Leslie Morriss Newton

Portrait of Lieutenant Leslie Newton

Rank

Corporal

Roll title

12th Battalion, AIF

Convoy ship

HMAT Geelong

The Tasmanian contingent’s camp at Brighton, 27 kilometres north of Hobart.

Courtesy of the Archives Office Tasmania PH30/1/2241

Lieutenant Leslie Morriss Newton was born in Essex, England, in 1893 to Lewis Boswell Newton and Louisa Jean Newton (née Sandeman). The family later migrated to Tasmania, and Newton worked in Launceston as an accountant. On 25 August 1914 he enlisted with the AIF, aged 21. Joining the 12th Battalion, he was sent to Brighton Camp and spent the following month training within the northern Tasmanian B Company. Owing to his accounting background he was appointed the Company Orderly Clerk. A week after arriving at Brighton, Newton was promoted to corporal.

Officers and non-commissioned officers of B Company, 12th Battalion, in September 1914. Newton is the tall figure in the middle of the back row.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H15844

The 12th Battalion departing Hobart aboard HMAT Geelong on 20 October 1914.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H11611

Newton and the 12th Battalion left from Hobart on 20 October 1914 aboard HMAT Geelong. They arrived in Albany a week later, before setting sail for Egypt on 1 November with the First Convoy. Five weeks later Geelong reached Alexandria. The battalion proceeded to Mena Camp near Cairo, where they trained for almost three months with their fellow 9th, 10th and 11th Battalions of the 3rd Brigade. On 2 March they left for Lemnos Island. 

HMAT Geelong arriving at Alexandria.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial PS0366

Camp lines of the 1st Australian Division at Mena Camp, near Cairo, January 1915. The 12th Battalion lines are at the rear left.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A02184

Ari Burnu at midday on 25 April 1915.

© Imperial War Museums (Q 114175)

On 24 April 1915 the 12th Battalion left Lemnos and anchored at the nearby Imbros Island. After taking their last meal at 9 pm, the men climbed into torpedo-boat destroyers to be taken ashore. At 4.30 am, about 100 metres from shore, the battalion came under intense enemy fire. Within hours of landing it had suffered many casualties and its commanding officer, Colonel Clarke, had been killed by a sniper. The men advanced beyond the beach but harsh terrain forced them to scatter. B Company, who had arrived far north at Ari Burnu, progressed up MacLagan’s Ridge. They stayed in good formation as they scaled a second ridge; however, upon reaching the summit of Johnston’s Jolly they came under heavy fire. As the troops thinned out, Newton seized a handful of men to reinforce the left flank amid an onslaught of shelling and machine-gun fire. An Ottoman attack came at 5 pm, and though casualties were rapidly mounting the wounded were too exposed to be collected by stretcher-bearers. Troops hoping for respite after dusk were disappointed, as Newton recollected:

Our hopes were soon dashed to the ground … for as the darkness deepened so the machine-gun fire increased, until it was almost an act of suicide to even to get on to one’s knees.

By the end of April, 73 men of the 12th had been killed, while 239 were wounded and 193 were missing. 

On 2 May Newton suffered a severe gunshot wound to his elbow and was evacuated to No. 17 Australian General Hospital. He was transferred to England on 26 June. After recovering at Weymouth Convalescent Camp, he returned to Gallipoli in September, newly promoted to sergeant. There he found a severely depleted 12th Battalion, still reeling after the desperate fighting at Lone Pine in early August. The 12th remained on the peninsula for the next two months, providing relief for battalions on the front line. Finally, on 25 November 1915 the men received orders to depart. Exhausted, with many suffering from illnesses such as dysentery, they left just after midnight.

The 12th spent the next month at Sarpi Camp on Lemnos. After a welcome Christmas break, they proceeded to Serapeum Camp in Egypt, where they helped form part of the Suez Canal defence line. Working along the eastern bank, the unit significantly contributed to building a light railway into the desert. It was also here that the 12th, along with other AIF battalions, underwent a major reorganisation. On 17 February, A and D Companies – half of the battalion – were interchanged with B and C Companies of the 52nd Battalion. Newton described the farewell that took place two weeks later:

I stood and watched them march out, and felt as though I were having a limb amputated without any anaesthetic. With keen regret we saw them go, these men with whom we had trained under varying conditions, shared joys and sorrows and, more than all, with whom we had faced death.

