Wounded at Gallipoli, Len Francis went on to recruit soldiers in Wagga for World War I

RECRUITERS: Len Francis and Harry Watson

RECRUITERS: Len Francis and Harry Watson

Name: Leonard Arthur Francis

Date of birth: December 291890 

Place of birth: Kentish Town, England

Link to Wagga: Place of enlistment and employment

Date of first enlistment: February 9, 1915

Age at enlistments 23 years and two months and 25 years and six months

Occupation: Ship’s steward, Recruiting Officer (civil servant)

Religion: Church of England

Next of kin: Father, Henry Francis, London

Battalion or Regiment: 19 th Battalion, B Company

Battlefields: Gallipoli

Outcome: Returned to Australia, HS ‘Kanowna’ October 20, 1915

IT IS not known what brought Leonard Arthur ‘Len’ Francis to Australia.

As a ship’s steward, he may have sailed here with his job; perhaps he fell in love, and decided to stay.

Whatever the reason, Len was residing in Wagga when he enlisted with the AIF in February, 1915.

Len embarked for the battlefields of Gallipoli aboard HMAT ‘Ceramic’ on June 25, 1915.

The men of the 19th Battalion trained in Egypt from late July until mid-August, and on August 21 August landed at ANZAC Cove.

Many of the recruits in this battalion had served with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force that captured German New Guinea in 1914.

Although Len had not participated in this, he did have prior military experience.

He had served for three and a half years with the Post Office Rifles and the 8th City of London Territorials, but was discharged when he emigrated to Australia.

At Gallipoli,  the 19th Battalion participated in the last action of the August offensive, also known as ‘the attack on Hill 60’, before settling into defensive routine in the trenches.

The August offensive was the last major attempt made by the Allies at Gallipoli to break the stalemate that had persisted since the landings on April 25.

The offensive began with the diversionary attack at Lone Pine on the afternoon of August 6, and the last phase took place between August 21 and 27.

 All battles resulted in heavy loss of life.

Wounded

On August 25, Len was shot through the right groin, and the bullet exited through his right buttock.

It was a wound that effectively ended his active service, when he was left with pain in his groin and testicles, particularly at the end of a full day’s work.

Len was repatriated home to Australia from Suez aboard the Hospital Ship ‘Kanowna’.

Discharged as permanently unfit, Len returned to Australia, and took up the position of Recruiting Officer at Wagga.

He must have felt that he had gone full circle, starting once again where he, himself enlisted.

Alongside Sergeant Harry Watson, Len was in charge of recruiting volunteers for active service.

Len spent several months in this position, before attempting to enlist for a second time, which he did in November, 1917.

On leaving Wagga, he was given a farewell at the Wagga Town Hall, thrown by the members of the War Service Committee and assembled friends on the evening of Thursday, July 26.

Of the occasion, The Daily Advertiser reported that:

“Eulogistic references to the manner in which the guest had carried out his duties as recruiting officer, to the constant courtesy which he envinced to all those who came in contact with him, and to the generous sympathy with which he had treated many returned men in need of assistance, were made by numerous speakers.

“On behalf of the many friends who had subscribed, the chairman (John Jeremy) then presented Lieutenant Francis with a purse of bank notes and a case of pipes, and wished him and the future Mrs Francis every happiness.

“Lieutenant Francis, in response, said he could never have got through the work in Wagga had it not been for the support accorded him by the public.

“He believed the Wagga War Service Committee was second to none in the State. “He paid a tribute to the help and advice given him on many occasions by the secretary of the War Service Committee, Mr R. Emblen.

“’As soldiers’, continued the speaker, ‘we feel our first job is to fight. We feel that we can hear a sort of coo-ee from the trenches. I seem to hear the few of my old pals who are left calling for Francis, and Francis feels he ought to go.’”

Marriage

Two nights later, Len left Wagga on the Saturday night express for Sydney, where he was engaged to be married on August 4, 1917.

Len wed May Corfield at St. John’s Church of England, Bishopthorpe, Glebe, in what was described as ‘a pretty military wedding’.

The bride, only daughter of Mr and Mrs Corfield of Croydon, wore a charming frock of white satin de chene georgette and silver tissue lace trimmed with small silver tassels.

Six weeks later, Len re- entered military training camp for a further term of service.

Len’s attestation papers do not disclose any further details of the military service that he undertook, but due to the military’s decision to discharge him previously as medically unfit, it is highly unlikely that he left Australian shores.

On March 5, 1918, it was recommended that Len be once more discharged as permanently unfit for duty.

After the war Len settled with his wife in Warialda.

Here, he took up the position of Town Clerk for the Municipality, and was secretary to the Warialda Pasture Protection Board.

He was popular throughout the district, and had many friends in Inverell.

Len was a Freemason and held the position of secretary to the Warialda Masonic Lodge.

It was here, inside the Temple that his body was discovered on the afternoon of Monday, March 6, 1922.

Tragic end

When he did not return to lunch, his wife May, called Mr A. Stewart of the Warialda ‘Standard’ newspaper.

The assistant of the Town Hall had told Mary that her husband had gone to the Masonic Temple, and as Mr Stewart had a set of keys, she asked if he would enter the building to enquire about her husband’s whereabouts.

The Scone Advocate reported that:

“On entering the building he found the deceased lying prostrate on the floor, and immediately sent for a doctor and the police. The body was then removed to the hospital morgue. An examination of the room disclosed a tin of strychnine, together with a cup and spoon, behind a picture.”

Len had purchased the tin of strychnine from the chemist F.C. Francis at around 9.30 that morning.

The deceased left two short notes, one to Mr Stewart and the second, to his wife.

The note to May read:

“My dear Chick – I am sorry to leave you, but bear up for mum’s sake – she will look after you Hubby.”

As a postscript he wrote:

“It is not fair to leave you to bear the shame.”

Following a coronial inquest, no motive was adduced to the act, and a verdict of suicide by the wilful self-administration of the poison strychnine was returned.

Len was just 31 years old.

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