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Sproston-L-G-Pte-427 (redirected from Sproston L G Pte 724)

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 3 years, 7 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918 


Private Leonard George Sproston, Sydney Mail, 12 May 1915, page 14.

Courtesy of Kim Phillips, The Spirits of Gallipoli.


Sproston, Leonard George    Pte   7 Inf Bn    Aged 20    Market gardener    Single      C of E  

Address: Ascot Vale, Filson St, 3    

Next of kin: Sproston, William Henry, 3 Filson St, Ascot Vale      

Enlisted: 17 Aug 1914    

Embarked: A20 Hororata 19 Oct 1914

Prior Service: CMF 58 Inf Bn  


Relatives on Active Service

May have been a cousin of Holland-H-S-Pte-2881 whose mother was a Sproston.


Date of death:  27/04/1915



Leonard George Sproston


by Marilyn Kenny


Leonard George Sproston was mourned by two communities. His death was amongst the first on that grim roll call of 60,000 which Australia would be called on to acknowledge in the next four years. The immense shock at the news of the first casualties indicates how unprepared society was for the certainty that there was death and disaster in war rather than glory and victory.


On Saturday 1 May 1915 the news reached Essendon of the Gallipoli landings. The Essendon Gazette reported that Great consternation was aroused in the Essendon district on Saturday when it became known that the Australian troops, who had landed in Gallipoli, at the Dardanelles, and who had come to grips with the Turks, had lost some of their number, others being wounded….


General grief and sympathy were felt on all hands, especially as the Essendon lads had such a good record and were so well spoken of by their commanding officer.  Full details have not come to hand, and fresh news still comes filtering through…. The war seems to have come home to all Australians, and there is no doubt that the calamity is a great one….. Regret is widespread at the bad news, and the lot fell to different clergymen of the district to impart the sad information to the relatives of the deceased soldiers… There is no doubt that “our boys” have been selling their lives dearly, and that they have been giving a good account of themselves. When the news became known, the flags at the Essendon Town Hall and the Moonee Ponds bowling green were put at half-mast, while several photos of the killed and wounded local soldiers have been screened at the Moonee Ponds Theatre.  Proceedings at the Monday evening Essendon Council meeting were hushed, with Councilors speaking in husky voices that trembled with emotion when listing those, on this, the first casualty list”.


One of the five deaths reported that day was of Leonard George Sproston, a private of  7  Infantry Battalion.  Leonard’s military career with the 1st AIF was brief.  He enlisted on 17 August 1914, the first day that attestations were commenced at Moonee Ponds. Given the Regimental Number 427 Len, along with other Essendon boys, was allocated by Lt Col Elliott to D Company. After training at Broadmeadows he embarked on 18 October on HMAT A20 Hororata. He was a Pioneer, taking on engineering and construction tasks. Leonard disembarked in Egypt on 6 December and undertook further training at Mena Camp, Cairo. Len celebrated his 21st birthday in Egypt.  


Victorian troops embarking Hororata at Port Melbourne, September 1915. The HMAT A20 Hororata weighed 9,400 tons with an average cruise speed of 14knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd,London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 11 September 1917. AWM PB0438.


Len's company left Alexandria on 8 April 1915, arriving at Lemnos on 11 April. On 24  April the ship left Mudros Harbour, steaming to Gallipoli for the Landing at dawn on 25 April. Leonard was probably wounded sometime in the next 48 hours, transferred to a ship, died there of wounds, and was buried at sea on 27 April 1915, 37 weeks after enlisting. There was no record of illness, misdemeanors or gallantry.  Seventeen months after their farewell his family received a brown paper parcel containing his effects: a disc, knives, scissors, New Testament, pipe, money belt, swan pen, badge and letter.


Underpinning this uncomplicated and short lived service life is Leonard himself, whose person, life and death present some puzzles, unresolved to this day. He was born on 1 January 1894, the fourth and last child to William Henry and Jessie Sproston.  Jessie Nokes, born at Geelong, had married William Henry from  Avoca in that town in 1890. The couple had twin sons in 1890 who died in 1892. Their only daughter, Winifred was also born that year. William worked with the Victorian Railways as a shunter and signalman. The family moved to No 3 Filson St, Ascot Vale in 1909. 


