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Leslie Jenner (1873–1956)

Mr. Leslie Jenner.

Ask any soldier you meet in Melbourne if he knows Mr. Leslie Jenner. He will first, pro bably, look at you incredulously, and, if he does not regard the question altogether as a joke, will assuredly answer : "Well, I should smile !" — or words to that effect. To you and me the name may not be quite so familiar, but that is explainable. They who read know most of the leading patriotic workers—by name, at all events—if only by reason of the publicity that close contact with the newspapers brings about. There are other workers of large capacity in possibly wider spheres of whom the public does not so often read. One of these is Leslie Jenner; not a mere star of a day in the political firmament, a chance hero, or an accidental man of the hour. Something immeasurably more than that, if the personal regard of anything up to 50,000 soldiers is worth mentioning. That, you will say, is big talk. So it is ; and the truth of it gives the man concerned a priceless possession. Mr. Jenner is honorary manager of the Soldiers' Rest Home on St. Kilda-road, that rendezvous of Khaki where Khaki in hundreds a day and thousands a week meets, and talks, and recreates, and writes, and reads, and rests, and eats. Khaki gets a glad hand there; no perfunctory "Good-day" in view of any benefit that his presence may bring, but the warm greeting that suggests a sincerity of belief in the brotherhood of man, and an invitation that leads the uniformed wayfarer to sit down and make himself at home in the confidence that he is just as welcome as the flowers of May. It requires a special pattern of man to control a centre of this kind—a very special pattern. The master of the house must be made to order, to permeate the atmosphere with his personality. Few paid servants can be imagined as filling the bill alongside an honorary worker of the Jenner type-a well-to-do man who has put his business interests in abeyance and relinquished pursuits of pleasure in order to give his time and talents to a present conception of duty. There are no eight hours a day or bank to bank, with time off for meals, about this job. It is twelve hours of the twenty-four, and seven days a week-no pay, but he will tell you that no joh he has ever tackled brings him the pleasure that he extracts from this work.

Son of a Parliamentarian.

By rights, Leslie Jenner, with his 6ft. 2in. of vigorous manhood, and only forty-three summers over his head, should himself be in khaki now. By rights-that is to say, if the flesh had not been just a little less willing than the spirit. Why they turned him down heaven only knows; he doesn't. Maybe the doctor could tell, but he won't. A good turn was done the community, anyhow, by his rejection, for the potential life guardsman is doing a sight more where he is than he could accomplish in bagging Huns. When young Leslie was born in St. Kilda in the early seventies, his father, the Hon. C. J. Jenner, was one of Melbourne's men of substance, a member of the Legislative Council, of which he was Chairman of Committees, and associated with political big guns like Sir Frederick Sargood and James Service. For the lad a sound commercial training was planned. He was sent to Scotch College to pave the way for the serious pursuits ahead. And how did Scotch College open its arms to him! For he was a fine specimen of young manhood, even then getting towards the 6ft. mark, with all the physical attributes of a Hercules. Thus, incidentally, it was not long before he got into the first college crew, and was one of the main stays of the school football team. He made good in his class work as well, and in due time was pronounced qualified to face the world.

Pastoralist and Patriot.

At this period Jenner, senior, was prominently identified with McLean Bros, and Rigg, and in the employ of this firm, to learn commercial methods, the young man was placed. Then came the bursting of the boom, with its nebulous prospects for all and sundry, and the boy took up pastoral life. Gippsland supplied him with "colonial experience" then for five vears he was head serang on James Balfour's station, Round Hill, near Culcairn. It does not take an Australian, chock-full of initiative and enterprise, half a lifetime to learn how to invest money to advantage, so that at this stage young Jenner bought a property at Macarthur, in the Western District, in partnership with Harry Sargood, who, by-the-way, subsequently became his brother-in-law. The venture gave six years of success; then, after a trip to England, the purchase of a holding near Hamilton. Here the young pastoralist became Mayor of his borough in the year of King George's Corona tion—incidentally a busy twelvemonth, which brought him out of the test of leadership with much local distinction.

