A little town in Belgium goes all out every year to honour a World War One soldier with a Goulburn link.
William Leggett served in the British Army and was killed as part of a battle in the Belgian village of Geluwe, near Ypres on the Western Front on October 14, 1914. He was believed to be the first Australian killed during WW1 and gained legendary status in Geluwe for confronting the Germans with three other soldiers on horseback and pursuing them across a farm.
Villagers buried him in the local cemetery the following morning. In more recent time the village has named a street after him and erected a monument that is replicated at Goulburn’s Rocky Hill memorial.
Leggett was born in Lithgow but raised in Goulburn in a house nestled next to the Wollondilly River, near the McDermott Drive Bridge. Descendants still live in the city and Crookwell.
While Leggett’s story is well known, Canberra man Richard Woods wants to take it a step further. Mr Woods wrote to Goulburn Mulwaree Council asking that a street be named in his honour. Councillors endorsed this at a meeting this month but also pointed out that Goulburn had named Leggett Park after him.
“I’m glad they’re progressing it and I’ll be making them aware of it in Belgium,” Mr Woods said.
He has a Goulburn connection through his grandfathers, Dr Robert Grieve Woods who practiced in Goulburn for 47 years and served with the Australian Light Horse in Palestine in WW1. Some of his war collection has been donated to Rocky Hill Museum. Another grandfather was Neville Sendall, of well known solicitors, Johnson and Sendall.
But after visiting Rocky Hill and helping out the Belgian embassy with the war’s 100th anniversary, Mr Woods’ interest intensified. He met Geluwe resident John Durnez who in 2013 was awarded an OAM for his work in tracking down the stories of Australian soldiers killed at Flanders. Durnez had also undertaken extensive research on Leggett with another local, Dirk Decuypere, who together initiated the steel and bronze memorial of a fallen soldier honouring Leggett.
Mr Woods has visited the town and said Leggett was revered for his role in defending its people. Every ANZAC Day residents hold a service for him.
“I went to his grave and there were about 20 Belgians there honouring him. They show all of his history so it is very much a live story,” he said.
“...I thought it was so special in a little town in Belgium that they go to all this effort to ensure Leggett’s memory is preserved.”
Leggett was employed as a junior attendant at the Goulburn Technical Museum for two years, before moving to Sydney. After a year in Sydney he informed his parents of his ambitions to become a wireless telegrapher and travelled to London via South Africa and New York in June, 1911.
While travelling, he enlisted as a trooper in the British Army 1st Life Guards, part of the prestigious Household Cavalry.
Mr Woods said Leggett and about three other soldiers encountered the Germans advancing on Geluwe, shot at them and “saved the town.” He and four Germans lost their lives in the skirmish.
Geluwe was held by the Germans during the war’s duration and was completely destroyed. However it was rebuilt postwar.
For Mr Woods, it’s a story that must live on. He had also suggested that the international relationship with Geluwe be recognised in the Rocky Hill Museum extension. But the council rejected this, saying it focused on one person’s connection with Goulburn and Belgium when others were “just as significant.”
But the street naming is likely to proceed at some stage.
Following public advertising, and if there are no objections, Leggett will be added to the council’s list of pre-approved street names for allocation sometime in the future. The Geographical Names Board must also approve the name.