The AIF Project

Walter Allen Leonard CLEARY

Regimental number5320
Date of birth17 September 1890
Place of birthGoroke, County of Lowan, Western Victoria
ReligionRoman Catholic
OccupationCommercial Traveller
Address'Maryvale', Donald, Victoria
Marital statusMarried
Age at embarkation25
Height5' 10.5"
Weight165 lbs
Next of kinWife, Mrs Maybell Cleary, 'Kismet', Horace Street, Sea Lake, Victoria
Enlistment date12 May 1915
Place of enlistmentRoyal Park Military Camp, Victoria
Rank on enlistmentPrivate
Unit name23rd Battalion, 14th Reinforcement
AWM Embarkation Roll number23/40/4
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A28 Miltiades on 1 August 1916
Rank from Nominal RollSergeant
Unit from Nominal Roll23rd Battalion
Other details from Roll of Honour CircularEnlisted 12 May 1916 - 23rd Bn, 14th Reinforcement; taken on strength, 23rd Bn, 2 December 1916; promoted Sergeant, 16 December 1916.
FateKilled in Action 20 March 1917
Place of death or woundingNoreuil, France
Age at death26
Place of burialNo known grave
Commemoration detailsAustralian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

Villers-Bretonneux is a village about 15 km east of Amiens. The Memorial stands on the high ground ('Hill 104') behind the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Fouilloy, which is about 2 km north of Villers-Bretonneux on the east side of the road to Fouilloy.

The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux is approached through the Military Cemetery, at the end of which is an open grass lawn which leads into a three-sided court. The two pavilions on the left and right are linked by the north and south walls to the back (east) wall, from which rises the focal point of the Memorial, a 105 foot tall tower, of fine ashlar. A staircase leads to an observation platform, 64 feet above the ground, from which further staircases lead to an observation room. This room contains a circular stone tablet with bronze pointers indicating the Somme villages whose names have become synonymous with battles of the Great War; other battle fields in France and Belgium in which Australians fought; and far beyond, Gallipoli and Canberra.

On the three walls, which are faced with Portland stone, are the names of 10,885 Australians who were killed in France and who have no known grave. The 'blocking course' above them bears the names of the Australian Battle Honours.

After the war an appeal in Australia raised £22,700, of which £12,500 came from Victorian school children, with the request that the majority of the funds be used to build a new school in Villers-Bretonneux. The boys' school opened in May 1927, and contains an inscription stating that the school was the gift of Victorian schoolchildren, twelve hundred of whose fathers are buried in the Villers-Bretonneux cemetery, with the names of many more recorded on the Memorial. Villers-Bretonneux is now twinned with Robinvale, Victoria, which has in its main square a memorial to the links between the two towns.

Panel number, Roll of Honour,
  Australian War Memorial
98
Miscellaneous information from
  cemetery records
Town. Sea Lake, Victoria
Other details

War service: Western Front

Embarked Melbourne, 1 August 1916; disembarked Plymouth, England, 25 September 1916; marched in to 6th Training Bn, Rollestone, 26 September 1916.

Admitted to Fargo Military Hospital, 30 September 1916 (gastritis).

Proceeded overseas to France, 19 November 1916; taken on strength, 23rd Bn, in the field, 2 December 1916.

Appointed sergeant, 16 December 1916.

Killed in action, 20 March 1917.

Handwritten notation on Form B103: 'Buried ¾ mile N.W. of Fresnes-Les-Montaban 6½ miles N.E. of Arras.'

Statement, Red Cross File No 0750410H, 4406 Pte H. GRIFFITHS, A Company, 23rd Bn, 10 August 1917: 'He was in A. Co., II or III Pltn. He came from Victoria. I had known him about four or 5 months, and knew him well, and saw him regularly. He was a Sergt. in the Battalion. He came over with the 14th reinforcement to the 23rd Battalion, and was Sergt. Major of the reinforcement. The number given is about him. He was the only man of this name in the Battalion. He was a married man. I saw his grave about 400 yards on the right rear of the villages of Noreuil, close to and on the left of a Sunken Road which runs from Vaux to Noreuil. There was a cross with his name, number and Battalion it it.'

Second statement, Pte W. HALE, 23rd Bn, 20 September 1917: 'He was buried on the field just where he fell[.] That was in front of noreuil on the somme front. Sgt. Cleary was a man about 5' 8" or 10" high and a well made man. while with us he used to have a habit of parting his hair in the centre. He was well liked by all in the platoon, and was missed very much.'

Third statement, 5420 Pte M. NORTHBY, A Company, 23rd Bn, 27 September 1917: 'I was told by several men of A. Coy. that he had seen him killed on the 20th March during the attack at Noreuil. Cleary at the time of his death, had his officer's (Lt. & Adjt. Evan's [sic] paybook with him, and he was shot through the heart and through the paybook. I never heard where he was buried.'

Fourth statement (undated), 2nd Lt G.E, McLaren, 23rd Bn (patient, 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, England): 'Sergt. Cleary was killed 20 yards from me, ¼ mile in front of noreuil in an attack. We had to retire and leave a lot of our casualties. Five weeks afterwards the ground having been taken in the meantime, we found a grave on the exact spot, markedin indelible pencil "To the memory of an Australian Sergeant, 23rd Batt." As we were the only people on that part of the ground and he the only sergeant missing we assumed it must be Cleary. He died about 20 mins. after being hit.'

Fifth statement, 145 Pte H.A. HENRY, 23rd Bn (patient, 16th General Hospital, Le Treport, France), 19 October 1917: 'He was my Platoon Sergeant in A. Coy, IV Platoon. He was killed by a shell on the morning of March 20th in front of noreuil and Vaux, during the attack on the village. His grave is on the rise above the Sunken Road, on the right hand side, going from Vaux to Noreuil and half a mile from Noreuil.'

Sixth statement, 3431 Pte A. HOLCOMB, 23rd Bn, 18 January 1918: 'I knew Casualty. It was in an advance at Flers about 7 a.m. A H.E. shell exploded near killing Casualty and Lieut. Evans instantly. I was about 20 yds. away. I know nothing as to burial.'

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal
SourcesNAA: B2455, CLEARY Walter Allen Leonard
Red Cross File No 0750410H

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