A page from Newton’s service record, recording the gunshot wound (‘G.S.W. Elbow’) he suffered on 2 May 1915.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B2455, NEWTON LESLIE MORRISS

Men of the 12th at the southern end of Leane’s Trench, near Lone Pine, August 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P01436.003

A soldier stands in a crater just behind the 11th Battalion front-line trench near Cordonnerie Farm, Fleurbaix, caused by a German minenwerfer (trench mortar) fired during the raid of 30 May 1916.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial EZ0057

In mid-March Newton was promoted to second lieutenant. Shortly after, the 12th left Egypt for the Western Front. They arrived in Marseilles on 5 April. After six weeks of training, they moved with the 3rd Brigade into the Petillon sector of the front line, just south of Fleurbaix. The 12th were paired with the 10th Battalion in support of the 9th and 11th Battalions. They largely worked at night repairing trenches, constructing posts, and laying duckboards. However, on 30 May they were involved in a violent enemy raid of a salient held by the 11th at Cordonnerie Farm. Newton, at the time in command of the Intelligence Platoon, took charge:

The firing continued and increased in volume, until a heavy bombardment was in progress. I hurried the men forward and reported to the 11th Battalion Headquarters … The two right flank companies had lost touch and [the 11th Commanding Officer] wanted me to take my platoon up into the line and fill the gap … Eventually, we arrived in the line and found everything in great disorder … At the head of the salient a mine had been fired, making a huge crater, fully twelve feet deep, inside our line and destroying about twenty yards of parapet. I detailed a party of men under two N.C.O.’s to man the gap in the trench, whilst the remainder of the platoon worked like Trojans in recovering any of the sandbags which were still serviceable and building up the parapet once again … When day broke we were able to see the awful wreckage which had taken place. The dead were still lying in various unnatural positions along the trench … many of the wounded were still waiting for the much overworked, though every ready, stretcher-bearers … On looking over the parapet, into a white morning mist, one could see many dead Germans.

Twenty-six men from the 11th Battalion were killed, and another 58 wounded. Newton was soon promoted to lieutenant.

In July 1916 the 12th moved towards the Somme. They and the 1st Division were given the task of capturing Pozières. On the night of 22 July, the 12th moved towards Pozières in preparation for a midnight attack. Newton and a small group returned to headquarters in Albert, forming a nucleus for a new battalion if it became necessary. Though they were not sent out, the 12th suffered terrible losses over the next three days, with 71 killed, 248 wounded and 98 missing.

In the following weeks the battalion reorganised and Newton was made acting adjutant. They returned to the front in mid-August near Mouquet Farm. After Newton and several others reconnoitred the ground, they received orders to attack on 21 August. At 11 am, A and D Companies led the charge through the trenches, but quickly suffered a heavy enemy barrage and significant casualties. Newton, along with Captain James Newland in command of A Company, sought support from B and C Companies. Heavily sniped on their way, they reached both companies with just half an hour to plan their second assault at 6 pm. During this advance, Newton suffered a gunshot wound to his left forearm and was evacuated to the 44th British Casualty Clearing Station. Several days later, aboard HS Newhaven, he left Calais for England, where he was admitted to the 4th London General Hospital.

Newton rejoined the battalion as adjutant on 3 November in Montauban. He had arrived in what he later described as the darkest period in the 12th’s history. On 7 November the men moved north to the Switch and Gap Trenches beyond Longueval. Enduring intense cold and rain the entire way, they finally arrived at the trenches that evening. Newton recalled:

And what a howl of dismay went up from the men when they saw their night’s resting place! … The trenches themselves were from four to six feet deep and wide at the top … The mud and water in the bottom came well over the boot tops before any traffic had taken place in the trench and rapidly became worse as our occupation was prolonged. With the exception of two unfinished dug-outs, there were no shelters or ‘possies’ of any kind.

