1004 Lieutenant Leslie Elliot HARDING MC
Leslie HARDING was born on 7 September 1893, the third of seven children born at Port Elliot to Walter James HARDING and Emily HARDING (nee Parsons). After leaving school, Les as he was known, became a postal assistant working for the Post-Master General’s Department. He enlisted in the AIF on 3 September 1914 at Adelaide as a member of the 10th Battalion (Adelaide Rifles). After a short stint of training at Morphettville, the Battalion sailed in the SS Ascanius on 20 October as part of the first AIF convoy destined for Britain.
The Australians disembarked in Egypt and undertook further training. in preparation for landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, on 25th April 1915. The 10th Battalion was in the first wave of the dawn landing. During the first five days of fighting, the Battalion’s 950 men were reduced to 393. It remained at Gallipoli until the general withdrawal began in December from Anzac Cove. After a month at Mudros, the 10th returned to Egypt on 29 December for rebuilding. However on 29 February 1916, the recently promoted Lance Corporal HARDING, with 500 men from his original Battalion, became the nucleus of the newly created 50th Battalion as part of the doubling in size of the AIF. Promoted to corporal in March 1916, he sailed in June 1916 with his new Battalion for service in Belgium and France.
He served continuously throughout the 50th Battalion’s time on the Western Front where his unit followed the typical infantry pattern of training, providing work parties, supporting and holding the front line. This cycle was broken when the Battalion took part in the many of the Australian actions beginning on 12-15 August 1916 at Mouquet Farm, where it suffered heavily from shelling. Heavy casualties in early battles were often caused by inexperience at all levels, coupled with a shortage of munitions. The techniques and armaments, which later won battles in 1918, were still being developed. Although the 50th was the reserve battalion for another attack on Mouquet Farm in early September, it still suffered 78 casualties. Leslie was promoted to sergeant on 28 October 1916. The European winter that followed was acknowledged as the harshest of the war.
Les was commissioned in the field on 24 April 1917 as a second lieutenant shortly after the Battalion launched an attack at Noreuil. He was promoted to lieutenant on 29 July after the June 1917 Battle of Messines. During 1918, the 50th Battalion fought at Dernancourt, then in the now legendary night attack to recapture Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April, with its final occasion in the front line concluding on 15 September.
Leslie’s continuing dedication and valour was recognised with the award of the Military Cross in January 1919. His citation read:
“During the period 26th March to 16th September 1918 this officer has carried out the duties of Battalion signalling officer and has participated in every operation in which the Battalion has been engaged. In action he has shown untiring energy and great gallantry, reconnoitring routes for and personally supervising the laying and maintenance of lines under heavy fire. Out of the line his careful training of his signal section has laid the foundation of their efficiency. Lieut HARDING has at all times set an excellent example to his men and has rendered great service to his Battalion.”
Returning to Australia on 5 March 1919, he was to marry Ethel Honeyman at Inman Valley a year later. Leslie Elliot HARDING died on 5 July 1969 and was cremated at Centennial Park.
Service file of 1004 Leslie Elliot HARDING downloaded from the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au ).
Australian War Memorial database.
Robert KEARNEY, Silent Voices, New Holland Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney (2005).
Compiled by the Victor Harbor RSL History Research Team, March 2009.