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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 5 years, 4 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Pte Hugh Argyle Leitch, circa 1917.  Source:  A Family of Farmers, p 320.



Leitch H A    Pte    407    Hugh Argyle              10 MG Bn    34    Well borer    Single    C of E       

Address:    Moonee Ponds, Eglinton St, 99   

Next of Kin:    Leitch, Maude, Mrs, mother, 99 Eglinton St, Moonee Ponds

                                                                  10 Isabella St, Malvern            advised 16 June 1917

Enlisted:    19 Dec 1916       

Embarked:     A70 Ballarat 19 Feb 1917



Mentioned in this publication:

A Family of Farmers: a History of the Leitch Family 1836-1989 by Duncan Burrows,



Private Hugh Argyle Leitch


By Lenore Frost


When Hugh Leitch’s father died suddenly of pneumonia in 1887, his mother Maude took Hugh, 5,  and his two siblings, older brother Gordon, 7 and infant sister Kate, 10 months, to live with her parents  Frederick and Mrs Ladbury at Hamilton.   Frederick Ladbury was employed by the Victorian Railways, which resulted in several moves, and in 1896 the family moved to Eglinton St, Moonee Ponds. Hugh and Gordon, aged 13 and 15, were enrolled at the Essendon High School, a private secondary school operated by John Robertson. The schoolroom was a large wooden building at the rear of the Robinson home in Robinson St, Moonee Ponds.


Essendon High School in 1896, with Hugh and his older brother Gordon marked with an x

in the back row.  Source:  A Family of Farmers, p 308.


Gordon went north as a book-keeper-cum-storekeeper in Far North Queensland.  After some years on Telemen Station, around 1905 he bought a water-boring business.  Hugh joined him in 1908, and stayed with the business until he enlisted in the AIF in 1916.  Hugh returned to Melbourne to enlist, giving his mother’s address at 99 Eglinton St, Moonee Ponds as his permanent address in Australia.  While he was overseas, Maude moved to Malvern.


After training at Seymour Hugh embarked with the 7th Reinforcements of the 10th Machine Gun Company  on the A70 Ballarat on 18 February 1917.  After a comparatively uneventful voyage, the Ballarat was torpedoed by a German submarine in the English Channel, on the second anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli.   All troops and crew were saved, and transferred to destroyers to be transported the few more miles to England.  The ship was unable to be saved, and sank the following day.



Abandoning the Ballarat after being torpedoed, 1917.  Hugh Leitch is in the centre

bottom, with his initials on his hat brim.  Source:  A Family of Farmers, p 321.



The transport HMAT Ballarat after being torpedoed by a German submarine off the southern

English coast. In the background a British destroyer is standing by to take the troops.  AWM Collection.




After landing at Devonport, the troops went to Grantham for machine gun training, and on 26 June 1917 Hugh was transferred to the 13th Machine Gun Company.   


28 June 1917 Marched in at Camiers, north of Etaples.


2/10/1917  Hugh was taken on strength of the 13th Machine Gun Coy.


Hugh's accommodation in France, detailed in letters to his mother, ranged from sleeping in haystacks to sleeping in pure white sheets in poor cottages.  He also described being under bombardment, and commented:


18 October 1917 ‘The larger ones (howitzer shells) when they come close are not too good.  It’s no use saying I was brave, for it wasn’t so, I was mighty scared I can tell you.  But one is very unlucky to be hit by a shell and bullets seldom find a mark.  I saw hundreds of shells bursting all day and hurting no one (from the ridge a great view of the waste country was to be had.)’[1]


29 October 1917  "I had a job fixing up the water supply.  The Officer on Parade asked for the man who was a Well Borer in civil life, and then it came out that the spring nearby was to be opened up and fixed properly.  


4 November 1917   "Quite close to here are the trenches and gun emplacements that were to be the last line of defence of Calais just three years ago.  - For miles where we have just come from, the ground is an absolute honeycomb of shell craters."


12 November 1917  " I spend most evening writing here and am getting quite a name as a correspondent.  I've been half expecting a chip from the Censor for writing so much.  However I am careful not to put in anything that is prohibited."

15.11.17   Taken On Strength  4th Aust Division for duty.  Rejoined 25 11 17


12.3.18      Trench fever 

Hugh spent a week in hospital before rejoining his unit on  18 March. 


1.4 .18     Designation changed to 4th Machine Gun Battalion


9 May 1918  [From the town of Amiens]. "I am writing this in a little hole in the ground in the front line trenches just outside a famous village — I have a job which takes me through the streets each night- I have to bring in rations and collect reports from all the guns during the night. Not a very plesant (sic)  job at times. Especially when wet and dark. — In fact Fritz is at the present moment dropping big shells (from about twelve miles away) on it (the village). — Unfortunately one cannot put ones head out of the hole, which represents the door, as Fritz is ever on watch for the unwary."


** "It was in front of the Amiens’ Cathedral that we stopped the Hun in April and held him and eventually drove him back. — From this village, where I made some good friends and I was sorry to have to leave. — We marched to the railway and trained for about 40 hours. Mostly we were lying in a siding somewhere, or (lying) on the line. Mines were exploding everywhere and the line had constantly to be rebuilt. One exploded near Peronne about two months after it had been taken by us and put things out of gear a bit. St. Quinlew blew up after we left it. — Well we de-trained not far from St. Quentin and marched north east by east through all the noted lines of defence that the Hun considered impregnable. Indeed one wonders that they were ever taken. We kept on through mile after mile of shell marked country and demolished and partly demolished villages. Of course we had a spell occasionally.”


21 March 1919  "There is no doubt that some of the English brides will be a bit disappointed at their homes in the bush.  What about the French and Belgium ones?  Several of the battalion got married whilst in Dimant and we were only there nine weeks.  Their wives can speak no English.  There are a great number of French ones also - perhaps they won't come back at all".


12 May 1919  "There are a good many Yanks now. They are practically taking over the town of Antwerp. Such quantities of American boats coming in there with foodstuffs for the Armies of Occupation and for the starving Huns. They are a terribly ignorant lot. Some want to know if we were ‘natives from the Congo'. They ask why so many of the Aussies look old men, such hard faces. But they had never been in the firing line. Most of the Americans here now have never seen a shell burst. —- The Belgiums don’t take to them as they do to the Aussies.” 


Hugh spent various periods of leave in Belgium, France, and England, as well as taking a training course in mechanics and later worked in a demobilisation group, but he finally left England on the Devon on 8 October 1919.  He was discharged from the 4th Machine Gun Battalion on 4 January 1920. 



B2455, National Archives of Australia.

Burrows, Don, A Family of Farmers, A: a history of the Leitch family 1836 – 1989

[1] Burrows, Duncan, A Family of Farmers, p 321


War Service Commemorated

St Thomas' Anglican Church

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour With the Colours

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