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Leon Elvin Edwin PILCHER


Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Signaller 6301 20y7m 19/08/19 2

Private Leon Elvin Edwin Pilcher (1895 – 1989)

 Pilcher Brothers Booklet

The Pilchers of Pentland

Richard and Lydia Pilcher and their two baby sons embarked from England on the sailing ship Stirlingshire in 1882, via the Cape of Good Hope to the port of Townsville where Richard soon owned a small business as a general blacksmith and built and invented an efficient scarifier which was exhibited in the Townsville annual show. Richard was enterprising and industrious. After establishing a successful farming business in the Ayr District, the family moved to the Deep Lead Goldfield near Cape River. 

Richard and Lydia took up land six miles from Pentland and the farm they established became the foundation of the several properties which were later worked by their sons. Pentland is a town in north-western Queensland between Charters Towers and Hughenden, 240 kilometres (150 miles) from the North Queensland city of Townsville. The Cape River rises in the area.

Mr and Mrs Pilcher stayed on their selection with their family till they died, Richard in 1939 and Lydia the following year. They were well known in their local community, notably hospitable, musical, involved in church and school activities. The family included seven sons and three daughters. 

The names of their four sons who served in the Great War appear on the honour boards in the Soldiers Memorial Hall at Pentland and Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church in Brisbane. The two older brothers, Algernon and Ernest came to Brisbane as ambulance officers and were members of Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. They enlisted to serve in the Australian Imperial Force in 1914. Their two younger brothers, Leon and Percy enlisted in Charters Towers in January 1916 and began their training at Enoggera before embarkation later that year.

Enlistment and Service

Leon enlisted for service abroad on 7 January 1916 at Charters Towers where he was a railway employee and embarked from Brisbane on HMAT Clan McGillivray on 7 September. On arrival in Plymouth, England in November he marched in to No 3 Training Battalion, Durrington but was twice admitted to hospital, firstly with mumps and then with laryngitis. Signaller Pilcher, 9th Infantry Battalion, AIF, proceeded overseas to France in May 1917. 

He wrote an interesting letter to his parents in Pentland, mentioning a Charters Towers Red Cross parcel probably posted in October 1916. It contained nuts, a tin of cocoa, a pot of extract beef, some sweets, a tin of potted meat, a tin of cheese and some writing paper. Though the contents were very much knocked about, Leon and his brother shared them with the boys and it was a treat. 

Signaller Pilcher continued in his letter,

“I want to tell you of our rather impressive church parade this morning. It was a beautiful clear sunny morning, unlike anyone sees here – quite unusual, and this evidently enticed Fritz out for a morning fly for the purpose of observation. The first hint of his presence was the sound of guns and little white fluffy puffs of smoke in the sky behind our lines, showing where shrapnel shells were bursting. Let me tell you first we are some miles behind the firing lines at present, hence the church parade.

“Well, these shells continued to burst for over an hour, and the sky for a good distance was full of little fleecy smoke clouds, then the guns stopped and we surmised the enemy planes had either got back over our lines or else been brought down. But, to our surprise, just as we started the service, anti-aircraft guns quite close to us opened up, and the little white puffs of bursting shrapnel shells appeared right overhead. Then we could see the enemy plane like a little white moth with transparent wings high up in the blue sky. He was well out of range of the guns, but they continued to boom, evidently to keep him off us. We were expecting a bomb every minute, but the Fritz must have only intended observing, as he flew round and well away for a few miles; then he came back in haste. As soon as he again got over us the guns opened up, and the air became a screaming mass of shells.

“It was a grand sight, but Fritz was much too high to be harmed by our guns, and he continued on his way back home quite leisurely, and at last was lost in space and shell smoke. All this time the service went on with the shrapnel shells bursting thousands of feet above us, and as the guns roared we sang the good old hymn, ‘Onward Christian soldiers’. It was all rather impressive, and no one seemed at all excited or agitated at the danger lurking far above.”

It so happened that Leon soon afterwards was wounded in action. He recovered in France and rejoined his battalion on 19 December 1917. In March 1918, he was again withdrawn from the battlefield, this time to Southwark Military Hospital, England suffering shell gas burns. He again proceeded overseas to France on 4 October 1918 and was wounded two days later.

Life in Australia after Service

Private Leon Pilcher returned to Australia aboard the Ormonde on 16 June 1919 and was discharged on 19 August 1919. Leon Pilcher married Elizabeth Goldsworthy in York Street Methodist Church, Charters Towers on 26 January 1924, Rev Grimmett officiating. Their Pentland property was Capeville.

Passing

Leon died on 12 August 1989, aged 94 years.

The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.                             (Mario Puzo)

Pilcher Brothers Booklet


Select Bibliography

  •  National Archives of Australia, military records
  • Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Annual Reports, 1901 – 1925
  • The Queenslander, Brisbane, 8 July 1916, 27 July 1918, 10 August 1918, 28 December 1929
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin, 4th May 1926, 26 August 1954
  • The Northern Miner, Charters Towers, 9 October 1917, 25 October 1922, 30 January 1924, 29 July 1927, 22 October 1932, 21 July 1934, 2 September 1937, 22 July 1939, 31 July 1946
  • The North Queensland Register, Townsville, 9 December 1901
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, 7 September 1918
  • Pentland Cemetery Records
  • Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Compiled by N E Adsett, Brisbane, October 2014

 

 

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