BERTIE ERNEST EUSTACE LEYDON – Auckland Sister of Mercy is reunited with father’s Victory Medal.

18820 – BERTIE ERNEST EUSTACE LEYDON    

Judith Leydon is the only child of Bertie and Olive (Reid) Leydon of Parnell Auckland.  As as a child and teenager for as long as she could remember, Judith’s father took her to every Anzac Day service at the Auckland Domain for as long as he was able to attend.  Sister Judith M. Leydon RSM, now 87, has been a life-long member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order in Auckland.  Next Anzac Day for Sr. Judith will be rather special – she will be able to honour her father’s  memory in a very personal way by wearing at least one half of the pair of medals her father was awarded for his service in WW1  – ‘half’ seems somewhat ironic but appropriate given Bertie Leydon returned home after the war minus one arm due to injuries sustained on the Somme.

Barry Low, a former NZ Army soldier living in Perth, Western Australia, recently sent MRNZ a Victory Medal named to 18820 Private Bertie Ernest Eustace LEYDON.  Barry had been given the medal  by a friend in NZ many years ago and had kept it with the intention of eventually “doing something” with it.  Barry called me and asked if we could help him find a home for the medal.  We received the medal just after Anzac Day – and have found a home for it !

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18820 Pte. Bertie Leydon – c1916

Bertie Leydon was very much a hands-on man, working as a engineering Pattern Maker for the New Zealand Railways at it Wellington Workshops after he had left school.  Born in June 1884 to Edward LEYDON and Catherine HANAFIN of Sussex St, Grey Lynn, Bertie was part of that group of men engaged in essential industries when the First World War started in 1914, initially exempted from call up however as the war ground on it became necessary for these men to join the ever increasing need of reinforcements, particularly as operations on the Western Front grew in magnitude.  32 year old Bertie Leydon’s call to fight for ‘King & Empire’ came in January 1916 when he was required to quit the Railway Workshops in Wellington and report to Featherston Camp in the Wairarapa for some basic training and kit issues prior to proceeding overseas.  On the 26 of July Pte. Leydon was on his way to England with the 2nd Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment, one of many elements that made up the NZEF’s 15th Reinforcements.  After arrival, pre-deployment preparations of the Battalion were made at the NZEF’s Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain before embarking for Etaples, France on 22 October.

On the 5th of November Pte. Leydon’s battalion went into the field on the Somme.  The Battle of Le Transloy, the fourth and last major battle of the Somme campaign, had officially concluded on 18 October however random barrages continued as did enemy sniping as the Hun was being beaten back and effecting a withdrawal.  It was Feb 1917 during this mopping up phase of the battle that Pte. Leydon was in the process of extricating one of his fellow battalion members from a barbed wire entanglement that he had fallen into, when he received a severe gunshot wound which shattered his lower right arm.  The two men lay tangled in the wire, stuck, before eventually being disentangled by a third.  Field first aid was applied which in Pte. Leydon’s case because of the seriousness of the wound was the application of a tourniquet to his upper arm to stem the blood flow.   He was then moved to the nearest field casualty facility for stabilizing treatment, NZ’s 1st Field Ambulance.  As Judith told me once her Dad had been taken to the aid station he was not looked at again for some considerable time, seemingly forgotten about possibly due to the number of casualties they were dealing with.  Judith said “Dad always said that if they hadn’t forgotten about the tourniquet he probably could have kept his arm.”   Pte. Leydon’s arm was amputated above the elbow at a military hospital in Boulogne before he was evacuated to No 2 NZ General Hospital at Walton-on-Thames, England for convalescence and to have an artificial limb fitted.  Pte. Leydon’s health was then re-assessed and formally classified as “unfit for further service due to wounds received in action”.  After a short leave break in Torquay, Bertie Leydon was embarked at Liverpool for return to NZ in May 1918.

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Returning to his former occupation as a Pattern Maker for the NZR was out of the question for Bertie Leydon however the Onehunga Railway Workshops being close to his post war home in Parnell, kept him on for the remainder of his working life.  Bertie married Olive Myrtle REID in 1929 and together they had just the one daughter, the delightful now 87 year old Sister of Mercy, Sr. Judith May Leydon RSM. 

Footnote:  Sr. Judith is renown in Catholic circles for her years of devoted service to religious instruction at St. Mary’s College, a Catholic School for Girls established by the Sisters of Mercy from Ireland in 1850.  Sr. Judith as both teacher and mentor was honoured along with four other significant women in the history of the college with a sporting & cultural activities house bearing her name – LEYDON House, the others being Dickson, Leo, Loreto and Maher;  Sr. Judith was also the founding Principal of Paul VI College in Samoa.  The tireless Sr. Judith has been a selfless contributor and board member of Auckland’s Mercy Hospital (and latterly the Hospice) since its formation in 1952 through to the present day.

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One last anecdotal coincidence that Judith related to me concerning her father was this:  Some years after the war Bertie Leydon happened to be visiting one of his wife Olive’s sisters, Judith’s aunt.  On the wall in their lounge room was a picture of the aunt’s son, Norman Maxwell – Bertie couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the picture and said something like – “I’ve seen him before – that’s the bloke who pulled me out of the wire after I got shot in the arm! “ – what a small world we live in.

Bertie and Olive Leydon remained in Parnell Auckland area most of their lives.  Bertie Ernest Eustace Leydon died on 04 June 1962, the day after his 78th birthday, and was buried in Waikaraka Cemetery, Onehunga Auckland.  Olive was reunited with Bertie in 1980.

Total Service:        2 years 104 days    

Overseas:                 1 year 324 days

Awards:                    British War Medal, 1914-20; Victory Medal

Note:  The whereabouts of Pte. B. E. Leydon’s British War Medal is unknown – if you can help, please contact MRNZ.

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Bertie’s Leydon’s medal is now on its way to his daughter, Sr. Judith.    Thanks to Barry in Perth for sending the medal to MRNZ.     

The reunited medal tally is now 133.

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