Feb 24

Leslie Hughes

Recently we have had quite lengthy correspondence regarding the life of Leslie Hughes who attended the school from c1912 to 1916

Leslie was born 4 February 1902 in Lewknor, married 2 June 1934 to Geraldine Vera Ursula Lunck in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia, and died a few months later on 28 Nov 1934.

His parents were from Welsh and Cornish families and were the two teachers at Lewknor Church of England Primary School

When about 11, Leslie competed for and won a free place to Lord Williams Grammar School. The family say he was an active sportsman in cricket and soccer and his later letters back home to England show he was still playing football in Rockhampton in his early 30s. The sparse school records found that in the under-14’s athletics in the Junior Challenge for the Spring Term in 1916, Leslie was recorded as having run 2nd in the mile, and 3rd in the 220 and 440 yard races. His wife Lily has said that his best subjects were English literature, Latin and French.

After three years education at Thame, Leslie left school at fourteen and took a position as clerk at Huntley and Palmer, a biscuit manufacturer in Reading. It seems likely that he did not work there for long as it appears Leslie then took a position at the Land Stewards Office in Reading and then worked in accountancy in Slough. His firm transferred to Caxton House in Westminster, London.

Leaving school at fourteen was quite common, in fact the default age from 1918 to 1947, when it was raised to 15 and to 16 in 1972. School leavers had a range of choices, from doing nothing, to helping in the family business, farm or whatever, low-paid while collar jobs, clerks, post office  etc, blue collar, e.g. car mechanics, factory hands, miners etc depending on the local job opportunities.

Leslie had several relatively short-lived jobs in the Reading area and then possibly London before he decided to emigrate. Perhaps none of them suited him which is why he decided to try a new life in Australia. (By this time his parents had moved from Lewknor to Culham a bigger school but still in Oxfordshire.) It is also thought that he had gone to live in London where he met and lived with new friends who had young relatives on the canefields at Proserpine in Queensland. What he heard fired his imagination to emigrate to Australia. In the end, the circumstances that led to Leslie leaving England are unknown but it has also been said he wanted to escape entrenched family attitudes that he found to be too controlling; it may merely have been the spirit of adventure of shaping an independent life in a new country and perhaps enthused by stories from other Old Tamensians who had moved overseas.

To Australia

Leslie sailed from England to Brisbane on the Orsova on 25 July 1925, sailing 3rd class and calling at Gibraltar, Toulon and Naples, through the Suez Canal but it appears that when they reached Fremantle the ship was affected by the British seamen’s international strike in 1925 and they were moored in Fremantle Harbour for possibly weeks and impatient to move. Despite this inconvenience those on board were sustained by the travel company. Eventually some people disembarked and moved-on including Leslie who worked his way overland from Perth to the canefields at Proserpine, before settling in Rockhampton, north Queensland in 1926. Here he worked for a time in raising poultry for egg and meat production, then working for a number of years in the sugar and cotton industries, before settling into an accountancy position with Lawrence’s, an automobile franchising business in Rockhampton. He was indeed fortunate to get the position because there were some 600 applications and he was recommended by an agency who interviewed him for a previous unsuccessful application, but had clearly been impressed with his credentials. Competition for employment was fierce not least because the economic depression that had gripped the world and had left to massive unemployment.

It was not all work and no play though: when not working he was active in local football as Captain of the Rovers team.

It had been his intention to return to England, most probably for a holiday in the mid 1930s, when the decision to marry intervened. He had saved assiduously and there was talk about taking his new bride to meet his parents and siblings in England. Leslie enjoyed the outdoor life of his new country but found the heat, unreliable heavy rains, the poor quality of many country roads and incessant attack from mosquitoes difficult at times; but there did not seem to be regrets about coming to his new abode and it would appear that he was committed to staying.

Leslie died prematurely in Rockhampton from a ruptured appendix and peritonitis on 28 Nov 1934, a few months before the birth of a son. He had only married Ursula on 2 June 1934. The underlying cause was that he had caught Leptospirosis, an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira. This was in the era before the development of penicillin. Being a young man with limited inheritance he left only a meagre estate. His widow Ursula soldiered on with considerable difficulty, but with substantial help from the families of her former colleagues and others who had befriended her.

In The Tamensian magazine we find two mentions of Leslie:

1932: Lesley Hughes who left in 1916 was working in the sugar and cotton industries in Queensland.

1935: the OTA received news of his death.

(With thanks to Derek Turner and Leslie Hughes’ son.)

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