Harold Leslie (Les) LARSEN MM

Poppy

LARSEN, Harold Leslie

Service Number: 4026
Enlisted: 3 February 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 3rd Field Ambulance
Born: Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, 28 January 1895
Home Town: Bundaberg, Bundaberg, Queensland
Schooling: Fairymead State School & Bundaberg South State School, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Engine driver
Died: Killed in action, Zonnebeke, Belgium, 9 November 1917, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery
Plot 2, Row D, Grave 4
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Bundaberg Fairymead Sugar Company WW1 Honour Roll, Bundaberg War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

3 Feb 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 4026, 3rd Field Ambulance
12 Jun 1915: Involvement Private, SN 4026, 3rd Field Ambulance, Third Ypres
12 Jun 1915: Embarked Private, SN 4026, 3rd Field Ambulance, HMAT Karoola, Brisbane
7 Nov 1917: Honoured Military Medal, Third Ypres

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Biography contributed by Sue Smith

Harold Leslie Larsen was born on the 28th January 1895 at Bundaberg, Queensland, the 3rd son and 4th child born to his parents Ludwig and Martha Larsen.  Harold went by the name of ‘Les’ and had 5 brothers and 5 sisters.  His formal schooling was gained at the Fairymead and Bundaberg South State Schools.  After completing his schooling, he did an apprenticeship as a fitter at the Fairymead Sugar Mill and then went on to become an engine driver.  

On the 3rd February 1915, Les enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Bundaberg aged 20.  He’s described as being 5ft 6ins tall with a fair complexion, brown eyes and black hair.  His service number was 4026, his rank a Private and his Unit was the 3rd Field Ambulance 6th Reinforcement. 

His 2 older brothers, Herbert Alexander known as Bert and William Edgar known as Billy, both enlisted in the AIF…Bert in December 1914 with the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance and Billy in October 1916.  Billy was discharged 3 months later medically unfit in January 1917.  Bert was awarded the Serbian Gold Medal in September 1916 for gallantry and devotion to duty.  He was also Mentioned in Despatches in December 1916 and was returned to Australia in February 1918.

Les embarked from Brisbane for Gallipoli on the 12th June 1915 on the transport ship HMAT Karoola.  He went ashore at Gallipoli on the 9th August 1915.  A little over a month later he was admitted to hospital with diarrhoea and a few days later was admitted to the 1st Casualty Clearing Station with dysentery and evacuated to Egypt on the hospital ship HMHS Maheno.  Once in Egypt he was admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis and then later to the 2nd Auxiliary Hospital also in Heliopolis.  He was finally discharged on the 12th November and proceeded to Zeitoun Camp where he stayed till embarking from Alexandria on the HMHS Assaye for return to Gallipoli on the 4th December 1915.  He remained at Gallipoli until the evacuation of the troops on the 18th December to Lemnos Island on the HMT Caledonia.  En-route he contracted mumps and was admitted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital upon arrival at Lemnos Island.  He celebrated Christmas in hospital and was discharged for duty, attached to the 1st Field Ambulance, on the 30th December.  On the 7th January 1917 Les embarked from Lemnos Island for Alexandria on the RMS Empress of Britain and a week later re-joined the 3rd Field Ambulance at the Tel-el-Kebir Camp. 

Les remained here with his Unit preparing for the move to France which came on the 27th March 1916 when the whole of the 3rd Field Ambulance embarked from Alexandria on the HMT Kingstonian.  Also serving in the 3rd Field Ambulance with Les was my grandfather, Cyril Morsley.  He kept a diary and the following is an extract from his diary on the 30th March 1916 documenting what happened during the voyage.

“Retired at 7.30pm.  All lights out, etc.  At 9.15pm I heard the cry “Man Overboard!” and the steam hooter on the funnel made an awful din.  It appears that Fennell (Private P.E.R. 2252) walked in his sleep and walked over the rail.  The Sentry saw him and shouted.  We went full steam astern, lowered a boat and a buoy etc. but did not recover his body.  Continued on with the journey by 9.45pm.”

Les and the 3rd Field Ambulance disembarked on the 3rd April at Marseilles, France and entrained there on a 3 day journey.  They disembarked at Godewaersvelde then marched to a village called Pradelles where the Unit was billeted in a farmhouse and barn. 

In mid-May the Unit moved to Sailly just 2.5miles from the front.  While based here they experienced heavy bombardments and casualties in late May and for the first several days of June then in mid-June they experienced a gas attack. 

