Harry Burgan SLEE MM

SLEE, Harry Burgan

Service Number: 2257
Enlisted: 3 May 1916, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 50th Infantry Battalion
Born: Moonta, South Australia, 13 July 1897
Home Town: Wallaroo, Copper Coast, South Australia
Schooling: Kadina Memorial High School
Occupation: School Teacher
Died: Killed in Action, France, 25 April 1918, aged 20 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
No known grave, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, Picardie, France
Memorials: Adelaide High School Honour Board, Adelaide National War Memorial, Adelaide The 50th Battalion Commemorative Cross, Adelaide University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Kadina & District WW1 Roll of Honor, Kadina Memorial High School WW1 Honour Roll, Kadina War Memorial Arch, South Australian Education Department Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
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World War 1 Service

3 May 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 2257, 50th Infantry Battalion, Adelaide, South Australia
12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 2257, 50th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
12 Aug 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 2257, 50th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ballarat, Adelaide
1 Aug 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Corporal, 50th Infantry Battalion
25 Apr 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, 2257, 50th Infantry Battalion, Villers-Bretonneux

Statement of 3303 Sgt. Edward James Farndell regarding Cpl. Slee's demise

Wounded and Missing 25. 4. 18

“On the night of April 24th & 25th at about 10 .p.m, we made a counter-attack on the Villers Brettoneux (sic) Sector. The above named Cpl Slee started off with his Coy., and after we had been going for a short while it was reported to me that Cpl Slee had been badly wounded in the stomach. I was not able to go back to him but another man Pte Shaw “A” Coy., 50th Battalion stayed back and dressed Slee’s wound, afterwards leaving him in a shell-hole, awaiting stretcher-bearers. As there was heavy shelling from the enemy at the time, it is quite possible that the Corporal was hit again. Pte Shaw should be able to supply further details.”

(Sgd) E. J. Farndell

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Biography contributed by Kadina Memorial School

Harry Burgan Slee - 2257

Harry Burgan Slee was born on the 13th of July, 1897 in Moonta, South Australia. His parents were Mary Ellen Slee and Walter Slee. Harry had only one brother, Victor Clive Slee, who fought in the 8th Field Artillery Brigade.

Whilst Harry was a child his family lived in Wallaroo, South Australia. Harry and his brother attended school in Kadina.

Once Harry had finished his schooling, he studied to become a teacher. Once finished, he returned to Wallaroo to teach.

At the age of 18, Harry enlisted in the war with the Australian Imperial Force, on the 3rd of May in 1916 in Adelaide, South Australia.

Harry embarked from Adelaide on August 12th, 1916 on board the HMAT Ballarat. He was aged 19 at this time. Harry was given the service number of 2257 and he was ranked as a private. He was placed in the 50th Battalion, 4th Reinforcement.

Harry served two years in the war. He fought and survived the battle of Messines and the battle of Polygon Wood. The battle of Messines was an offensive conducted by the British 2nd army. The battle of Polygon Wood began in the same year on September 26th. It was part of the battle of Ypres. The 4th and 5th divisions of the Australian army were involved. The Germans advanced toward Polygon Wood, which was defended by the Australians along with the British.

Harry received three medals during the two years he fought. He received the Military Medal for 'bravery in the field' after the battle of Messines. The Military Medal was awarded to ranks of the British and Commonwealth Forces. It was an award for gallantry and devotion when under fire in battle. Harry was promoted to Corporal at this time. The other two medals Harry was awarded were the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Harry did not receive any injuries during his two years until April 24th, 1918, when he was shot late in the night during a counter attack at Villers Bretonnuex which began at 10pm. A German machine gun bullet entered through his abdomen and exited his spine. Harry was reported wounded and missing. According to Sergeant Farndell, Harry was treated by Private A. Shaw, who then left him in the shell hole awaiting the stretcher-bearers. However, as there was heavy shelling from the enemy at the time, it is quite possible that Harry was hit again. He was finally reported as having been killed in action on the 25th of April, at 20 years of age. Harry has no known grave but is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonnuex Memorial.

"He was a favourite and well liked by all the boys, and always did his work well" - an excerpt from a letter from Sergeant E J. Farndell informing Slee's family of his death.

By Sydney Wigzell

Year 9 student, Kadina Memorial School



SLEE, Harry Burgan. Retrieved 9 June, 2016, from https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/people/188821

Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 June, 2016, from https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10608.002

Harry Burgan Slee 2016. Retrieved 15 June, 2016, from https://sarcib.ww1.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/soldier/harry-burgan-slee#https://sarcib.ww1.collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/sites/default/files/styles/soldier_portrait/public/slee.jpg?itok=iYOwC2Lq

C.N Trueman, 2016, Polygon Wood. Retrieved 20 June, 2016, from www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-one/battles-of-world-war-one/polygon-wood/

A Guide to British Awards for Gallantry or Meritorious Service in WW1, 2016. Retrieved 23 June, 2016, from http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/ww1-gallantry-awards.htm



Harry Burgan Slee served only two years in the Great War, but it was service that did not go unrecognised. A school teacher and good lightweight boxer in civilian life, he enlisted at the age of 18 years and 10 months in May 1916 and was taken on strength into the 4th Reinforcements of the 50th Battalion. On 23 June 1917, after the 50th had come through the battle of Messines , Slee's service record documents his receipt of the Military Medal for "bravery in the field". Now a corporal, Slee would also survive the battle of Polygon Wood in September of the same year to succumb on ANZAC Day 1918 in the fighting at Villers-Bretonneux, mortally wounded by a German machine gun bullet, which entered his abdomen and exited through his spine. 

Although he was later to be reported as killed in action on that day, Slee would become the subject of a detailed investigation by the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau, at the request of his family anxious for some news. His older brother Clive, on leave in London from the 8th Field Artillery Brigade, had allegedly been told by AIF Headquarters on inquiry, that his brother was not killed but a German prisoner of war. The hope this gave Harry Slee's desperate family lengthened the investigation into his missing and wounded status until the end of February 1919, with the prisoner of war mystery finally being resolved in June. 

"2257 Corporal Harry Burgan Slee MM, 50th Battalion. A student school teacher from Wallaroo Mines, SA prior to enlistment, Cpl Slee embarked with the rank of Private with the 4th Reinforcements from Adelaide on HMAT Ballarat on 12 August 1916. Later promoted to Lance Corporal, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. Subsequently promoted to Corporal, he was posted as wounded and missing in action. It was later determined that he had been killed in action on 25 April 1918, aged 20, and having no known grave is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial..." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)