James Rodgers continues the series in which he commemorates the Sydney University cricketers who died serving in the First World War, a century ago. Today: Eric Leggo.
Eric Neal Clamp Leggo was born on 12 September 1895 and died on 20 October 1918.
In 1887, a young architect, Henry Thomas Leggo married Elizabeth Maria Neal in the Wesleyan Methodist Stanmore Church. They were to have four children but their lives were touched by sorrow. In 1894 their eldest, Stanley, died at the age of five. Dulice, the youngest, died in July 1908 aged only eleven months. And Eric Neal Clamp Leggo, aged 23, died of wounds suffered in France on 20 October 1918 just 22 days before the Armistice as the guns over Europe finally fell silent.
The 19th century German philosopher, Georg Hegel, wrote: ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the gathering of the dusk.’ Humans come to an understanding of things only at their end. Understanding them, we know that they are lost. For the Leggo family, the loss of three of their four children may have helped understanding of what had been lost but each only accentuated the awful grief each loss visited on them. It was a family used to longevity in previous generations. At the time of Eric Leggo’s death, both his paternal grandparents were still alive. His grandmother was to live another 13 years, dying at 94. His father lived until 1950; his mother to 1953.
Eric was educated firstly at Newington College in 1906 and 1907 (the family then lived at Trafalgar Street, Stanmore) and then from 1908 to 1912 at Sydney Grammar School. Why he changed schools and what he then did from 1913 until he enrolled in Medicine at Sydney University in 1916 remains a mystery, as does any reason for his choice of profession. His father later wrote informing the military authorities that his son had been a First Grade cricketer and a First Grade Rugby player in 1915 and 1916 (he played Rugby for the Cambridge club, based in Newtown, which competed in Sydney’s First Grade competition between 1915 and 1919).
There were 151 students in Medicine I in 1916, and one of those who passed first year successfully in December 1916 was ENC Leggo. He enrolled in Medicine II, but 1916 was to be his only year as an undergraduate. He also joined SUCC, unusually for those times, as a First Grader at another club. He had played for Petersham against University during the previous season in January 1916. The University players could be forgiven for having forgotten details of that match, which remains University’s most conclusive loss. Petersham’s two future Test players, Tommy Andrews and Johnny Taylor, were irresistible in their 240 partnership in two hours. On the second day, Leggo took 3-16 in University’s dismal first innings of 83.
Leggo played three seasons with Petersham, working his way up from Fourth Grade in 1913-14 to First Grade in 1915-16. He took wickets consistently and cheaply (71 at 14) and scored valuable hard-hitting runs down the order (393 at 13). He took 4-27 and 5-26 in 2nd Grade against Redfern in November 1915 and then played his initial First Grade game against Balmain at Birchgrove, taking 1-77 and 1-20. After this nervous start, he had settled into the rhythm of First Grade by the time of the University match.
Severely weakened by the demands of the War, University’s First Grade struggled through the 1916-17 season but finished a creditable sixth in the unofficial competition. Dentistry student Ray (‘Mick’) Bardsley dominated the batting; Medical undergraduates Les Donovan and Bruce Barrack were quality all-rounders, as was the perennial student Les Best, who was at University for eight years plodding through his medical studies. Some of the other players, however, were clearly out of their depth. Leggo was selected in this side for round one (First Grade cap no. 156) against Balmain. Quite improbably, he opened the batting and was run out for 0.
It seemed that the 20 year old Leggo was being nursed along while being prepared for greater things. This was a pattern of his life. His school studies prepared him for his medical studies which were to be preparatory to his practising as a doctor. His bowling in Grade cricket was carefully managed. Promotions came one Grade at a time and he was patiently manouvered in games in order not to expose him to more settled batsmen. Preparation. Improvement. Advance. His service in the militia forces and his three years in the Sydney Grammar cadets, however, preceded something more sinister: enrolment at Newtown in the 10th Australian Field Artillery in February 1917 and service in France. He didn’t play cricket the week that he enlisted and then concluded his University cricket career with one last match against Paddington at Hampden Park (now named Trumper Park). Leggo batted last, made a single and didn’t bowl.
No SUCC Annual Reports from these seasons survive so, for over 60 years, all University memory of ENC Leggo was lost. Careful reconstruction from the newspapers of the time and interviews 40 years ago with some of the surviving players tells some of the story. When University played at Chatswood in January 1917, Leggo, with his bustling medium pacers, destroyed Gordon’s first innings with his best Grade figures, 6-33. Included among his wickets was that of Frank Iredale, the former Test cricketer, then aged 49. He had played the first of his 14 Tests in 1894, the year before Eric Leggo was born.
Petersham’s records, however, do survive. The 1915-16 Report was insistently patriotic: ‘Your committee cannot too strongly urge upon members the need to enlist…To those cricketers fighting for King and Country, we extend our good wishes for a safe and speedy return.’ The 1916-17 Report lists Leggo among those doing ‘their duty’. By 1917-18, five former Petersham players had been killed. Then, in 1918-19, Leggo is listed among the seven from Petersham who had died. ‘Reference to the Club’s Honour Roll will show that another of your Club members (E.Leggo) has paid the supreme sacrifice.’
At the time, lists of cricketers killed were understandably confused, especially the SUCC names. In the 1917-18 NSWCA Report, nine SUCC members are listed as killed in the War. Of those, AR Blacket is given as BLACKETT; CD Holliday as HALLIDAY; AD Mitchell as GD Mitchell; ED Slade as EW Slade. GRC Clarke is listed under the Gordon Club but not SUCC. The nineteenth century SUCC players, MacLaurin, Armstrong, Verge, and Gregson are not listed. Lower grade players Hughes and Barton are missing. Muir is missing. Mullarkey, Pulling and Smith are all listed but none of them ever played for SUCC. This 1917-18 Report was printed too early for the deaths of JSD Walker (21 July) and ENC Leggo (20 October). In the next Annual Report, 1918-19, there are no lists of the dead.
Gunner Leggo was an imposing figure on enlistment, nearly 6 feet tall, weighing 67 kilograms. He embarked on HMAT ‘Port Sydney’ on 5 November 1917 and was sent to France in 1918. There he twice, in April and June, suffered the horrors of gas attacks. Rejoining his Battery, he was wounded at Imberlait Farm near St Souplet on 18 October. He had been hit by fragments of a shell in the left side of his stomach and in his left arm when covering an American advance. Two others on the same gun were hit and killed. He was carried to the 41st Casualty Clearing Station. There, two days later, he died an agonising death and was buried at the Roisel Communal Cemetery.
Eric Leggo’s grandfather, William Charles Leggo (1836-1920) survived the Crimean War as a 19 year old and now he outlived his grandson. At the age of 82, Mr Leggo mourned another death of another of his grandchildren, in distant France.