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The Life and Times of Oswald Leslie Jennings Steel


(Text and Images by Christopher Albertson)



Oswald Leslie Jennings Steel was born on August 7th 1883 in Newcastle, New South Wales. He was the eldest child of Oswald Gleghorn and Elizabeth Ann Steel (nee Jennings). He had two siblings, a brother Cecil and a sister Essie. Oswald studied Physics and Chemistry at Sydney University, now known as the University of Sydney and became a teacher at Cleveland Street Public, where he was a Science Master. He was a talented musician and led his choir in a leading part in the welcome to the officers and men of the American fleet at Sydney Town Hall in 1908, he himself at the grand organ. On October 16th 1907 he married Bertha Amy Hooker in Paddington, Sydney and they had three children, Beryl, Leslie and Geoffrey.
Oswald enlisted in Sydney as an officer in the AIF on September 23rd 1914 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on October 31st. He had previously done three years commissioned service with the Senior Cadets and at his time of enlistment was serving as the Battery Captain of the 17th Battery, Australian Fortress Artillery. He was initially posted to the 15th Battery, 5th Australian Field Artillery, AIF.
On December 22nd 1914 he embarked with the 1st Reinforcement to the 1st Divisional Ammunition Column from Melbourne aboard HMAT Borda, and joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on April 4th 1915. He was among the first to land at ANZAC Cove and served at Gallipoli with the 1st Field Artillery and later at Cape Helles. Oswald was commissioned to make sketches of the enemy trenches from the forward observation trenches some miles in advance of the main line. Whilst there his communication lines were cut, his three companions killed and he was not rescued until four days later with no company but their bodies. By this time he was stricken with enteric and sent back to Australia for three months convalescence. During his recovery period in Australia he performed the role of Acting Adjutant to the artillery camp at National Park, although he was under no obligation to do this. On July 1st 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

Medallion issued to Oswald's family after his death.


Once Oswald was fit enough to return to duty, he re-embarked with his younger brother Cecil, a Corporal. They embarked together with the 5th Field Artillery from Sydney on November 18th 1915 aboard HMAT Persic, where they disembarked in Egypt on December 21st. Oswald was promoted to Captain in March of 1916 and later was transferred to the 15th Field Artillery headquarters as Adjutant, arriving in France with his unit on June 24th. He served at headquarters until being transferred to the 57th Battery in the field on December 31st. On February 2nd 1917 he was temporarily attached to the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column, and on March 17th he was placed in temporary command on No.1 Section of the 5th DAC. In early June 1917 was placed in temporary command of the entire 5th Divisional Ammunition Column of the British Expeditionary Force.
He was taken on strength with the 14th Field Artillery on July 29th 1917, when the 5th DAC was absorbed into the 14th Field Artillery. It was a move which ultimately cost Oswald his life eight days later. Tragically, Oswald died only a few hours before his 34th birthday, when a shell destroyed his dugout. His CO reported that Oswald “was killed at 55th Battery position off Menin Road in front of Ypres at about 9pm on August 6th 1917. A shell penetrated the dugout occupied by this officer, totally destroying the dugout and killing all occupants immediately.” Oswald and his two fellow officers who were killed with him, Lieutenant Joseph Hopper and Captain Frank Edward Gatliff, were buried side by side at Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, 2¾ miles west of Ypres the following day, Oswald’s 34th birthday, by Chaplain Reverend P.S. Moore. At the time of his death Oswald was in command of the New South Wales detachment of his division in the field.
Oswald left behind his wife Bertha and children Beryl, Leslie and Geoffrey, who was only just 3 months old when Oswald embarked for the war. His brother Cecil also served in the 14th Field Artillery in July and August of 1917, and was in the unit at the time of Oswald’s death. Cecil survived the war despite being wounded in action and was discharged in 1919 with the rank of Battery Quartermaster Sergeant.


Oswald and his two fellow officers killed in the same dugout by the same shell, buried side by side.


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