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            "AN ANZAC'S FAIR."

Have I been a soldier long sir?  Aye, it Deslandes - Copy.JPG

            seems like twenty years

Since we sailed away from Melbourne

            to the time we took Pozieres.

We lobbed at dirty Suez and entrained

            for Mena Camp,

Right underneath the Pyramids, where

            we soon got something damp.

We marched around the desert until our

            feet were sore,

But soon took a jerry and filled our packs

            with straw.

We went down to Ismalia, to meet old

            Johnny Turk,

But the only thing we found there was

            work, and then more work.

At last we sailed from Egypt and arrived

            at Lemnos Isle,

We rehearsed all the landing in good

            Australian style.

We heard at last the dinkum about the

            Anzac stunt,

Then all of us were pining to get quickly

            to the front.

We got there, no time wasted, and on

            that forsaken brink

We fought and starved and sweated when

            you couldn't buy a drink,

We stuck it for eight blooming months,

            when the heads made up their minds

To do the quiet, cunning trick - but we

            left a lot behind.

We retreated back to Lemnos, the mob

            was worn and pale,

I tell you sir, it was just like one coming

            out of gaol.

They shipped us on to Alex, so the boys

            couldn't spend their dough,

And they put us in the desert - we never

            had a show,

In time we got near water, heard the

            order, "He that hath

"In his harness soap and towel, may go

            and have a bath."

We were thankful for small mercies, and

            dropped in there with glee,

Its wonderful the dirt we dripped did not

            stain the blooming sea.

At last there came along the news and we

            did a dinkum dance,

Our Colonel said, "If you're good boys,

            I'll take you all to France."

The trip across was lovely, the sea of

            azure blue,

The only thing that marred it was ever-

            lasting stew.

But what a sight for sore eyes when we

            landed at Marseilles!

The people there were civilised - we had

            no eyes for males.

The girls all looked just lovely, as we

            went north in the train,

And when this war is over I'm coming

            back again.

They dropped us in a quiet spot to get

            our second wind;

The Boche pulled nasty faces, but we just

            sat there and grinned.

We stayed there for a month or so, then

            things began to hum,

They took us quietly by the hand and

            dumped us on the Somme.

"Now lads, this is the dinkum joint,

            you've got to keep your name!"

But I guess the boys of Anzac earned

            their undying fame.

We thought the place called Anzac was

            pretty rough for shells,

But blime, down there on the Somme, was

            two or three large hells.Deslandes, H (AWM).jpg

Well, I think we did our little bit, and

            we're now out for a rest;

I think the German won't be long before

            he gives it best.

Our little British Army has got him

            thinking now,

He's feeling pretty sorry he started up

            that row.

But we are getting weary of looking

            round for fight,

We'd like those clouds to turn around

            and show us of the light.

I often in the dugout dream of "Home,

            sweet home,"

And I'm sure if I get back, sir, I never

            more will roam.

But when I lob in Melbourne, and by the

            fireside sit,

I'll be proud that I in truth can say,

            "Thank God, I did my bit."




The poem “An Anzac’s Fair” was sent home by Hector [soldier on left in above photo], and published in his local paper the Inglewood Advertiser on the 5th January 1917.  Hector was killed 9 months later in the Battle of Passchendaele, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.


Hector Leslie DESLANDES was the youngest son of John DESLANDES and Catherine MUNRO and had been born at Inglewood, Vic, in 1894.  Hector lost his eldest brother in 1910 (age 23) and his father in 1913, so when he enlisted on the 3rd February 1915 with his remaining brother George, they left their mother virtually on her own, as their only sister had married in 1912.  Also enlisting with them was their mother’s brother, their uncle George Munro, and 3 other Inglewood boys, Thomas Murray and brothers’ Charles and William Roberts.


All six sailed with A Company of the 22nd Battalion on the Ulysses at the beginning of May, reaching Alexandria on the 9th June.  Another local boy, Phillip Thompson, also made the journey with them, but as a member of B Coy.


They continued on to Gallipoli on the 30th August on board the Scotian, minus the Deslandes’ uncle George, and Tom Murray (‘Nip’), who were both ill.  As a part of the 6th Brigade convoy, they were lucky to avoid the lurking submarine UB14 which managed to cause severe damage to one of their companion ships, the Southland.



Eventually landing at Anzac on the 5th September, they moved into trenches opposite Johnson’s Jolly the following day, where ‘Nip’ joined them a couple of weeks later, and there they remained until the evacuation.  George parted company with his brother on the 8th October when he transferred to the 4th Field Coy Engineers, but both Deslandes boys returned safely to Egypt in January 1916.


Later that month, their uncle, who had remained in Egypt on guard duty after his illness, was invalided home after a bout of enteric fever – his war over before it had really begun.  Charles Roberts also left them.  He’d found himself in a spot of trouble after falling asleep on sentry duty at Anzac, and after the return to Egypt began a sentence of imprisonment, which was soon suspended.  However, by April he was in hospital with Tachycardia and Valvular Disease, and the following month was shipped home medically unfit.  His brother Willie, Phil Thompson, Nip and Hector made the move to the Western Front towards the end of March.  It was during their stint in the nursery sector at Fleurbaix that they suffered their first casualty in action, when Willie received a bomb wound to the neck.  He had been discharged from hospital to a convalescent depot, and Hector and his unit were taking over the reserve line at Bois Grenier, when George landed in France with the Engineers in early June.


By July Hector was on the Somme and on the 25th moved into the fighting at Pozieres.  For four sleepless days he and his mates endured the horror of the attempted obliteration of Kay Sap, which was raked with enfilade and frontal fire, gas and high explosive shells.  As noted in ‘With the Twenty-Second’: “The shells, malignant and relentless, killed wounded and buried living and dead together.”  Phil Thompson was the next casualty of the group, he sustained a head wound on the 27th, and also suffering from shell shock, was sent through the hospital system to Blighty.  Nip, operating as one of the Battalion runners, (described as ‘supermen’ during this time) received a Military Medal for his efforts.


After a short rest at Sausage Gully the 22nd then took part in an attack on the German trenches on the 5th August.  Unfortunately, before the attack even commenced, they had lost approximately 20% of their men to enemy shellfire, and as they advanced, A Coy ‘were practically annihilated by machine gun fire.’  However, they took their objectives and held them until they were relieved later that night by the 24th Bn, and after leaving the front line, Nip was admitted to a rest station for a couple of days with shell shock.  Later that month they played their part in the attack on Mouquet Farm, and the battalion was then moved on to a quieter sector in Belgium.


Hector then left his mates in the 22nd Bn, and transferred to the 6th Machine Gun Coy on the 7th September.

By winter he was back in France, and after a stint at Flers, was in billets at Flesselles when a fully recovered Willie Roberts, joined him and the machine gunners on the 8th December.  Christmas was spent in the line amongst the cold and fog and slush, and the following few months were spent in and out of the line as they followed the German withdrawal towards the Hindenburg Line.


The Battle of Bullecourt on the 3rd May 1917 brought both glory and sorrow for the boys from Inglewood.  Willie and Nip both operating as runners for their units met with completely different fates this day.  Willie, following in the footsteps of Nip at Pozieres, earned himself a Military Medal.  Pinned down in a shell-hole by machine gun fire with a badly wounded Lieutenant Palling, he and another man made a dash back to Company HQ with a report and to collect a stretcher.  He then endeavoured to guide a stretcher party back until casualties prevented further progress.  Meanwhile, Nip went missing and was later declared killed in action.


From a letter to their parents from Nip’s brother Frank (Murray):

I am writing to you to-day to tell you some bad news - "Nip" is missing.  He may be in hospital, or he may have been taken prisoner - they don't know for sure where he is.  His battalion was over here to-day, and I hunted round until I found his cobbers; that was the first I heard about it.  He was bringing a message back to headquarters with a couple of mates, and they were hopping from shell hole to shell hole when he was hit in the leg and arm.  His mates tried to pull him to the hole by pushing out a rifle, but he said, "I'm beggared; I can't hold it."  His arm was broken, I think.  They did their best to get him in, but couldn't at the time.  They reported it when they reached headquarters, and two stretcher-bearers went out to get him.  One came back carrying the stretcher - the other was killed.  Two more tried and another was knocked, and they couldn't get him in just then.  Another mate of his said that later on one crawled out and gave him a drink out of his bottle.  They looked for him after but could not find him, so there is still a chance that he may have been picked up and taken to hospital, or he even may have been made a prisoner.  ………………


Nine days later, the last of the group remaining with the 22nd Bn, Phil Thompson, joined Hector and Willie in the 6th MG Coy.  Less than a month later however, he moved on to the VetHospital.  After Bullecourt Hector’s unit went out for a long rest, which actually involved moving from camp to camp for the next few months.  During this time Hector was promoted to Lance Corporal.  Finally at the end of July they left the Somme area and headed north once more, where they went into billets at Wardrecques.  From here they traveled to Ypres and began preparations for the Battle of Passchendaele, beginning with

Menin Road
on the 20th September, followed by Broodseinde Ridge on the 4th October.


Fighting was resumed on the 9th October, and Hector was a member of one of the 6 gun teams under the command of Lieutenant Wright, that were positioned behind the ruins of Broodseinde to provide indirect covering fire.  They were shelled continuously; two guns being destroyed and two put out of action, whilst Hector and five of his comrades lost their lives.  In the words of Lieut Wright; “…we were all dazed and ducking involuntarily at every burst and shaking at every sound, waiting for our ‘issue’ with just a sheet of tissue paper – it seemed – between us and sheer lunacy.”  By next morning “When word came to abandon the cursed spot, I had some difficulty in inducing the boys to stay long enough to bury their comrades.”

Hector’s body was either never recovered or not identified.


A year after his death Hector was remembered by his mother and sister in verse:

He has done his best along with the rest

And marched with the brave old boys,

Inscribed his name on the scroll of fame

As one of Australia’s boys.


Hector’s brother George, along with Willie Roberts and Phil Thompson, returned home in 1919.



Endnotes:  Menin Gate Photo taken by author.  Photo of Hector & mate AWM PO8120.003.

Hector Leslie Deslandes (1894-1917) L/Cpl 145, KIA 9/10/1917;  George William Deslandes (1885-1949) Pte 144 / Spr 4222, RTA 9/3/19;  George Alexander Munro (1873-1935) Pte 214, RTA 21/1/16;  Thomas James Murray ‘Nip’ (1893-1917) Pte 216, MM, KIA 3/5/1917;  Charles Frederick Roberts (1894-1947) Pte 238, RTA 11/5/16;  William Henry Roberts (1881-1937) Pte 239, MM, RTA 5/4/19;  Phillip Louis Thompson (1887-1956) Pte 476, RTA 19/4/19.

Frank Murray (1895-1918), Pte 6314, 7th Bn – who wrote to their parents when Nip went missing, was KIA 27/4/1918 Meteren.


Heather ‘Frev’ Ford, 2010



Knox, Hilda.jpg

“She was endowed with a beautiful disposition, and was in every way suited for the noble profession she adopted.” [Rev P.J. Edwards, Benalla]


Hilda was born at her parent’s home at Benalla in country Victoria on the 29th December 1883.

Her father James Baldock KNOX was born in London, but had migrated to NZ, then to Australia, where he had been appointed Shire Secretary at Benalla in 1878.  In 1882 he married Hilda’s mother Mary Isabella BARLOW, and they lost their first child at only one month old in 1883.  Following Hilda’s birth at the end of that year, her parents gave her ten more siblings; four sisters and six brothers, three of whom also served in WW1.


In her early years, Hilda was educated at the Benalla State School and attended the local Holy Trinity Church as a Sunday school pupil, then as a teacher, and a member of the choir


She completed her 3 years nursing training at the Homoeopathic Hospital in Melbourne in mid-1909, qualifying as a member of the RVTNA.  Shortly after this she was urgently called home to tend to her parents; followed by 4 years of private nursing.


When war broke out in 1914, Hilda was among the early selection of nurses for service abroad, joining the AANS as a Staff Nurse on the 21st November 1914 along with Amy King.  They had trained in the same hospital and would sail together on the A55 HMAT Kyarra, which departed Melbourne on the 5th December 1914.  The ship had been fitted out as a hospital ship and carried the staff and equipment for 5 hospitals, theirs being the 1st Australian General Hospital (1st AGH); and as a result was somewhat overcrowded.

Surviving sea sickness, inoculation, the heat and an outbreak of ptomaine poisoning, they arrived at Alexandria on the 14th January 1915.  Although given shore leave each day, they remained on the Kyarra until the 21st, when they were trained to their hospital which had been set up in the Palace Hotel at Heliopolis on the outskirts of Cairo.


Following the landing at Gallipoli Hilda wrote to her parents: “I have only a few minutes.  We are frantically busy, working night and day, on these poor men!  It is simply heartbreaking.”

Her brother Frank who was also in Egypt, with the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, wrote to their parents at about the same time: “My word, Australia ought be proud of their nurses who came over here.  To see the poor girls (I suppose some of them would not like me calling them girls), but really I feel sorry for them, the way they work.  No doubt you are proud of your daughter.  (The fellows over here think Hilda a lovely girl.)  I am glad to have her here with me, although I see very little of her now.”


