SERVICE NO: 2698
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1895
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hamilton
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 20 January 1915
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Hamilton
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 19
UNIT: 58th Battalion (late 8th Battalion)
EMBARKED: 15 September 1915
TROOP SHIP: SS Makarini
FATE: Killed in Action – 12 May 1917 – Bullecourt, France.
Horace Leonard Westgarth, known as Len, was born in Hamilton in 1895 to baker Walter Westgarth and Elizabeth Dreyer of Milton Street. Len was fifth born in a family of nine and in 1912, when Len was seventeen, Walter Westgarth passed away. After he completed school at the Hamilton State School, Len became a carpenter, working in Hamilton. On 16 January 1915, nineteen-year-old Len enlisted at Hamilton and left Australia in September of that year with the 8th Battalion.
Len went from Egypt to Gallipoli and was with the 8th Battalion in the trenches at Lone Pine. After the allied troops’ evacuation from Gallipoli in December 1915, Len wrote home to his mother, then living in Alexandra Parade Hamilton, from the island of Lemnos. He revealed he was almost killed while at Lone Pine when a shell landed on his dugout and he and his mates found themselves covered in dirt, but luckily without a scratch. He spent a quiet Christmas on Lemnos and told his mother “half of Hamilton seem to be with us now,” listing the Hamilton boys he had met up with.
The 8th Battalion went back to Egypt and after a short stint with the 60th Battalion after its formation in February 1916, Len proceeded to France with the 58th Battalion. On arrival, they proceeded straight into the Battle of Fromelles. Fortunately, Len made it through the battle although a third of the 58th were casualties.
During the later part of 1916, Len was hospitalised twice for trench fever. The 58th continued to push forward to the Hindenburg Line and Len was promoted to Lance Corporal in March 1917. Between 9 and 12 May 1917, the 58th was involved in the second Battle of Bullecourt. It was on that last day that Leonard was with the ration party in “Death Valley” waiting to be relieved when a shell fell among the group killing four men including two from Hamilton, Len Westgarth and Terence Finnegan. According to witness accounts, Len was buried where he fell, but Len’s body was never retrieved for reburial and a plaque in his honour was placed at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
On the same day, Len’s death was reported in the Hamilton Spectator, so were the spelling test results of his younger siblings, students at the State School.
On the first anniversary of his death, Len’s mother Eliza placed an “In Memorium” notice in the Hamilton Spectator along with the name of Len’s favourite hymn, “Lead, Kindly Light” and the following:
Young as the young who donned the grey,
True as the truest, who wore it;
Brave as the bravest he marched away,
(Hot tears on the cheek of his mother lay),
Triumphant waved our flag one day, He fell in front before it.
Firm as the firmest where duty led, He hurried without a falter;
Bold as the boldest he fought and bled,
And the day was won—but the field
And the blood of his fresh young heart was shed
On his country’s hallowed altar.