SX13769 Corporal Leonard George NEATE – wounded twice in battle and once in training
Leonard George NEATE was born at Jamestown (SA) on 10 January 1918, the third of four children of William (Bill) Malcolm NEATE and Lily Eliza NEATE (nee DACK).
Len, as he was known, was educated at Jamestown Public School and was working for his parents on the family farm, initially at Caltowie but his parents sold that property and moved to Wirrega, 28 kilometres east of Keith (SA). Two of Len’s brothers walked the livestock from Caltowie to Wirrega. Len was 23 years and four months old when he enlisted in the 2nd AIF on 21 July 1941. After some basic training with the 3rd Training Battalion, Len was posted to the 2/10th Infantry Battalion reinforcements. After pre-embarkation leave, he was transferred to the 10th Reinforcement Unit of the 2/48th Infantry Battalion on 30 October; the next day he entrained for Sydney. The 2/48th Battalion was already in the Middle East; Len arrived there on 24 November 1941 and was immediately sent to the 26th Infantry Training Battalion for desert warfare training. More training followed with the 9th Australian Infantry Special Group and it was not until 23 May 1942, that Len arrived at the 2/48th Battalion’s garrison base. The Battalion was part of the 9th Australian Division that had been withdrawn from the defence of Tobruk in October 1941 and sent to Syria and Palestine for rest and garrison duties.
By early July 1942, German and Italian forces had reached El Alamein in Egypt, about seventy miles from Alexandria. The war in North Africa had become critical for the British Eighth Army. The 9th Division was consequently rushed from Syria to the Alamein area and held the northern sector for almost four months, as the Eighth Army was reinforced for an offensive against the Axis Forces.
The Battalion took up defensive positions at Shammama Halt late morning of July 6th; shortly after they suffered an aerial assault by enemy bombers killing one soldier and wounding five in ‘D’ Company. The 9th Division’s orders for the first main attack were issued on 7 July. The 26th Brigade would advance along the coast and capture the feature known as ‘Tel el Eisa’, running northwest between the railway line and the sea. This would create a wedge between the Germans and the sea.
Attacking just before dawn on 10 July, the 2/48th Battalion took its first objectives and captured about 400 prisoners. Tel el Eisa was captured the following morning. The fighting was bitter and there were enemy attacks and counter-attacks with tank and aerial assaults. The fighting raged for another two weeks and it was not until 27 July, that the enemy forces, now suffering great losses they could ill-afford, and denied critical supplies, withdrew from the battle-front.
The Second Battle of El Alamein commenced on 23 October and was fought until 11 November. The 2/48th was again at the front and the fighting was bitter and intense, and many casualties were suffered. Len was wounded in action (GSW right buttock) on October 31 and evacuated to the 2/3rd Field Ambulance. After getting patched up, he quickly rejoined his unit on November 2 and fought on until the Germans withdrew from the battlefield nine days later.
Alamein was a great success for the Allies and the Axis forces were in general retreat. With the battle over, the 9th Division was needed back in Australia to defend against the Japanese. The Battalion sailed from Suez on 1 February 1943 and docked in Melbourne on 25 February 1943. The men of the Battalion were given a couple of weeks leave and were next in Queensland where they trained for jungle warfare at their new home at Kairi, near Atherton.
On August 3, the Battalion sailed from Cairns aboard the USS Henry MT Allen and disembarked at Lae, New Guinea and then moved to the Gili Gili area where they trained for the next two weeks.
Now reorganised for jungle operations, on September 4, the 2/48th took part in the 6th Division’s amphibious landing at Red Beach, northwest of Lae, and fought in the battles around Lae, Finschhafen, and Sattelberg. On September 25, Len was evacuated to the 2/11th Aust. General Hospital suffering from P.U.O (pyrexia of unknown origin); two weeks later he was suffering from scrub typhus. On October 19, he was transferred to the 113th Australian Convalescent Depot at Sogeri Valley for rehabilitation, later rejoining the Battalion on December 8, which was then located at Sattelberg following the capture of the town by the Battalion on November 25.
