Harold William HEATH

HEATH, Harold William

Service Number: SX6624
Enlisted: 24 June 1940, Wayville, South Australia
Last Rank: Warrant Officer Class 2
Last Unit: 2nd/43rd Infantry Battalion
Born: Wallaroo, South Australia, 9 July 1919
Home Town: Wallaroo, Copper Coast, South Australia
Schooling: Kadina Memorial High School
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Killed in Action, New Guinea, 18 October 1943, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Lae War Cemetery
Section E, Plot E, Row C, Grave 9, Lae War Cemetery, Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Kadina Memorial High School WW2 Honour Roll, Wallaroo Lloyd Memorial 'Welsh' Congregational Church Honour Board, Wallaroo RSL Clubroom Honour Board, Wallaroo Soldiers Memorial Arch
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World War 2 Service

24 Jun 1940: Enlisted Private, SX6624, Wayville, South Australia
24 Jun 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Warrant Officer Class 2, SX6624, 2nd/43rd Infantry Battalion
25 Jun 1940: Involvement Private, SX6624
3 Jul 1940: Promoted Corporal
3 Aug 1941: Wounded Corporal, SX6624, 2nd/43rd Infantry Battalion, Siege of Tobruk
8 Dec 1941: Promoted Sergeant
21 Sep 1943: Promoted Warrant Officer Class 2, 2nd/43rd Infantry Battalion, (acting WO2)
18 Oct 1943: Involvement Warrant Officer Class 2, SX6624, 2nd/43rd Infantry Battalion, New Guinea - Huon Peninsula / Markham and Ramu Valley /Finisterre Ranges Campaigns
Date unknown: Involvement

‘A Gallant Soldier and Comrade’

Harold William HEATH SX6624
Harold was the only son of Ethel and Herbert Thomas, having two sisters, Gwen and Hilda. The Heath family were amongst the early settlers at Wallaroo, with their Great-Grandfather being an early architects and contractor in the town. Harry’s father, Herbert Heath was education at the Wallaroo Public School and employed at the S.A. Railways, Waterside, and Wallaroo-Mount Lyell. He typified his generation being a member of the Druids Lodge, the Princess Royal Masonic Lodge, and the Wallaroo Congregational Church. Harry emulated this service and support for his community.
He followed in his father’s footstep being educated at the local Primary School before attending the nearby Kadina Memorial School. The ‘Kadina and Wallaroo Times’ described him as having a “quiet disposition and engaging personality which won him many friends. He was a member of the Old Scholars Association”.
Post school, Harry was a labourer farming at the Hillman’s Ungarra property on the West Coast with an ultimate ambition of becoming a farmer. He was also an early volunteer in the Militia since January ’39, enlisting for service in WWII at Wallaroo on the 18th June 1940, just prior to his 21st birthday. His initial training was at Woodside in the Adelaide Hills where he was allocated to the 2/43rd Battalion as SX6624 and quickly promoted to Corporal in September.
Following pre-embarkation leave he sailed for the Middle East, arriving in February ’41. Within six months he was already an Acting Sergeant when he was wounded in action in August, but again within three months received a promotion to Acting Sergeant. As a natural leader, he was in command of his Platoon during the hard-fought battle of El Alamein.
Back home, Harry’s school at Kadina High, were particularly supportive of their Old Scholars with close to 150 having enlisted by the end of ’41. Several had returned to their old school when home on leave. When Harry’s sister, Hilda married in February ’42 to Air Pilot John Mc-Farlane of the RAAF, a special toast was made at the reception '' To Our Absent Ones'' -Sister Mary McFarlane, of the Hospital Ship 'Oranje’, only sister of the bridegroom; and Sgt Harold Heath, serving with the AIF. abroad, only brother of the bride.” Harry was fortunate in being able to return to Wallaroo to visit his parents just prior to his father’s death in May ’43.
Harry briefly transferred to the 24th Infantry Trig Battalion then by June of ’43 Harry he was transferred to the Australian Special Group and promotion ot Sergeant. He eventually left the dust of the Middle East, where he and his men wore the title ‘Rat of Tobruk’ with pride, to return safely to Australia and home via Sydney.
This was followed by a totally different preparation in the steamy conditions of Queensland in preparation to leave Cairns on the ‘Manoora’ for more warfare once in Milne Bay. During this service in New Guinea, Harry received another promotion as Acting Warrant Officer, just over a week before he was killed in action at Scarlet Beach, aged just 24, on the 18th October, 1943. This talented leader and only son, was buried at Satelberg before later being reburied at the Lae War Cemetery in April ’44. His local paper, the ‘Kadina and Wallaroo Times’ paid a moving tribute to this young man in November 1943:
‘Soon after the outbreak of war Harold, like many other young men, heard the call of his country and enlisted in June, 1940. Going overseas, he later became one of those heroic ‘Rats of Tobruk’, going through all the horrors of the Siege during the course of which he was wounded. Promoted to Sergeant, he was transferred to Palestine as Sergeant Instructor to the reinforcements. He was in the battle of El Alamein and was for some time in command of his platoon. Returning to Australia with the famous 9th Division he, following a period of leave at Wallaroo, went with them to New Guinea and took part in the battle at Lae. Spoken of as a good soldier, his officers and many of the men whom he trained have testified to his ability, and had he lived he would in a few days later, have-received the commission for which he had been recommended.”
The community further honoured Harry at the Wallaroo Council Meeting, reporting, with regret “that W.O. II Harold Heath, a son of the late Mr Herb. Heath, an old resident of Wallaroo, was killed in action since the last meeting and that letters of condolence be sent the bereaved relatives.”
His mother, Ethel, also received a poignant letter from Harry’s Battalion Commanding Officer, conveying the high esteem in which Harry was held by both officers and men. In part it read:
"This is to express on behalf of all officers and men of the Bn., condolences at the loss of your son, a gallant soldier and comrade, liked and respected by all of us. I had recommended his appointment as a commissioned officer, which would have happened by this had he lived. His splendid character has helped and encouraged us all so much over here."
Perhaps the most touching and personal communication was coordinated through a Red Cross representative interviewing a member of Harry’s unit with poignant but unofficial information. It was reprinted in the ‘Kadina and Wallaroo Times:’
“A/W.O-2 Heath met his death instantaneously from a bullet wound while he was leading his Platoon. He was regarded as one of the most enthusiastic men in his unit, and was a strict disciplinarian and very fair. The men of his section admired him, both as a soldier and as a man. Those who were close to your son realised what a good soldier he really was, as he was always very quiet, and even more so when anything was afoot. He would go out, do his job well, and render his report with hardly ever mention of himself. On arrival in New Guinea, W.O. Heath was made C.S.M. of his Company, but after the first action, when three officers were wounded, he again took over the Platoon to lead an attack. He moved his Platoon into position with his cool headedness, and was first across the line. The Battalion agrees they have lost a great soldier and man and his name is often brought up when they are resting and talking together. Burial service was conducted with military honors, and a representative reports the grave is well cared for by friends.” Words and memories that meant so much to a grieving mother.
A further letter was also received from the King which read: “:-"Buckingham Palace.-The Queen and I offer you our heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow. We pray that your country's gratitude for a life so nobly given in its service may bring you some measure of consolation. -Signed George R.I."
By 1944 the Kadina Old Scholars reported that 22 of their number, including Harry, had paid the supreme sacrifice. A huge number for a small country area. While they were proud of their over 360 enlistees, it was also distressing when they learned one of their number would not return. At each school assembly, the current students would honor the fallen with a silent tribute.
Harry earned the 1939/45 Star, African Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal and War Medal which were presented to Ethel in February, 1950. His community honoured him with a tribute to him is in the Wallaroo Cemetery where both his parents are buried.
Researched and written by Kaye Lee daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion


