People who live near the site where Legge’s house once stood still harvest fruit from the orchard he established in the 1920s: apricots, plums and olives. Stands of pine trees appear to be remnants of wind breaks that once protected the strange, square building which he built and in which he lived. Now a few bricks and remnants of foundations carry a substantial memorial plaque that records Legge’s very considerable military achievements.
Lieutenant General James Gordon Legge was born in London in 1863. After taking arts and law degrees, he taught at Sydney Boys High, and then practiced law. After several years in NSW infantry regiments he served in the Boer War. In 1904 his Handbook of Military Law was published. In 1914 he became a principal organiser of the 1st AIF, with a special responsibility for training AIF reinforcements. When Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges was killed at Gallipoli, the Australian Government appointed Legge commander of the 1st Division and of the AIF, an unpopular decision with his immediate subordinates. In June 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Major General. At Gallipoli, a disagreement with General Birdwood regarding the undesirability of an attack on Lone Pine caused further tension in the senior command. This was settled, to a degree, when Legge was posted to Egypt to take command of the 2nd Division, but the stress was never really resolved.
On the Western Front, Legge took much of the blame for a failed assault on Pozières in July 1916. In August, the 2nd Division took the heights of Pozières. Early in 1917, sick with influenza, Legge returned to Australia, eventually finding a place as Chief of the General Staff. After the War he encouraged interest in the development of air capability and in 1920 he was made Commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra.
Retrenched in 1922, he was not eligible for a military pension. Instead, under a ‘soldier settlement scheme’, he acquired 400 acres and became a modestly successful farmer. His house, built in the Roman style around a central courtyard, outwardly resembled a fortress. Following earthquake damage, it was demolished in the 1950s.