48th Infantry Battalion (WA/SA) 12th Brigade, 4th Division "Joan of Arc Battalion", AIF

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About This Unit

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The 48th Battalion, AIF

The 48th Battalion was raised in Egypt 1916 as part of the process that was known as "doubling the AIF" to create the 4th and 5th Divisions.   Following the evacuation from ANZAC and with recruits arriving from Australia in large numbers,  it was decided to split the 1st Divison (1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigades) and the 4th Brigade in two to create sixteen new or  so-called "Pup" Battalions.  The 4th Brigade was split to create the 12th Brigade which included the 45th (NSW), 46th (Vic) 47th (Qld & Tas) and the 48th (WA & SA) Battalions.  Together with the 13th Brigade,  the 4th and 12th comprised the new 4th Division.

The 48th Battalion was created from the 16th Battalion, with the same blue and white colours in its 'patch' as its parent but of the circle shape to signify a 4th Division unit.  Although to confuse things somewhat, the 4th Brigade retained its rectangular colour patch from its prior affiliation with the 1st Division.  By seeding the Battalions with a core of experienced Officers, NCO and soldiers from the parent Battalions and reinforcing them with newly arrived recruits from Australia, the "doubling of the AIF" was achieved, although not without some angst when the original battalions were split and comrades went their separate ways.

The 48th was a composite Battalion drawn from WA and SA but it became synonomous with one particular South Australian family - "The Fighting Leanes" of Prospect , a suburb just to the north of central Adelaide.  The Leane family contributed no less than 11 men to the war effort of whom four were to serve in the 48th Battalion at various times, earning it the sobriquet  "The Joan of Arc Battalion" because it was "Made of all-Leanes", a play on words on the title of the original French saint , who was known as the "Maid of Orleans". 

In fact the Leane family represented the composition of the Battalion - Western and South Australians.  The Leanes were born in South Australia but several of them had been living and working in Wetsern Australia at the outbreak of the War.  Raymond L. Leane, a militia officer in WA, had as a  Captain, later Major, distinguished himself at Gallipoli with the 11th Battalion.  He was promotedand appointed inaugural Commanding Officer of the 48th Battalion at Serapeum in Egypt on the margins of the Sinai Desert, the temporary home of the 4th Division.  He was to lead it with distinction.  His brother Ben was the unit Adjutant.  Soon they were on their way to France.

AWM history link 48th Battallion (www.awm.gov.au)

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Stories

Dernancourt 1918 - the Australian line breaks.............................................

George Mitchell's account of Dernancourt, from 'Backs to the Wall' 1937

"From the right rear, a new sound – insignificant to the untrained ear – but it was the slow, irregular tack-tack-tack of a German heavy machine gun. Sent information to Imlay, his return note was just a terse comment, ‘Hold your position’. So the line was broken somewhere!

At 1.15pm a bunch of men suddenly burst over the hill, some were wounded, some fell as they ran, I went out to meet them. Asked one man what had happened, he pointed to his face, rags of flesh were all that was left of his lower jaw.

Questioned others – 47th men, “Fritz swamped the 52nd, then pushed artillery into the gap and firing directly into our line, blew us to pieces.” “You are being surrounded, you will be captured if you don’t get back.”

Then came the last survivors of the front line garrison, bitterly they fought, as though their lives were already forfeit, stopping to swap shots with their pursuers. They fired and moved in a desperate heroic gesture, hard-faced, they passed into security beyond my trench. The world had fallen, the Australian line had been broken, not even pride was left. Tears of grief ran down my face."

George Mitchell, MC, DCM, "Backs to the Wall", 1937

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Dernancourt - the 48th's finest hour

George Mitchell .. the culminating point

‘Backs to the Wall!’ Backs to hell, and old ‘Nick’ reaching out with his pitchfork. We could not hear our own rifles above the din, only knew by the recoil that we had fired. I could feel the sidelong glances from the men, and the unspoken thought, ‘How are you going to get us out of this mess?’ ‘Poor blighters, my job is to keep you here till you are done for, not get you out.’

