Fifty Australians - The Bull Leane

“The head of the most famous family of soldiers in Australian history.” There were so many members of the Leane family in the 48th Battalion AIF, it was called the “Joan of Arc battalion” – that is, Maid of Orleans (“made of all Leanes”).

Brigadier General Sir Raymond Lionel Leane, CB, CMG, DSO (and Bar), MC, VD (1878–1962)

A South Australian, Ray Leane’s job took him to Western Australia. Within a few years he established a retail business in Kalgoorlie and was also an officer in the local Goldfields Regiment. On the outbreak of war he became a company commander in the 11th Battalion AIF. All his brothers and nephews of military age would also see war service; four of them were killed.

Leane landed at ANZAC with the first troops at dawn on 25 April 1915. Just over a week later he led a hazardous and futile assault from the sea against Turkish positions at Gaba Tepe. For leading the attack and re-embarking his force from an open beach under fire, he received the Military Cross. From September he had temporary command of the battalion. In Egypt the following year he was promoted to command the South Australian 48th Battalion, in which his brother, three nephews, and several other relatives were serving.

The battalion moved to France and over the next two years was involved in all of the heaviest fighting on the Western Front. The battle of Bullecourt in 1917 took a heavy personal toll: Leane’s brother Ben, the battalion’s adjutant, was killed, and a nephew, Captain Allan Leane, was mortally wounded.

Leane was highly admired and respected. “His tall square-shouldered frame, immense jaw, tightly compressed lips, and keen, steady, humorous eyes made him the very figure of a soldier.” He was wounded three times, the worst being at Passchendaele; he was out of action until January 1918. Later that year he was appointed to command the 12th Brigade, of which his beloved 48th was part, and led it to the end of the war.

After the war Leane was made South Australia’s police commissioner. He commanded the force for two decades, raising morale and introducing reforms. He acted firmly against those involved in civil disobedience, including strikers and any “communist inspired” demonstrators. He also commanded a militia brigade until 1926, and was a senior officer of the Volunteer Defence Corps during the Second World War.

Studio portrait of five Leane brothers: Lieutenant Colonel Ray Leane (centre) with brothers Ben, Ernest, Edwin, and Allan

Shortly after the war, Leane (centre left) accompanied Lieutenant General Sir Talbot Hobbs to mark a site for a monument to the 4th Australian Division near Bellenglise, France.

Brigadier General Ray Leane
Brigadier General Ray Leane commanded a militia infantry brigade following the war.
Photo courtesy of the South Australian Police Historical Society

Ray Leane
Ray Leane in his uniform as South Australia’s Police Commissioner.
Photo courtesy of the South Australian Police Historical Society