True Australian spirit
THE eastern gallery of Australian War Memorial in Canberra lists thousands of servicemen who died in the Second World War, their names engraved on bronze plaques.
When I visited in September last year, I finally found the name I was seeking - Peter Leonard Boase, 467 RAAF Squadron - and I inserted a poppy beside his name in the small space between the plaques.
Peter, a 20-year-old Bomber Command member, was killed over France during an air battle on April 17, 1943.
His Lancaster ED780 took off from RAF Bottesfor on the night of 16/17 to bomb the Skoda Armament Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it did not return to base.
The squadron had 16 aircraft in the mission and two, including ED780, failed to return.
There were seven crew members in each plane.
The captain /pilot, Flt Sgt R.C.Stuart and mid upper gunner P.Boase were the two Australians in the crew.
Post war, it was established the crew had been killed and are interred in the Poix (Somme) Churchyard, France.
Peter has important connections to Gympie through his grandparents - British born Charles Boase and his wife Harriett, who were both journalists and part owners of the Gympie Miner, a newspaper published in Gympie from 1878 to 1885.
They had four sons and two daughters born in Gympie.
All four sons served in the First World War. Second son, Leonard Charles Boase, born in 1888, was Peter's father.
Before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Forces in January 1916, Leonard Boase was employed as an inspector in the Northern Assurance Company and during his three years of army service, he had a distinguished career.
Author George Dicker wrote in his Australian Dictionary of Biography:
"Posted to reinforcements for the 52nd Battalion, Private Leonard Boase was briefly stationed in Egypt before moving to England in June.
"He joined his battalion on the Western Front in September 1916, but returned to England in November for officer training where he was billeted at Balliol College, Oxford.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal and then second Lieutenant during this period. Commissioned on 28 March 1917, Leonard went back to his unit next month.
"On 8 June at Messines, Belgium, he led a bombing party against a company of Germans, capturing some and forcing the remainder into the open.
Two days later he held an isolated position until his ammunition was expended: meantime, he kept the enemy engaged and enabled supporting troops to operate more freely. For these actions, he was awarded the Military Cross."
At Dernancourt, France, on April 5, 1918, Lieutenant Boase's platoon defended a tactically important section of the line. Under his leadership, the men withstood repeated assaults until only two or three survived.
Although wounded, Leonard Boase made a final effort to hold his ground, dashing among the foe and throwing bombs until he was overpowered. His comrades reported he had been killed.
From the Honour List in the Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser "Those killed in action included Lieut. Leonard Chas. Boase, M.C., of Caboolture, on April 4, 1918".
It was a particularly stressful time for the Boase family as they had already lost one son at Gallipoli.
In desperation, Leonard's brother, Major Allan Boase wrote a letter on June 21, 1918 requesting details of Leonard's death or whereabouts. A hand-written reply read:
"Dear Major Leave,
Sorry to trouble you but would be much obliged if you could clear up the following situation. On April 15 (?) my people were informed by cable that my brother Lieut. L.C. Boase, M.C. 52nd. Battalion had been killed in action on April 5th.
On Thursday 13th June my sister writes that word was received form Horseferry Road, London that my brother was purported prisoner-of-war in Germany. (She doesn't say whether this came by cable or by letter).
In the face of it they received letters from brother officers of the 52nd. Battalion, all of which stated he was killed instantly (shot through the head) - this was crossed out in the letter) while manning a German machine gun which he had captured after bombing the crew.
One officer forwarded my brothers identity disc and a few small personal belongings so I don't think there is much hope. I should be pleased if you could have the matter cleared up and relieve my people's suspense.
Yours sincerely, A.J. Boase (Major)
P.S. Would you give me a ring on the phone or send a note across to unit.
Finally in June the Boase family received the wonderful news that Leonard had survived the battle at Dernancourt when a letter from the Central Prisoners-of -War office, Australian Red Cross in London was received by the family.
This letter confirmed that a cable from Copenhagen reported that Leonard was a wounded POW (camp unknown). The Red Cross letter was dated two weeks before Major Allan Boase's plea for information.
The Gympie Times of Saturday, January 11, 1919 reported: "Lieut. Len Boase, M.C. a Gympie native, who has been a prisoner in Germany since April, 1918 has reached England. He is engaged to Nurse May Hockings, who is at a military hospital in India."
Documents regarding his prisoner-of-war status recorded he had been repatriated to England on Christmas Day, 1918, which was 44 days after the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
The latest cables in The Gympie Times reported that in London, on August 9, 1919, "The Distinguished Service Order has been conferred on Lieut. Leonard Boase, of the A.I.F. for 'marked gallantry' at Dernancourt."
In December, 1919, The Gympie Times said: "The Commonwealth military orders just issued contain extracts from the 'London Gazette' setting out heroic actions which have won honours on the field of battle for Queensland soldiers. The records contain the name of Lieutenant Leonard Charles Boase, M.C., 52nd Battalion. He was also recommended for the Victoria Cross."
This extract is from the National War Museum - Honours and Awards.
Honours and Awards: Leonard Charles Boase
Unit: 52nd Battalion
Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918
Recommendation: Victoria Cross
Date of recommendation: 00/00/1918
When Leonard arrived back in Brisbane from London, this brave man was of a slight build, standing 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm), married his fiancée on May 31, 1919 in St Mark's Anglican Church, Albion.
Residing in Brisbane, he resumed work in insurance. He was later promoted to manager of the Northern Assurance Company in Brisbane. Leonard was involved in the formation of the Legacy Club when on May 1, 1928, a former senior officer of the First AIF, Brigadier-General James Cannan, convened a meeting attended by 45 veterans.
Leonard retired in 1950 and lived quietly, first at Southport, then Buderim. He died on the August 6, 1975, aged 87 years, at Nambour and was survived by his widow, a daughter and one grandson.
And what of the other three brothers? Eldest brother Francis Henry (born 1885), a fruit grower at Caboolture, enlisted in Brisbane in March, 1916.
He achieved the rank of Corporal and in April 1918 returned to his unit, designated the 4 Machine Gun Company. In October he attended the Corps Gas School. At the end of November, he was convalescing from influenza and after his recovery was granted leave in Paris.
He returned to Australia on the Port Napier in May and was discharged in August, 1919, returning to his farm at Caboolture. Later he moved to Mt Gravatt, Brisbane where he grew flowers.
Third son, Private Colin Arthur Boase, (born July 1889) was a bank clerk who enlisted in August 1914 at Randwick, NSW. He was killed in action at the Battle of Lone Pine, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, between August 6-9, in 1915.