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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 2 years, 4 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Legg V Pte    Pte    2005    Valentine                58 Inf Bn    21    Labourer    Single    C of C       

Address:    Essendon, Washington St, “Sterling”

Next of Kin:    Legg, Hetty, Miss, sister, “Sterling”, 52 Washington St, Essendon   (now 42)

Enlisted:    18 Jan 1916       

Embarked:     A31 Ajana 8 Jul 1916   


Relatives on Active Service:

Legg-P--A-g-Cpl-2006  brother


Private Valentine Legg


Rod Martin


January 1916 would not have been a very happy time for Australia or its imperial force.  Both were licking their very considerable wounds after the ignominious evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula the previous month.  Not that the evacuation itself was in any way disastrous.  In fact, more than one observer has noted that the evacuation was possibly the most successful part of the campaign.  It was done in secret, right under the Turks’ noses, over a number of nights and not one life was lost in the process.  However, the Australian troops left behind eight thousand of their countrymen, either buried in makeshift cemeteries or laying on abandoned battlefields, sacrificed in a poorly planned and impossibly optimistic eight-month campaign.


The only places now for the Anzac forces seemed to be the Western Front in Europe or the conflict against the Turks in the Middle East.  Valentine Legg, a twenty-one year-old labourer from Washington Street in Essendon probably had these options in mind when he enlisted along with his older brother Percy on the eighteenth of the month.  He was a small man, 164 centimetres tall and weighing only fifty-three kilos.  What he lacked in stature, however, he made up for in bravery.  The war was going badly.  Men were dying in their thousands.  Valentine and the other ‘Fair Dinkums’ who joined up at this time would have had no illusions about their chances of survival.  If necessary, they would sacrifice themselves for king and country.


The home at 52 Washington St, now 42, where

Valentine and Percy were living when they joined up.

Photo: Lenore Frost, 2013.


Valentine had no previous military training.  For unknown reasons, his status was classified as ‘exempt area’ on his attestation form.  He gained experience in military matters at Ballarat and Geelong before embarking on A31 HMAT Ajana at Port Melbourne on 8 July 1916, a member of 3 Reinforcements of 58 Infantry Battalion.  Percy was with the same battalion.


Bayonet practice for the recruits.  This picture includes men from 3 Reinforcements/58 Battalion.

(AWM DAX1422) http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/DAX1422


Members of 3 Reinforcements/58 Battalion on the dock before boarding

HMAT Ajana, 8 July 1916 (AWM PB0085)  



HMAT Ajana sails for Europe, 1916 (AWM PB0075) 


By July 1916, 1 and 2 Anzac Corps were on the Western Front, acclimatising themselves to the realities of modern industrial warfare. 58 Battalion was part of 5 Australian Division which, on 19 July, was involved in the first real blooding of the Australian forces at Fromelles in France.  The second blooding, involving 1 and 2 Divisions, came only four days later at Pozières on the Somme.  Both actions resulted in wholesale slaughter (58 battalion lost almost one-third of its strength in one night), partly caused by incompetent leadership and inappropriate tactics.  It was in recognition of the need for a more professional approach that the Australian government decided to extensively train its new recruits in England before exposing them to the highly efficient German army.  Valentine’s convoy travelled to England via the Cape of Good Hope (to avoid German submarines in the Mediterranean), arriving at Devonport on the south coast on 31 August.  After extensive training on Salisbury Plain, 3 Reinforcements crossed to France in December.  Following a short period of further training at Etaples, the men were deployed to the battalion, at that time resting at Ribemont, on the Somme.  Valentine and the other members of 3 Reinforcements probably arrived on 23 December, as the battalion commander noted in the war diary that day that ‘125 O.R. [other ranks] marched in as reinforcements, good type of men.’


In mid-January 1917, 58 Battalion moved to the front line at Bernafay and relieved 57 Battalion for two days before moving back to the intermediate trenches.  During this time, it lost a number of men from enemy shelling.  At the start of February, the men moved into the front line again, experiencing regular shelling and sniper fire. On the fourth, Valentine was admitted to hospital suffering from debility.  He remained there until he returned to his unit twenty days later.   During his absence, the battalion had alternately been in front line action and then in reserve.  He happened to arrive back just as it had returned to the front line again, and it was discovering that some of the opposing German trenches had been evacuated.  This was the beginning of the German front line reorganisation that saw its troops abandon a number of salients and reform behind the formidable Hindenburg Line.  This move did provide the German forces with greater security.  However, as some observers have noted, it may also have been recognition that attrition was beginning to have an impact on German troop numbers and there was a need to preserve lives in the face of a numerical advantage on the Allied side.


When 58 Battalion did find empty trenches it occupied them and became part of a general Allied move forward on the Somme to fill up the vacuum left by the departing Germans.  This is not to say, however, that the enemy just gave up hard-won territory without a fight.  As the Germans drew back, they continued to bombard and snipe at the Allied forces, causing casualties.  The Allies replied accordingly.


In late March, the battalion was in the vicinity of Beaulencourt, making roads for the artillery to use as well as carrying out the unpleasant task of burying around 200 bodies the men had found as they moved into newly abandoned trenches.  On the twenty-third, they were ordered to move quickly to nearby Haplincourt to act as a reserve in an attack.


Abandoned German dugouts in a sunken road near Haplincourt, early 1917

( AWM P01836.006) 


Finding no shelter in the destroyed village, the commanders delayed the attack until some could be established, and 58 Battalion took over the left sector of the front line.  The next day, the Germans attempted to attack the right flank outpost, and a ‘to and fro’ conflict took place throughout the day until the Australians were able to re-establish their positions as well as occupying a farm.  Some time during the day, however, Valentine was hit in the right temple region by a fragment of high explosive shell and he received a fractured skull.  He was unconscious for ten hours, but then recovered and appeared normal.  He was taken to a hospital in Rouen and operated on to remove a piece of his skull.


Valentine was evacuated to England in mid-April and spent considerable time in a psychiatric hospital at Graylingwell in Chichester, Sussex, and then at Harefield in north-western London.  When finally discharged, he was left with occasionally severe pains over his right eye and headaches on the right side.  He was classified as ‘fine’ otherwise but he was obviously out of the war.


Graylingwell Hospital  (www.theargus.co.uk: reproduced with  kind permission)


Valentine was repatriated to Australia on A14 HMAT Euripides, arriving back at Broadmeadows on 18 September 1917 (Percy had been sent back on the same ship the previous June, suffering from trench nephritis, an infectious inflammation of the kidneys).  He was discharged on the twentieth of the next month, classified as ‘permanently unfit’ and with ‘100% incapacity.’  The next day he was granted a pension of sixty shillings (six dollars) per fortnight.


We don’t know much more about Valentine’s life.  He never married so he left no heirs. Whether he ever worked again is open to question.  However, his death certificate did list him as still being a labourer rather than an invalid pensioner so he may well have been as active as he could be.  He died in the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital in December 1936 when he was only forty-two, however, from a cerebral haemorrhage probably brought on by a bout of bronco-pneumonia.  It is possible that the haemorrhage was connected with the old head wound. Certainly, the certifying doctor seemed to think so, as he listed the injury along with the pneumonia as a contributing cause.


Valentine was buried in the Williamstown Cemetery.





Australian War Memorial


Lenore Frost

National Archives of Australia

Travers, Richard: Diggers in France: Australian soldiers on the Western Front, Sydney, ABC Books, 2008


www.chichesternursesleague.co.uk  [link broken Oct 2016]





War Service Commemorated

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour Wounded

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