Military History

The Highest Honour #30 | Joseph Maxwell | Leslie Maygar

By The Cove August 9, 2021


Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell VC, MC and Bar, DCM (1896 - 1967, 71 yo)

Joseph Maxwell was born on 10 February 1896 at Annandale Sydney. Employed as a boilermaker in Newcastle, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 08 February 1915.

Upon enlistment he was posted to the 18th Battalion and served at Gallipoli before moving to France in March 1916. In October he was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to to a training battalion in England. In May 1917 he briefly returned to France before being sent back to England to attend Officer training.  While under training Maxwell was involved in a brawl with military and civilian authorities and was fined and returned to his unit. He was promoted to Warrant Officer in August and appointed as a Company Sergeant Major.

In September, during the 3rd battle of Ypres, Maxwell took command of a platoon after its officer had been killed and led it in the attack. Later he safely extricated men from a newly captured position under intense enemy fire. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and a few days later was commissioned in the field as Second Lieutenant; and was promoted Lieutenant in January 1918. In March he led a scouting patrol east of Ploegsteert and after obtaining the required information ordered his men to withdraw. He was covering them when he saw a large party of Germans nearby. Recalling the patrol, he organised and led a successful attack, an action for which he was awarded the Military Cross.

In August, during the offensive near Rainecourt, Maxwell, the only officer in his company who was not a casualty, took command and, preceded by a tank, led his men into the attack on time. The tank received a direct hit and Maxwell, although shaken by the explosion, rescued the crew before the tank burst into flames. He continued the attack and the company reached its objective. He was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.

Maxwell was awarded the Victoria Cross after an attack on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme line near Estrées on 03 October 1918. After his company commander was wounded he took charge. Reaching the strong enemy wire under intense fire, he pushed forward alone through a narrow passageway in the wire and captured the most dangerous machine-gun, disposing of the crew. His company was thus able to penetrate the wire and take the objective. Shortly afterwards, again single-handed, he silenced a machine-gun holding up a flank company. Later, with two men and an English-speaking prisoner, he encouraged about twenty Germans in a nearby post to surrender, and in doing so was briefly captured himself. Awaiting his opportunity, he drew a pistol concealed in his respirator haversack, killed two of the enemy and escaped with his men under heavy rifle-fire. He then organised a party and captured the post.

At only 22 years of age Maxwell had been awarded the DCM, MC and Bar and the VC. He returned to Australia in 1919 where he worked in a variety of occupations in Sydney, Canberra and New South Wales towns. Later in life his health was unstable but at the start of World War 2 attempted to re-enlist but was unsuccessful due to his age, so he travelled to Queensland and successfully enlisted into 2nd Australian Imperial Force under a false name. His identity was soon identified and he was discharged. In 1956 he was married for a second time and in 1964 he and his wife attended the opening of VC corner in the Australian War Memorial. Maxwell was adamant that his V.C. would not end up there, as he took the view that 'lumping' all the V.C.s together cheapened the award.

On 06 July 1967 Maxwell collapsed and died of a heart attack in a street in his home suburb of Matraville. After a service with military honours at St Matthias Anglican Church, Paddington, he was cremated. His widow donated his medals to the Army Museum, Victoria Barracks, Paddington. Some sources believe that Maxwell is the second most decorated soldier from World War 1.

Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Cecil Maygar VC (1868 - 1917, 49 yo)

Leslie Maygar was born on 27 May 1868 in Kilmore, Victoria. Upon completion of schooling he worked with his father and brothers on the family owned Strathearn Station in Euroa. In March 1891 Maygar joined the Victorian Mounted Rifles.

Due to a tooth problem Maygar was not accepted among the first volunteers at the start of the South African War but went with the 5th Mounted Rifles contingent, arriving in Cape Town in March 1901. After seeing action throughout South Africa the detachment transferred to Natal in August 1901. At Geelhoutboom, on 23 November 1901, Lieutenant Maygar was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing a fellow Victorian whose horse had been shot. With the enemy only 200 yards away Maygar dismounted, put the man on his own horse, told him to gallop for the British lines, and ran back under heavy fire. His V.C. was presented by Lord Kitchener. Before returning home in March 1902 he was also Mentioned in Dispatches.

Maygar continued to serve and was promoted to Captain in 1905. On the outbreak of World War One he enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force and in August was appointed a Captain in the 4th Light Horse Regiment. At Gallipoli he was promoted to Major and on 17 October 1915 was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given temporary command of the 8th Light Horse Regiment. During the evacuation of Gallipoli, Maygar, left in command of forty men, was instructed to hold the trenches, at all costs, until 0230h. He wrote: 'I had my usual good luck to be given command of the last party to pull out of the trenches, the post of honour for the 3rd L.H. Brigade'.

Maygar led his regiment throughout its service in the Sinai and Palestine. During the 2nd battle of Gaza, on 19 April 1917, the 8th Regiment was in a most exposed sector and suffering heavy casualties. Maygar rode about the battlefield all day on his grey charger and 'in every crisis stirred the spirit of his regiment by his example in the firing line'. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in June 1917, and was thrice Mentioned in Dispatches in 1916-18. Late on the day of the battle of Beersheba, 31 October 1917, a German aeroplane, using bombs and machine-guns, hit Maygar whose arm was shattered. The grey bolted into the darkness and was found later by 8th Regiment troopers but Maygar was not with him. 'He was picked up during the night by other troops and, having lost too much blood, died the next day at Karm'. L. C. Maygar, 'Elsie' as he was affectionately known, was 'a true fighting commander' and was a much-admired leader.


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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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