These letters were soon followed by another after Hilda had been seriously ill with cellulitis:

“I noticed the soreness behind one ear, but took no notice, thinking it a swollen gland, when it became rapidly worse.  I was ordered to bed and an incision made.  Two days afterwards as my head was very swollen and temperature 104 was given ether and two more incisions made.  Was painted with lethyol collodion and had half-hourly foments, so you may imagine how busy it kept the poor, tired sisters who have been wonderfully kind to me.  Am ever so much better now.  Of course, we have been working very hard for three weeks – day and night sometimes, because the trains come at all times and we could not cope with the work.


Jane Bell, Principal Matron (1AGH) during this time, later commented on Hilda’s illness, stating that she was one of a band of nurses who had “worked with untiring zeal until she herself became seriously ill after an acute infection.  The sister who replaced her – also an excellent nurse – used to say, jokingly, that she was tired of hearing Sister Knox’s name, as the patients were always quoting her perfection.”


Frank had been able to visit his sister while she was ill, and she was extremely proud of him as he’d received promotion to Lance Corporal.  Her happiness for her brother however, was tinged with the sadness that several men, who she’d liked very much, had been killed and numerous others wounded.


Her next letter stated: “I am better than I have been for weeks.  I am having quite a jolly time – motor drives every evening.  One never ventures out before 5.30 from here.  Yesterday was really my first day out for three weeks.  Motored to [Helouan], about 15 miles, in a beautiful touring car.  It is a delightful trip, right along the banks of the Nile for miles; beautifully fertile country all the way, and ever so many house boats (called dahabeah) and other craft on the river.  Next the Barrage I think it is the nicest run from Cairo.  The roads are perfect all the way.  Arrived there about 6.30, had tea in the charming gardens of one of the hotels, back to Cairo and dined at Shepheard’s on the terrace, a delightful orchestra played, then home.  Am going for another spin this evening, also tomorrow.”


While Hilda continued to serve in Egypt, her friends Amy King and Valerie Woinarski served on the hospital ship Grantully Castle, transporting the wounded from Gallipoli.  Both wrote to her at the end of July, and she forwarded these letters on to her parents to give them some idea of life on the transports.  She also sent home newspaper cuttings, asking her parents to save them for her, as she was so proud of the wonderful things said about their men, and she felt it was such an honor to nurse them.  Meanwhile she noted that she had forty-four patients under her care; most of whom had come from the Dardanelles.


As her brother had commented, Hilda was well loved, and not just by her own patients; as she made a point of seeking out all Benalla lads and passing on local papers, little treats and kind words to cheer them.


Trooper Sherwill of the 8th Light Horse stated that in October 1915, “I was in the Palace Hospital at Helipolis with a mild attack of typhoid fever, where Sister Knox was on duty, and I can truly say that there was not a morning but that she would come to my bedside with a cheery “Good morning,” “How are you?” and other words of comfort that are so pleasing to the sick, and she would never forget to bring me little dainties such as apples, biscuits, etc.  This was apart from Sister Knox’s duties, as I was in an adjoining ward.”


And Corporal Dobson who was a patient at Luna Park Hospital, Heliopolis, had the following to say:

“Miss Hilda Knox, of Benalla, who is a nurse (and sister of the inimitable Frank), came in to see me last night, and we had a bonzer old yarn, recalling our school days, etc., and discussing Benalla and people.  It was kind of her, and she was extremely nice.”


Hilda’s friend Amy returned to Egypt from hospital ship duty at the end of September, and on the 1st of December, having completed a year of service; both ladies were promoted to the rank of Sister.


On the 3rd of March 1916, Hilda and her two mates Amy and Valerie embarked on the Argyllshire for transport duty, tending to the sick and wounded that were being returned to Australia.


Back in Victoria, Hilda returned to her family for a visit, and a huge Welcome was arranged for her at the Holy Trinity Parish hall.  The hall was beautifully decorated for the occasion and the Boy Scouts formed a ‘guard of honor’ from the gate to the front door.  Among the many addresses the Rev P.J. Edwards informed the gathering that “During the last three months he had met hundreds of returned soldiers, and asked them if they knew Nurse Knox.  They said, “Do we not know Nurse Knox! She is one of the bravest women in the world.”  One said, “She is a bonzer!” Another said, “She is a beauty!” while another said, “She is an angel!”


Superintendent Davidson said that his son who had been shot at Gallipoli had met Sister Knox at Heliopolis, “and he said she was considered to be one of the first and foremost nurses in that hospital.  In spite of her many duties she found time to visit Australians in other hospitals.  She visited his son, and on behalf of his wife and himself he had to thank her.”


The Rev A.C. McConnan, who had a hand in Hilda’s placement at her training hospital, and ever since had watched over her career with pride, said, with great pleasure it had fallen to him to pass on to her a small token of the towns esteem: a wallet bearing the inscription “Presented to Sister Hilda Knox by the people of Benalla district.”  The wallet contained 68 sovereigns.  She was also presented with a handsome silverback circular mirror, on behalf of three local lads who she had nursed in Egypt.


As well as thanking the townspeople on Hilda’s behalf, her father also mentioned that he had had letters from local soldiers sounding her praises, and he was proud of her and all the women performing such noble work.  The final speaker summed up with the hope “that she might be long spared to continue the good work she had taken up, and that she would return safely in the not very distant future.”


Following her short holiday with her family and friends, Hilda returned to Melbourne where she served for some time in the Caulfield Base Hospital.  It wasn’t until the 19th August 1916 that together with Amy and Valerie, she re-sailed with the 14th Australian General Hospital (14th AGH) on the A63 HMAT Karoola, which arrived at Suez on the 19th September.  Sailing with them also as a member of the 14th AGH was her brother Gordon.


They disembarked on the 20th and were taken by train to Abbassia, where the hospital was situated in the Main Barracks.  The 14th AGH were taking over this hospital from the 3rd AGH, and worked alongside them on the 21st & 22nd, before the 3rd AGH were withdrawn the following day.  The hospital at that stage only contained 366 patients.


Hilda was in charge of G6 Ward, and one can only hope that some time was taken from celebrating with her staff and patients on Christmas Day, and spent with her brother Gordon; as it would have been her last opportunity.  Gordon was seen to leave Abbassia in the early evening of the 25th, and was never seen alive again.  Twelve days later his body was found in the Nile River at Benha, and on the 9th January 1917 Hilda cabled home to Rev Edwards: “Gordon drowned, accident, writing.”


A Court of Enquiry was subsequently held, but nothing could be proved as to how he met his death.  The fact, however, that he had been robbed and that there was evidence of a violent blow on the head, lead the court to believe that he was the victim of foul play rather than an accident.  He was buried in the Greek Cemetery at Benah on the 9th, and a short Memorial Service was held in the Garrison Chapel, Abbassia on the 11th, at which every available member of the 14th AGH was present.


During this same month the hospital was beginning to get much busier due to increased fighting, yet 35 of their nurses were being sent to the Western Front.  Hilda & her 2 best friends Amy & Valerie were among them.  Only a week after learning of her brother’s death, Hilda was leaving the desert sands for the last time.  During her time in Egypt she had collected ebony & ivory elephants, as well as oriental metal work and other curios.


Embarking at Alexandria on the 16th January 1917 on HS Essequibo, Hilda and party landed in England on the 26th and then crossed to France on the 8th of February.  Writing to her parents on the 12th, Hilda informed them of her eventful journey:

“We had rather a thrilling experience on our way here.  A town where we spent the night was bombed.  The noise was terrific, and we were rather frightened.  Some anti-aircraft guns were quite close to our hotel, and we could see flashes.  The bombing started about 9 p.m., and went on at intervals of two hours until 5 a.m.  My room was the only one on the ground floor, so all the other girls trooped down, and we shivered together until 6 a.m., when we all left in the dark for our train.”


The nurses were farmed out to British hospitals around Rouen, and separated from her two mates Hilda was attached to the 11th British Stationary Hospital (BSH) on the 11th of February.  However, they were still close enough to keep in touch, and not far from her original Unit, the 1st AGH.  She called on her many friends there over the following days, and told Matron Mary Finlay, that being so close to them “was next best to being ‘home’.”


Both she and Amy had enjoyed a visit with Sister Nora Kerr on the Friday evening of the 16th, but on Saturday morning Hilda woke with a painful headache.  The effort to dress made her vomit twice and she returned to bed.  Matron Allen brought the Medical Officer to see her and prescribe something for the pain, but by 4 o’clock that afternoon she was unconscious.  Hilda died two hours later as she was being transferred to the 8th General Hospital; just seven weeks into her thirty-fourth year.  The cause of death was Cerebral Spinal Meningitis; although there had been no cases of the illness at the 11th BSH.


The funeral took place the following afternoon of the 18th to the St Sever Cemetery.  Hilda was buried in the officer’s section of the cemetery in full military style, and after the procession had reached the graveside, the pipers and drums from one of the base depots played a ‘lament’.  The large honour guard, coffin bearers and pall bearers, consisted of an equal number of members from both the 11th BSH and the 1st AGH.  Also among the mourners were the entire officer’s mess of both of these hospitals, as well every matron in Rouen.  The Base Commandant (General de Gett), the D.D.M.S. (Colonel Russell, A.M.S.), and a number of staff officers were also present.  And of course there were a great many sisters and orderlies from the 1st AGH; as well as representations from all the other hospitals in Rouen.  The wreaths were numerous and beautiful, and following a thirty gun salute, the ‘Last Post’ was played by the Australian hospital bugler.


With two children now buried in faraway lands, Hilda’s parents could not grieve at their final places of rest, but they could at least choose the epitaph for Hilda’s headstone: GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.


Hopefully they would have also felt some little comfort from Matron Finlay’s pledge that: “The cemetery is only about ten minutes’ walk from here, so you will please have no anxiety about her grave; we will attend to it.”

She also informed them that “Every one of us who knew Hilda loved her.   She was the most popular girl in the unit, and so utterly unspoiled by it – sweet and gentle and unselfish.  You have, indeed, great reason to be proud of her life….”

And Matron Allen also had the following to say: “Miss Knox only came to me on the 11th, and in that short time we had grown very fond of her, she was so sweet.”


Nora Kerr wrote home to her sister in Kyneton: “We are all sad here.  One of our best-loved Sisters died very suddenly on Saturday night….”  “…..and not one of us with her.”  “A more beautiful character never lived…..”


Hilda’s parents also received hundreds of letters from all parts of Australia.  One lady wrote that her only son was in the 4th L.H., and was in the ward in a hospital in Egypt of which Sister Knox had charge.  He had been nursed by her, and spoke of the unfailing attention which they had received.  He said, “We used to watch the door for her to come in.  Every man of us loved her, and called her ‘Our Daughter of the Regiment’.”


Her parent’s would have also been assured of Hilda’s popularity during the Memorial Service held for her on the 4th March at their church, when it was filled beyond capacity and extra seating had to be provided.  There was also a large congregation present two months later when a new pulpit was erected to her memory.  The brass plate fitted to the front of the pulpit bore the inscription: “Erected by the parishioners of Holy Trinity, Benalla, in loving memory of Sister Hilda Knox, who died on active service, 17th February, 1917.”


At the end of 1917 it was proposed by the Homoepathic Hospital Nurses’ Club to erect a memorial to Hilda’s honour, and donations were called for.  She is also commemorated on the Women’s National Memorial in York Minster, and on the memorial to overseas nurses, in the nurse’s home attached to the Elizabeth Garett Anderson Hospital in London.



Heather 'Frev' Ford, 2015

Knox HM - Sister, AANS - St Sever Cem - Copy.JPG


Death by accident...

With war comes death – the ultimate understatement!  Yet saturated by the carnage of man killing man, and of course the inevitable illness and disease that runs rife under such deplorable conditions – there is another form of death that can somehow appear fascinating – the accidental death.


What initially sparked this strange fascination in myself, many, many years ago, was while researching my Grandad’s war-mates, I came across the death notice of Alwyn Blake in 1922 – ‘result of an accident’.  Alwyn [Gunner 4295 Alwyn Rex Blake] had lied about his age and enlisted in July 1915, just two weeks after his 17th birthday.  He’d served on the Western Front with the 5th Division Ammunition Column, and the Trench Mortar Brigade – survived sickness and gas and returned home safe and sound mid-1919.  He’d married that same year, and had his whole life in front of him, yet here he was mere weeks before his 24th birthday – dead as the result of an accident!  I remember thinking to myself, ‘how unfair!’ – a strange thought really, for someone immersed in the endless unfairness of war in general.


Later, while trawling through reel after reel of microfilm, reading the ‘Inglewood Advertiser’ (Grandad’s local paper – which is now on-line!!) and transcribing every snippet of the war years – the fate of Frederick Fergus caught my attention.  Sergeant Frederick Fergus (344) wasn’t from the local area, in fact he was actually from NSW, but having lost an eye at Gallipoli, had been invalided home, and while in Melbourne on the 23rd November 1915 had been crushed by a goods lift.  Next I found during my research on Jim Sloan, (from a well-known and highly respected local family); that he’d died when his car had collided with a goods train at Inglewood on the 30th August 1960.  Sergeant James Seaman Sloan (61691) had been a late enlistee in the war, landing in England 3 days after armistice.


