Leslie Beauchamp, ‘Chummie’ to his family, was born in Wellington in 1894. He was the only son of Wellington businessman Harold Beauchamp, and his wife Annie Burnell Dyer.
He had five sisters, one of which, Kathleen, or Katherine Mansfield, earned an international reputation as a writer of short stories, poetry, letters, journals and reviews.
Educated at Wellington College and Waitaki Boys’ High School in Ōamaru, Beauchamp was working as a cashier when the war broke out.
He left for the United Kingdom in December 1914, and enlisted in the British Army, securing an officer’s commission in the 8th Service Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment.
During further officer training, Beauchamp often stayed with Mansfield, and her partner John Murry, at their home in London.
In late September 1915, Beauchamp’s battalion departed for France. He wrote to Mansfield soon after landing:
Dearest Katie, no time for a letter am frightfully fit and full of beans!
We are up and doing at last. The trenches are beastly wet owing to the big bombardment going on.
So far have remained scathless so that’s all right!
I can’t describe my sensations during all this business – everything is wonderfully simple and elemental – still about 7 years old.
Good night darling. Write to me.
Ever yours – Chummie.
PS. Love to Jack.
The following day, on 6 October, Beauchamp was killing during a training accident in Ploegsteert Wood. He was conducting a grenade-throwing demonstration when the ‘bomb’ he was holding exploded prematurely, mortally wounding him and his sergeant, James Holden.
His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lang, commented the following report on the incident:
What happened then none of us could see as the two had their backs to us. Almost directly after they had stopped near the pond an explosion occurred and they both fell to the ground. We all ran up and gave first aid and sent for the doctors.
The Sergt died in about ten minutes and second lieutenant Beauchamp in about half or three quarters of an hour.
Lt Colonel Arthur Lang
Several letters of condolence from members of Beauchamp’s unit were sent to Katherine Mansfield.
On 23 October 1915, Beauchamp’s company commander, Captain J. G. Harding, wrote:
Dear Madame, in answer to yours just received. Poor Beauchamp was in my company and killed accidently whilst trying some bombs. As perhaps you are aware he was the bombing officer with battalion.
He had only been on the strength of my company a little while but I had known him for some time. He passed away quietly after suffering little pain and we buried him the same night.
Captain J. G. Harding
The loss of her much-loved younger brother devastated Mansfield.
Soon after, she penned the following poem in his memory:
Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream.
We were at home again beside the stream
Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.
“Don't touch them: they are poisonous,” I said.
But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam
Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head
And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.
“Don't you remember? We called them Dead Man's Bread!”
I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar
Of the dark water tumbling on the shore.
Where-where is the path of my dream for my eager feet?
Leslie Beauchamp is one of several thousand New Zealanders who served in other forces during the First World War.