On three sides, they closed in, only the way to company headquarters was open. Suddenly a runner dived in and I read the message, ‘Retire immediately.’ Down the bank once more and out on the lower plain, futile bullets pecked the ground as I trudged. What did it matter? Only a question of today, tomorrow, or the next day!

To my delighted eyes, there stretched a well-sited, newly dug trench lined with capable looking Australians. Eager questions assailed me ‘Where is he, when is he coming?’ ‘Massing over the hill’ I replied, ‘here in about twenty minutes.’ ‘We’ve got him now, we’ve got him!’

Sorted out my platoon and led them to the extreme left where there was a gap. A roar of small-arm fire came from the right, a 13th brigade battalion, the 49th, swept forward into the gap. We watched as they swung along with irresistible momentum, the ranks thinned as they went, here and there groups shot and stabbed. Ahead of them ran field grey figures, the gap is closed by good Australian bayonets! No further attack came from Fritz.

Down came their gunfire on us, the worst I ever experienced. Big shells punched the rocking earth with appalling fury, smoke rolled in clouds, had a bad attack of wind-up, and the taste of death was in my mouth. If I live through this, I thought as I lay in a heap, I will never be any good anymore. Ten shells a second, I calculated, landed on our hundred yards of front. Slowly the fire died away, the 2nd Division came up and relieved us, we assembled our weary few and marched back."

George Mitchell, MC, DCM, "Backs to the Wall", 1937

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"The Fighting Leanes" of Prospect

By the late LtCol Peter Morrissey . Used with Permission

Introduction

The five Leane brothers (Edwin, Ernest, Allan, Raymond and Benjamin) all served in the AIF in World War I, along Edwin’s four sons (Allan, Geoffrey, Reuben and Maxwell) and Ernest’s two sons (Arnold and William). Four of the family were killed in action or died of wounds.

Edwin Thomas Leane
Edwin was born on 25 August 1867 at Prospect SA. He was described as ‘a big man, both physically and mentally’. On 14 September 1914 he joined the AIF as a Captain in the 12th Battalion. Because of illness in Egypt, and possibly his age, he was transferred to the Australian Army Ordnance Corps. His administrative ability carried him to the top levels of the AIF Ordnance Service.

Promoted Major in April 1915, he served on Gallipoli as Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Services, 2nd Division from late July until the evacuation, and held the same appointment in Egypt in January-March 1916, and until July in France and Belgium. In August he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel and transferred to AIF Headquarters, London. In July 1917 he was posted to France, and in November became the Head of Ordnance Services, I Anzac Corps. From February 1918 this responsibility was widened to include the whole AIF in France.

Edwin was promoted Colonel in November, and became a deputy director in the AIF Repatriation and Demobilization Department, London. He had been mentioned in dispatches five times, appointed CBE, and awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. He died at Camberwell, Victoria on 27 August 1928.

Three of Edwin’s sons, Captain Allan Edwin Leane (died of wounds, 2 May 1917, Bullecourt), Lieutenant Geoffrey Paul Leane, MC and Corporal Reuben Ernest Leane, served with the 48th Battalion, and a fourth son, Lieutenant Maxwell Leane, with the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Ernest Albert Leane
Ernest was born in 1869, enlisted at the age of 45, and served with the 27th Battalion as a Warrant Officer. His two sons also served in the Battalion. One of them, Corporal Arnold Harry Leane, was killed in action on 5 November 1916. The other, Corporal William Ernest Raymond Leane, survived.

Allan William Leane
Allan was born on 11 May 1872 at Mount Gambier SA. He enlisted in the AIF as a Major in the 28th Battalion on 28 April 1915, and reached Gallipoli in September. He was Second-in-Command of the Battalion from January 1916, and commanded it in France from 29 July as a temporary Lieutenant Colonel, providing inspiring leadership during the Battle of Pozières. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel on 29 November, but died of shrapnel wounds received at Delville Wood on 4 January 1917, and was buried in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery, in a grave especially constructed by the men of the Battalion, adjacent to the CWG cemetery.