The realisation soon hit me; that obviously I had the beginnings of a new database…


The Accidental Deaths Database consists of members of the Australian Forces, as well as Australians serving in Allied Forces and other capacities, who died as the result of accidents, both during and after WW1.  It presently holds 1066 men and 6 women [August 2016].  With further research, some of these ‘accidents’ may eventually migrate into the Suicides Database which currently sits at 246 [Aug 2016], as in certain cases it is quite difficult to differentiate between the two.


Interspersed amongst the many plane crashes; drownings; bomb and shooting accidents and various types of run-ins with horses, trains & other vehicles – there were a host of other strange and unlucky accidents that befell our soldiers.


For instance there were the 2 men who were struck by lightning in 1916, Private John Wilkinson and Pte Alfred Brooke (1786).  Pte Wilkinson, a Methodist Minister, was hit at the West Maitland Camp in NSW on the 3rd February, before he even had a chance to leave Australia; whereas Pte Brooke, a Gallipoli veteran, was struck on the 23rd June, 2 weeks after his arrival in France with the 16th Battalion.


Amongst those who were victims of the more common form of electrocution was another Brooke (no relation to Alfred), Pte Harold Clifford Brooke (1826).  A skilled electrical mechanic with the 3rd Pioneers, he still managed to electrocute himself while cleaning a switchboard at No. 1 Power Station, Rue de Messines on the 9th January 1917.  Electricity was also the catalyst in the demise of Sergeant Alfred William Askew (11199); also a mechanic.  He actually died from a skull fracture after falling from a ladder following an electric shock, which he received whilst hanging Christmas lights in the December after armistice at the Transport Section’s Belgian camp.


Deaths due to skull fractures and brain haemorrhages were the result of many different types of accidents, quite often occurring whilst ‘under the influence', but not so in the following selection.  Although the Scottish born Pte William Orr (3178) was quite sober when he fell from the rigging of his troopship Itonus on the 30th December 1915, it was noted that he had only himself to blame, as the men had been warned not to climb the rigging.  Whereas the 19 year old Pte Joseph Haines (2253) had been a part of an organised popular sport, which resulted in his death in Egypt on the 5th March 1916, after being knocked unconscious in a boxing match the day before.  L/Sgt Gerald Ryan (769), an original 14th Bn man was enjoying a day’s outing with other patients from an English hospital.  Only moments after joining in the fun of sliding on ice, he fell hitting his head and died the following day, 6th February 1917.  A late enlistee Pte Joseph Vincent Cicalese (5002), was unfortunate enough to have a spar fall on his head whilst sleeping on the deck of the troopship Ulysses, en route to England; he died 4 days later on the 7th January 1918.


Quite aside from the threat of torpedoes, troopships could be dangerous places as shown above.  On board the Miltiades during a severe storm, Pte Arthur Gillies (4641) and Pte Joseph Lancelot Rowntree (2103) lost their lives when heavy seas broke across the ship, smashing one of the latrines and pinning them under the wreckage.  Pte Gillies was killed on the spot on the 16th February 1916, while Pte Rowntree carried his injuries into the next day.  James Sager, who enlisted as Sapper Daniel O’Brien (1768) was being invalided home to Victoria on the Runic in June 1917.  En route while the ship was docked at Fremantle Harbour, he stuck his head through the port hole to talk with a lady on the wharf; and as the ship surged, one of the wire mooring ropes caught him under the chin, cutting his throat.  While Corporal John Henry Ford (4398) of the 29th Bn sustained a broken spine during bathing parade on board the Afric on the10th December 1916, when he slipped head first into the canvas bath.  Paralysed from the waist down, he finally lost consciousness before passing away in the early hours of the following morning.


Had he still been alive, Gunner Reginald Arthur Beard (2384) may have seen Pte Ford’s quick death as a mercy.  But Gnr Beard had finally succumbed to his spinal injuries on the 11th July that year, exactly 19 months to the day after his own accident.  Determined to be one of the first to climb the Cheops Pyramid, he had sealed his fate on the day of his arrival at Mena Camp on the 11th December 1914, falling from a height of 20 feet, and had languished incapacitated in hospital from there on.


Spinal injuries were also the cause of death in quite a few diving accidents, but one of note involved the selfless act of L/Cpl Ernest Poole (1018).  A member of the Provost Corps, he died in England on the 14th June 1918; a few weeks after diving from a breakwater in France in an attempt to save a drowning, French child.  Another act of gallantry that occurred in May 1918, involved Sgt David Emmett Coyne (3347), and a bomb.  Having failed to clear the parapet with his Mills grenade, he threw himself on top of it in order to save the rest of his mates in the trench.  Bombs that fell short like this, especially during training, where responsible for many deaths during the war, but this is believed to be the only case where the ‘bomb thrower’ was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal (in Gold) for his actions.


Of course bombs often had a habit of exploding prematurely, which also resulted in numerous deaths, but one of the less common situations where this occurred was during fishing expeditions.  On this particular occasion the 13th Bn were out resting at Sailly Laurette on the 11th August 1918, and Sgt Thomas Baxter (3012) and Pte Arthur Bance (3147), together with their company cook Pte Edwin George (Ted) Headon (856), wandered down to the canal with their bomb in hand, no doubt with a good feed in mind.  Tom Baxter and Ted Headon were killed outright, and Arthur Bance died of his injuries 2 days later.


There are cases of soldiers being blown up while disarming bombs, and setting camp fires atop buried shells; as well as picking up German ‘duds’, and dropping them again – only to find they were no longer ‘duds’.  But probably one of the unluckiest deaths was when Pte Charles Lewis Pulford (265) was hit in the face by the base of a minenwerfer shell, which had apparently been sent flying while he was taking pot-shots at bottles 3 yards away with a salvaged German rifle.


The various other shooting accidents included men being shot by their own sentries, shooting themselves or others whilst cleaning guns or during firing practice – although Pte James Henry McGee (2753) managed to shoot himself on the 17th June 1916, without even pulling the trigger.  Having placed his rifle on the fire step, it slipped & fired as he stretched to look over the parapet and the bullet entered his stomach & exited his neck.  Pte Robert Henry Lamport (1739) was just one of the many poor victims of a careless mate.  He was shot in the chest on the 14th August 1917 by Gordon Stanley Cannon (Pte 4402) who was attempting to clean an automatic pistol he’d souvenired from a dead German earlier that year.


It would seem that the first soldier of the AIF to be shot by one of their own sentries was the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Bn, Lieutenant Colonel George Frederick Braund.  In the early hours of the 4th May 1915 Braund had set out for Company HQ, taking a short cut through the scrub rather than following the track.  With Turks suspected of being behind every bush, the sentry had been quick to challenge and quick to shoot when there was no response.  As Braund was known to be slightly deaf, it’s assumed that he probably didn’t hear the challenge, but the sentry was rightly excused of any blame.


One of the earlier deaths by drowning was that of Driver William Tanner (2719) of the Divisional Train, ASC.  He was swimming his horse on the 17/4/1915 at Alexandria, when it appears that the horse must have floundered in deep water & rolled.  Tanner was washed off its back and may have been struck by the struggling horse and stunned, as he didn’t resurface and his body couldn’t be found, though his mates dived and dragged with nets for some time.  Another incident involving a soldier bathing his horse was actually that of a French soldier on the 15/6/1917 at Marakeb beach in Palestine.  Losing his grip on the horse he was washed out to sea by the strong current.  Many men, both French and Australian found themselves in difficulties during the hazardous rescue, and four bodies were eventually brought ashore, one of these being Trooper Walter George Smith (3131) of the 9th Light Horse.


Captain Benjamin Digby Gibson, the Medical Officer of the 9th LH also found himself a victim of the unpredictable seas.  He went for his customary early morning swim on the 14th January 1917, and a short time later RoyAlbert Wheaton (Cpl 648) noticed his body floating 80 to 100 yards out.  He immediately went to the rescue, and found that the waves & undertow were exceptionally strong that morning.  The Captain was eventually brought ashore, but could not be resuscitated.


In a different theatre of war and nowhere near the coast, Military Medal winner Pte Vincent Thomas Stone (4246) was also a victim of drowning.  In Belgium on the 15th January 1918 during the early morning hours of darkness, he was guiding a ration party up to the line; he himself carrying the rum issue.  On the parties return to HQ it was noticed that Stone was missing, and upon searching for him he was found in a shell hole nowhere near the original track, having drowned in the water accumulated therein.


As shown by some of the examples listed so far, accidents are often the result of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time; and similar to Privates Gillies & Rowntree who fell-foul of a latrine in a storm, Pte Robert Donaldson Yule (2339) was the victim of a storm-rampant tree limb.  In the early hours of the 4th February 1916, the Fraser’s Hill Camp in Enoggera, Qld, was battered by a cyclonic storm, and as Yule and his tent mates battled to hold their tent from being blown away, he was the unfortunate soul standing right in the limb’s path.  It could be said though that Driver Edwin George Chave (1957) caused his own fate when he was hit by the limb of a falling tree on the 14th March 1917.  Part of a fatigue party felling trees for firewood, he ran to retrieve his coat from a stump in its path, and although dodging to avoid being hit, was a little off in his judgement.  Unconscious, but still alive when carried away, the whole incident must have been very distressing for his brother, William Frederick Chave (Dvr 1961), who was a member of the same fatigue party.  Edwin died 2 days later.


Trooper William Gray (1730) was another who tempted fate when he made his bid for freedom from the Citadel Detention Barracks in Cairo on the 7th June 1917.  Little more than a week after he’d been sentenced to 120 days of hard labour for helping himself to a bottle of whisky from the officer’s mess, he broke his neck as he jumped from the barrack ramparts.  Another Light Horseman who was extremely unlucky was Tpr Daniel James Campbell (282).  Having procured a lift on a wagon, he was returning to his regiment from hospital on the 21st April 1917, when he noticed some horses being led nearby.  Jumping from the wagon he ran towards them calling “That’s my pony”, when he suddenly disappeared down a well.  He died from his injuries the following day.  Hidden wells weren’t the only danger the men had to contend with in Palestine as Tpr John Haynes (1424) discovered on the 21st May 1918 when he was bitten by a snake.  He too didn’t last through another day.


In regard to Light Horsemen, it’s only natural that there were various deaths involving horses – being kicked by them, falling from them – or even having their horse fall on them, as happened to Tpr Vivian Murry Barber (2249).  Only moments after mounting, his horse reared up & then fell backwards, pinning Tpr Barber under him and rupturing his stomach.  He died on the 1st of November 1916, two days after the accident.  Bolting horses also caused various accidents; Tpr George Letts (1053) of the 4th LH was de-horsed by a tree branch after his horse bolted and he died from a fractured spine 13th November 1916.


But it wasn’t only Light Horsemen who lost their lives as a result of their connection to horses.  Corporal Norman Edgar Matthews (157), though initially Light Horse, was serving with the Provost Corps and en route to Heliopolis 4th February 1917 with Cpl 892 William Henry Raines to quell a riot.  When for no apparent reason, his horse suddenly swerved and collided with that of Cpl Raines.  Cpl Matthews was thrown to the ground, and did not survive the head and chest injuries he received.


Sergeant Major Walter Middleton Bradwell (179) of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade was also thrown when his spooked horse reared and then slipped on cobblestones.  Unfortunately he fell head first on to the hook of a gun limber and died 7th April 1918 before reaching the nearest Casualty Clearing Station.  Then there were the two Captains; Ernest Henry George Kemmis & Robert James Smith, killed when they came down in a crash during a sports-day horse race.

[See ‘Death at the Races’ for their story http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/blogs/entry/1629-death-at-the-races/ ]



Another who fell from a horse was a 16th Bn man, Pte Robert John Batty (1673A).  The batman of Lieutenant Malcolm John McGhie, he was returning McGhie’s horse to the stables when the animal took fright & Pte Batty lost control and his seat.  However, his fatal injuries occurred due to his foot remaining lodged in the stirrup, as he was dragged through ‘brick heaps’ near the Cheppewa Camp, Belgium on the 11th October 1916.


Runaway horses also towed lethal weapons, such as the Cook’s cart which ran over the head and neck of Driver Alfred James Branford (1125) whilst he was encamped and sleeping on an embankment in France on the 7th July 1918.  While Dvr Leonard Noweetsky (532) was crushed by a road making roller after it touched the heels of the horses towing it, and they bolted in fear, pulling him down in its path in January 1916.  In Boulogne on the 2nd August 1917 Pte David Donald (6110) was en route to the UK on Leave, when he noticed a driverless horse & cart careering down the street towards him.  On attempting to catch the horse he was crushed between the cart & wall and killed instantly.


There were of course, various types of Motor Vehicle accidents – involving cars, lorries and motor cycles – but one incident that I consider quite rare was between two vehicles without motors – it was a bicycle collision.  Pte Robert Ernest Elliott (4767) and Cpl Ronald Menzies Saddington (7376) were cycling toward each other in the English town of Rickmansworth on the stormy evening of the 9th September 1918.   Suddenly aware of their situation, they both wobbled to try and avoid the crash, but their reactions were too late.  Pte Elliott hit the road hard, fracturing his skull & never regained consciousness.