The next three months was a bleak time for the men. Newton recalled that ‘the Somme winter, with its mud, wet, and depressing atmosphere, had the Battalion in its grip’.

A sudden shift in mood occurred on 24 February 1917, when it was discovered that the German front line near Le Sars was completely empty – the whole 3rd Brigade could advance. The 12th eagerly went forward, and by the time it was relieved on 27 February it had advanced 2,000 yards and captured three villages. Returning to the line a week later, the men received orders to capture the nearby village of Boursies to divert attention from the 1st Brigade’s larger operations at Hermies. This was the first time the battalion was given an objective without the aid of another unit. The attack began on 8 April, and while making strong advances towards Boursies, troops met with heavy shell and machine-gun fire throughout the day. The battalion was briefly dislodged by enemy bombing that night, however recovered their position by dawn. At this point Newton was sent into the line, taking control of the posts to the right of the line and establishing a platoon post at the extreme right of the village. They maintained their position until being relieved late on 10 April, having sustained 249 casualties, 70 of whom were killed or missing. Newton’s actions here, as well as those at Mouquet Farm, were highlighted when he was Mentioned in Despatches later that year:

For conspicuous ability and devotion to duty as Adjutant of the Battalion. He has always proved a most able, conscientious painstaking officer, and during his 10 months service as adjutant has displayed great tact in dealing with the other officers and firmness with the NCOs. As a platoon commander has displayed great gallantry in the line, especially at Mouquet Farm on 21 August 1916 and at Boursies on 9th and 10th April 1917.

The battalion next moved to Lagnicourt, anticipating quieter operations; however, upon its arrival on 14 April it suffered an unexpected enemy attack. After just one day of fighting, 29 men from the 12th were killed and 59 wounded. The battalion moved to the rear for three weeks, but returned amid the devastation of the second battle of Bullecourt. Despite successful initial advances on 5 May, the following day the unit was subjected to a fierce counter-attack of bombs, grenades and flammenwerfer (flame throwers). When finally relieved after five days, 125 men had been killed – 5 of them officers – and 468 had been wounded. Such heavy losses meant that the entire remaining battalion formed only one company. 

After much needed respite over the summer, and with a force more than doubled in number through reinforcements and men returning from hospital, the 12th moved to the Ypres salient in September. In the following days, Newton assisted a reconnaissance around Hooge and reviewed plans for an offensive at Polygon Wood. Joining other units of the 1st Division, the 12th were to capture the wood’s western edge. The attack began on 20 September. At 5.40 am, Newton collected several men and advanced in two stages under constant enemy machine-gun fire. Upon capturing their Blue Line objective, he located and marked a suitable pillbox for headquarters. They experienced heavy shell-fire throughout the following day until being relieved that night, though overall casualties were quite low – 17 were killed and 142 wounded. For his valuable work Newton was recommended for the Military Cross and Belgian Chevalier of the Order of the Crown. The citation for the latter read:

During operations East of Ypres 20th, 21st September 1917, prior to the attack on Polygon Wood Lieutenant Newton displayed great courage and initiative in personally leading Companies of his Battalion to the Assembly Positions, and jumping off tapes. The whole of this time he was subjected to very heavy Artillery and M.G. fire, and it was mainly due to his untiring energy and devotion to duty, that the Battalion was enabled to take up its correct formation. Throughout the whole of the operations his work was admirable, and he was largely responsible for the success of the operations in which his Battalion took part.

As the Anzacs moved into Belgium, the 12th supported operations around Westhoek Ridge, which included a successful raid of Celtic Wood on 6–7 October with the 11th Battalion. They spent Christmas on the front line in Wulverghem before a month of rest in February, when Newton was granted 8 days of leave in the south of France. Operations intensified again in late March with the German Spring Offensive. On 22 April the 12th received orders to capture Meteren. They made a successful advance that night. However, they gained almost no ground in the second phase the following day, marking the only occasion during which the battalion failed to achieve its objective. After minor but successful operations around Strazeele between May and July 1918, the 12th moved south.