Leonard had a year with the senior cadets at school and later served two years with the local 58 Regiment - the Essendon Rifles. He trained as a bicycle and motor mechanic; however, at the time of enlistment he described himself as a market gardener. At some stage Leonard had moved from his parents’ home and had established himself in the rural district of Clarinda near Clayton. Leonard was more than a casual worker in the fields, he was a part of the community, which, on his death, claimed him as one of their own. Leonard had given his religion as Church of England and the Sproston family had a link with St Paul’s the Anglican Church in Ascot Vale. In Clayton, however,  he worshiped at the Presbyterian Church where he sang in the choir.


On 15 May 1915 a special service was held in the Presbyterian Church, Clarinda in memory of Len Sproston, a member of the church. The church was crowded, an impressive address was delivered,  Kipling's Recessional hymn sung by the choir, and at the close of the service  the Dead March was played. The local community later presented a framed memorial scroll to the family. His memory continued to be honoured throughout the war years. Sproston’s name was enrolled on the Clarinda Roll of Honour unveiled in the State School there in September 1917, and when an Avenue of Honor was planted in June 1918 Len’s name was attached to one of the 75 trees planted.  Back in Essendon his name continued to appear each week in the Essendon Gazette’s roll of honour, and his name duly appeared in the Honour Boards installed in the Town Hall and at St Paul’s Church of England, Ascot Vale.


 The Roll of Honour at the Clarinda Primary School, the asterisk beside the

names of L Sproston and C Hunt indicating that they died for their country. 

Photo courtesy of Alfred Kruijshoop, 2013. 


We don’t know why Leonard relocated himself to Clayton. Was it for his health, did he have a sweetheart, was he assisting a friend or relation?


The description on Leonard’s service record suggests an attention-attracting appearance. He was tall for the time at 6 ft. 2 ins (188cms),  but of a lanky, thin build at 10st 4lbs (64 k) in weight. His complexion was dark, matching his brown eyes and dark brown hair. His angular face, looking straight out from under his slouch hat, has a pensive air. There is no hint of him being, as the Gazette describes him, a great favourite, well known as a singer and humorous entertainer”.


Uncertainty continues to exist as to the date and time of Leonard’s death. The first announcement was unequivocal in stating that he had been killed in the Landing. Then on 13 May the  Gazette reported that Leonard’s name was on the list of those wounded. It was pointed out that the Sproston family  “were entitled to special sympathy as succeeding the announcement of his death came a report that he had not been killed but was amongst the wounded. Where there is life there is hope but in this instance it told a flattering tale which was not realized. Whilst the condolences being bestowed on the family the parents of the young soldier were on account of the good news being supplanted by qualified congratulations the list was brought up to date and the sufferer was recorded as having died of wounds”.


In mid June 1915 the Army was still not in a position to confirm death details. In responding to Mrs. Sproston’s letter of 27 May asking for an official death certificate for the Life Insurance Company, they indicated that official confirming documents from the front had not yet come to hand. The certified copy of the cable eventually provided spoke of casualties occurring between 25April and 1May. At the end of 1915 Mrs. Sproston informed the Gazette  “that after anxiously waiting for nine months, she has at last learned how her son died. A returned soldier brought the information. He saw Private Sproston taken on board a hospital ship and transferred to Alexandria. Private Sproston was wounded on 27th April after being two days in the trenches. He was shot in the face and throat, and so badly wounded that he could not swallow. He died on 1st May and was buried at Alexandria”.  Would this news have been a comfort to the family; would they have continued to dwell on the inconsistancies between the official and first-hand accounts?  How did they bear the bitter irony of his injuries?


William and Jessie Sproston erected a memorial over their son’s grave at in the Church of England section Melbourne General Cemetery. “In loving memory of our dear sons Walter and Frank born 1890, died 1892; Leonard, born 1894, buried at sea 27 Apr 1915. Our soldier son, lst A.I.F., Gallipoli.”  


