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The Life and Times of Leonard Barton Leece
(Text and Images by Christopher Albertson)
In the photo, Bart is on the right and his brother Jim (James Andrew Leece) is on the left
Leonard “Bart” Barton Lecce was born in Glen Innes, near Maclean in northern NSW on the 4th of March 1897 to Alexander Ellis Leece and Rose Hutton, and was the fourth born of nine kids. Sadly in 1902, when Bart was five years old, his younger brother Harold died of pneumonia not yet aged four. His family then left Maclean at the end of 1903, arriving in Casino on New Year’s Day 1904. When the family arrived in Casino, which was severely drought affected with Scarlet fever raging, his mother Rose declared that she “would not live in such a dreadful town.” She lived there for the next fifty years until she died aged 85.
Bart attended Casino Public School and later Casino Grammar. After school he choose not to go into the newspaper business like his father or his eldest brother Leslie, and didn’t play a major part in the family’s paper the “Casino and Kyogle Courier” which his father had started and was the editor for. Instead he trained to be a pharmacist, and at the age of just sixteen, he passed his preliminary exams for pharmacy. After school, he did twelve months with W.W. Evans Chemist in Casino and he later took a job as a bank clerk, but continued his pharmaceutical training at night school whilst working these jobs.
When the First World War broke out, Bart was working as a bank clerk for the Casino branch of The London Bank of Australia Limited. He had previously served with the Senior Cadets in Casino and with the 12th Infantry. Bart and his elder brother Jim (James Andrew Leece) enlisted in the AIF together in Brisbane on the 9th of August 1915. It was a decision made after much family discussion during their last Christmas holidays which they spent together at Evans Head. His mother gave permission for him to enlist as he was only eighteen years old, however in her consent letter she wrote allowing her son to enlist on the condition that he worked as a chemist’s assistant or volunteer.
Bart and a couple of mates
Bart was posted to the 9th Reinforcements to the 15th Battalion with the rank of Private. Later in 1915, Jim and Bart embarked together on a troop ship from Sydney Harbour, when Jim became very sick with meningitis. Bart and a friend rowed Jim ashore to go to hospital. Bart left Sydney aboard HMAT Ayrshire on September 1st 1915, and Jim embarked aboard HMAT Kyarra from Brisbane on January 3rd 1916.
Bart was initially stationed in Egypt where he underwent training and was regularly stationed on guard duty on the canal. He did however manage to do a bit of sightseeing, and visited the Sphinx and the Pyramids and he bought himself an ensignette camera. He also spent time with friends at the pictures and the YMCA. He regularly sent postcards home to his little sister Nellie, of the Pyramids and the Sphinx.
From Zeitoun, Bart proceeded to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on October 31st 1915, and embarked for Gallipoli aboard the Minnewaska on November 4th. He was taken on strength on November 13th at Gallipoli, where his 9th Reinforcement met up with the 15th Battalion. Whilst at Gallipoli Bart served with his battalion at Hay Valley. He became sick with influenza on December 8th and was admitted to the casualty clearing station on December 11th where he was transferred to Mudros and then made it back to Heliopolis.
Jim met up with Bart in Egypt in 1916, however they were in different regiments, with Bart serving in B company of the 15th Battalion and Jim the 2nd Pioneers. Bart wrote in his diary that on Saturday February 19th 1916, he along with a few “Casino boys,” “strolled to Zeitoun to meet some new troops, and the first man I recognised was Jim who spied me first and sang out, and I was quite surprised when I saw him standing there in bold relief behind a black MD.”
On April 2nd 1916 in Serapeum, Bart reported to the doctor after a mate found ringworm in his neck the previous day. He was transferred to Ismailia and treated with silver nitrate which “burns very much,” as he described in his diary. After various other ringworm breakouts, dysentery and frequently vomiting blood, he was finally discharged from hospital on May 8th and left Ismailia for Serapeum.
After getting out of hospital, Bart re-joined the 15th Battalion still in Egypt. He was told there was no chance of getting back into the signallers, so on May 10th 1916 he was put into No.6 Platoon and issued with rifle and equipment. He left Serapium for Alexandria on May 31st and arrived the next day. He was taken aboard the Transylvania, which he described in his diary as “a two funnel ship of about 1500 tons and speed 19 knots.” They slipped anchor on June 2nd, disembarking at Marseilles on June 8th.
In France he worked as a signaller and spent time setting up communication lines. He wrote in his diary on July 1st 1916 “Doing shift work on the phone. We are stationed in a wine cellar and are connected up with all companies and headquarters.”
Bart arrived in the Somme district on July 13th 1916. He wrote about some of his tasks which included “Doing running from relay station to headquarters” (August 7th 1916). He continued work as a signaller in the lead up to the Battle of Pozieres, and on August the 8th 1916, he was in the first wave attack against the German trenches in front of Mouquet Farm. He wrote about the day’s experiences in his diary, writing “The usual ceaseless bombardment with high explosives and wiz-bangs. No rifle or machine gun fire. We received instruction to charge at 9.30pm and during the day made every preparation. The barrage started at appointed time and we advanced in three waves capturing the first and second German lines advancing about 400 yards. Went out with first wave.”
The 15th Battalion was destined to undertake a second tour of duty in the trenches at Pozieres, and it was during this time that Bart was mortally wounded. On August 28th 1916 at Mouquet Farm, Pozieres, Bart was wounded in action when he received a gunshot wound to the head which also shattered his jaw. He was evacuated to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station where he died of his wounds the next day. He was only nineteen years old. Bart was buried at ,Puchevillers British Cemetery 7½ miles SSE of Doullens, France, where he lies today. His family was sent his personals which included his diary, a pocket bible with a bullet hole in it and his dogtag still stained with his blood.
Looking across the battlefield of 1916 from the AIF memorial at Mouquet Farm and Memorial