The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (7306) Captain Leslie Russell Blake MC, 105 Battery, 5th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, First World War.
The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Gerard Pratt, the story for this day was on (7306) Captain Leslie Russell Blake MC, 105 Battery, 5th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, First World War.
7306 Captain Leslie Russell Blake MC, 105 Battery, 5th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF
DOW 3 October 1918
Story delivered 2 October 2018
Today we remember and pay tribute to Captain Leslie Russell Blake MC.
Leslie Blake was born on 28 October 1890 in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, the youngest of six children of Thomas and Maria Blake.
Young Leslie’s early life was quite tumultuous. After he lost his mother to cancer in 1892 and his father to pulmonary tuberculosis in 1897, he was taken on and raised by his aunt, Charlotte Deazley, in Brisbane. He attended Southport Public School and later Brisbane Technical College.
After completing his schooling, Leslie Blake passed the University of Sydney’s junior public examination and in 1907 the Queensland Public Service Examination. Shortly after, he was appointed as a geological surveyor with the Queensland Department of Mines.
Blake spent much of the next three years surveying around the Gympie goldfields and other remote parts of Queensland.
At the age of 20, he was appointed to be the geologist surveyor for the Macquarie Island section of Douglas Mawson’s 1911–1914 Antarctic expedition. Another member of the party was Frank Hurley, the official photographer. The two men became fast friends.
Blake spent nearly two years on Macquarie Island, the majority of which he spent surveying and mapping. Despite the frequent inclement weather, he produced a map so accurate that it remained in use until it was replaced by modern satellite mapping.
He returned to Australia in late February 1914. After a reception was held for Mawson and his party at the University of Adelaide in early March, Blake returned to his old job in Queensland.
When the First World War began, he was very keen to enlist, but on his first attempt, he was classed medically unfit, but was told if he had an operation to fix the issue, he would be considered.
He duly had the operation and with no complications, was passed fit in late July 1916 on his second attempt to join up. He underwent initial training at Enoggera, outside of Brisbane before being sent to Sydney in October.
Here he was allotted as a gunner to the newly-raised 13th Field Battery, which was part of the 5th Artillery Brigade. His leadership qualities were quickly recognised and on the 1st of November he was promoted to sergeant.
Blake embarked from Sydney on 18 November aboard the transport ship Persic, bound for Egypt. After arriving in Egypt in mid-December, Blake and his unit were subjected to further training. In March, Blake was posted to the 105th Howitzer Battery and two days later was commissioned with the rank of second lieutenant. Less than a week later, his unit sailed for France.
By May Blake and his unit were in operation in the “Nursery Sector” near Armentieres. In July, the Australians were sent south to the Somme in preparation for an attack on the village of Pozieres.
On the 21st of July Blake made his way into no man’ land and made a detailed survey of the allied lines from Pozieres to Mouquet Farm. His work was carried out under heavy fire and at one point he was shot in the buttocks by a German sniper. The wound was not serious, and he was teased by his fellow officers that he needed to keep more than his head down.
For his actions, Blake was awarded a Military Cross. His stated that he “showed conspicuous and continual gallantry during the Pozieres operation. On 21/8/16 this officer made a complete survey of the actual line held by our troops from [north-east] of Pozieres to Mouquet Farm. This information was necessary for artillery barrage purpose. He supplied excellent reports and continually volunteered for this work which he often performed under heavy fire.”
Blake was promoted to lieutenant at the start of August and served throughout the remainder of the year in the quiet Ypres Sector, before returning to the Somme for the winter.
In early 1917, Blake was transferred to 2nd Division Artillery Headquarters where he became the reconnaissance officer. After a brief posting to the Australian 5th Division’s artillery, he was sent on leave to England in mid-June.
While on leave, he was awarded his Military Cross by King George V at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
During the ceremony, King George recognised the white ribbon of the Polar Medal on Blake’s uniform and began questioning him about it.
“Had he served with Captain Scott?”
“No your Majesty” came the reply. “Sir Ernest Shackleton?” with a brief shake of the head… no! Ah, then it must be Sir Douglas Mawson?”
King George and Blake were soon deep in conversation, much to the consternation of the parade organisers. Blake later wrote to his brother Will that he “was decorated by the King when over there. A lot of rot but still necessary.”
After his return to the Western Front, Blake was wounded for the second time in late September near Polygon Wood. A shell splinter some four centimetres long passed through his forearm, clean between the bones and exited without causing any major nerve damage. He attempted to remain on duty, but was forcibly evacuated.
Blake was sent to England to recover, which took the remainder of the year. While recovering, he was mentioned in Sir Doulas Haig’s despatch of 13 November 1917 for “distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty in the field”.
Rejoining his unit in France, the start of 1918 was busy for Blake. His unit took part in stemming the German Spring Offensive in March and on 13 May, he was promoted to captain.
In August, Blake and his unit took part in the battle of Amiens, which marked the beginning of the end for the German Army on the Western Front. By September, Blake’s battery was supporting the allied attacks on the Hindenburg Line.
On 2 October, Blake’s unit had to advance once more. Blake went forward during the day to scout the new positions. That evening he led his battery forward.
Witnesses later reported that Blake was directing his battery’s guns into position when a shell landed underneath his horse. The resulting explosion killed the animal instantly and severely wounded Blake. His left leg was blown off above the knee and he suffered further shrapnel wounds to his left thigh, his face, and a fractured skull.
Blake was admitted to the 58th Casualty Clearing Station at Tincourt around 6.10 am the following morning. Sadly, his wounds were mortal and he died soon after admission. He was laid to rest in the Tincourt New British Cemetery.
Leslie Blake was 27 years old.
His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.
This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Captain Leslie Russell Blake MC, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.
Historian, Military History Section
Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (7306) Captain Leslie Russell Blake MC, 105 Battery, 5th Field Artillery Brigade, AIF, First World War. (video)