Frederick Claude Clift named his son, born in the September of 1915, Leonard Sproston Clift (d 1984). Clift (1879-1946) was a well-known gunsmith with a city shop. He lived at 140 Maribyrnong Rd, Moonee Ponds a fair distance from the Sprostons. The families were not contemporaneous in age, eleven years separating  both Clift and William Sproston and their sons Leonard George and Frederick George Clift (b 1905). How did the families come to know each other so well that Clift would make such a tribute?


An F Clift was manufacturing bicycle components from the Maribyrnong Rd address during the war years. Did Len and Fred senior share an interest in bicycles? Fred Clift was also a singer, a bass voice, and performed locally. Did he and Leonard share a stage? Was it Frederick senior or junior who witnessed the submission relating to Len’s entry on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour?


The family treasured the postcards sent home by Leonard. After Jessie died at the advanced age of 97 years these were preserved by sister Winnie, Mrs. David Brett.  Upon her death in 1971 they passed to the care of the Essendon Historical Society. A selection was published in 2005 in Trooping to the Middle East. Signing himself as “Your loving son”, Leonard shared his observations of foreign sights, expressed pride in his battalion’s achievements and sent greetings to friends. Within the constraints imposed by censored postcards he expressed himself in a cheerful and natural, if prosaic manner. In one however sent from Port Said he, without explanation, ended with four lines of poetry:


What will it matter when the war is o'er
What sea shall contain them or on what shore
Though they be sleeping afar from their home
Not there will we look but to God's Great Dome.


What meaning did this have for Len, why did he send it to his family, what message was he conveying? Given his fate it is eerily prophetic. The final mystery is the origin of the verse. It was known to Leonard’s contemporaries but today cannot be sourced[i]. It is however a fitting self-selected epitaph for this ordinary young ANZAC.


Courtesy of Kim Phillips, The Spirits of Gallipoli.



© M Kenny 2013







Essendon Gazette, Flemington Spectator , Oakleigh and Caulfield Times Mulgrave and Ferntree Gully Guardian, Dandenong Advertiser and Cranbourne, Berwick and Oakleigh Advocate, The Argus 


National Archives of Australia Series B2455


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour


Austin R, Our Dear Old Battalion the Story of the 7th Battalion AIF 1914-1919, Slouch Hat 2004


Kenny, Marilyn, Trooping to the Middle East, Essendon Historical Society: 2005


Web sites

The Stanley Low Legacy

First World War Avenues of Honour in the present (2006) City of Monash
Clayton, Oakleigh, Waverley districts of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia        

[i] When the author’s own search for the origin of this verse was unsuccessful she ‘Asked a Librarian’ at the SLV.  Barbara Carswell, Reference Librarian, conducted an intensive specialist search. She searched the Columbia Granger Poetry database as well as a number of print and poetry indexes, the internet and online sources using different lines and keywords from the poem all without success. She also consulted a number of State Library poetry books published during World War I and some hymn books, but could not find the poem. This poem (or hymn) seems to have been widely known, as she found three other World War I references to it on the internet. They contain additional lines, but unfortunately not one of them lists the source. Thank you Barbara. 



Mrs.  W. H. Sproston of 8 Filson st, Ascot Vale, mother of Private L. G. Sproston, 7th Batt, writes us that after anxiously waiting for nine months, she has at last learned how her son died. A returned soldier brought the information. He saw Private Sproston taken on board a hospital ship and transferred to Alexandria. Private Sproston was wounded on 27th April after being two days in the trenches. He was shot in the face and throat, and so badly wounded that he could not swallow. He died on 1st May and was buried at Alexandria. 

 No Title. (1916, January 13). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 5. Retrieved January 21, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74591483




The following has been received by Miss W. Sproston, Filson street, Ascot Vale:


Just a few lines to thank you for the billy. All the articles were exceedingly useful-the cocoa, cigs., sardines and numerous other things, which were indeed very welcome. I have travelled round Victoria, and am quite familiar with Essendon; also the place which has a similar name up in Queensland. Many a time I have strolled through Queen's Park. I should be delighted   to be able to do so soon again, too.

