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australian rowers profiles and history

Leslie J Hobson

Ballarat City Rowing Club (VIC)

Leslie (Les) James Hobson was the son of Edward Ebenezer Hobson and Elizabeth Hobson. His father was a well-respected painter and paperhanger and ran E. E. Hobson’s in Doveton Street, Ballarat. His father was killed tragically in a buggy accident in July 1913 when Leslie would have been would have been 16 or 17. He was well educated and wrote with a lovely “hand” as evidenced by his enlistment form. Leslie was a very active young man and involved in many sporting clubs in the town. He played cricket with two other Ballarat City members Mr. Krausgrill and Otto Ehms. He was also involved with the Ballarat Harriers with Otto Ehms. He was member of a local tennis team and played regularly through 1914, he played in a billiards team, and was a member of the Ballarat City Rowing Club. 

He probably joined the club about 1910 as the earliest reference found was for a meeting of the club in 1911 at the Wheatsheaf Hotel opposite the shed, to farewell Mr. Sams. Les was listed as having contributed to the “harmony”. He attended St. David’s Church and was active in the choir and was active in the YMCA being on the first committee of the YMCA Harriers. He also served two years in the Senior Cadets. He had older brothers but he was the youngest. He lived at 12 Doveton Street South, with his mother and was single and a draper's assistant when he enlisted in the 21st Battalion, 14th Reinforcement on 17 January 1916 at the age of 23 and 11 months. In November 1915 Les Hobson was part of a Citizen’s Committee who provided entertainment for soldiers in the Camp at the Ballarat Showgrounds. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Wilton Bolton was in charge of the camp. Lieutenant Colonel Bolton was also President of the Ballarat City Rowing Club at the time. Did he have some influence on Les’ decision to join up in little over a month later in mid-January 1916?  

His unit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A32 Themistocles on 28 July 1916. He was killed in action around the 20th March 1917. The tragedy of his story is no one knows exactly when or where or how he was killed. Here was a well liked, community minded young man who in death appears to have disappeared.

His is by far the saddest of the stories of the men killed in action whose names are listed on the club honour board because there was so little information available about him. According to the military records he was killed in action in France on the 24 of February 1917. Nobody appears to have witnessed his death, no-one seems to know the exact date and no-one seems to have been directly involved except for the Battalion Padre who, again, very little was known about. Les had just returned to the front after a stint in hospital for ingrown toenails. He is one of those soldiers who were literally killed by the roadside and was buried in France and buried where he fell. No details were sent to his grieving mother and it was only two brief paragraphs in the Red Cross Missing and Wounded file from his commanding officer J. F. McLaren in September 1917 that confirmed his death. 

“He was in the D Company, 15th Platoon. He was killed on the road about half way between Vaux and Langatte in March 1917, and buried where he fell. The Church of England Padre attached to the Battalion was at the burial and will be able to give exact location of the grave. I do not remember the padre’s name.” Informant J. F. McLaren (910), 21st Australian, D Company 15th, 21st,Australian Camp, Fromelles.

The second informant was Private H. Kelly and his statement was “ He came from Ballarat and worked in a drapery establishment. He was killed near Gavrelle near Vaux in March 1917, and I heard that the Padre of the Battalion in company with Captain Jones (since killed at Bullecourt) and found and buried the body sometime after. The padre is still with the Battalion”. 

In the confusion of war there was no accurate date, they thought it was in March. There was no accurate location just somewhere along the road and there is no indication of how he died. There is no evidence that the Padre was ever found and the location of the grave identified. Another sad, quiet, lonely death of a young man who had so much promise.

An interesting side note is that his suitcase was returned to his mother from Mrs. E. Martin of 60 Barrow Road, Streatham, London. Did Les stay with her at some stage? Did he leave his suitcase for safe keeping? How did Mrs. Martin know he was dead and to forward the case to his mother? The suitcase contents also reveal a bit about Les. It contained  1 comb, 1 ring (9ct gold), 1 pair sleeve links, 2 ties, 1 handkerchief, 2 collars, 1 singlet, 1 shirt, 1 scarf, 1 testament, 1 brush, 1 lanyard, 1 cigarette case, 1 fountain pen, 1 pair of boots, 2 note books, 18 military books, 1 diary, letters and photos. 

While he is commemorated at the Ballarat Avenue of Honour, his name does not appear on any other memorials in France.

Kate Elliott
October 2021

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