Les Barwick

Leslie Vere Barwick was awarded the Military medal for incredible acts of bravery in rescuing wounded soldiers in the battle of Passchendaele on October 12 1917.

Born at Sparke’s Creek, Scone, he was the youngest of ten children of Alfred and Elizabeth [Betsy] Barwick of Willow Tree. Les was sheep farming at Gunnedah when he enlisted at the age of 23. He was attached to the 34th Battalion, 3rd Re-enforcements, and promoted to Corporal three days before embarking on the troop transport A68 Anchisses. In November 1916 he was posted to the Western front, entering the trenches as the worst weather conditions in living memory closed in.

Les was in Messines in June 1917 when the Allies detonated 600 tons of explosives in 19 land mines laid beneath enemy trenches on high ground. With the 34th battalion, he pressed forward through a barrage of German artillery and gas shells, as they drove surviving German troops from their emplacements. Over the next eight days, the Australian troops then had to resist a fierce counter attack.

The 34th played a supporting role in the line trough 1917 but was then assigned a leading role in the major engagement, the assault on high ground held by the Germans at Passchendaele in Belgium. The battlefield in front of the heights was reclaimed marshland, dry only because of a well planned drainage system, so the fighting turned the land into a sea of mud. Men who slipped from duckboards found themselves in mud up to their armpits. Many drowned when they fell into shell holes. It was in this scenario that Les Barwick received the Millitary Medal for “Conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

His citation read, “When all stretcher bearers of his company had become casualties, he volunteered for stretcher duties and in spite of a very heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire, he continued to bandage and carry back wounded for 36 hours, and in many cases, for a distance of 1500 yards under heavy fire and through particularly difficult ground. Several men who had sunk in the mud were saved and owe their lives to his untiring energy”

According to commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Martin, many of the men resued by Les Barwick had been as far as 1500 yards forward of the Australian lines. Several others who had been hopelessly buried in mud would have surely died.

In 1918 the 34th Battalion was involved in major campaigns which save the towns of Villers-Bretonneux, and drove back the Germans on the Somme and at Amiens, the Hindenburg Line and Mont St Quentin.

Two days before the armistice on November, Les Barwick was struck down by raging influenza epidemic and was hospitalised for several weeks. He returned to France after the war and in April 1919 boarded the troopship A54 Runic in England for the trip home. He was discharged from the army in October.

Leslie Barwick died at Quirindi in 1962 aged 69.

Barry, Tony and Les.
Les at Warrah Creek hall not long before he passed away.

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