Eleven days after Armistice, Sapper William Rawlings Bennetts Delbridge (20019) was also on a bicycle, and was riding in a convoy on the narrow Bohain to Mazinghien road in France.  Congestion brought the traffic to a halt, and bunched up between the other cyclists he found it difficult to dismount.  Overbalancing in his attempt, he fell between the wheels of a motor lorry going the other way.


2nd Lieutenant Robert John Stanley Finlayson of the 1st Tunnelling Company also had a run-in with a lorry in Belgium in June 1917.  The lorry driver was passing a slow convoy going the same way as him, when Finlayson rounded a corner towards them on his motor cycle.  The lorry managed to cut back in to his own side of the road, but by this time Finlayson had jumped from his bike to try and avoid the collision, yet still had hold of the handlebars.  Out of control, both he and bike veered towards the lorry, which in turn came to a screeching halt, but the inevitable couldn’t be avoided.


One of the few Flying Corps men that died in an accident that didn’t involve a plane was Lieutenant Hector Nicol of the AFC.  He was a passenger in a car that was travelling way too fast over a bridge near Salisbury on the 13th October 1918.  When the wheel grazed a corner stone of the bridge it sent the car out of control and flipped it over.  Lieut Nichol died two days later, but unfortunately his death date has been listed with the CWGC as the 16th.


Planes appear to have been one of the single biggest killers, with 153 deaths listed thus far – the majority of these of course were the result of crashes, and many of those occurring in the Great War were during training flights.  Given the relative infancy of air flight and the unbelievable simplicity and flimsiness of aeroplanes, this was probably to be expected.


One accident that occurred on the ground however, was on the 20th September 1917 at Tern Hill Aerodrome in Shropshire.  Cadet Edward Jabez Cooper Treadwell (959) of the 30th Training Squadron, AFC, had been standing on the wing of a plane which was preparing for take-off; talking to the pilot and observing the instruments.  As he stepped off the wing, he stumbled backwards into the propeller and died soon afterwards of his injuries.


How a freak twist of fate can be fatal to even the most experienced of pilots was evident on the 2nd December 1917, when Captain Henry Haigh Storrer, a 1915 Point Cook graduate & his observer, Lieutenant William Norman Eric Scott, a Gallipoli veteran (originally with the Field Artillery) lost their lives.  Storrer had just taken off and turned to avoid a line of trees, when a sudden squall turned the plane upside down & brought it down onto the stone wall of Bailleul Cemetery.  The two airmen were buried side-by-side in the cemetery.


Luck also ran out on the 19th August 1918 for Lieutenant Ernest Cecil Stooke (DCM) & his observer, Lieut Louis Paul Kreig, when their plane’s engine cut out during take-off and they crashed into a moving railway engine.  The petrol tanks burst into flames on impact and blew the plane to pieces.


Trains were almost as dangerous as planes, with a present total of 112 men involved in train accidents of some kind.  As well as derailments and collisions, incidents also included soldiers run over by them, and falling from them – and of course, overcrowding didn’t help.  Although contrary to orders, it was a popular practice to ride on the roof; travel between carriages via the footboards, and to sit in the open doorways with legs dangling.


Pte Frank Lyons (3980) wasn’t sitting up top; but instead was travelling from one carriage to another across the roof of a French train on the 23rd March 1916, when apparently he was struck by an overhead bridge or the roof of a tunnel.  His body with fractured skull was discovered still on the roof when he failed to alight at his destination.  While in the July of 1916 Pte Edgar Williams (5482) was swept off the footboard of a troop train by some unknown projection on a passing Goods' Train.


In no way to blame, Trooper Arthur Poyntz Hirst (1539) was unfortunate enough to have been standing near the jammed-open door of a railway truck, when a mule which had fallen was struggling to get up, and in doing so knocked Tpr Hirst through the doorway.  His body was recovered the following day of the 22nd June 1916.


As there were no ‘conveniences’ on the trains and it was often many long hours between stops, the men had to make do as best they could.  One result of this ‘inconvenience’ was when Pte William Edwin Gravell (2856) fell from a train whilst urinating out the window.  The Irish born John Doheny, who enlisted as Pte John Sullivan (4586), had been ‘home’ on furlough after being discharged from hospital.  He’d felt unwell on the boat trip back to Wales, and after catching the train at Holyhead, had travelled as far as Bodorgan, when he stuck his head out the window to vomit & hit the side of the Bodorgan tunnel.  He died of his injuries 5 days later on the 14th December 1916.


Of the many accidents that happened after the war – some tug at the heart-strings even more than normal – the following two both involving trains.  The first is the story of the Thomas brothers who both enlisted in 1914.  Frederick George Thomas (Dvr 971) arrived back in Melbourne on the 17th November 1918, on submarine guard followed by special leave.  His younger brother Charles Albert Thomas (Spr 49) followed a month later also on special 1914 leave, making it home 2 days before Christmas.  Early on Boxing Day together with their 14 year old cousin, they were heading from Altona to the Victorian Market to purchase vegetables for their new greengrocer’s business.  Their journey came to an abrupt halt at the O’Hara level crossing, Newport when their horse made it across the tracks, but their cart took the full force of the Ballarat goods train.  A few hours later the Thomas boy’s father, unaware of the tragedy, was himself travelling by train to the city and recognised parts of the wreckage.  Frantic, he broke his journey at Newport to inquire about the accident and discovered the fate of his newly returned soldier sons.  The brothers were buried together in the Williamstown Cemetery.


The second incident is that of returning soldier Richard Warne (Pte 797, MM).  Only moments from home in the early hours of the morning of the 25th May 1919, he jumped from the train that by pre-arrangement was slowing, but not stopping at his station.  Unfortunately, the train was still moving too fast & he missed the platform altogether and was thrown under the wheels.  He was found a couple of hours later still barely alive, and when help was called for, it was his own parents who were the closest at hand.  Cradled in his mother’s arms, Richard gave up his fight for life as the ambulance neared the hospital.  [Richard’s full story can be read in Daryl Kelly’s book ‘Just Soldiers’]


Equally sad, and no doubt with long term effects on the Kelley family was the fate of William Henry Kelley (Pte 6300).  He had returned to his family on the 27th July 1919, and just under a week later was out rabbiting with his brother & sisters and a mate.  William, “while watching his brother and Antonio engaged with a ferret at a burrow, was holding his gun in his right hand, the muzzle being close to his side, when his little sister, aged seven, who was behind [him], pressed down the trigger to see if the gun would go off.  The unfortunate young man received the charge in his right side, and he died almost immediately.”


Franz Leslie Kaaden (Pte 1518) is one of quite a few soldiers who figure in more than one of my databases, and his story is doubly tragic.  Married in England on the 6th February 1919, he and his new bride Mary had arrived back in Australia in the August.  Later that same year, they were out enjoying the fine summer weather on a boating trip with friends when hit by a sudden squall which capsized the boat.  A rescue attempt managed to save their three friends but by this time the couple had disappeared.  Mary’s body was washed ashore the following day and she was buried on Christmas Eve. 


Finally – just to show the long reaching effects of the war even here in Australia – on the 28th May 1936 Edward Arthur Hollinworth (1610) was killed in his home at Coogee, NSW, and his daughter and a friend seriously injured, when a bomb he had souvenired in the war, finally exploded.  Following the inquest, the City Coroner appealed to all returned soldiers to surrender to the Defence Department any dangerous war trophies in their possession.



Heather (Frev) Ford, 2013



Links to the service records of the soldiers mentioned in this story can be found at the following link:








Message in a Bottle

blog-0758733001403672159.jpgAWM Photo E02607: Officers of 5th Brigade HQ, near Amiens June 1918 – Harry Blunt standing back row, third from left.


The Great Australian Bight’s “Bottle Post” may be slower than the air mail but it is mighty interesting. [Western Mail, 2/6/1938]


Mighty interesting indeed! What an amazing tale; washed upon the shore of life over two decades after it began. 30th of October 1915, two young lads embarking on the big adventure, pen a final word to their sweethearts, seal the messages in a bottle, and toss it into the waters of the Great Australian Bight. March the 11th 1938, Mr E.G. Eastwood just happens to find that same bottle on the beach at Cape Riche, 60 miles east of Albany, WA.


Following the devastation of the Great War, and the intervening years, what are the chances that the authors have survived to return to their loved ones, and that they can be found if so?


The two lads in question were Horace Lewis (Spr 1237) and Harry Blunt (Spr 1236), both born and raised in South Australia. They had enlisted within a day of each other; Horace on the 14th of June 1915 and Harry on the 15th. On board the A38 Ulysses, they had left their home State 3 days before and were on their way to Egypt with the 6th Reinforcements for the 2nd Division Signal Company (2nd DSC).


Harry was the elder of the pair at 23, and had been working as a Clerk with the railways before enlistment. He was writing to Gladys Severin, the young lady he had proposed to a week before sailing. Horace at 19 had qualified as a Draughtsman and was studying Mechanical Engineering – his young lady was Miss Mary Gay.

Both messages followed similar lines – “Going really well”“Just had a bonza dinner”“Concert on board tonight.” Horace added “Love to sunny South Australia;” Harry was getting in practice for France with “Au-revoir, Australia. We’ll bring the Kaiser back with us.”


In Egypt they continued their training, and served in the defence of the Canal, before finally heading to France in March 1916, where both suffered a slight dose of influenza in the April. Their work involved maintenance of communications around Fleurbaix in April, Pozieres in July & Mouquet Farm in the August. Horace was promoted to 2nd Corporal in May and then Corporal in July, but his rise came to a halt at the beginning of September when he was taken ill with Bacillary Dysentery. It was at this point in time that their stories took divergent paths.


While Horace lay ill in hospital, first in France and then England, Harry began his own rise through the ranks, culminating as Sergeant in June 1917 while his unit were out resting after Bullecourt. He was then sent to a Signal Cadet Course in England the following month. By the time Harry reached England however, Horace was only days away from stepping once again on to Australian shores; and while Harry buried his head in his studies to gain his commission, Horace received his discharge from the AIF; his war over.


Harry was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on the 5th December 1917, but didn’t re-join the 2nd DSC in Belgium until the 24th February 1918; where in just 2 weeks he was promoted to Lieutenant. During this same month, back in South Australia, Horace returned to his previously unfinished Engineering Course, and then in the January of 1919, he was appointed to the engineering staff of the Commonwealth Arsenal in Melbourne. Before Harry’s war was over, he was made O.C. of the 5th Brigade Signal Section, and in March 1919 he was mentioned in the Despatches of Sir Douglas Haig

Finally boarding the HT Mahia on the 4th June 1919, Harry arrived in Melbourne on the 17th of July, before catching the train back to South Australia, where he was discharged in the September.


So, the questions still remain – did our two boys return to their sweethearts to live happily ever after, and were they enlightened as to the eventual re-appearance of their “Bottle Post?” Well, the answer to the second question is yes, both Horace and Harry were traced, and Harry was particularly excited about the find – as was his wife.

Yes, the engaged couple, Harry and Gladys, had corresponded regularly throughout the war, and had wasted little time in taking the final step on his return. Their wedding took place in the Eudunda Methodist Church on the 2nd October 1919, and on the receipt of the 1915 message, they were thinking of having it framed to preserve it.


Horace, as we already know, returned to his Engineering studies, but alas, he and Mary went their separate ways. He didn’t settle down and tie the knot until the end of 1922, when he actually married one of Mary’s close friends Miss Minerva Smith. They had settled in Victoria, where he had been employed by the SEC (State Electricity Commission), until ill health caused an early retirement to the tranquil countryside of Woodend, north of Melbourne.

Harry had resumed his job with the South Australian Railways, but he and his wife were heading to Melbourne on holiday in the June of 1938 – and were hoping to renew an old friendship while there.


Endnotes: 1. (Spr 1237, 2nd DSC) Horace Laffer LEWIS was born 12/3/1896 Modbury, SA – son of Clarence LEWIS & Elizabeth LAFFER. He married Minerva Mary Fowler SMITH 9/12/1922 Unley, SA. They had two children – John & Jean. Horace was the inventor of a new type of Respirator which assisted in the recovery of Infantile Paralysis patients. He died 19/11/1955 Ballarat, Vic & his ashes rest in the Tristania Garden (Tree 10) at Springvale Botanical Cemetery. 2. Horace’s older brother, Clarence George LEWIS also served in WW1: L/Sgt 2448 (MSM) – 27th Bn / 2nd DSC / AA Pay Corps. 3. (Spr 1236 – Lieut, 2nd DSC; 5th Bde HQ) Harry Stephen BLUNT was born 25/9/1891 Saddleworth, SA – son of Edward Stephen BLUNT & Ellen SLOUGH. Married Gladys M. SEVERIN 2/10/1919 Eudunda, SA. They had one son, Brian (served WW2). Harry died 21/10/1984 Adelaide, SA. 4. Harry’s younger brother, Edward Keith BLUNT also served WW1: Spr 883, Enl 31/8/1914 10th Bn / 50th Bn / 2nd DSC. (Also WW2) [see following letter]



Another Message from Harry Blunt


Thankfully for Harry’s parents, he didn’t always resort to the “Bottle Post”. The following letter was received by them in October 1916, informing them of how his younger brother Keith was faring after the Battle of Mouquet Farm – as well as a few of the other local lads.


