SERVICE NO: 1839
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1897
PLACE OF BIRTH: Fremantle, Western Australia
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 20 February 1916
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Hamilton
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 18
UNIT: 39th Battalion, 2nd Reinforcement
EMBARKED: 16 August 1916
TROOPSHIP: RMS Orontes
FATE: Killed in Action – 7 June 1917 – Messines, Belgium
Leslie Harris was born in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1897 to Henry Laurence Harris and Mary McGregor who married in Victoria in 1894. Between Leslie’s birth and 1899, the family returned to Victoria with Henry dying in that year in East Melbourne. Mary went to Hamilton with her sons Lawrence and Leslie. It was her birthplace and her parents Malcolm McGregor and Mary Ann Radley lived on Coleraine Road, Hamilton. May remarried in 1909 to Thomas Jones and they lived at Moorak near Mt. Gambier. Leslie attended Hamilton State School and after school, he worked as a boundary rider for Arthur Broughton of Toolang near Coleraine. Meanwhile, Lawrence worked as a driver at Western District Motors in Gray Street, Hamilton.
On 20 February 1916, at eighteen years and three months, Leslie Harris enlisted at Hamilton. He joined the 39th Battalion, 2nd Reinforcement and left Australia on 16 August 1916. The battalion arrived at Plymouth on 2 October 1916. After six weeks of training in England, the battalion left for France arriving in late November. Leslie’s arrival in France did not get off to a good start when he contracted mumps in December. He rejoined his unit but received wounds to the back, thigh and right arm on 16 February 1917. After some time in hospital, Leslie rejoined his battalion on 2 March 1917.
At the beginning of June 1917, the 39th Battalion was preparing for their first major battle at Messines, set down for 7 June. A day earlier, as the battalion moved into position, there was a gas attack with many men hospitalised, reducing the numbers proceeding into battle considerably. On 7 June, the 39th began their advance, with heavy fighting continuing into the next day. By the end of 8 June, the allies were calling the battle a success. The 39th Battalion Unit Diary reported 299 wounded but the number “killed light”. However, 145 were reported as missing and one of those was Leslie Harris. The investigation into his disappearance found that New Zealand troops had located his body and he was buried with others “in the field”.
On November 1917, Leslie’s mother Mary received a letter from Mr C.A. Fartch of Horsham, writing for Sergeant (Sgt) Robinson of the 39th Battalion, with an extract published in the Hamilton Spectator of 27 November 1917. Sgt Robinson was most likely James Carney Robinson of Horsham, Company Quartermaster Sgt with the 39th Battalion. Leslie’s death had left Sgt Robinson deeply upset and he could not find the words for a mother of such a young man. Instead, Mr Fartch passed on Robinson’s thoughts. Despite only being actively involved with the battalion for a few months, Leslie left a favourable impression on those he met. Sgt Robinson spoke of the Commanding Officer’s sadness at Leslie’s loss. The Commanding Officer of the 39th Battalion was Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Robert Oswald Henderson of Bendigo. Lt Col Henderson was killed the following year.