Raymond Lionel Leane
Raymond Leane was born on 12 July 1878 at Prospect SA. On 25 August 1914 he enlisted in the 11th Battalion as a Captain and Company Commander. The Battalion went ashore with the Covering Force during the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and Ray’s C Company moved into the Plugge’s Plateau sector.
On 4 May he led an attempt to capture Gaba Tepe fort, a Turkish position close to the beach which enfiladed the Australian trenches. Charles Bean considered him the ideal choice for this hazardous enterprise. After landing at dawn, Ray’s small force was pinned close to the beach by heavy fire, so that no advance could be attempted. Having been given full discretion to depart from his orders as he thought fit, he organized a withdrawal and successfully brought off his men and their wounded with the aid of the Royal Navy. For this he was awarded the Military Cross.

Ray was slightly wounded on 28 June in an assault on Pine Ridge, and again on 31 July when he led a successful attack against Turkish defences, and held the position thereafter against heavy counter-attacks. This position became known as Leane’s Trench. Promoted temporary Major on 5 August, he commanded the 11th Battalion from 11 September, and was promoted temporary Lieutenant Colonel on 8 October. He remained at Gallipoli until evacuation on 16 November. He was twice mentioned in dispatches for service at Anzac. While there, he had been nicknamed ‘Bull’; his “tall square-shouldered frame, immense jaw, tightly compressed lips, and keen, steady, humorous eyes made him the very figure of a soldier”.

In Egypt on 26 February 1916, Ray was confirmed as Major and appointed Commanding Officer of the 48th Battalion (the ‘pup’ Battalion of the 16th Battalion). Promoted Lieutenant Colonel on 12 March, he took his Battalion to France in June. After a week at Fleurbaix, the Battalion moved into the Pozières sector, and on 7 August repulsed a heavy German counter-attack. The 48th served at Mouquet Farm and Gueudecourt in 1916, and at Bullecourt, Messines, Wytschaete and Passchendaele in 1917. At Bullecourt Ray’s younger brother and Battalion Second-in-Command, Major Benjamin Bennett Leane was killed on 10 April, and his nephew Captain Allan Edwin Leane died of wounds on 2 May.

Severely wounded at Passchendaele on 12 October, Ray did not resume duty until late January 1918. He commanded the 48th Battalion at Albert and Dernancourt in March-April. Under his command, the 48th Battalion was prominent in halting the German advance on Amiens on 5 April. He was appointed temporary Colonel commanding the 12th Brigade on 19 April, and was confirmed in rank and promoted temporary Brigadier General on 1 June. He commanded the 12th Brigade at Villers-Bretonneux in April-May, in the attack on Proyart on 8 August, and in the battles of the Hindenburg outpost line in September.

Ray had been mentioned in dispatches eight times, and his decorations included the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Military Cross, and the French Croix de Guerre. He was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1918, Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1919, and Knight Bachelor in 1944. His brother Ben, three nephews, and several other relatives had served under him in the 48th Battalion, which led to its being known throughout the AIF as the ‘Joan of Arc Battalion’ (Made of All Leanes).

As a commander, Ray won the affection of his men by his constant concern for their well-being. He gained their respect by his strength of character, firm discipline and high sense of duty. In action he was cool and alert, directing and encouraging, heedless of danger.

Raymond Leane was appointed Commissioner of Police in SA, a role he held from 1920 until his retirement in 1944.

In World War II Ray commanded a group in the Volunteer Defence Corps. After his retirement he lived quietly at Plympton SA until his death on 25 June 1962.
Charles Bean described Sir Raymond Leane as “the head of the most famous family of soldiers in Australian history”. His portrait by George Bell is in the Australian War Memorial.

Benjamin Bennett Leane
Ben was born in 1889, and was killed on 10 April 1917 at Bullecourt while serving as a Major and Ray Leane’s Battalion Second-in-Command in the 48th Battalion. He was buried in Queant Road Cemetery, Buissy.

Conclusion
The Leane brothers and their sons provide a remarkable example of family enlistment. Every male member of military age offered himself for active service, and was accepted. The family was known during the war and for long afterwards as ‘The Fighting Leanes of Prospect’.

Principal Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography.
From work originally compiled by the late LtCol Peter Morrissey an esteemed comrade.

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