On December 22, the Battalion travelled to Scarlet Beach where they bivouacked at Katika, then travelled by barge to Sanga River and by January 7, 1944 the men were at Dalman River. After a week, the Battalion moved back to Finschhafen where they boarded the USS Edward N Westcott for the journey to Brisbane. During the month of January 1944, over three hundred men, out of the Battalion strength of 900, were evacuated to hospital suffering from malaria and dengue fever; the conditions the troops were operating under were appalling.
The men disembarked in Brisbane on 20 February 1944 and were granted leave. The Battalion reformed at Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands. During June, Len was sent on two NCO Training Cadre courses with the 26th Infantry Brigade’s Training Wing. On September 29, he was accidentally wounded in the right thigh during training and evacuated to the 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station and then onto the 2/2nd Aust General Hospital; after some convalescence Len returned to his unit to learn he had been promoted to the rank of corporal effective from October 30.
On April 3, 1945 the 6th Division was transported to Morotai, the staging area for the forthcoming invasion and recovery of Borneo and the oilfields there. The 26th Brigade, including the 2/48th Battalion, landed on Tarakan on May 1. The two lead battalions were the 2/48th and the 2/23rd, with the 2/24th in reserve. After a massive pre-invasion air and naval bombardment, there was no opposition on the beaches. However, sharp Japanese fire came from Lingkas Hill. The two battalions pushed inland towards the Tarakan township, overcoming Japanese resistance as they went and by that night had established a beachhead 2.5 km wide and 2 km deep. Almost all objectives had been taken but tougher fighting was still to come.
From 6 May to 16 June 1945, the mountain ridges behind the town were the scenes of bitter fighting. In this area of tangled hills and jungle-covered ridges, the Japanese used mines, booby traps, and suicide raids to delay the Australian advance. The 2/48th was involved in the bitter fighting to capture Sykes and Freda features. It was here that Len was wounded yet again, this time by grenade shrapnel in both legs; he was evacuated from the battlefield and put aboard an LST to Morotai for recovery. On August 15, the Australians learned that the Japs had surrendered; by August 20, Len was back at Tarakan with the Battalion and on September 4, he was promoted to lance sergeant.
Len remained with the 2/48th until October 25, when he transferred to the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion. With the war over, demobilisation was under way and the ranks of the 2/3rd gradually thinned, as men were discharged or transferred. On December 6, 1945 Len embarked aboard the Stanford Victory, disembarking in Brisbane eight days later. He entrained to Adelaide, arriving there on December 22. He reverted to the rank of corporal
Len spent the next few months at the general depot at Wayville and was given frequent stints of leave prior to his discharge on March 20, 1946.
Of the four years and eight months Len had served in the army, he had spent 481 days in the Middle East, 202 days in New Guinea and 256 days in Morotai and Tarakan – a total of 939 days out of Australia on active service.
Len returned to Wirrega but the farm was not large enough to support his father and three sons. The change of life from being in combat for over four years to farm life was pretty challenging for Len; he was unsettled and decided to move on. He travelled to Esperance in Western Australia to look at the viability of farming there but decided on somewhere closer to home. Len sharefarmed for some cousins around Yeelanna on southern Eyre Peninsula and in 1951 he purchased 2,000 acres at Brooker, near Cummins, and began clearing the land. It was hard work and long hours, in the early days there was no running water, electricity or telephone.
Len married Isa THOMAS in 1952 and there were two children of the marriage. Len and Isa continued to farm until they retired to Tumby Bay in 1977; they moved to Victor Harbor in 1985. Like many veterans, Len spoke little about the war over the ensuring years; he was a member and strong supporter of the Cummins RSL and then later a member of the Victor Harbor RSL. Each year he would drive to Adelaide for the annual ANZAC march where he joined his mates of the 2/48th Battalion Association.
Len died on 19 July 1997 and is interred in the Victor Harbor Cemetery.
Service file of SX13769 Leonard George NEATE purchased from the National Archives of Australia by his daughter Julie CARMICHAEL (nee NEATE).
GLENN, John, Tobruk to Tarakan: The Story of the 2/48th Battalion, A.I.F. Rigby Ltd, Adelaide (1960).