Harold Alexander LETCH MC, MID


LETCH, Harold Alexander

Service Number: 6
Enlisted: 19 August 1914, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
Born: Donnybrook, Victoria, 3 May 1894
Home Town: Moreland, Melbourne, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Clerk
Died: Killed In Action, Palestine, 22 August 1918, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Ramleh War Cemetery, Israel
Row AA, Grave 21
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, City of Brunswick Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

19 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 6, Melbourne, Victoria
20 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 6, 1st Light Horse Brigade Signal Troop, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
20 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Corporal, SN 6, 1st Light Horse Brigade Signal Troop, HMAT Karroo, Melbourne
19 Apr 1917: Honoured Military Cross, Battles of Gaza
22 Aug 1918: Involvement Lieutenant, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, Egypt and Palestine - Light Horse and AFC Operations

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Biography contributed by Robert Beard

"...Lieutenant Harold Alexander Letch. Originally a member of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, Lt Letch won an MC for conspicuous gallantry at the Battle of Gaza on 1917-04-19. He subsequently served with No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), and was killed in action in an air battle over Palestine on 1918-08-22 when his Bristol fighter was hit by an incendiary bullet..." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)


Biography contributed by Saint Ignatius' College

Harold Alexander Letch was born on the 3rd May 1894 in the suburb of Donnybrook, Victoria to William and Elizabeth Letch. He was their youngest son and had three brothers and three sisters. In adult life, he lived in the suburb of Moreland and worked as a clerk for the electrical engineering branch of the Victorian Railways prior to his enlistment. He also had two years of previous military service in the 19th Signal Troop. Signal Troops, as the name suggests, were responsible for providing battlefield communications and information systems essential in all operations. Standing at 5 ft. 9 inches, 20-year-old Harold enlisted on the 19th August 1914 in South Melbourne. At the time, he was single, had no children, and was a part of the Protestant religion. His motives to enlist would most likely have been his previous military service, propaganda, patriotism and the fact that most of his cousins and brothers were also going to enlist. 

A month after enlistment, Letch embarked from Melbourne aboard the transport ship A10 Karroo, heading to Gallipoli. He was immediately promoted to Corporal due to his previous military service. He proceeded to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (M.E.F), which he fought with for 6 months. After he was evacuated from Gallipoli, he rested at Camp Mudros in Alexandria, Egypt. By this time, Letch had been appointed Temporary Sergeant and was to become Sergeant on the 12th November 1915, which changed a month later when he was promoted to Lieutenant. Letch was then transferred to the 1st Signal Troop and appointed temporary 2nd Lieutenant in May 1916. During the Second Battle of Gaza on the 19th April 1917, whilst a member of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, Letch was awarded a Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and displaying great coolness and pluck in supervising and assisting in laying of telephone lines under heavy shell and machine-gun fire, and in also maintaining communications which were repeatedly broken by shell fire at a critical time of battle.’ For this action, he was also Mentioned in Dispatches (MiD) and received a letter of congratulations from General Harry Chauvel.

A month later, he detached to 1st Signal Troop Brigade Headquarters in Shellal, Egypt, and seven days later re-joined the 1st Signal Troop in Hiseisa Xing. A month after that, he attended the Imperial School of Instruction for two months and after returned to duty with the 1st Light Horse Regiment.

On the 3rd November 1917, a few days after the Battle of Beersheba, Letch was wounded in the left leg and spent 53 days in multiple hospitals, although they are not specified. After he recovered, he was granted a week’s leave to Luxor. Soon after, he was recruited to join the Australian Flying Corps (A.F.C). Light Horsemen were often recruited to join A.F.C Squadrons as they were believed to be ‘physically fitter and have quicker reflexes.’ Letch spent numerous months in Moascar and Heliopolis attending schools, including No. 3 School for Aeronautics and Instruction, to become an observer. On the 1st June 1918, he was graded as a qualified observer and taken on strength and joined No. 1 Squadron in Ramleh, Palestine.

On the 22nd of August 1918, Letch was patrolling the No.1 Squadron’s airbase alongside Pilot Lt. J.M Walker, whom he spent much of his time in the air with. Their Bristol Fighter, along with one flown by Pilot Captain A.R Brown and Observer G. Finlay, attacked a German aircraft. Brown and Finlay attacked from the front, while Walker and Letch attacked from the rear. Tragically, the German observer was able to shoot Walker and Letch’s Bristol Fighter through the fuel tank, sparking it alight and ultimately killing both men. Observer Lieutenant Bowden-Fletcher, who was observing from the ground that day, wrote in a newspaper account, ‘Watching those two chaps, 16,000 feet aloft with their only means of reaching mother earth in safety burning beneath them, I had impressed on me the hideous hellishness of war.’

Letch was buried the next day by Reverend C.F Edwards on 23rd August 1918 in Ramleh Cemetery, Palestine, after four years of active service. The newspaper notice of his death reads; “LETCH- Killed in action, Palestine, 22nd August, 1918. Lieut. Harold A. Letch, M.C, dearly beloved youngest son of W.J and E.A Letch, of Haroldene, Littlewood Street, Hampton; loved brother of Albert (munition worker abroad), Percy (on active service, France), May, Allie, Bill and Ivy; aged 24 years; after four years’ active service. His duty nobly done. Dearly loved by all.”

There were many instances where Harold demonstrated the ANZAC spirit qualities of leadership, perseverance, courage, bravery and sacrifice. He was promoted many times and his final rank was lieutenant, meaning he was a natural-born leader who could communicate with his comrades and lead by example. He also showed perseverance and courage on many occasions, like training for months to become an A.F.C observer, which was extremely dangerous as the technology was a new concept and weapon at the time. He was awarded a Military Cross and MiD for his courage and bravery in the Battle of Gaza, and was wounded during the Battle of Beersheba but overcame the injury and returned to service. Finally, Harold paid the ultimate sacrifice and died at the young age of 24 for his country and commonwealth. Harold was awarded five medals for his service; British War Medal, 1914/15 Star, Victory Medal, MiD and Military Cross. He was honoured at the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial on 9th June 2013 and is amongst the thousands of names engraved on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour.


-        The Battle of Beersheba, ABC, accessed March 2019, <https://www.abc.net.au/ww1-anzac/beersheba/story-of-the-day/>.

                (Beersheba Research)

-        The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of Lieutenant Harold Letch, 1st Squadron Australian Flying Corps, First World War, Australian War Memorial, accessed March 2019, <https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/PAFU/843.01>.

                (Australian War Memorial)

-        Beersheba- The Charge of the Light Horse, 1917, AWM London, accessed March 2019, <http://www.awmlondon.gov.au/battles/beersheba>.

                (Beersheba Research)

-        Harold Alexander Letch, AIF Project, accessed March 2019, <https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=175207>.

                (AIF Project)

-       Lieutenant Harold Alexander Letch, Australian War Memorial, accessed March 2019, <https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10678494>.

                (Australian War Memorial)

-        Lieutenant Harold Alexander Letch, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, accessed March 2019, <https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/652739/letch,-harold-alexander/>.

                (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

-        The Argus- (Melbourne, Vic) Wednesday 28th August 1918, Trove, accessed March 2019, <https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/1407032>.


-       Record Search- LETCH, Harold Alexander n.d., National Archives of Australia (NAA), accessed March 2019, <https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=8198603&isAv=N (>.

                (Service Record, National Archives of Australia)

-       AWM War Diaries- No. 1 Squadron AFC August 1918 Part 1 n.d., Australian War Memorial, accessed March 2019, <https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1344092?image=19>.

                (War Diaries)