“Received your letter dated June 22nd while lying in my good old dug-out, about 30ft below the surface down in amongst white chalk walls and instruments. Well now for the good news straight away which I know you will all be pleased to hear. Keith got through the ‘stunt’ and is now a member of the company with me. I put in a claim for him on the 20th and he came up to our ‘pozzie’ on 23rd [Aug]. So that was quick and lively.


Well, here’s the lad’s history. He had a marvellous escape and if anyone deserves the military medal he does, not just because he is my brother but because he did what warrants a medal anytime, only of course no heads to push it etc., as is the general run. His crowd hopped the parapet about 10.30 pm last Saturday (well now just a mo’ I think the day is wrong) well never mind Keith did not know what day it was, date either, it must have been about the 16th or 18th August. As I said they hopped over and Keith was just back from running a message and went over with them. He got across and had a message to run back through the enemy barrage fire. He did six runs anyhow and says he never ran so fast in all his life and his steel helmet was dented everywhere with stray pieces he caught. He reckons his helmet saw him through splendidly. He got back from the sixth run and was played out not having had time, pretty well the whole day, to have anything to eat. He flopped into a shell hole and laid down and lit a smoke when up came a runner and stared wildly at him and said, “Now then who are you?” Keith said, “You know who I am,” and showed his colours. He could see the runner was “dotty” and watched him. The fellow ran off and came back again flashing his revolver quick and lively and told him to be careful what he was up to. With that the runner off for his life and Keith watched him and saw him go down. He out and dragged him back some 150 yards to safety to a big chalk pit and the fellow was unconscious but otherwise not wounded.


This is the last Keith remembers until nearly two days after when he was found in the pit by the 13th Brigade doctor. He was put in the horse ambulance and “came to” while there and was taken back to a rest station to gather his nerves again [13/8/1916 Shellshock]. He was there a day or two and we were on the move up. Dick Woodgate happened to be passing the Rest Station only about one and a half miles from our camp and Keith spoke to him and told him how he fared. Wasn’t I the most pleased man in the army when Dick told me, as the night before I dreamt that I saw Keith in a line of soldiers and passed by him and he said “Here I am Harry, O.K.” Rather strange but there it was as plain as could be to me. Now the lad is doing great.


Although he was made full corporal before the charge and was to go in again as a sergeant he is quite satisfied to come in and have a spell and be a sapper. He lost everything excepting some curios and his photos and revolver so we are fitting him out again and at present he is in the Sub-office which we used as our main office last time here but now we are in an advanced position and it is not bad. He is just knocking about in the office, attends to ‘phone a bit and enters up register of despatches; there is no telegraph there of course.


The last two days he has been out with three or four of us having a look at some of the old trenches once occupied by Fritz and the world famous mine crater. This crater is a terrific size must be 80 to 100 ft deep and a terrible width and there are some hundreds buried in it too, mostly Fritz’s. He says when they got on parade he stood off and wished the boys all “good luck” and they said he was a lucky devil to get through after nearly two years of it. You see he was the only scout left out of the lot of those running.


Two of his mates went under, he says he saw them go out. Poor old Clarrie Bishop got killed in the charge so Keith says. Hedley was missing but they had good hopes of him when Keith left his battalion. Stan was a runner at brigade so got off O.K., but said he took it very hard about his two brothers – only very natural of course. Mrs Bishop I know will be very broken-hearted but really she should find solace in that her boy died on the field and a sure hero. Clarrie was the first fellow I picked out on the church parade where I went to see Keith before they went in and I quietly crawled in and shook hands with him and had a quiet yarn while the service was on. He was looking well and was a bomber and was full of fun and seemed quite pleased they were going to have a good go at Fritz. Tim James got through but of course they have another turn to do yet. Each division has two goes and then off back somewhere else.


Still the dirtiest work has been done and some fine lads both Scotchies, Tommies and Australians have gone under. My pal (Eugene O’Reilly, Sergt. 23rd) of Wasleys got through first stunt and yesterday he rang up to tell me he’d got a nice little wound through the arm and was off to “Blighty” (London). He said he would laugh all the way there he was that pleased. Don’t worry about Keith and me we will be very “stiff” if we can’t see it thro’ together now.”


Harry’s brother Keith, had enlisted on the 31st August 1914; sailing with the first convoy, and serving at Gallipoli with the original 10th Battalion. With the rearrangement of battalions in Egypt after the evacuation, he and most of the other soldiers mentioned in Harry’s letter, were transferred to the 50th Battalion. During the fighting at Mouquet Farm, Keith was admitted to the 7th Field Ambulance on the 13th August 1916, suffering with Shellshock and a septic finger.

In the years following his transfer to the 2nd Division Signal Company on the 23rd August 1916, he suffered various bouts of illness, some serious, but saw the war through and was returned to Australia on ‘1914 Leave’ in December 1918.

He married Millie Farrant in 1921 & the couple had a daughter Helen.

Keith, a tramway employee, was severely injured in 1932 in a tram & trolly accident, and was later the victim of an armed hold-up at his wife’s shop in 1937. However, after putting his age back 3 years, he enlisted again in the Second World War, and served once more with the 10th Battalion. He died in 1978 in Walkerville, SA.



1. Edward Keith BLUNT – Spr 883, 10th Bn / 50th Bn / 2nd DSC. (Also WW2) Born 2/10/1895 Terowie, SA - son of Edward Stephen BLUNT & Ellen SLOUGH – married Amelia Elizabeth (Millie) FARRANT 1/6/1921 St Paul’s Church, Port Adelaide.

Other soldiers mentioned in letter: 2. Dick – Francis Augustus West Dunemann WOODGATE – Cpl 8434, 4th Fld Amb / 2nd DSC – RTA 18/12/1919 (with English wife) 3. Timothy JAMES – Pte 3043, 10th Bn / 50th Bn – RTA 26/9/1917 GSW L/Hand 4. Eugene Joseph O’REILLY – Sgt 627 – Lieut, 23rd Bn (Born Wasleys, SA) – enlisted Melb – RTA 6/11/1918 – d.24/1/1944

Sons of Andrew & Emma BISHOP: 5. Clarrie – Clarence BISHOP – Pte 2802, 10th Bn / 50th Bn – KIA 16/8/1916 Mouquet Farm, France (VB Mem) 6. Hedley – Andrew Hedley BISHOP – Pte 3246, 10th Bn / 50th Bn – WIA 16/8/1916 (GSW Back) – RTA 20/10/1918 – d.10/4/1953 7. Stan – Stanley Charles BISHOP (MM) – Pte 3695 / Lieut, 50th Bn (WW2) – RTA 1/5/1919

[Letter transcribed from the ‘Burra Record (SA), Wed 18 Oct 1916’]


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2013



blog-0225184001403250849.jpgPhoto of Fred’s brother, Edgar


On his 32nd Birthday Fred Symonds (533) volunteered for active service with the 1st AIF – it was the 8th of August 1914, and that same day he began a diary which he kept until his birthday the following year. Ten days later he passed the medical in Bendigo, Victoria, and on the 21st of August he left his hometown of Inglewood for Melbourne, where he went into camp at Broadmeadows. Three days after his arrival, he was surprised to find his young brother Edgar (625) had also arrived in camp, and so the pair stuck together, training and eventually sailing with the 5th Battalion.


Taking up Fred’s diary in Egypt on the 3rd April 1915 – he notes: “Leaving to-morrow for somewhere.”


4th – Leaving camp to-day for front. Left camp at 6.30 p.m., and marched to Cairo; entrained about 2 a.m.; very tired; no sleep. Reached Alexandria about 6 a.m.; boat No 12 (Nooran) [sic – Novian]; lots of transports about.

5th – Embarked on No 12.

6th – Left Alexandria at 2 p.m.; blowing a bit.

7th – Very rough; everyone sick, and decks in a terrible mess; no portholes, and very stuffy; not sick myself.

8th – Still rough and unpleasant.

9th – Reached Lemnos Island about 6 a.m.; weather calmer, and day promises to be fine. A lot of warships, transports and other small craft about; about 50 miles from the Dardanelles.

10th – Light duties.

11th – Rifle and section drill.

12th – Bathing, etc. Four more transports arrived; must be quite 60 here now; the battleships look great; the Queen Elizabeth is a splendid sight. Saw a sea-plane to-day; it went up from a boat in the harbor and flew for an hour or so over us.

13th – [Censored] left us last night; she has been tied up on our side for a couple of days to tranship provisions, I fancy. Saw Windsor on her.

14th – Got word last night that the ships had forced an entrance to the Narrows and the Sea of Marmora; expect we will be landing soon. Went ashore this afternoon.

15th – There are a lot of French and English troops here. Went ashore to-day in full marching order; ammunition makes packs rather heavy; had route march and returned to boat for tea. Our boat is “lousy.” We are scratching and hunting all our spare time; she has been an old cargo steamer, and has done a lot of work as a troop ship.

16th – Marching order and parading in boats; did not go ashore.


17th – Some of our fellows rowed over to the Queen Elizabeth, and say she is a wonderful sight; I would like to go over her, but am not one of the chosen. We paraded to-day in life-belts and marching order to boats; it was hard to know where the men were, they had on such a lot of gear; was on guard last night.

18th – Expect to leave very soon for the mainland. This harbor has never had so many boats in it before; I bet; its just full of them. Would like to get some news; have had none since left Cairo. Plenty of false rumors get around, but we are used to them. Had voluntary church parade this morning.

19th – Mess orderly to-day.

20th – Very blowy; can’t leave for landing to-day, or until weather takes up a bit; very cold; hope we give the Turks a doing. It is going to be a ticklish job, somewhere on Gallipoli. Did my washing to-day.

21st – Weather very bad; raining. Just heard that the Brigadier has come on board, so it looks like going.

22nd – Still here; weather improving.

23rd – Hope to leave to-morrow; weather good.

24th – Left at 11 a.m. Don’t know exactly when we land; think early in the morning. A lot of boats left last night. Blanket parade; allowed to take one. We anchored about dusk near an island, and left it at 11 p.m. for the landing place; expect to make landing just before dawn. We are landing to support the first troops, and will be among the first lot.


The Landing on Gallipoli

25th – Landed this morning; first lot about 1 o’clock. The country looks very difficult, and is full of Turks. Our first load got it very hot from the beach; many killed in the boats. I heard the sailors coming back after landing the first lot saying that they made a magnificent charge with only fixed bayonets – did not wait for orders, but jumped into the water before the boats were beached and got rid of their packs after they got the first trenches. There were thousands of Turks, and our first party consisted of only a couple of hundred men. The sailors said they never saw anything like the way our men went at them. I think the main body of Turks must be further inland. We were acting as supports to the advanced line, and landed about 8 o’clock. It took a long time to get all the firing line men ashore. We were under heavy shrapnel fire while landing; they had some guns on a peninsula about two miles away which covered the whole of our landing, and they gave us pie. The first sight that greeted us was some dead comrades, and a host of wounded. We went up a gully to the right, and took our packs off just before getting the steep climb. We had a long climb before getting near the ridge on the top of the gully, and it was then that we began to hear the bullets and shrapnel. One of our chaps had been hit on the leg further back where we took our packs off; that was the only casualty we had had so far.


When we got to the ridge we retired there, and could see wounded men coming down helping each other over the steep ground, which was very nearly perpendicular in places. Some had stretchers, but it was almost impossible to use them. How the poor fellows got back to the dressing station I don’t know; it must have cost some of them hours of agony. After we had been there for about 10 minutes we got word that we were wanted in the firing line, so they sent Mr Levy with No 15 platoon. Shortly after we got word that Captain Lager was badly wounded, and must have more supports, so No. 14, our platoon, got the order to advance to the firing line. We no sooner got over the ridge than we were met by a hail of bullets and shrapnel. We covered the ground in short, sharp rushes, taking cover in all depressions. The enemy had the range of all the cover that was worth taking, and kept a constant fire of shrapnel over it. In one place the shells were bursting right on top of us, and coming almost as quick as one could count them. It was then that our men started to fall out.


I got hit in the shoulder with a piece of shell just before we reached the firing line, and was told to go back with a man who was badly wounded just behind us, so I left my kit and rifle there and got hold of this chap, who, poor fellow, was hit in about eight places, and would have been killed had he stayed there much longer. I had a terrible job to get him down to the station. The first difficulty was to get him away from the fire zone. We had to go slowly, and I expected we would both be riddled, but, by some good fortune, we got over the ridge without mishap. The poor chap was in such pain that he could not bear to keep still. It took me quite four hours to get him to the dressing station, and as soon as I had my shoulder dressed, which by good luck was not seriously hurt, I got to work with a party taking ammunition to the firing line, first unloading it from a barge under a continual fire of shrapnel, then taking it up the hill to the firing line – a terribly heavy task. Needless to say, I was greatly worried about Edgar all this time. I never expected to see him again; it seemed impossible for men to live for long under the fire our chaps were exposed to unless they got well dug in. About mid-night two of us were struggling up the hill with a box of ammunition, nearly fainting with exhaustion, for we had not eaten a bite since 3 o’clock the previous morning, and we were both wondering what had befallen our brothers, for, strange to say, he had a brother in the firing line somewhere, too.


