Remembering our own Aussie hero

Jerry Leech and David Barrowcliffe

Jerry Leech and David Barrowcliffe

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A WIGANER who emigrated Down Under before dying in World War One has been remembered almost a century since he was posted to the front line.

Sam Leech was among the Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces which attempted to land on the Gallipoli peninsula on April 25 1915 and was killed in action as the army tried to advance against the defending forces of the Ottoman empire.

Private Leech, who served the 10th infantry battalion in the 1st Division of the Australian Imperial Force, was working as a carpenter in South Australia when he volunteered to join the armed forces at the age of 29.

A former soldier is now working to keep the memory of Pvt Leech’s sacrifice alive, previously travelling to the UK to meet his only surviving relations.

Pvt Leech lived in Beech Hill before emigrating to Semaphore in South Australia in 1909, working at the town’s Steam Joinery and Moulding Works. He kept his decision to enlist in World War One well hidden, with his widowed mother Ellen having to wait until October 1915 to discover he had joined up when the sad news of his death was brought to her.

He signed up on November 1914 and sailed to Egypt two days after Christmas on board the transport ship Themistocles. He was killed during the heavy fighting as the Anzac army attempted to gain a foothold on the peninsula and the whereabouts of his body have never been discovered. Although it is unclear if there are any records of his sacrifice in his hometown, his name is recorded on two Australian war memorials as well as the Lone Pine Memorial in Turkey, where almost 5000 combatants are remembered.

His sad story was brought to light once again by Dave Barrowcliffe, a former member of the British Parachute Regiment whose grandfather and father served and returned from World War One and Two respectively and who remembers Pvt Leech when he marches to the dawn and morning services in Australia on Anzac Day each year.

Mr Barrowcliffe travelled to the UK to meet Pvt Leech’s surviving relatives following a 1990 appeal for information about him in the Wigan Evening Post, staying with Jerry, the son of Sam’s brother Robert, and his wife Peggy at their home in Matlock in Derbyshire.

Mr Barrowcliffe said: “Jerry knew very little about his uncle other than that he was killed in World War One. I was able to return to the family all the 337 postcards from members of Sam Leech’s family. After Jerry died in 1992 his widow Peggy visited us in South Australia in 1993 and I was able to show her Sam’s name on the memorial.”