William Sydney Duchesne was born on May 25 1894 to Edwin James and Edith Rachael Duchesne in Waverly, Sydney. He spent his early years at 55 Smith St, Summer Hill and was educated at Fort Street Model School. He joined the permanent army when he completed his studies and underwent training with the 39 Militia Battalion (Wavery Cadets) where he served as 2nd Lieutenant. Syd also played breakaway for the Manly Juniors Rugby Union team.
When war broke out in August 1914, he was living with his family on Crown St, Wollongong and studying military science. With a strong history in military education and training, Syd immediately applied for a commission with the AIF and was appointed as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion (1 Brigade, 1 Division) on September 3, 1914. There was a short training period in Sydney’s west until mid-October. Duchesne’s unit then sailed in a convoy (HMAT Afric: A19), from Sydney to Egypt.
William Sydney Duchesne
Mena Camp (Cairo, Egypt) 01-01-1915.
D Coy 1st Battalion
Daily training was carried out from 7.30am to 4.30pm in Egypt. During this time, Syd wrote letters to his family.
Letter addressed to the Duchesne family. Sent from Mena camp, Cairo, Egypt
The Anzac contingent was transported to Lemnos Island after leaving Egypt in early April. There they joined other elements of the assembled Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (army and naval) in final preparations for the assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The evening before the landing was spent in happy and confident relaxation. General Birdwood addressed the unit reminding them that, “the world is watching to see what you can do…” He gave his assurance of their success in the coming campaign. Three days rations and three-hundred rounds of ammunition were distributed to each soldier and they went to bed at 10pm.
Lieutenant Roy Kershaw, Lieutenant William Sydney Duchesne (centre), Lieutenant Alfred John Shout Photo taken in Cairo, Egypt
On April 25, at early dawn, the attack commenced. The 1st Battalion were in the third wave, landing at Hell Spit without a loss at 07.40am. The battalion waited on the beach and received orders to reinforce Colonel MacLagen and the 3rd Brigade at 09.30am. They engaged in a desperate struggle for the strategically vital high ground (Baby 700).
Major William Davidson (left) and William Sydney Duchesne (right)
Photo taken in Egypt
Starting at 11.00am, Duchense with the Australian troops attacked the heights. Five times the hill was taken and five times the Australians were pushed back. It was during this battle that Duchense fell. The hill which he fought for and died to win, remained with the Turks for the rest of the campaign. Captain Bigwither, a New Zealand officer (NZEF)had recovered Duchesne’s identity disc and sometime after the withdrawal in December, handed it to the Australian headquarters in Cairo. In many cases where the discs had been removed, identification was impossible. The disc was returned to Syd’s father in 1920.
After the end of the war, the unburied bodies on the battlefields behind Turkish lines were recovered and buried. Duchesne was killed at the age of twenty, one month before his twenty-first birthday on 25 April, 1915. There is a memorial commemorating him which is located at panel 28 of the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial. The inscription at Baby 700 Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey reads:
“Duchense. Lt William Sydney 1st Bn Australian Inf. Killed in action 25th April 1915. Son of Edwin James and Edith Rachael Duchense of Crown St, Wollongong, New South Wales. Native of Sydney.”
His Memorial Scroll was sent to his family in 1921 and the Memorial Plaque the following year. Syd was awarded the 1914-15 Star (2353), the British War Medal (1163) and the Victory Medal (1165). In 1968 his brother Edwin as the oldest surviving sibling, applied for and received the newly struck Gallipoli Medallion on his brother’s behalf.
Syd’s name remains on the Honour Board at St Michael’s Church in Wollongong.
He is also mentioned on: The Spirits of Gallipoli.