When we reached the firing line the first man to come out was my mate’s brother, and while we were talking someone came out of the trench and asked if Fred Symonds was there, and to my joy, the second-comer was Edgar. It seemed strange that two of us should meet our brothers at the same time and place, when everyone had been mixed up so completely. After we came back we had a rest for an hour before going up to support the line. The beach is an awful sight; our men must be getting terribly butchered. All the fleet boats are waiting near the beach expecting a retreat to the boats, but judging from the spirit of our men there will be very few retiring. The beach is lined from end to end with wounded.


26th – I got up to the firing line before dawn. Had to get in with the 14th Battalion, could not find our crowd; feel terribly exhausted, and don’t know how our men can hold the line, it is so weak and broken, but they are wonderful. Food is out of the question; may have to go a week on 24 hours’ rations and water. Our firing position here is on the top of a steep incline, almost perpendicular, and if one gets hit he has a chance of rolling down to the gully, a distance of about 200 feet or so. We are in a pretty warm quarter; the fighting is very fierce. The trouble is we can’t see much of the enemy on account of the dense scrub. I notice the warships are giving us more help to-day. The Queen Elizabeth is sending some 15 inch shells into the Turks. They make a terrible mess of things. If they land anywhere near us they shake the whole hill. Some more men came up this afternoon; we need more still. The stretcher-bearers are absolutely unable to cope with the casualties; some of the wounded have been lying out for 24 hours, and may be here for another 24 hours by the look of things. If they would only get some more men up here a few of us could help the wounded till dark, which would be a great help. Went on stretcher-bearing this afternoon; a cry came up for spare men to volunteer, as a whole line of men had been enfiladed by an enemy machine gun, and were lying under fire. It was frightful work getting the poor fellows down those hills; it took five men in some cases to get one wounded man out, and a lot of the bearers are being shot; we have lost 10 out of 40 already. Went back to the firing line at dusk in case of danger. There are a great number of Turks, but they seem to be frightened to attack us in a body. They keep sniping, and creep up through the bushes. There are a lot of snipers in behind our lines picking off the men from behind, but its impossible to find them, and they must be dressing in uniforms taken from our dead men. We had a lot of casualties to-day; feel terribly weary; don’t know what keeps us going, excitement, I suppose. Have seen some terrible sights; we must all be savages.


27th – Went on stretcher-bearing again today, as I had not a very good position in the firing line. Came across some of the 5th Battalion fellows; they are gradually picking one another up; will join them as soon as work eases off here. There are a lot of snipers behind our lines. We caught several today, but there must be lots more. Want food badly; half a biscuit and water, if you are lucky, for a meal, and a little salt meat once a day. They are gradually getting reinforcements up, and our firing line is getting stronger, but the men are getting weaker.

28th – Still working with stretcher bearers. We have more reinforcements coming up. I hear we need them, as we are now fighting 5 or 6 to 1. Our casualties must be very heavy, but I think the Turks are losing more. Our boys stand the strain wonderfully. Biscuits and water today; wish they could give us a hot drink. Landed a lot of troops to-night. Saw one man with his face blown off; it’s nothing to see them blown to pieces. Some of the bullets make a terrible wound; they explode inside, and in some cases take the top off a man’s head, and the limbs get terribly shattered. Joined our company to-night, and hear they suffered terribly.


29th – The fleet is making a terrible noise, and I suppose they are making things hum, but we can’t see the damage they do. Our artillery is doing some work now, and should be a great help to us. The Indian mountain batteries are great; I don't know what we would have done without them. The Indian soldiers are very cool under fire. I think at present we have the enemy beaten; am taking a day's rest, and had my first cup of tea – never enjoyed anything so much – and a little bacon, or, I forgot, I did have a drink of tea in the other gully, and, if I remember rightly, a piece of bacon. About [censored] troops arrived to give us a spell, thank God; we all look haggard and overworked; the strain has told terribly. Slept with MacQueen to-night in a good “possy.” We have been digging “possies” in a fresh place to-day, near the right flank; were sorry to leave the other “possy”, as it was so cosy. Fatigue work; carrying in kits from the gullies and drawing rations. Heard of McIllwraith’s death, and Vines seriously wounded; we don’t know who is dead yet. Some more may turn up, but lots missing; about 30 per cent of casualties in our company, I think. I believe the 7th and 10th Battalions were badly hit; hope Inglewood boys are alright.


May 1st – Fatigues again to-day, bringing up stores from our old position. Plenty of shrapnel about; nine of our men were wounded and two killed while digging a communication trench this morning; lucky for me I was not one picked for the job. The fleet is doing some very heavy firing this afternoon; can see all the ships from our “possy;” looks well. They use searchlights all night. I notice the enemy has not been giving us so much shrapnel since the fleet has been pumping it in hard. Message of congratulations from Lord Kitchener. We have done our job so far, and it has been a very hard one. Hope to go for a bathe this afternoon; have not had my clothes off yet, as far as I can remember, since landing; feel frowsy. I suppose it will mean sleeping in our kit for months to come. We deepened our “possy” last night, because the shells are coming from all quarters, it seems. I expect we will be moving soon; we are always in readiness to go at a moment’s notice. I hope tomorrow will be more like Sunday than the last; would like to go to a service. We feel much better for the change, though they don’t give us any rest.


2nd – Just a week since that awful day. I often wonder if we’ll have such another awful day; hope not. To-day has been quiet; only shrapnel, but our dug-outs are good. We were called out to haul big guns up to the firing line and carry shells; the horses could not do it, as the tracks are too steep and rough. Just as we got the first gun up to its position the enemy shelled us, and how we came back I don’t know. The shrapnel seemed to be bursting all over us, but only saw one chap hit; had a lot of cover, luckily. We got back for tea, and they wanted me to go out with a party digging a communication trench, but I got out of it; let some of those go who have been resting all day. I believe in fair division of labor, but lots of others don’t. The warships have been doing very heavy firing all day right along the coast. I notice the Queen Elizabeth is sending some of her big shells on to a hill about 10 miles off; they make a terrible mess of things. The reports of the guns roll through the hills and make them tremble. We can see the flare of the heavy guns in the dusk on the other side of the Peninsula towards the south. Some of our men were killed on the beach from shell fire. Would like to bathe, but they won’t let us out of the lines. Nights are chilly, with heavy dew. We are expecting to go to the firing line to-night, but hope we won’t go; acting as reserves at present. We are fortunate in having a good supply of water from the springs in the hills. A lot of our men are suffering from dysentery. Edgar is on the sick list for a day or two with it.


3rd – Went to firing line as supports this morning; have been doing pick and shovel work all day at the artillery post. They don’t give us much to eat. This evening we were making a communication trench under fire, and things were pretty warm during the night. We had to go out in fighting order, as we expected to be called up to the firing line any minute; plenty of shells about. Worked all night, and got to our dug-outs at about 5.30a.m. feeling tired, cold and hungry; had an hour’s rest, then I drew rations and we breakfasted. While we were digging a track for the artillery this morning the enemy gave us some heavy shrapnel fire; one man was hit, and its remarkable how few they got.

4th – Waiting to be relieved for a spell, I hope. Went out digging a communication trench this afternoon; night fairly quiet; only got called out to reinforce firing line once, but nothing of importance doing. McQueen very bad with dysentery, and think he will be sent away.

5th – Fatigues all morning; things are quieter. Mac reported sick and went to hospital. We go to reinforce the 29th Division to-night at Cape Helles, that is, we of the 2nd Brigade only; a choice bit of work, I believe. Troops are coming from Egypt. Got ready to leave in evening. Firing very heavy in our trenches to-night; must be attacked somewhere along the line. We left on trawlers and destroyers and got to mouth of Dardanelles about 6a.m.; fine day.


Krithia (Cape Helles)

6th – Landed about 6a.m. They have had as rough a time here as we did in the landing. We marched to within a mile of their firing line, and made camp. Had the pleasure of watching them make an attack; could see quite easily, as country is clear and flat in most places. The French 75 guns are firing like mad. They are wonderful guns, and the warships are putting in big shells. The Queen Elizabeth is down for the occasion, and we can see her shells bursting on the side of the hill. They seem to cover the place; are supposed to have a killing distance of half a mile from the burst and 50 yards or more wide. The poor devils in the trenches must get cut to mince-meat. We can see the lines slowly going ahead. Shells are bursting in hundreds; don’t see how the Turks can stand it unless they have marvellous trenches. Signaller White got wounded in shoulder while we were disembarking; not serious. We got some dug-outs well down for camping, as the French battery draws a lot of fire; hope we win the day. Edgar and I are in the same dug-out; hope they leave us here for a few days, as it promises to be interesting. There are Tommies, Ghurkas and New Zealanders near us. The Tommies are very good natured, and are much better fed than we are; they give us a lot of perquisites.


We passed some of the forts coming up from the beach; they have been well smashed; walls 8ft. thick with holes in them the size of a house; some more of the Queen Elizabeth’s work. Two of the guns we saw were enormous things, but the shells had smashed all the gear to pieces. The enemy is firing from the other side of the Dardanelles, and our artillery is doing good work. I heard some wounded say that we were driving the Turks back. There is a constant stream of wounded coming back along the track – poor beggars, some with hands off and shattered limbs and faces. I expect those not seriously hurt are glad to be out of it; it’s a fearsome business facing such a hell. I expect we will have to do it in a day or two. Its bound to be a tough job they give us. Our line is supposed to have advanced a few hundred yards to-day; hope they can hold it. I fear the hill will be a long, tough job. Edgar is boiling the billy now, so we will be having tea soon. The big guns are giving it to them like hell, and the rifle fire is getting more distant. They say a lot of our men have gone down.


7th – We gave the enemy a terrible shell fire this morning; don’t see how anyone can stand it. The fleet is giving us great help; the whole of the hill we are attacking is torn with shell fire. I thought at one time the enemy were exploding mines, the smoke was so dense. The big shells from the boats make awful havoc. We expect to be sent forward any time now; they must be having a bad time in the firing line. We talk of the Turk not being a fighter, but he is very tough.

Had a good dinner, and there are prospects of a good night’s rest. I contemplate trying to have a bathe this afternoon, but something is sure to block it. It’s very unpleasant living and sleeping in the same clothes from week to week. They say the French troops are very poor fighters here; they retreat too easily. But we have a fair number of English, Australians and Ghurkas now. More heavy artillery firing this afternoon. Had a good bunk last night; got some bags to sleep on. Think we go up to firing line to-morrow; something doing, anyway.


8th – Advanced to firing line this afternoon. Started to advance about 4 o’clock, and dug in about a mile or more from the line. Had tea; had barely swallowed it when we got orders to get into fighting order, and a few minutes later were advancing in extended order. After we had gone a short distance the shrapnel commenced to come, at first at irregular intervals, and then more steadily, I kept near Edgar as long as possible, but by the time we had made a couple of rushes we were all mixed up. The rifle fire got very warm after a while. We were advancing in a sort of half circle, and were receiving fire on all sides and rear. We advanced over several lines of trenches which had Ghurkas and Tommies in them.

Our men were going down everywhere, but we kept going. It was nothing to take cover behind dead comrades, although such cover is only from sight of enemy, as a man won’t stop a bullet, but it’s wonderful what you’ll cover behind when advancing. The machine gun fire was very hot. We never fired a shot, even after passing the firing line, which half of us did not know was the firing line. Lots of us were carrying picks and shovels to dig in with. We lost a terrible number of men in the advance, and our artillery had to cease fire for a while at the last, as we had advanced right into their fire zone and were receiving some of their shells. There seem to be dead and wounded Australians everywhere. Just before making the last rush, Lieutenant Hamilton, of one of the other companies, asked me to alter his kit for him, and after we went ahead I lost him. He tried to get back to his own lot again, and, I heard later, got badly wounded - shot in the neck, back and thigh; it will take him all his time to pull through.


The country we were advancing over was mostly flat, and very hard to take cover on except where there were trenches. When I got within about 50 yards of where we dug in I saw a Sergeant Fairley, of A. Coy, 5th Battalion, shot in the groin and hand, and he was lying right in an exposed position. The machine gun fire was pretty hot there, so I picked him up and took him back to the nearest bit of cover, about 20 yards, and dressed his wounds as best I could. He was shot through one rump and out just above the groin – a very nasty wound; the poor chap was in great pain. After that I came across so many wounded that I put most of my time in carrying them back to cover. It was their only chance, and the firing line started digging in, so I thought as they were opening fire it was the best thing to do, as I knew there could be no stretcher bearers up probably till the next night.

It was an awful night; wounded were calling for help all around the line, so I got another chap to give me a hand, and we got quite a number down to a likely place for an A.M. C. depot on the creek. Saw Sergeant Walker, of our platoon, about 10 o’clock; he was shot in the lung. I made him as comfortable as I could, and they started a fire fight just after as we were trying to get a big man with a shattered leg in. We had to be down for half-an-hour till the fire died down; the bullets were whistling all round us, some hitting the ground just near but most going overhead, which was just as well, or we would have been riddled. As soon as the fire eased off we got him on my back and I carried him to cover. One poor chap was hit very badly through the lower part of the chest, and was in terrible pain. After we had been at it a few hours I went down to see if I could shake some stretcher-bearers up, but after walking about a mile down the creek I found that they would not let any of them come up – said it was dangerous, and there were all our patients suffering for want of a little proper attention. So I went back to the supports for the rest of the night, as there was no room in the firing line. We were just about 20 yards to the rear of them. It must have been about 10 o’clock when I got back, and I felt done up.


