James Leslie DRYBURGH
Eyes blue, Hair brown, Complexion fresh
James Leslie Dryburgh - All Gave Some, Some Gave All
Can You Help to Identify Les?
Les’ body was not recovered and there are no records of his burial. There still is a chance he might be identified, but we need help.
A mass grave was found in 2008 that the Germans had dug for 250 bodies they had recovered after the battle. 166 of these soldiers have been identified and given proper burials and recognition through finding family DNA donors. 84 soldiers remain and some identifications are highly likely.
We have found a female line (mt DNA) donor for Les, but we still need to find a male (Y) DNA donor.
Les did not have any Australian brothers. His family came from in the Weymss area on the southern coast of Fife, Scotland and two of his great uncles migrated to Allegheny, near Pittsburghm, Pennsylvania, USA. If you know anything of Les’s family in Australia the US or the UK, we would like to hear from you.
See the DNA box at the end of the story for what we do know about his family.
Les’s Early Life
James Leslie “Les” Dryburgh was born in 1893 in Minmi, Wallsend, New South Wales, near Newcastle. He was the third of John and Annie (nee Mean) Dryburgh’s four surviving children. His three sisters were Jane (Ginnie), Annie and Ada.
Les likely attended the Wallsend Public School, which had been built with the support of the Wallsend Coal Company.
Coal mining ran in the family and the miners had to go where the jobs were. Les’ father migrated from Wemyss, Fife, Scotland to Wallsend, New South Wales in 1882. In the mid-1800’s two of Les’ great uncles had migrated to the US coal mining area near Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Les was working in the mines before he was 16 and was at Wallsend C Pit when he enlisted.
Life would have been difficult for Les and his sisters. John died when Les was just 5 and his mother committed suicide when he was 20. However, the four siblings appear to have been close, as Les wrote fondly of them and their families in a letter he sent from Egypt (excerpts below):
18 March 1916
Just a line to let you know I am keeping well, hoping you are all the same.”
“I had a letter from Annie last week and was telling me that Mavis was going to school as she got over her sickness. It will be a good job if she has. I never bought a sheepskin vest with that money as we had two issued to us so I will refund more when I come back.”
“Well Ginnie we have been over here four months now and we have seen a lot of the sights of Egypt. I will be able to tell you when I come back. So Ginnie will now close sending best love to all.
Remember me to Annie and Ada. Hope Mr and Mrs Hodges are keeping well.
I remain your loving brother
Out of Mines and Into the Trenches
Answering the call to support King and Country seems to have run in the Dryburgh family as much as mining did.
Les enlisted on 27 July 1915 and A contemporary of Les’ at that time said:
“he was saving money to pay for his passage back to Scotland from the US to fulfill his service obligation to the Crown.”
Les was assigned to B Company of the newly formed 30th Battalion and did his initial military training at the Liverpool and R.A.S. Grounds in Moore Park near Sydney. Route marching and parades did make up a fair bit of training and morale building and B Company were the football champions of the Battalion.
Parades and football aside, 1102 men of the 30th Battalion were mobilised and they left Sydney at 3:30 PM on 9 November 1915 aboard the HMAT A72 Beltana , headed for Suez, Egypt. Their trip was uneventful and they disembarked on 11 December.
The first seven weeks were spent at Ferry Post guarding the Suez Canal and continuing their training. February and March were at the camp at Tel el Kebir, where they were inspected by H.R.H. Prince of Wales. Much of April and May were back in Ferry Post, with some time in the front line trenches there. There were the usual complaints of the heat, water supplies and flies, but Les did not dwell on those in his letter home.
Preliminary orders to head to the Western Front came at the end of May and by 17 June the 30th Battalion were aboard the HT Hororata headed for Marseilles.
