, is just south of the city, near the Adelaide Showgrounds.
He went to school in Semaphore and later became a Sales Manager. It was clear that he had a talent and a passion for both sport and singing. He played football, baseball, rowed and he sang.
When war broke out overseas, the young 23 year old was actively giving his time - singing at free patriotic concerts.
His maternal uncle was one of the first to sign up – in the May of 1915. Tragically, he was also among the 8 000 plus brave Anzacs to perish on the shores of Gallipoli.
I think that it was this news of his uncle’s death that fully motivated Leslie to join the cause – and that September he enlisted his own services with the AIF.
He left Australia the following April in 1916 as part of the 32nd Battalion. He trained in Egypt for a short while before arriving in France a couple of months later. There he fought in the Battle of Fromelles – a bloody battle that saw over 5 ½ thousand Aussie casualties in 24 hours the worst day in our wartime history
In the October of 1917, Leslie was sent over to England to an Officers’ Training College – where he was anticipated to “… make a splendid officer.”
In the May of 1918 he was back in France; now as a 2nd Lieutenant of his Battalion. He was also appointed as the sports officer to the battalion, something in which he took great pride.
A few months later the 32nd battalion was involved in the fight to reclaim Mont St. Quentin and Péronne. It was a fierce battle that saw the Germans speedily retreat.
Despite the military success of the action, it came at a cost. Australia suffered the loss of a fine young officer. For on the 3rd of September 1918, in the fields of France, Leslie Duxbury was hit in the thigh by a stray high explosive while taking some well-earned rest. He was transferred, unconscious, to the 5th Clearing Casualty Hospital, where he subsequently died 3 days later.
Back home in South Australia this news must have greatly grieved his poor mother. Already having lost her brother; the war had now claimed a second victim; her only son.
I am currently reading Somme Mud, you may have heard of it. It’s the story of 18 year old Private Edward Lynch as he served on the Western Front in World War 1.
I would just like to share with you an extract that really hit home for me. It really made me think of Lucy Kate, Leslie’s mother. It serves as a reminder that wars are not just fought on the battlefields.
Lynch and his mates have just carried out a daring capture of an enemy trench and Lynch is reporting the details to the colonel.
‘The stunt is over,’ the colonel says, and tells him everything he’s just got out of me. The old colonel seems happy.
Over is it? For some it’s over as mortal life goes, poor beggars. Is it over for those who are writhing in the excruciating agony of shattered bones, of torn intestines, of punctured lungs, or shot-off limbs, of bruised and mangled flesh? Is it over for those who will never again walk upright as men, but pass what’s left of their suffering lives as cripples – getting their country’s sympathy but little else? Is it over for the women who wait and pray and are doomed to long, lonely years ahead with nothing but a memory to cherish and nothing but that memory to comfort them along the road they had so hoped to tread with their soldier boy? Is it over for the kiddies who’ll face life handicapped in so many ways by the loss of their daddy? Colonel, you are mistaken! The stunt isn’t over. It’s barely begun for those upon whom it falls the heaviest.
Leslie had so much potential and so much to live for. His courage, passion, good humour, integrity and all round zest for life encompassed the essence of the Anzac spirit. War may have taken his life but it can never take away his spirit – the Anzac spirit, and the everlasting effect it has had and will continue to have on my life.
Until I researched Leslie Duxbury he was all but forgotten, the last of his line. It seems so cruel for his life to be taken when victory was so near – when he had so much more to offer. It is a small comfort, at least, to think that now he has not been forgotten. And I feel honoured and privileged to be able to share his incredible story with you here today.
Leslie, I would like you to know that your death was not in vain. The muddy, bloody battlefields that you fought on almost a century ago must be an alien world compared to the quiet countryside we see today.
There is peace here now.
Thanks for your sacrifice, Leslie mate.
Rest in peace. Thanks.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.