Making Targets of Ourselves
It was early afternoon, Wednesday, 28 April 1915. A group of dishevelled men in dirty, pea-soup coloured uniforms, many blood stained, gathered on a narrow beach by the blue-green Aegean Sea. Despite the shriek and bang of shrapnel shells and sounds of distant battle echoing over the ridges and gullies, many, when given food or drink, fell asleep with it in their hands. The men belonged to the 11th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and they had landed in the first wave of the Gallipoli Landing on 25 April. Less than half the battalion had assembled, and a small group were very worried that one of those still missing was Sergeant Parry.
Parry walked in along the beach on Thursday afternoon.
When I read this in a hand typed manuscript many decades later, I had to leave my desk and stare out a window of the JS Battye Library for some time, watching the sun set over the Perth CBD. It had taken a long search, but Harold Leslie ‘Les’ Parry was now no longer a name in military records but a living person.
I had found his photograph in my grand mother’s photo album, a tall slim man in AIF uniform in the garden of her West Perth house, a garden that had changed little when I knew it as a child in the 1960s; he was squinting and smiling shyly at my grand mother in the late morning sun. His humble appearance belied his future – he would serve as a platoon sergeant in the first wave of the Gallipoli Landing and be promoted second lieutenant three days later. The 24-year-old was described as ‘a particularly fine type of the thorough bred Australian’ and shortly before the photo was taken had been a railway accountant and civil servant. He had attended the newly formed school at Guildford; fellow students were the Harper brothers and the Lukins; Parry spent holidays with the latter at their property, Haisthorpe, outside Beverly, Western Australia.
Two months after the Landing, the 11th Battalion was required to make a diversion at a place called Silt Spur, in an operation the survivors would later describe as one of the most unpleasant undertaken by them during the whole war. For hours on the hot afternoon of 28 June 1915, members of the battalion had to lie on the bare bullet and shrapnel swept spur. Casualties were heavy and at some stage, while trying to take troops out onto the coverless spur, Second Lieutenant Harold Leslie Parry was killed. The operation cost the battalion 63 casualties: 21 killed—three officers and 18 other ranks—and 42 wounded.
Less than six weeks later, Dudley Lukin and the Harper brothers, of the 10th Light Horse, would be slaughtered with the flower of rural Western Australia’s youth at the Nek; of the three Lukin brothers and Parry, only one of the four would return home. Their state grieved the loss of many such young men, men of great promise, who the young state could ill afford to lose.
‘Parry. L’ is commemorated on a stone war memorial in Stirling Square, Guildford.
Historian Dr James Hurst prepared the above article for sharing with the TREENET community for ANZAC Day 2022. The photograph inspired the research which provided new insights to the Gallipoli Campaign and led to James’ two books:
The Landing in the Dawn, Dissecting a Legend, The Landing at ANZAC, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915
Game to the Last: 11th Australian Infantry Battalion at Gallipoli
The title ‘Making targets of ourselves’, was taken from one of Les’ letters home. It is not known whether Les Parry is commemorated by a living memorial in an avenue of honour in Perth. Anyone with further information about Harold Leslie ‘Les’ Parry is encouraged to contact TREENET on [email protected]