9th – In the morning I had a look round to see if things were quiet, and decided I could do more by getting back to where we left the wounded and seeing if I could do anything for them. I found that the A.M.C. doctor had come up and got some of them away about sunrise, so my trip down to the base did some good. I gave them a hand to dig out a safe place, and helped the bearers to bring in more of the wounded before going back to the trenches, which are overcrowded at present, but I expect they will get them all in soon enough. The casualties are enormous; hope Edgar is safe; must send a note along the line when I get back. There are a few snipers about; it’s wonderful that I have not been hit. Got to firing line after dinner, and found Edgar; he was not far from me, only about 50 yards. Thank God he is alright. We have a lot to be thankful for. Have made “possy” just at end of line; can’t get in the line, no room. Started a big fire fight about 8.30 p.m.; had a fair sleep after things quietened a bit; felt the cold, as had no coat to wear.


10th – Expecting to attack to-night; hope we don’t get mauled like we did in the advance. Trenches very sloppy; it makes a lot of work trying to keep the water out. Had biscuits and oxo for breakfast. I believe the attack is not to be made to-night. Trenches very boggy; one side fell in, and was, of course, my “possy.” Luckily, I just got out of it, as about five tons of earth came in and made a terrible mess. Had a cold, miserable night; went on outpost duty in the creek just in front of our firing line; was relieved at 1 a.m.; had a drink of tea in early morning, also a few biscuits.

11th – Morning quiet. Reported a few white flags showing, but expect it is only a ruse; they’re full of tricks. Our engineers are out making entanglements just in front of our trenches; hope the Turks don’t open fire. Saw Edgar this morning. Carrying ammunition this afternoon; got relieved in trenches about midnight by Lancashire Fusileers. Slept at our old dug-out, about a mile behind firing line; plenty of rum going around, some of the fellows a bit on. Had a warm time on way down from trenches; enemy kept shelling us, and several were hit near me. It’s wonderful how they know our movements; there must be some spies in the crowd.


12th – Rained this morning. Got down to beach with Edgar and had dinner with some of the Tommies, who are very good natured and much better fed than our fellows. After dinner we joined our crowd and dug in about half a mile from the beach. The enemy are dropping a lot of shells about, but they are not doing much damage. We have a very snug “possy,” with a couple of waterproofs over it for a roof; hope they give us a decent spell. We are quite close to the French batteries, which make a terrible noise.

13th – Deepened our “possy” as the shrapnel is getting a bit hot. We went for a bathe this afternoon, and it was grand to feel clean for a few hours. We have not had our things off for over a fortnight. They seem to be letting the Australians do the tough jobs. Some of the other troops are very poor fighters; of course, the regulars are alright, but the French are making an amusing show here. While they advance they hold their packs up in front of them, and are far more ready to retreat than anyone else. At the rate they are going, there won’t be many of our fellows left soon; we have had a large percent of casualties already, which is far too heavy; in fact, some say it is -- per cent -- over -- in one brigade of -- men in all, including transports and everything. I expect the next job they’ll give us will be to take the hill, which is said to be almost impregnable, and is mined from end to end. It’s a pity they can’t get others to face it.


15th – Fine, but some clouds showing up; hope it does not rain. Edgar sent a letter home to day, but I did not bother writing as we are not allowed to give any news. I wonder when we will be taken back to Gaba Tepe. The enemy have just been giving us a lively time with shrapnel. They had an artillery duel with the French battery, and it was hot while it lasted, but most of the enemy shells landed round our camp; the French battery is too well concealed; only a couple of men hit and a horse killed, as far as I know. Went to French camp in village at the fortress after dinner, on the point known as Saddel Bahn. It gave us a good idea of the damage artillery can do; not one house is complete, and in the fortress shells have torn great holes in walls 8ft thick. They have one of the French hospitals there. Couple of German fliers overhead to-day. Expect we will get a lively time to-morrow.


Return to Anzac

16th – As I expected, they are giving us rats; it’s a good thing we dug well in. Left for Gaba tepe after dinner, and slept on board all night; landed 7 a.m.; pitched camp in one of the gullies, and they are giving us plenty of shrapnel.

18th – Had a fair night’s rest. Very heavy shell fire, and had some close calls. Enemy attacked our trenches last night, in the early morning, and at daylight, but were repulsed with heavy losses. We have to sleep in fighting order.

19th – Went out on fatigues at 4.30 a.m., but could not do much, as the shrapnel was so heavy; one or two got hit. Got back at 10 a.m.; hope to get a rest, as we had no sleep last night. They are giving our men a rough time on the beach; a lot of wounded taken down this morning. Went to support trenches for the night as picket coy, but they did not attack; must have had enough in the three attacks we repulsed this morning.


20th – Got back to camp at daybreak after a cool night behind trenches. We can hear heavy firing from the Cape; must be an attack there. Weather fine; will be glad of a good sleep if we can get it. Nearly all our officers are out of action or killed; we want re-organising badly. I hear that the Turks were heavily reinforced before the attack, and they advanced in thousands, in some places ten deep. The machine guns shot them down in thousands. There must be a tremendous number dead in front of our trenches; don’t know how we will get on if they are not buried soon. Our fellows are very cool; some even sit on the parapet to get good aim, and a great number got outside the trench altogether and laid down in front of the parapet – it made a terribly strong fire. There is more talk that the Turkish officers are mutinying. Saw F. Yorath this morning. Hope Windsor and others are alright. Heard the other day that Fred and Rolun Adams, of Mildura, whom I know well, were killed and missing respectively since the first Sunday, so looks like both dead. Terribly hard for their parents, as they are the only two boys in the family. I feel set up over it, as they were such decent chaps. The enemy is very strong; they far exceed us in numbers. Our men are looking fagged out. I feel quite ill sometimes.


21st – Spent last night in the gully in anticipation of an attack, but we did not do much except dodge shrapnel. It was cool out, and I had no coat; got to our new dug-outs, which we occupied yesterday, about daybreak. I hear that a division of troops has arrived to relieve us; we expect to go away to re-organise. I hope it’s true; we all need a rest badly. Yesterday they had an armistice to bury the dead, which needed burying; we could smell them down in the gullies – it must have been vile in the trenches. Hope we have a quiet day.

22nd – Inlying picket last night; went to support trenches, but nothing doing. Am bad with dysentery; makes me feel fagged and weak; we all have it more or less, and the rations are very rotten; they are feeding us badly. Raining this morning, but weather cleared this afternoon, and there are prospects of a sleep to-night.

23rd – There is talk of us going to Lemnos to spell, but I expect it will blow over like the other. All the Light Horse arrived from Egypt. Hope for a quiet day. Our officers are getting short in number, and they are making a lot of new ones. Had voluntary church parade this morning at the 6th Battalion camp; Captain Dexter held the service, and most of us went. Spent the afternoon out of my clothes to give them an airing. We are not allowed water for washing, only enough for drinking purposes. Went out trench digging all night.


24th – Got back early this morning, and on fatigues, etc, and digging communication trenches. Had an armistice for burying the dead. Heard that W. Rochester was wounded at the Cape while we were there – shot in the chest, stomach and thigh, I believe. Hope he gets through alright. The two Parkers are alright – they were hit the first day; one pretty badly in the shoulder. Hope not called out to-night. Inlying picket.

25th – Called out at 3 a.m., but nothing doing. Rifle inspection at 10 a.m. Raining, and things got a bit wet. I heard a great explosion last night, and it turned out to be the Triumph, which was torpedoed. A couple of enemy submarines about. She was sunk in deep water off our coast, and will be a great loss to us. It seems as though luck is not with us.

26th – On wood fatigue this morning. Things are quiet. Went into trenches this afternoon for three nights and days on Brown’s Hill, which commands the gully behind Quinn’s Post, where the line is broken and where the enemy frequently make night attacks, to their cost. General Walker arrived a few days ago to take over the work of General Bridges, who died recently. Heard this evening that the Majestic has also been sunk by a torpedo at Cape Helles.

27th – Had a cool night, as usual, and they did not tell us to bring our blankets or anything. The more I think of it, the more incompetent I think our leaders are, especially when I think of the casualties. Perhaps General Walker will be able to alter that, but I don’t think Bridges was responsible. Got blankets this afternoon. Have a hunt through our clothes every day. Think the blankets and dug-outs must be alive.


28th – Had a good night; nothing much doing. Some reinforcements arrived to-day. I heard that the Australians had over 10,000 casualties to date; it can’t be less. Got three letters to-day – the first but one since landing. We are having lovely weather, and the Turks are not giving us much trouble at present. We are holding on till the Cape Helles crowd come up, and then advance, I think. There will be enough excitement when that comes. I hope the Turks do a lot of attacking in the meantime, as it will mean all the less to kill then, but I think they are getting tired of making attacks, they are so costly, and the last few have taken quite a lot of starch out of them.

29th – Enemy made an attack last night, blew up part of our trenches and took that portion, but our boys re-took it almost at once. The Turks lost a lot of men. I hear rumors of another attack to-night. I don’t know how we get the news, but think they tap the telephone wires. The attack is to be made en mass. The [censored] was torpedoed to-day. I hear that’s the third battleship recently; looks bad, hope they get the submarines. All the destroyers are working between here and Lemnos at full speed; hope they do some good. It is amusing reading the papers and letters published about how one feels under fire for the first time. My experience was at the start a desire to overcome fear, and after we got moving I felt alright. The half-hour before we start is the worst part of it to me; when I am going I don’t feel anything except a desire to act as quickly as possible. I felt worried about Edgar more than anything; it is a mistake to have a brother with you, I think. But, strange to say, I felt all through as though we were both coming through alright. Its wonderful what a help a man’s religion is in such cases; it brings it home to one as nothing else can. Were relieved at 5.30p.m.; suppose it means more fatigues.


30th – Church parade in morning and fatigue after dinner. They are evidently going to attack our lines, as they are shelling very hard and the rifle fire is brisk. We are used to their attacks now, which generally cost them dear. I noticed one shell landed almost on the battalion headquarters. They are trying hard to find our artillery, and are shelling our trenches with shrapnel. Heard this morning that submarine [censored] got into the Narrows and sunk two enemy transports loaded with ammunition. It will be a great loss to them, and they sank three other transports besides; not known if they had troops on or not. I have to go with some others to B. Coy. to join inlying picket to-night, as they can’t make up the number. Kept busy all the afternoon.

31st – On fatigues all day and inlying picket last night. Was digging trenches this evening till 9 o’clock, then inlying picket again. They don’t give us any rest at all. Quiet day in firing line. I heard that on Sunday night the Turks blew up one of our trenches and captured it and the support trench for a time, but our boys charged them with the bayonet and won it back, the enemy losing heavily. I believe that the enemy lost 2,900 on Sunday during attacks on our lines – that is, killed. The destroyers are busy this afternoon – got wind of a submarine, but did not get it, worse luck.


June 1st – On fatigues and inlying picket; things quiet.

2nd – Went for swim this morning. I suppose we will have fatigues all afternoon. Heard at the beach that there are [censored] troops at Lemnos; hope its true. Easy afternoon; things quiet.

3rd – Quiet day; enemy doing very little firing. Reported our boats got supply ships to enemy submarines; heard that submarines had been taken; too, but I doubt it. Our warships are pounding away again this afternoon; its good to hear them, and must be discomforting to the Turks. Going into trenches again this afternoon. Hear that the boats are shelling villages a couple of miles away, because there are troops there; expect there will be an attack soon, if that’s the case.

4th – Got back about 6a.m. after quiet night. They are doing something at the Cape, as we can hear the tremendous fire like a continuous roll of thunder. Expect they are trying to take the hill; there is some talk of them blowing it up with [censored] tons of guncotton. It must be a very tough job. The Germans say it is impregnable, but I think they will find their mistake before we finish. Its slow work, and we want lots more troops, but when they come we should do it. There has not been a break in the thunder of the big guns all day.

5th – Went on main guard at 9a.m. for 24 hours; fine and quiet.


6th – Attacked at Turkish trench on right on Friday night and took it, I hear, but had to abandon it later. Hear that Turks are having a hard time – 100,000 wounded at Constantinople. The general impression is that this job will be taking a decisive turn soon; I hope so. The people are supposed to be leaving Constantinople in hundreds. One of our submarines did more damage in the Narrows. They say the Turk has a horror of the Australians. Went to church parade after coming off guard; have cold in my head.

7th – Going to supports to-night. A good lot of shrapnel came over this morning. Our crowd seems always in for the duty end of the stick.

8th – Got back from trenches at sunrise. I got out with woodcutting party at 1p.m. Hear that Italy has declared war; hope its true, and that it hastens the end. Finished woodcutting at 6p.m. Edgar is on a digging party, and is working till midnight. They have to carry fighting order and 200 rounds of ammunition; they are working us to death. Some of the men are looking wrecks, and the food is bad.