CHRISTMAS BILLIES. (1916, March 16). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 4 Edition: Morning.. Retrieved January 27, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74592248




SPROSTON.-In loving memory of Pte. L. G. Sproston (Len.), who fell in battle at Gallipoli, in the closing days of April, 1915.


"But few who have heard their death knell roll  

From the cannon's lips where they faced the foe  

Have fallen as stout and steady of soul

As that dead man gone where we all must go." --Gordon.


Inserted by his loving parents and sister Winnie, W. H., and J. Sproston, Ascot Vale.


Family Notices. (1916, April 27). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: Morning.. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74592767


Private Leonard G. Sproston, aged 21, a member of the 7th  Battalion. He was a great favourite and was well known as a singer and humorous entertainer. His parents reside at 3 Filson street, Ascot Vale.

6 May 1915, Essendon Gazette


Mentioned in these publications

Trooping to the Middle East, 1916: the trooping journals of Colonel John Evans by Marilyn Kenny.

The book is illustrated with many of Leonard's postcards home.

The Heroes and War Memorials of Mulgrave by Brian C Askew.  The Author: Mulgrave, 2007.



Leonard's sister Winnie Sproston received postcards from Holland-H-S-Pte-2881.  Held at the Essendon Historical Society Inc.


War Service Commemorated

Patriotic Concert 

“Send off to the Essendon Boys”

Essendon Town Hall R-Y

St Pauls Anglican Church, Ascot Vale

ANZ Hon Dead 25 Apr 1915

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour DOW

Clarinda Roll of Honour - Died for their Country


In Memoriam


SPROSTON.-In loving memory of Pte. L. G.

Sproston (Len), who fell in battle at Gallipoli in

the closing days of April, 1915.

"But few who have heard their death knell toll -

From the cannon's lips where they faced the


Have fallen as stout and steady of soul

As that dead man gone where we all must


-(Inserted by his loving parents and sister Winnie.)


SPROSTON.-In loving memory of a dear friend,

Leonard George Sproston, who died from wounds

received at the landing of the first Australian soldiers

at Gaba Tepe, on the closing days of April, 1915,

aged 21 years.

One of the brave Seventh.

-(Inserted by L.S. and A.S., Kensington.)


SPROSTON.-In affectionate remembrance of my

dear nephew, Leonard George Sproston (Len),

who died of wounds, received 27th April, 1915,

in active service at Gallipoli.

Though death divides fond memory clings.

(Inserted by his aunt, E C N., Ascotvale.)   

The Argus, 29 April 1916



SPROSTON.-In sad and loving memory of our

dear Leonard (Private L. G. Sproston, 7th Bat-

talion), who died at sea from wounds received

on April 27, 1915, in action at Gallipoli.

Sadly missed.

-(Inserted by father, mother, and sister Winnie,



SPROSTON.-A tribute to the memory of our dear

friend, Private Len. G. Sproston, late of the 7th

Battalion, who died 27th April, 1915, from

wounds received at Gallipoli.

"One of Australia's brave sons."

- (Inserted by Mrs. Terry, Pearl, and Rupert

on active service).


SPROSTON.-In loving memory of my dear friend,

Leonard G. Sproston, of the 7th Battalion, who 

died from wounds received at Gallipoli on the

closing days of April, 1915

The Argus, 28 April 1917



SPROSTON-In sad and loving memory of my dear 
brother, Leonard (Pte L G Sproston, 7th Batt, 1st
A.I F ) who died at sea on hospital ship from
wounds received in action at Gallipoli, 27th April,
Dear to my memory, dear to my heart,
Love for my brother never will part,
I miss him and mourn him in silence unseen,
And dwell on the memory of days that have
Dear Leonard
-(Inserted by his sorrowing sister Winnie, Ascot

The Argus 27 April 1918



No other years checked


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