After landing, there was a 60+ hour train ride to Hazebrouck, 30 km from Fleurbaix. They arrived on 29 June and then encamped in Morbecque. Private F.R. Sharp wrote home:
“From the time we left Marseilles until we reached our destination was nothing but one long stretch of farms and the scenery was magnificent.” “France is a country worth fighting for.”
Training now included the use of gas masks and they also would have heard the heavy artillery from the front lines.
On 8 July they were headed to the front lines, first to Estaires, 20 km and the next day 11 km to Erquinghem, where they were billeted at Jesus Farm. They got their first ‘taste’ of being in the front lines at 9 PM on 10 July.
A week later, they got orders for an attack, but it was postponed due to the weather.
Then, just two days later, at 6 PM on 19 July, the 29 officers and 927 other ranks of the 30th Battalion were into battle.
The 30th’s role in the battle was planned to be support for carrying supplies and ammunition for the 31st and 32nd Battalions who were to lead the attack on the east flank. Machine guns emplacements were to their left and directly ahead at Delrangre Farm and there was heavy artillery fire in No-Man’s-Land.
The 30th were soon absorbed into attack. When called to provide fighting support at 10:10 PM, Lieutenant-Colonel Clark of the 30th reported:
“All my men who have gone forward with ammunition have not returned. I have not even one section left.”
Les and three others had been out in the middle of the battle with a stretcher to carry wounded mates back to the Australian lines.
On a return to Australian lines, they were carrying a wounded comrade and were under heavy machine gun fire. They were challenged by a sentry, but not hearing the challenge because of the rifle and machine gun fire, they did not answer.
The sentry, thinking the four Australians with the stretcher were Germans, raised his .303 rifle and fired one shot – the bullet passing through one of the front stretcher bearers and then into Les, killing both men.
Source: The (Newcastle) Herald, Sat 5 March, 2005, ‘Hunter Valley Fromelles Missing 1916’, Mike Scanlon
Missing and Missed by His Family
By 10AM on the 20th, the Germans had repelled the Australian attack and the 30th Battalion were pulled out of the trenches.
Initial figures of the impact of the battle on the 30th were 54 killed, 68 missing and 230 wounded.
Given what happened to Les, he must have been near the Australian lines.
Private C. May (2391) reported that Les:
”had been out to bring in wounded” and “I had seen him lying dead among many others” and “There were no graves for any of the men”.
However, there are no records of Les’ body having been recovered or buried. He was declared ‘Missing in Action’.
By 22 Aug, his family had been advised that Les was missing, but it was not until 23 July 1917 that a Court of Enquiry formally declared Les as having been ‘Killed in Action’.
Les was clearly missed by his family.
For his service, Les was awarded the Victory Medal, the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, a Memorial Plaque and a Memorial Scroll.
Les is commemorated at:
- V.C. Corner (Panel No 2), Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France,
- The Australian War Memorial (Panel 117), Canberra,
- The Wallsend Soldiers’ Memorial, Wallsend
- and on the Wallsend RSL Honour Roll, Wallsend.
Can Les Be Found?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission carried out extensive searches after the War for finding unidentified soldiers but did not find Les. He might be among the 84 unidentified soldiers from the German burial pit that was found in 2008. DNA donors are needed.
We have found a female donor for Les, but we still need to find a male DNA donor.
Y-DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||James Leslie DRYBURGH (1893 – 1916)|
|Siblings||Jane (1890 – 1954) married Albert HODGES|
|Annie (1892 – 1969) married Thomas Horace Hensley BRINSMEAD|
|Ada (1895 – 1979)|
|Parents||John DRYBURGH (1863 – 1898) - migrated from Weymss, Fife, Scotland|
|and Annie MEAN (1865-1913)|
|Paternal||Thomas DRYBURGH (1832 – 1907) and Janet ALLEN (1828-unknown)|
|Maternal||James MEAN and Elizabeth|
Note: Thomas Dryburgh’s siblings John (1834-1912) and James (1838-1861) migrated to Allegheny, near Pittsburgh PA, USA.
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