War broke out, and here it was demonstrated that Leslie Jenner was no mere flag-flapper. He sold up, and tried to enlist. He tried, in fact, a second time. Being some sort of descendant of, Robert Bruce, he would possibly have gone on up to the tenth attempt, but that at this stage he reflected that enlistment was not the only door open to patriotic service. So he offered his big motor car as an ambulance to the Defence Department, along with his own ser vices as a driver, but the necessity for enlist ment even in this work again baulked him. It was while he was getting his wind for another suggestion to overcome these persistent obstacles to his lending a hand that the great work of the Y.M.C.A. among the soldiers hit his admiration hard. So he presented himself again for enlistment, this time at the office of that Association, and laid his services and his cars, and many etceteras of vigorous equipment unreservedly and gratuitously at its disposal. A legend of the Y.M.C.A. is that it "never turns a man down." And it did not falsify, its reputation on this occasion. Mr. Jenner was accepted.

Some Personality.

Thus a man who had striven for a chance to do his bit at the front soon found himself playing a vastly more important part at home. A big organisation such as that with which he had become identified is ever on the qui vive for brains, capacity—for the broad, constructive grasp and the initiative mind. He soon gave proof that he could make his contribution in these directions. It was as a man who understood men that he first proved his worth, out at the Y.M.C.A. centre in the Show Grounds Camp. At Royal Park, later, he made his mark. Men who can successfully maintain control in such social centres where large bodies of soldiers, congregate are few-very few-and far between. The genial manner and disposition of good fellowship must not court undue familiarity. The man in charge must always be skipper of his own quarter-deck, while allowing no sugges tion to escape that there is any necessity for him to be so. And when that end can be ac complished among thousands of high-spirited young soldiers up to all the natural devilment that is born of a native democracy, it says something for the man who achieves it. When, twelve months ago, the Y.M.C.A. formed a National Committee of wise business heads, Mr. Jenner was made one of that body. He also became chairman of the Victorian committee, and was elected chairman of the Army and Navy Committee of the Association. Then he was put on the Board of Directors and on the Military Service Committee of the Melbourne Association. Recognition of his ability in these connections was made bv his appointment to the Foreign Work Executive. In his connection with the Army and Navy Committee, he and the national secretary visited the different States to organise the national appeal for funds. The growing need for a central rest house for soldiers had impressed the executive in charge of that branch of Y.M.C.A. activities, and the fine haven on St. Kilda-road, ranking as one of the Empire's best equipped, resulted.

Jenner's Home.

It was a good deal easier, however, to put up the building than to find a man whose success in controlling it would be assured from the jump. For one thing, the rest home had a varied scope. It was something more than a meeting-place, lounge, and restaurant, although it was planned to combine those attractions with that of a centre for mental and physical recreation and study, and for the interchange of thought. It was, in fact, designed as a place of "help" for soldiers in the widest acceptation of the term. And the man to direct such an establishment could naturally only be one capable of giving; that policy its widest1 interpre tation. When the National Committeeman who had made such a big success of his, work in the camps offered his services in this more difficult field it was felt that the way was won.

That Soldiers' Club is an institute which has come to stay. It may not always be a soldiers' club. We may hope there shall be no necessity for that. But the work it is performing must remain as an indestructible monument. Soldiers from other States, men who have no homes to go to and no friends' homes to visit, say it is the greatest thing yet written about. Five thousand and more of these men pass through it every week. In a recent ten weeks 30,000 men under arms fed at its refresh ment room. Balls click at three billiard tables, while competitions at indoor games are busv elsewhere. Two hundred and twenty lady workers comprise the helpers, running in some thing like eight-hour shifts, including Sunday. And all on a voluntary basis. To run an establishment of that kind is no sinecure. A man with the ability to do so comes remarkablv near to being indispensable. They call it "Jenner's Home" that is, those whose home it really is—the soldiers. And when they say that, it speaks more for the governing personality than all these written words.

Original Publication

Citation details

'Jenner, Leslie (1873–1956)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 12 April 2024.

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