An Infantry Man's Burial

The following description of an infantry man,s burial by R.L.Downs of 24th Brigade Headquarters(Intelligence Section) gives some idea of how Harold was laid to rest.
The four men of the burial party pushed the small trolley that carried the remains
Of their colleague to the site of the prepared shallow grave alongside the track.
They were accompanied by a Padre. The body rested on a stretcher, wrapped in a
shroud consisting of a standard grey army blanket.
On reaching the site, the burial party quietly and gently lifted the shroud and
lowered their colleague slowly and with great care to the bottom of the grave.
Then, on their hands and knees, reaching down the four infantrymen
meticulously tucked, folded and smoothed the blanket around their late friend.
The effort was reminiscent of the procedure of mothers everywhere, as they
put small children to sleep, fussing and tucking and smoothing the bedclothes.
Yet these were hardened veterans, with a number of battle campaigns among
them from Tobruk to Lae. Each of them was aware that, but for the grace of
God, it could have been any one of them in that grave. It is the closeness of the
infantrymen to death, often for months at a time, that causes them to accept
mortality. It is that acceptance which promotes the unbelievable bond that
develops between them.
When the party had completed its ministering the men stood above the grave,
looking down at their friend as the Padre presented the requiem service. At a
Silent signal, they picked up the shovels and as one, with the Padre, returned
To the trolley and commenced the return journey along the track.
Your writer stood for some time looking at the party disappearing in the
distance, contemplating the very simple and basic burial he had just witnessed.
It was an infantryman,s funeral, marked by genuine respect, caring and compassion, demonstrated so effectively by his colleagues,



Harold grew up in Wallaroo and was educated at Wallaroo Primary School where he received his Q.C.(Qualifying Certificate) at the end year 7 when he was 12 years old. He then went to Kadina High School for the next 2 years, but insisted on leaving school at 14 to go farming. At first with a family friend at Ungarra,and after 15months back in the Wallaroo area. Later he did his Militia training at the hall in Kadina. By 1940 his capabilities were recognised and he was promoted to Corporal. By January 30th 1940 he was attending an N.C.O. Training camp at Woodside to ratify this.


Biography contributed by Jane Sturm

"SX6624 Sergeant (later Acting Warrant Officer 2) Harold William Heath, 2/43 Battalion, of Wallaroo, SA. Formerly a labourer, Sgt Heath enlisted at Wayville, SA, on 24 June 1940 and served in the Middle East where he was wounded in action. He later served in New Guinea, where he was killed in action at Scarlet Beach on 18 October 1943 aged 24 years." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)