PORTSMOUTH united to mark the bravery of a Victoria Cross winner who charged through a hail of gunfire to assault a German-held trench in the Battle of the Somme.
Veterans and civic leaders gathered on Saturday to unveil a new commemorative plaque in memory of VC hero Private John Leak – 100 years to the day of his courageous actions.
Private Leak, who was born in the city in 1892, is one of four heroes from Portsmouth to have been awarded the accolade, which is the highest military award for gallantry.
He was just 24 when he fought in the brutal Battle of Pozieres, in the midst of the Somme campaign.
Having emigrated to Australia at a young age, he was fighting as part of the 9th Battalion, Australian Infantry, in the First World War.
On July 23, he was part of a team which dashed across no-man’s land to raid a German trench.
His citation read: ‘At one assault, when enemy bombs were outranging ours, Private Leak jumped out of the trench, ran forward under heavy machine-gun fire at close range, and threw three bombs into the enemy’s bombing post.
‘He then jumped into the post and bayonetted three unwounded enemy bombers.
‘Later, when the enemy in overwhelming numbers was driving his party back, he was always the last to withdraw at each stage, and kept on throwing bombs.’
It added: ‘His courage and energy had such an effect on the enemy that, on the arrival of reinforcements, the whole trench was recaptured.’
Private Leak’s plaque sits proudly beside the Jubilee Fountain, in Portsmouth’s Commercial Road, and was revealed by the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nigel Atkinson.
Portsmouth Lord Mayor, David Fuller, said: ‘It was an honour to be part of the ceremony to remember a real hero of Portsmouth. I was quite overcome with emotion when reading my speech.’
Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond added: ‘Having walked through the site of the Battle of the Somme last year, you get shivers down your spine. Private Leak’s courage is beyond words.’
Private Leak was wounded in 1916 and gassed in March 1918 and left the army in March 1919. He moved back to Australia to become a mechanic and garage owner. He died on October 20, 1972, in Adelaide.