The Unit moved 3 times in a week in early July arriving at Wargnies on the 12th.  In late July Les was detached for temporary duty to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek Siding in Belgium between Ypres and Poperinge.  The Unit moved to Berteaucourt on the 2nd August where Les joined them a few days later.  The Unit moved again in late August to La Vicogne where General Birdwood presented Distinguished Conduct Medals to 20 men of the 1st Division, 3 of them from the 3rd Field Ambulance.  The Unit moved a month later to Gezaincourt and then 3 days later entrained for Belgium arriving at Proven on the 27th August.  While here the General Officer Commanding the 1st Australian Division, Major-General H. B. Walker, inspected their Unit.  Two weeks later the Unit moved to Steenvorde, France and then on to Eperlecques and Nordausques arriving at Pont Remy on the 20th October.  The next day they marched to Bellancourt arriving at St Sauver the following day and finally at Buire the next day. 

On the 11th November 1916 the 3rd Field Ambulance, including Les, were serving at the 1st Anzac Rest Station when it was bombed.  The following is recorded in the Unit Diary:

“At 00.40 this morning an enemy aeroplane flying low, dropped 6 bombs on the 1st Anzac Rest Station.  Five patients were killed outright, thirty three wounded more or less seriously and three slightly.  Of the personnel at this station one was killed, four seriously wounded and one slightly wounded.  All of these belonged to No. 3 Australian Field Ambulance.  One bomb was dropped on the Orderly Room, destroying a number of the records of the station and of the unit.  Damage was done to four marquee tents and eight bell tents.  The distinguishing lamps were burning brightly at the time the attack was made.” 

My grandfather Cyril also records this event in his diary:

“Was in full swing with Medicals - Taubes overhead and shrapnel bursting all around.  Bombed our camp and at 2 o’clock…poor McNeil was brought in nearly dead - grasped on my arm.  Later Staff Sergeant Bannister came in with fractured femur and buttock blown off.  Sergeant Roy Elliott was killed and 8 others.  Patients many, 36 wounded, I dressed most, some very serious…Corporal Grieves and Baxter.  4 o’clock 2 Germans - 1 Lieutenant & Sergeant Major - walked in and gave up as prisoners, burst of machine gun about 1klm away.” 

From Cyril’s diary the following day:

“Gas helmets on.  Germans are after our dump of ammunition with gas shells nearby apparently & they will blow us up yet!  Staff Sergeant Bannister died tonight 7pm.  ‘Dad’ (one of the Drs) had just visited him…hip gone and split nearly in halves.  I saw him as he died – I saluted and left sad.  Three of our men gone now.”

A month later the Unit moved to Bernafay Wood where they stayed till the 8th January 1917 when they moved to Ribemont and then to Warloy.  A month later they moved to Millencourt where they stayed until the 6th April when they moved to Bapaume and a few days later to Beugny.  Two weeks later saw them move again to Avesnes.  While here the Rest Station was bombed so the Unit moved to Valux then back to Avesnes. 

The next move came 10 days later and took them to Buire.  They were here for quite some time until late July when they moved to Hondeghem.  They were here for 2 weeks then moved to Vieux Berquin in early August.  A month later the Unit marched out from here camping overnight near Fletre and arrived at Wippenhoek, Belgium, the following day. 

On the 4th October 1917 Les was involved in an action at Westhoek, Belgium, that saw him awarded the Military Medal on the 7th November.  The citation reads as follows:

“At WESTHOEK, East of YPRES and the area forward of this place on 4th October 1917 whilst working in a bearer squad, highly distinguished himself and set an example to all bearers. For seven days in succession, with a break of only 20 hours, he helped to carry wounded back to safety by day and night, under heavy shellfire, through shell holes and knee deep mud. When rations ran out and supplies of stretchers were needed this man formed one of a volunteer squad to return at night over a mile of trackless shell holed country, and through the concentrated fire of enemy counter attack. He set a high example to all stretcher bearers associated with him”.

Just 2 days after being awarded the Military Medal, on the 9th November 1917, Les was killed at Zonnebeke, Belgium, aged 22.  He was buried at the Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery at Ypres. 

Les’ name appears on the Fairymead House WW1 Honour Board, the Bundaberg South School WW1 Honour Board and the Bundaberg War Memorial in the centre of the town.

Harold Leslie Larsen was awarded for service in WW1 the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Anzac Medallion and the Military Medal.   

Respectfully submitted by Sue Smith 3rd June 2021

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