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


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 to find a home for the medal.  We received the medal just after Anzac Day and now have found a home for it.


Judith Leydon was 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 religious order, Sisters of Mercy 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.


18820 Pte. Bertie Leydon – c1916

Bertie Leydon from the time he was a schoolboy wanted to be a railway engineer (train driver).  Born in June 1884 to Edward LEYDON and Catherine HANAFIN of Sussex St, Grey Lynn,  Bertie soon showed he was very capable with his hands, always making things.  Once he left school Bertie tio the first step to being a railway engineer by taking a job as a Pattern Maker in the NZR’s Workshops in Wellington.

When the First World War started in 1914, Bertie was part of that group of men engaged in essential industries which initially exempted them from call up however, as the war ground on it became necessary for even these men to join the ever increasing need of reinforcements.  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.


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 various other roles for the remainder of his working life.  Bertie married Olive Myrtle REID in 1929 and together they had just the one daughter, the delightful and now 87 year old Sister of Mercy, Sr. Judith May Leydon RSM. Sr. Judith well remembers her father practicing his handwriting with his left hand for hours at a time at night after work until he was able to write as well with his left hand as had previously done with the right. 

One remarkable 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 for most of their married 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.

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.

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

Overseas:   1 year  324 days

Total NZEF Service:   2 years 104 days    

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


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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