Supporting the final advance along the Somme, on 8 August the 12th Battalion began two weeks of costly attacks near Harbonnières. On 23 August alone the battalion suffered 50 casualties, including the death of its commanding officer. Despite the 12th’s depleted state, on 25 August an aggressive final advance was ordered north-east of Chuignolles towards the Somme. Under heavy machine-gun fire, Newton took temporary charge of the battalion, personally forming them up for the ‘jump off’, and led a series of successful attacks. For his ‘indefatigable’ efforts, he was awarded the Military Cross.

Listen to Newton recount how he successfully directed his battalion in this attack:

On August 25th orders were received … Instructions were terse and to the point: ‘You will attack and advance as far as possible.’ The Commanding Officer, Major George D. Shaw, had been wounded in the arm … and was forced to leave … Therefore … [when] the attack … was launched every Company Commander, and [myself] (acting … as Battalion Commander), was of the rank of Lieutenant. At 4 p.m. the three companies in the line began their advance towards the enemy under cover of a very weak and ragged barrage … Heavy machine-gun fire was encountered … from an occupied trench in front, from which a considerable number of casualties were suffered … [However], ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies on the right … commenced bombing their way along the old French communication trenches, and very fierce fighting ensued, in the course of which the Hun fought well and hard. It was not long before our supply of Mills bombs was expended, and a plentiful supply of German stick bombs (left behind as he retreated step by step) were used to force the enemy back. [E]xcellent work was performed by the men. While commanding his company, [Lieutenant ‘Toc’] Terry got out of the trench in order to direct a team of bombers, and was unfortunately killed by a machine-gun bullet. Corporal Hector Lord was also wounded in the middle of a particularly fierce bomb fight, and as he fell a Mills bomb rolled out of his hand with the pin withdrawn. Lord’s wounds were very serious and would probably have proved fatal, [ but he] realised the danger in which he had placed his comrades, and covered the exploding bomb with his own body … [His] death [was] an heroic sacrifice ... The stretcher bearers did excellent work throughout and the headquarters’ runners, excelled themselves in carrying messages in daylight to exposed positions. At dusk the enemy put down a heavy smoke barrage, and it was thought that he was going to attack, but it he withdr[ew] … to a prepared position some distance in rear. On August 26th … the front line [was] passed to the … 11th Battalion, and our companies were withdrawn.

On 3 September 1918 Leslie Newton was recommended for the Military Cross for his actions at Chuignolles, east of Proyart, a month earlier. The citation read (in part):

During operations east of Proyart from August 23 [to] 26 1918, Lieutenant Newton as Adjutant of the Battalion was indefatigable in his efforts to make the operation a success. His personal exertions at the jumping off line where the Battalion was under close and heavy machine gun fire were largely instrumental in the successful launching of the attack in that perfect order which made its advance irresistible. Throughout the whole operation he did excellent work, several times when the situation was obscure he moved to the front and assisted to correlate the action of the several companies engaged in the attack, showing no regard for his own safety although the ground was swept by heavy machine gun fire. To his efforts must be attributed a large share of the fine success which attended the Battalion in this operation.

A page from Newton’s service record indicating his gunshot wound (‘G.S.W. left forearm’) in August 1916.

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B2455, NEWTON LESLIE MORRISS

A switch trench during the Somme winter, 23 November 1916.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E00575

Dead German soldiers at a concrete pillbox near Polygon Wood, 21 September 1917.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E00777

3rd Brigade supports entering Chuignolles on 23 August 1918, soon after initial assaults by the 12th and 9th Battalions.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E03051

The church of Chuignolles on the day it was taken by Australian troops. The church and surrounding buildings were severely damaged by shell-fire.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E03008

Newton began a period of leave in October 1918, and did not rejoin the 12th until after the Armistice. On 9 December 1918 he embarked on HT Leicestershire for Australia, having completed two years of unbroken service as the battalion’s adjutant.

Several years after returning home, Newton moved from Launceston to Franklin in the Huon Valley, where he remained for over 20 years. During this period he wrote the unit history for his battalion, The Story of the Twelfth (1925). Later in life, he moved to Essendon, Victoria, where he passed away on 11 August 1956, aged 63.

