Despite watching his father die from respiratory problems after being gassed in WW1, a young Leonard McLeod was determined to join the Army when WW2 broke out.
CAPTION: Leonard McLeod visits a memorial garden at Kokoda Army Barracks. Story by Leading Seaman Kylie Jagiello. Photo by Leading Aircraftwoman Kate Czerny.
He was only 13 at the time, so two years later, he put his age up to enlist.
It was a process he became familiar with after being kicked out multiple times for being underage – including once when his mum informed authorities.
Enlisting four times under three different surnames, Mr McLeod found himself on a troop-train from Melbourne to Brisbane as the first infantry intake at the Land Headquarters Training Centre (Jungle Warfare), Canungra in 1942. The training centre was renamed the Land Warfare Centre in 1975.
Some 81 years later, he returned to Canungra and reminisced about his time in the Army.
“When I walked through the entrance back then, there was absolutely nothing, not even a gate, and now I see it as a beautiful place,” Mr McLeod said.
“The only thing they taught us was how to fire a rifle, something I had been doing since I was young.”
At the completion, he boarded a troop ship for Port Moresby and, on the first night, had his first taste of war when the compound was bombed.
Working on the Douglas C-47 “biscuit bombers”, Mr McLeod would lie on the floor of the aircraft and kick out supplies to Australian troops.
“I would lay down and hang on to the side of the plane waiting for the green light to go and try to push the whole lot out so that it didn’t get jammed or wedged in the door,” he said.
Doing his time on the bombers, he went on to see active service at Buna and Wau.
Sent home to Victoria on medical leave a few months later, Mr McLeod went rabbit shooting with a childhood friend. Ironically, an accidental shot to the hip and leg ended his military career.
However, his part in the war effort did not end there – he joined the US Army Small Ships supporting Gen MacArthur’s advance across the Pacific Theatre.