b. 03/11/1885 Paddington, London. d. 12/10/1951 Paddington, London.
Leonard Maurice Keysor (1885-1951) was born in Lanhill Road, Paddington, London, on 3rd November 1885, the second son and third child of clock importer Benjamin Kyezor and his wife Julia nee Benjamin. It is believed Benjamin changed the family name to Keyzor around 1890. Leonard’s service record regularly spells his name with a “s” or a “z” and it was only after World War One and as a result of the constant misspelling of his surname, that Leonard officially adopted the name Keysor on his return to England.
Educated at Tonnleigh Castle, Ramsgate, Kent, he emigrated to Canada in 1904. He settled there for ten years until his restless spirit led him to Australia, where he had a sister. He had been in Sydney, living with his relatives in Bayswater Road, Darlinghurst, for barely three months when war broke out. He enlisted in the 1st Battalion, AIF on 18th August 1914, the day after his unit formed at Victoria Barracks, Sydney, and gave his occupation as a clerk. He embarked with the 1st Battalion on 18th October, bound for Egypt. He took part in the landings on 25th April 1915, and was promoted to Lance-Corporal in June.
Early in the morning on 6th August 1915 the 1st Battalion carried out a diversionary attack at Lone Pine and after heavy fighting that lasted almost the entire day they managed to capture the Turkish trenches. After this more fighting would continue around the position for the next three days as the Turks attempted to regain the position. The fighting was carried out at close range, using bayonets and improvised grenades and bombs. Over the course of about 50 hours on 7–8th August, Keysor continually risked his life to pick up the Turkish grenades as they were thrown into the trenches and throw them back. Later, despite being wounded and ordered to seek medical attention, Keysor continued to remain in the line, volunteering to throw bombs for another company.
After his VC award, he was transferred to the Bulford Depot on 8th June 1916 before rejoining the 1st Battalion in time to take part in the heavy fighting around Pozieres on the Somme that same summer. Transferred as acting sergeant to the 42nd Battalion on 20th November, he proceeded with his new unit to France five days later and was promptly promoted to sergeant and, then, on 13th January, second lieutenant. In April 1917, he was invalided to England suffering from neuralgia, though the root cause of his problems was a fall in early February while walking along a duckboard trail while in the line at L’Eppinette. He had soldiered on for ten weeks, before reporting sick on 14th April, though it was another three weeks before an X-Ray revealed a broken right shoulder. The injury kept him out of action for the rest of the year, during which he was promoted to Lieutenant and spent four months as Adjutant of a training depot in Weymouth.
He finally rejoined the 42nd on 21st February 1918 and the following month was hospitalised again after being shot in the left arm on 27th March. Evacuated to England, where his wound healed quickly, he returned to the Front on 11th May only to fall victim to gas poisoning following a mustard gas bombardment on the Somme. He was invalided out for the rest of the war. He returned to Australia as part of a recruiting drive but this was short-lived when the armistice was signed. He was discharged on 12th December as medically unfit and resumed work as a clerk.
Two years later he returned to London to join his father’s business, and on 21st July 1921 he married his cousin, Gladys Benjamin at the Hill Street Synagogue. In 1927, Keysor was persuaded to re-enact his bomb-throwing exploits for a film called “For Valour”. The venture went wrong when one of the bombs filled with flash powder went off near Keysor. He had to be treated for cuts and burns. This was a rare appearance in public for a very shy man, who described himself as “a common or garden clock importer” and insisted “the war was the only adventure I ever had.”
Leonard died of cancer aged sixty-five on 12th October 1951 in London. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium after a memorial service at the Liberal Jewish synagogue in St John’s Wood. His Victoria Cross was bought by the Australian Returned Services League in 1977 and it now forms part of the collection at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA
BURIAL PLACE: GOLDERS GREEN CREMATORIUM, LONDON. ASHES IN URN NICHE 5413
Cremated in London, plaque at Rookwood Cemetery and Crematorium, Sydney, NSW
Leonard Keysor's medals - Memorials to Valour
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
War Illustrated, 5th February 1916
Courtesy of Paul Deeprose
MOD Building, London (Terry Hissey)