References

Australian War Memorial, Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-1918 War, AWM4 Subclass 23/29 - 12th Infantry Battalion

Australian War Memorial, First World War Embarkation Rolls - Leslie Morriss Newton

Australian War Memorial, Honours and Awards – Leslie Morriss Newton

Bean, CEW 1942, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. Vol. VI: The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive, 1918, Angus and Robertson, Sydney

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Leslie Morriss Newton’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; NEWTON LESLIE MORRISS, 1914-1920

Newton, LM 2000, The Story of the Twelfth, John Burridge Military Antiques, Swanbourne

 

DON SMITH

Thanks - without your efforts we would not have a country.

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Shakayla

Thank you for fighting for our country. You and the thousands of other men & women are true heroes.

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jason

Thanks for your service.

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jess

LEST WE FORGET.

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JESSICA HENDERSON

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SERVING OUR COUNTRY. YOU WERE VERY BRAVE. BAZINGA!

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Anonymous

You were a brave soldier. Well done.

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Anonymous

Hello Newton, I would like to know if you got hurt in the war or you survived. I know you now. From Felicity.

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Anonymous

God bless you....hope we meet in Eternity one day. x

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Anonymous

You are a true hero.

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Anonymous

Happy you survived the war.

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Anonymous

Well done, good and faithful servant.

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liam ryan

You did your job. You are a true hero.

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Riley Hagboom

THANK YOU FOR SERVING OUR COUNTRY. I AM PROUD TO BE AN AUSTRALIAN.

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ralph day

Very brave men.

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peter

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE THAT GAVE US OUR FREEDOMS OF TODAY.

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veronica

Very moving experience. Forever grateful for your contribution.

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Ben

A true super soldier.

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Judd

Thanks for putting your life on the line for a better future for everyone. R.I.P.

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Anonymous

You were a great service to your country. We are proud.

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toby jones

Thank you for saving our country.

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Dave Hampton

As an ex-serving member of the ADF (NAVY), I would like to thank you for your outstanding service. *LEST WE FORGET*

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Anonymous

You made the supreme sacrifice but you did return a shattered individual.

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Anonymous

A COURAGEOUS SOLDIER. WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

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awang from borneo

Lovely to be part of your journey...RIP.

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Anonymous

Lest we forget.

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Zara

To add on to what I said before, thank you so much for giving us our freedom in Australia. We appreciate it. Lest We Forget.

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Zara

Thank you for fighting for our country and for sacrificing your life for us.:)

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Anonymous

YOU ARE A HERO.

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Alex

You were a hero among many.

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anon

Thank you for the sacrifice you made so we could have the future we now enjoy. Proud to be an Aussie. Very humbling.

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Tahta Harimurti

Selamat berjuang di akhirat pak pahlawan.

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Len Pearce

Lest we forget and thank you for your service.

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Anonymous

You were a very good man, and I am happy that you survived the war.

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Anonymous

Thank you for all of your work and I hope you lived a fulfilled life. RIP Joe.

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Lindsey Johnson

Such bravery and courage you and your men displayed. Thank you.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service and ensuring the safety of future generations. WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU AND YOUR MATES' SACRIFICE.

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Anonymous

Thanks to the brave men of Australia, we can call this country home.

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carol jones

Glad you are my grandfather.

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tony

War is a curse on humanity. I look forward to the day when men will beat their swords into ploughshares.

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Anonymous

VERY BRAVE!

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Anonymous

Your strength, courage and bravery will live on forever in our freedom. I am eternally grateful to you and all those who fought for this.

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Margaret

Thank you for our freedom...RIP.....

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sue charnock

A fine young soldier.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service.

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harry

To Newton, Thank you for what you did and lest we forget.

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harry

Good job for your great efforts and war seems like hell to me.

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harry

I think it's sad that you died and well done on your efforts though.

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Anonymous

To Newton, I heard your story and I'm happy I'm not you. It seems like a hard time in the war. It is sad how you died.

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Anonymous

Thank you so much. You are one of the many men who fought in the war. You and your mates gave us freedom.

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Anonymous

Thank you for fighting for our country.

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