Harefield Anzac Ceremonies

The village of Harefield is situated on the north-west outskirts of London and each year on Anzac Day (25 April) a ceremony is held to honour the Australian soldiers who fought alongside their British allies in both World Wars. Hundreds of similar ceremonies take place on the same day in Australia and New Zealand, where 25 April is a public holiday, but why should Anzac Day be commemorated in such an out-of-the-way location in the UK?

During the First World War Harefield Park, a spacious mansion located in what are now the grounds of Harefield Hospital, was turned into a military hospital catering for wounded Australians. Its Australian owner, Charles Billyard Leake, wanted to aid his compatriots and in so doing help the cause for which his adopted country was fighting. Many hundreds of Australians were treated at Harefield Park. A sizeable proportion recovered but 111 died (many from flu during the great epidemic that swept the world in 1918). Those that didn’t survive were buried in a specially designated Australian military cemetery next to St Mary’s Church.

The people of Harefield became very fond of the strong, strapping servicemen in their midst – in fact, some local girls ended up marrying Australian soldiers and accompanying them to the other side of the world once the war was over – and they were determined that their efforts should never be forgotten. In 1921 a large granite obelisk was erected among the graves. The principal guests at the dedication ceremony were Mr Billyard Leake and the Lord of the Manor, Sir Francis Newdigate (the latter had Australian connections too: at the time he was the Governor of Western Australia and had previously served as Governor of Tasmania).

Every year since then a memorial service has been held on Anzac Day in St Mary’s Church. This is always followed by a ceremony in the graveyard which culminates in the children of the village placing flowers on the graves of the young men who never made it back to their sunburned country. It’s always a joyous, colourful occasion and is appreciated by locals and outsiders alike. See you in Harefield next year on 25 April!

Thanks to this website, Adelaide HS have established a link with Harefield and hope to send a party of students to the 2015 ceremony.

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