Friday, 15 January 2016

Best mates Les Ward and Keith Harder of Coburg

Les Ward, second from left in the back row. Keith Harder, second from right in back row.

Les Ward and Keith Harder, both former pupils of Coburg State School, were best mates. They enlisted in the Army Medical Corps on the same day. Both were stretcher bearers with the 12th Field Ambulance and they usually shared a tent of a billet.

On the same day, another local man, 13366 Private Walter (Wattie) Samuel Webber, enlisted. Their consecutive numbers suggest he was standing in line behind Les Ward. Wattie Webber, a ‘professional physical culturalist and first class all round athlete’ according to his mother in the Roll of Honour Circular, served as a stretcher bearer in the 13th Field Ambulance until he was killed in action on 25 April 1918.

13295 Private Howard Keith Harder, Army Medical Corps, survived the war, although he was wounded in early 1918 and evacuated to England for treatment.

His best mate, 13365 Private Leslie Thomas Ward, 12th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, was not so lucky. Les Ward, whose father John was Coburg rate collector, died of gunshot wounds in the back and shoulder on 12 March 1917.

Keith Harder had been in hospital and didn't receive the news of Les’s death until two weeks later. On Friday 24th March 1917 Keith wrote in his diary, ‘Heard the sad news that my dear pal Les had passed away. He had been suffering from gangrene, double pneumonia and pleurisy and at last his heart failed him. I cannot realise he has gone to the greater world and my heart is full of deep sympathy for his beloved parents whose suffering is above imagination. Poor old Les . My good chum. I will forever have you in my thoughts.’ 

Keith Harder honoured his mate Les all his life. Keith kept the name tag belonging to Les Ward and mentions him many times in his diary. His own tag and Les's are still in the possession of Harder family members today, who also treasure the diary Keith Harder kept throughout the war.

Both the Ward and the Harder families suffered the loss of loved ones during the war. Keith Harder’s brother Victor died, as did Les Ward’s brother-in-law Bert Crowle. Today, members of the Harder family remember with both sadness and pride the wartime service of the Harder brothers, but also keep alive the memory of Les Ward and other friends and family members who served.

Thank you to Paul of Strathfieldsaye for showing such interest in this project and for supplying photos and information so willingly. 

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