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The Life & Times of William Leslie Arthur James Hayes
(Text and Images by Christopher Albertson)
William Leslie James Hayes is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
William Leslie Arthur James Hayes was born in East Brisbane in 1894 to parents Robert and Elizabeth Ann Hayes. During his childhood he and his family moved to Mackay, where they lived on Shakespeare Street, where his mother was the matron of the Cromer Hospital. As a student William attended State School Mackay, which is now known as Mackay Central State School and later became a jeweller.
Before joining the AIF in 1915, William served for three years in the Citizens Military Forces, the first of which as a full term trainee. He served with the 2nd Infantry (Kennedy Regiment) Royal Queenslanders, which was the first Australian unit mobilised for war service in August 1914 to combat German military action in the Pacific. William embarked from Cairns on August 8th for Thursday Island, where he was stationed on garrison duty. On August 14th he volunteered for service outside Australia by enlisting in the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force. He left Thursday Island on August 16th on the troopship Kanowna to take part in the capture of German New Guinea, and was taken on strength on September 6th. The following day the fleet sailed from Port Moresby for German New Guinea, however the Kanowna, which had been quickly requisitioned under the Defence Act, was soon left behind when the ship’s stokers refused to work after allegedly not being consulted as to if they wanted to be involved in possible military action, leaving the ship stopped still in the water. William returned to Townsville on September 18th having not participated in the capture of German New Guinea due to the trouble caused by Kanowna’s stokers. He was discharged the same day and classified as eligible for the British War Medal for his service.
William enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on August 9th 1915 in Rockhampton. He was initially posted to 12th Reinforcements to the 9th Battalion with whom he embarked with from Brisbane on December 30th aboard HMAT Itonus. In Egypt he was posted to the 3rd Training Battalion and later transferred into the newly formed 49th Battalion following the reorganisation of the AIF, and was taken on strength at Tel-el-Kebir on February 29th 1916. William proceeded overseas with the British Expeditionary Force from Alexandria aboard the Troopship Arcadian on June 5th, disembarking in Marseilles on June 12th.
William fought continuously with the 49th Battalion through all of its campaigns until he was killed in action at 4.15 am on October 12th 1917 in front of Passchendaele Ridge, as his unit manned trenches near Zonnebeke. William was just 22 years old. At the time of his death his location was described by Cpl Quigley in the Red Cross file of Sgt Arthur James, who was killed with William, as being a dugout “…near and to the right of (going towards Broodseinde) a big gasometer between Zonnebeke and Broodseinde.” CSM Waltisbuhl, also an eye witness to the event, stated that “…He (Sgt James) was killed in the same dug-out as myself and spoke to me a second before his death. My other two mates both were killed by the same shell at 4.15 am. All were killed instantly so none of them suffered any pain at all. The other two were Cpl A. Siddle and Pte W. Hayes. All three were buried in the field and the position was marked with rifles stuck but up into the ground.” Cpl Quigley also stated that another man, Pte A. Ashton, was also present and killed by the same shell. These graves were later lost and William, James, Siddle and Ashton have no known grave, and as such are honoured on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper, Belgium.
Hayes Lane in Mackay, Queensland was named in William’s honour. Interestingly Hayes Avenue in Bucasia, Mackay was named after William’s mother Elizabeth, Matron of the former Cromer Hospital, who was one of the first residents in the Bucasia area.
Zonnebeke gasometer in October 1917, near the site where William was killed and the gasometer site as it appears today. photo courtesy of Mr Johan G. Durnez OAM.
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