Eulogy: Leslie Alfred William Stokes
29 December 1921 – 10 May 2019
Les, the youngest of nine children, was born in Geraldton on 29 December 1921 to Edith Mary (nee Browning) and John Cyril Stokes. The Stokes family were successful pioneering farmers in the Chapman Valley having previously farmed on the Greenough Flats where father John was born in 1867 and his mother was born in nearby Dongara in 1881.
Despite his mother dying in Perth after a long illness when he was 10, Les experienced a happy childhood. He was schooled mostly in the Chapman Valley until he was sent to Geraldton to complete school as a private boarder. In 1939 he was the first School Captain (Head Boy) of the newly opened Gealdton Senior High School.
In his youth Les was an excellent sportsman, winning trophies for athletics, tennis, cricket and football.
Les enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 14 January 1942 at Claremont. He was staioned in the Darwin area from 4th February 1943 to 5th October 1944 with the 135th Anti-Aircraft Battery. He was discharged on 28 March 1946 with the note that he was 5’ 10” tall with grey eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. Les later said that in the army he was known as “2359” (that is, one minute to midnight) because his complexion was so dark after 18 months in the tropics.
Les farmed with brothers Roy, Edgar, Neil and Keith in the Naraling – Rockwell area of Chapman Valley for several years after the war and continued playing competitive sport.
Les met Betty Jeffery at a dance on 12 June 1948. Les said that he “saw this beautiful young woman and asked her to dance”. Betty recently said that Les “looked alright” as he was the right height, hair colour, complexion and had a “wonderful pair of legs”.
Les and Betty married in Geraldton on 17 February 1951 and moved to a 5,000 acre property near Tenindewa, about 80 km east of Geraldton in early 1952. Later arrivals were Robert (1952), Leonie (1953), Stephanie (1955) and Murray (1957). Les and Betty grew grain and raised sheep, cattle and poultry. They built kilometres of fences, shearing and machinery sheds, enclosures for poultry and pigs, dug wells by hand, cleared land for cropping and grazing and extended the homestead. This was all done by hand with little outside help. They both said these years of working hard together and raising a young family were the best years of their lives.
In the early 1960s Les and Betty sold the property and moved to Geraldton where Les worked for Wesfarmers using his long experience with farming. Les and Betty also ran a part-time farm on the Greenough Flats for a number of years. Les and Betty said that life in Geraldton was easier than on the farm where the only “running water” was them carry buckets for the kitchen, garden, laundry and the wood-fired copper kettle heater for the daily bath.
Les never learned to swim and in the late 1960s he and Betty got into difficulty while swimming with the children at Geraldton’s ‘Back Beach’ and were rescued by Leonie and Robert. Not long afterwards a concrete swimming pool appeared in the back yard and much enjoyment was had by the whole family (and friends).
In the early 1970s Les transferred to the Bassendean Branch of Wesfarmers and the family moved to Hamersley, in what was then Perth’s fairly barren northern suburbs, where Stephanie and Murray completed high school.
Les and Betty created a “mini-paradise” garden of lawn, fruit trees, shrubs (particularly roses), garden walls, pergolas and more. And a swimming pool.
Les said that a visiting tradesman once asked him “how long have you been in this country”? Perhaps this meant that only migrants would have created a garden such as theirs, not long-settled Australians. Its not clear whether Les was pleased or upset by the question. Perhaps both.
Les retired from Wesfarmers in 1986. He and Betty travelled to Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Hong and around Australia. He also increased his involvment with competitive lawn bowls and had some success.
By the 1980s several grandchildren had appeared and Les and Betty assisted with the raising of these where they could.
In 2000 Les and Betty moved to a property in Wembley Downs with a more manageable garden. However, true to form, Les and Betty managed to build and plant things here as they had done elsewhere.
As most farmers do, Les maintained a keen interest in the weather as to how much and where rain had fallen and what the prospects for the grain harvest were around the State. Perhaps this means that in Les’s case at least, that while you can take the man out of the country it is much more difficult to take the country out of the man.
Les could always be relied upon for a critical and accurate assessment of sports such as cricket and football. He had a quick mind, followed current affairs and enjoyed a good joke. He had liked a wager on the horses in his younger years and was a regular Lotto player for the past few decades, sadly without great success.
In his 97 years Les was witness to profound changes in the world. As a young man on his family’s farm one of his tasks was to rise at dawn to feed and harness the horse to the farm machinery. Today he would be using air-conditioned, computer controlled machines with satellite communications. Computers were always a mystery to him.
Les was effectively blind for more than a decade and the last few years were difficult because of increasing fraility, prostate cancer and its complications which greatly impacted on his lifestyle and sense of dignity. Betty’s considerable efforts allowed Les to stay at home until the beginning of April this year. The bond forged between Les and Betty by working closely together over nearly 7 decades was very strong with many shared joys and troubles. This bond was evident during Les’s last weeks.
All the family deeply appreciates what Betty was able to do for Les.
Les’s difficult last weeks were eased by the wonderful staff at Hollywood Private Hospital.
Les is survided by Betty, his wife of 68 years, 4 children, 9 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. He was always interested in the lives his children and grandchildren. He and Betty took great pride in family gatherings such as at Christmas time or his birthday and would make a gracious speech to that effect.
Les will be remembered in many ways. He is remembered for having a quick sense of the ridiculous and enjoying a good laugh. To the last his mind was sharp and he laughed with visiting family.
Mostly he will be remembered as a quiet, thoughtful and a genuinely modest family man who had little time for ceremony and pretensions.
End of Eulogy