Frederick Abraham William Cleave or Cleaver Peachey

First Name: 
Middle Name: 
William Abraham Cleave or Cleaver
Last Name: 
Date of Birth: 
Wednesday, November 2, 1892
Mother's Name: 
Mary Maria Peachey (nee Denner)
Father's Name: 
Frederick James Peachey
Date Enlisted: 
Saturday, September 19, 1914
Rank at Enlistment: 
Rank at Discharge: 
15th Battalion
F Company
British War Medal
Victory Medal
1914/15 Star
Military Medal
Date of Death: 
Wednesday, November 11, 1964
Place of Death: 
Shellharbour, N.S.W.

Frederick Abraham William Cleaver Peachey (Service No 940) was born in Cornwall, England.

He enlisted in the AIF on 19 September 1914 at Grafton, N.S.W. when he was 22 years old. His father, also named Frederick, and also living in Grafton at the time, was listed as his next of kin.

On 8 August 1915, while serving with the 15th Infantry Battalion, Fred was injured in action, receiving a gun shot wound to the head and shrapnel to his knee. After recovering from his injuries, Fred returned to the Western Front.

On 12 December 1916, Frederick married Alice Maud Scott Pettit in London.

On 11 April 1917, Frederick, now a Lance Corporal, was reported missing, and was later declared to be a prisoner of war. On 5 November 1917 Fred escaped with Private J Lee, Private A McIntosh, and a British soldier.

The following story by Jenny McLaren, ‘Teen soldier’s great escape confirms family legend’, featured in The Standard, 22 April 2011.

‘When it comes to military service, the Lee family exceeded its contribution to king and country. About 25 family members, many of them from Warrnambool, heeded the call to action in the First World War, at least as many again in the second. But from a family abundant in war heroes, the “great escape” by young Warrnambool boundary rider John Lee — better known as Jack — from a World War 1 German prisoner of war camp was one of the most remarkable stories.

His daring escape, under the cover of darkness on foot through Belgium to Holland over three tortuous weeks, was worthy of a Hollywood movie script and earned the young private a Military Medal. Sixteen-year-old Jack had put his age as 18 when he enlisted in August 1915, alongside his cousin Eugene, 17. According to a descendant Gavin Lee, the Warrnambool lads would have been in the same battalion but Jack took ill and ended up in the cycling corps of the 14th Battalion. Eugene, the young brother of Gavin’s grandfather Rueben, was assigned to the 30th Battalion and died on the battlefield in Bapaume, France, in May, 1917.

Jack, meanwhile, was captured by the Germans at Bullecourt in France just a month earlier and interned at Limburg POW camp. In an account he gave to The Standard after returning to Australia a year later, Jack, still only 18, told of the conditions in the days after his capture — standing shivering in the snow for hours, existing on meagre rations and being put to work burying dead German soldiers.

Jack and his fellow prisoners also came under fire from their own soldiers. “For six months we were kept on this work under fire all the time,” Jack told The Standard. “We had no blankets and at night crawled back after work and slept as best we could on the bare floor of the hut. “Our meals consisted principally of a dirty-looking, watery soup made out of mangels cut in strips. “We had no drinking vessels of any description and so had to drink our soup out of our metal helmets. “We also had to use our helmets to wash in, and altogether things were pretty rotten.”

Striking up a friendship with fellow prisoner Fred Peachey, a “big fellow” from Grafton in New South Wales, the pair hatched an escape plan. Their chance came on November 5 after the nightly head count and after receiving their weekly ration of bread. With the sentry at his furthest point away, the pair slipped under a barbed wire fence and “made for our lives, expecting every minute to hear the alarm raised and bullets whizzing after us”.

To their relief, no bullets came. Only after putting 30 kilometres between them and the razor wire did the pair risk a few hours’ sleep. For the next three weeks, with the help of only a tattered postcard map to guide them through the back roads of Belgium to Holland, the escapees travelled by night and rested by day. Surviving on raw turnips and cabbages picked from the fields, the pair had some narrow escapes, the closest of them while hiding under a rack of straw. “A Frenchman came along and started loading the straw into a cart and took all but the few sheaves covering us,” Jack recalled. “Another time we came to a river, the bridge of which was guarded by Germans. “Peachey could not swim, but we happily discovered a boat moored some distance from the bank. I swam out and getting possession of it we crossed the stream safely.”

Disoriented by heavy fog in German-patrolled Brussels, the pair told of inadvertently circling the city in their attempt to pass through, all the while armed with a heavy stable door hinge concealed in Peachey’s sleeve. They eventually found their way out by joining a ragtag group of Belgians pushing a coal cart, passing under the nose of “a sleepy Fritz sentry” on a canal bridge. It took three weeks to finally reach the Dutch border but they still had to dodge German guards and negotiate both an electric and then a barbed wire fence before reaching the safety of Dutch territory.

Twenty-five kilograms lighter, Jack had his first bath, haircut and change of clothing in eight months.

Jack Lee and Frederick Peachey were free but even the last stage of their repatriation to England was dogged by misfortune. Approaching Gravesend, their ship was struck by a mine, tearing a five-metre hole in its side. It limped to port, but subsequently sank. Lauded as a hero back in his home town Warrnambool, Jack was given the keys to the city. “No I’m not sorry to be out of it and back in good old Australia again,” he told The Standard. “I’ve had enough and will be glad to get into civvies once more.”

John McKenna


My father was John Lee and his father was John Lee both from St. Mary's Wangoom just on the outskirts of Warrnambool. I wonder
what relative was this John Lee to mine.

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