Lieutenant William Leichhardt Leslie and a dispatch about him.
Lieutenant William Leichhardt Leslie and a dispatch about him. Contributed

Anzac and family: A past worth knowing about

DAD never talked about his father; he probably had little memory of him.

William Leichhardt Leslie walked out of his family's life when dad was just three years of age, also leaving his wife Jenny and young daughter Jean.

So I was curious when my own daughter phoned with news of her great grandfather's death. My youngest is pregnant with her first child, due to give birth on August 22.

"I googled him mum and the Red Cross reports came up," she said excitedly. "Look at the date."

Sure enough Google did recognise his name. The first report was from Private TF Smyth, a stretcher bearer, who made inquiries about my grandfather because he knew him well.

"He learnt from a man of the same battalion that, on August 22 in a charge near Chocolate Hill, Leslie was leading the charge and was shot through the head and killed instantly."

Lieutenant William Leichhardt Leslie was part of the Australian Imperial Force 18th battalion that boarded the troopship Ceramic in Sydney on June 25, 1915, bound for Egypt. After four weeks in Egypt, the 18th's commander Lt Col Alfred Chapman was given his orders, to go to Gallipoli to reinforce the men there.

Landing at Suvla Bay on August 19, the men of the 18th marched to the foot of their objective, Hill 60, a strategic name for Kaiajik Aghyl, the sheepfold of the little rock.

From what I've read, Hill 60 was "little more than a swelling in the plain", but it had two useful water wells near its foot and overlooked many of the Anzac positions.

According to the plan, Hill 60 was to be attacked on August 21 from the southwest by troops from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and Australia's 4th Infantry Brigade but reports say it was poorly co-ordinated and had little artillery support. The allied troops were pushed back with hundreds killed. Just before 5am on August 22, the AIF's 18th Battalion, my grandfather among them, were sent in. They were fit and fresh but ill-equipped. They were ordered to "assault with bomb and bayonet". But when Lt Col Chapman pointed out they had not been issued with bombs, the reply was they "must do the best possible without them".

Lt William Leichhardt Leslie led his men across a wheat field at the base of Hill 60, Turkish troops ready atop the scrubby mound. A Red Cross report from Pte Frank Reid describes the carnage. "As we came into the open, we were mowed down by machine gun fire and Lt Leslie, who was leading C Company, was one of the first to fall.

The dead lay there all day but, on the following morning, a burying party buried him and others in a common grave, as there was not time to dig separate ones .... Lt Leslie, who came from Sydney, was a very brave officer and led his men without hesitation.

He was much liked in the regiment and his death was greatly regretted." Pte SA Spooner was detailed to collect the wounded. He "saw Leslie near a wheat field on Hill 60 with the lower part of his face blown away and his body fearfully mangled by shrapnel".

In the attack on Hill 60 from August 21-22, 3985 British and empire troops were sent in, 1302 were killed. The hill was never taken, though the beachside slope was secured.

William Leichhardt Leslie was cut down in the prime of his life. For the 27-year-old manufacturer, with a wife and two children, the Gallipoli campaign was brief and bloody.

His burial place is "unknown" and he is remembered in two panels, one at the Australian War Memorial and one at Gallipoli's Lone Pine Memorial. And though his son, also William, must have thought about him during his own 69 years, he never told his six daughters his father's story.

It is only now that my daughter is preparing to give birth to a child, due exactly 100 years after his death, that we are unearthing his deeds and memory.

His bloodline will be renewed after his own blood was needlessly spilled at Gallipoli. And if she has a boy, his middle name will be Leichhardt.


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