9th – On woodcutting, and later with engineer in trenches and supports making sleeping places; back at 6p.m.; nothing much doing.

10th – Working all day with engineers behind firing line. We go into firing line to-morrow for a while, probably till we move from here. Saw about 200 Turks near our trenches at Quinn’s Post this morning that had been shot the other night in an attack by one of our machine guns.

11th – Went into firing line this evening; on fatigues all morning. Edgar is on observation work.

12th – Had very quiet night. Very poor breakfast – only two biscuits each. Very heavy shrapnel fire from enemy this morning right over our trenches; did a little damage, but no one in our company hit yet. Saw four killed and one wounded by shrapnel about 20 yards away. They appeared to have just come out of the firing line for some reason; they would belong to the 4th Battalion, I should say. It’s a wonder they don’t get a lot more than they do; we all have some close calls at times. Wish it was all over – war is a terrible business.

13th – Quiet day; went on duty at 6 for 48 hours’ observation. We have to work double shifts now on account of the shortage of men. I am on No. 2 post in firing line. Dysentery bad, so are the flies.


14th – On observation duty.

15th – On observation duty. Our trenches got knocked about by enemy shells this morning, but no one was hit; plenty of dirt flying about. Got relieved by 13th platoon for three days. Just got orders to stand to all night; enemy must be going to attack. Got no sleep.

16th – Had fair night; very bad with dysentery, so is Edgar. I can’t eat the food; feeling weak and ill, and could not do fatigues, and no good reporting to the doctor, as he only gives pills. Very heavy shell fire this afternoon; eight killed and ten wounded in our trenches. Two of them, poor chaps, were taken out in little pieces which took a lot of finding in the dirt they were mixed up with; nearly all of them were buried.

17th – Had fair night, though there was a lot of bomb-throwing on the left. More big shells to-day. One nearly smothered us with dirt. Dysentery a little better, but very weak; I collapsed last night on my way back, and some fellows had to help me to my bunk. Nearly everyone is bad more or less, and barcoo rot is spreading. I have it pretty badly. If they don’t give us a change soon we will all be down.


18th – Going into firing line again to-day. On fatigues, and don’t go into firing line till to-morrow. Corporal Cole shot through head this morning and died almost immediately. Was only 21 years of age.

19th – Went to firing line 10a.m. Am not on first shift.

20th – Still in firing line. Had a lot of “hurry up” to-night. Something doing at the sniper’s trench; had a bit of a fire fight.

21st – On observation duty; nothing much doing.

22nd – Still on observation duty; got relieved for to-night. Want a sleep badly.

23rd – Go on duty again at 7p.m. with Edgar. Things quiet. The Turks are doing a lot of digging and making new trenches close to ours. We may be able to blow up a few of them later on; both sides are busy sapping and mining; can hear them working under parts of our trenches; hope they don’t blow us up first.

24th – Still on observation duty. Very bad with dysentery again.


25th – Got relieved at 10a.m. by 15th Platoon; will be in again in three days. Suppose will be getting plenty of fatigues while in the supports. The Lord Nelson and five destroyers came up this afternoon to Gabe Tepe and bombarded a magazine and store, and succeeded in destroying them.

26th – Went to beach this afternoon. Shrapnel heavy, and saw bunch of men in swimming get hit by two shells, which landed right amongst them; must have caught a lot.

27th – Turks made feeble attack early this morning, but only a few came out. They are afraid of our fire, and I don’t wonder at it, as every time they attack they lose enormously. I expect we will get a taste of it before long again. On fatigues, and went to church this evening behind trenches, and enjoyed service.


28th – Went to firing line again at 10a.m. for six days. Am on observation duty with Edgar. Had a lot of rifle fire this afternoon. Some of their shells hit our parapet, and one buried seven of our men just a few yards from us. Six of them went to hospital, but, strange to say, none were killed – a very lucky escape. Had another fire demonstration to-night, and sang a few choruses to keep the Turks awake. Part of our line on the right flank made an attack, emptied the enemy’s trenches and returned; had about 120 casualties. It is all done to keep them from sending help to the Cape, where the Tommies are making an attack.


29th – Still on duty, but have a spell of 24 hours to-morrow. Enemy made an attack at Quinn’s Post, and lost about 250 dead. Our artillery played the deuce with them. We had a duet and thunderstorm when the enemy made the attack – suppose they thought the dark would hide them. Enemy were reinforced today, and we had a very heavy fusillade. I was on observation duty with Edgar at the time. Our casualties were comparatively light, I believe. We are supposed to have made an advance at Cape Helles.

30th – Relieved at 8a.m. for a 24 hours’ spell. Rumors of a spell for a week at Imbros, but suppose it will end in smoke, like the other. Imbros is about 14 miles away from the shore. Very heavy gun fire at Cape all day and night. The Turks must be having a rough time of it. We had a thunderstorm to-night at 9.30, and very vivid lightning, and the enemy got uneasy and did a lot of firing. Had a fair night after the storm passed over.


July 1st – Go on duty at 2p.m.

2nd – Quiet day. Went to beach for water after being relieved. Only doing 24 hours on at a time now; reinforcements make a difference, and a lot of them are arriving lately. Major Lockhart [sic – Flockart] brought me some cigarettes to-day; he was wounded, and has just returned; cigarettes are very acceptable. Very heavy firing at Cape this afternoon, they must be advancing.

3rd – Hear that Turks attacked in vast numbers at Cape on 30th and 1st, and were repulsed with very heavy losses. Lot of firing at Cape last night.

4th – Relieved for three days in supports, hope fatigues are not heavy. Had little rain last night. Have a cold; missed church; had bit of firing at about 8 o’clock.

5th – Fatigues, and quiet night.

6th – Fatigues.

7th – Went to firing line for 6 days; not on duty yet, but go on to-morrow; bit of a flutter about 10a.m.

8th – On observation duty 10a.m.

9th – On duty at No. 6 post.


10th – Relieved for 24 hours. Some of our big shells landed in Johnson’s Gully this afternoon and did a bit of damage. The Lord Nelson came up with six destroyers and did a bit of firing at something inland. We blew up some of the enemy’s saps yesterday and made a bit of a commotion, and a machine gun picked off the poor devils as they ran out – those who could run.

11th – On duty at 10a.m. for 24 hours, a long shift. Had a fire demonstration to-night; things very warm. Another attack at the Cape.

12th – Another fire fight this morning. Very heavy shell fire on our trenches. Edgar had a very narrow escape. A shell came through the loophole where he was observing and took the plate with it and a bit of the water bottle just behind him, where it exploded in the ground and never hurt him. Several of our fellows went down to the hospital hit or suffering from shock from shells bursting. A lot of shells landed on our trench. There must be a lot of casualties in other parts. Just heard that Major Lockhart got hit very badly and is not expected to recover. He was one of the best. A lot of men are going out of the firing line wounded. Heard later that Major Lockhart died.


13th – Relieved at 10a.m. Heavy shell fire this afternoon, and a lot of casualties. One poor fellow had both legs taken off; don’t think he can recover, although he seems cheerful enough. He had just returned from being wounded. Some were blown to pieces. Saw remains of one man being carried down in a parcel.

14th – More shells this afternoon. Our machine gun section got blown out; one killed and several hurt. Went for swim and wrote home.

15th – Went for swim. Quiet day, with few shells after dinner.

16th – Went to firing line this morning. Don’t go on duty again till to-morrow. Fair number of shells this evening – one on quarter-master’s store; hope it does not run us short of provisions.

17th – On duty No. 3 post; quiet day. Heavy firing at Cape. Holy Communion service at Brigadier’s headquarters at 6.30a.m.; missed it, being asleep.

18th – Quiet day. Went to beach for water. After being relieved at 10a.m. saw eight men put out by two shells while I was there. Saw one being carried along beach with face blown off. Went to church in evening; few shells about.


19th – On duty this morning; quiet day. Very heavy firing at Cape. They seem to be having a tough job to take the hill.

20th – Relieved 10a.m.; went to beach for water.

21st – On duty at 10a.m.

22nd – Went into supports for three days at 10a.m.

23rd – Went for swim and water; got wood; fatigues; stand to at midnight.

24th – Had three “stand-to’s” last night; evidently expected an attack somewhere.

25th – Firing line again. Will go to church if possible.


26th – Few shells and bombs, but don’t think much happened.

27th – Relieved for 24 hours; went for water and had a swim. Turks dropping lot of shells to-day. Got some eggs at 2s 6d a dozen.

28th – An attack this morning, enemy losing 200; we had practically no casualties; was not a very big attack. A good many saps have been blown up lately; one went this morning; are mostly enemy saps.

29th – Went for water. Been fortunate enough to buy eggs and flour from sailors, which they bring from Lemnos. They have been the saving of us as far as dysentery goes.

30th – Heard of great victory for our troops near Persian Gulf, and hope its true; gave enemy three cheers from trenches to celebrate occasion, and they fired like mad.

31st – Went to supports for three days. A German “fly” dropped a few bombs on our line this morning; bit of rifle fire last night.


August 1st – Quiet day; went to church and had good service; a big Salvation Army chap gave it, and delivered a good sermon. He’s often been in Inglewood; I’ve seen him there. He’s a big, stout chap; has Church of England hymns.

2nd – Water fatigues; the big gun fire at Cape not so noticeable to-day.

3rd – Firing line again. On No. 1 post, with Edgar acting as corporal. A Taube dropped some bombs about.


Wounded & evacuated

4th – Got hit with incendiary bomb on head at midnight just after coming off shift, and burnt my scalp and clothes, but luckily my cap comforter saved me from being very badly burned. I was taken down to the hospital after being dressed, and will be going away in fleet sweeper in the morning. My face is black and charred. Luckily I was not asleep, or I’d have got it in the face and been blinded.

5th – Left on fleet sweeper [Ionian] at midday. Was sorry to leave Edgar (who came down with some of my belongings in the morning) especially as there is to be a big attack in a few days. Three divisions of Tommies are landing before the end of week; [censored] landed last night. We reached Lemnos at 5.30p.m., and harbor is full of all kinds of craft, from warships down to cockle shells.

6th – Left Lemnos at 5.30p.m. [HMS Clacton] for Alexandria; won’t be away long.

7th – Grand to have a bed to sleep in, and no kit to wear all night. My head is doing well. Had beard shaved off to-day. Meals are fairly good.

8th – Had quiet day. Will reach Alexandria to-night. Fancy, I finished this diary on the day I started it, this day last year. Will post it home to-morrow, and start another. It is my birthday, too. Anxious that I should start this diary also on my birthday and finish it for post on my next birthday.




Fred Symonds was the 3rd of 6 children born to Samuel & Jane (nee Hartrick), in Port Albert, Victoria (not Inglewood as he stated on Attestation). His brother Edgar was 10 years his junior. Their father, an employee of the Bank of Vic, eventually became the Manager of the Inglewood Branch, where the boys grew up, and both Fred and Edgar initially followed him into the banking field. By the time he enlisted however, Fred was carrying on the business of an Insurance Agent.


Fred’s diary was published in the “Inglewood Advertiser” during the period of Sept / Oct 1915, when interest in Gallipoli was at its peak; but if he did keep subsequent diaries of his war years, they never made it to publication (perhaps as their content wouldn’t have been such a thrilling read).


After his return to Egypt and recovery from his injuries, Fred was employed in clerical work at the Base Medical Stores in Zeitoun. When the 5th battalion sailed for France on the 25th March 1916, they sailed without him; but his stay in Egypt finally came to an end a week before his 34th Birthday, when he instead, sailed to England on the 2nd August.

The following 14 months were spent in the Training camps and the Service Corps, until eventually in the October of 1917 Fred crossed to France to join the 4th Div Supply Column. In March 1918 he was taken on strength with the 2nd Motor Transport Coy, and then in the May he was transferred back to his original unit, the 5th Battalion. During his time in France he was affected by gas, and suffered a bout of bronchitis. As one of the ‘1914 men’, he began his trip home in the month before Armistice, arriving back in Melbourne in early December 1918.


Called to respond, during his ‘welcome home’ reception, Fred had the following to say:

One lesson the war had taught every soldier, if he was an honest-minded man, and that was what love of country meant. A man never did appreciate his own country until he was forced to live out of it under trying conditions, but he could tell them that they appreciated Victoria, and always maintained that there was no place as good.


In 1919 Fred married and started a family; he also purchased 47 acres of land at Quantong through the Closer Settlement Board, and worked that land as an Orchardist, until 1930 when the holding was cancelled.

The following year he was a ‘Reader’ at the C of E Vicarage at Panmure, and later that same year became a Minister of Religion in Bungaree. From Bungaree he moved on to Murtoa in 1936 and then Koroit in 1938, before dividing his time between Creswick and Ballarat, until his death in Ballarat on the 30th of September 1962, at the age of 80. His wife, Hilda died in NSW the following year, and of their six children, only three made it to adult hood, one of whom served in WW2.


Fred’s brother Edgar Bell Symonds (L/Cpl 625) also returned home, married, and served in WW2 before his death in NSW in 1964.



Inglewood & District Soldiers mentioned in the diary: 1. Windsor / W. Rochester – Sgt 877 Alfred Windsor Rochester, 7th Bn – KIA 8/5/1915 Cape Helles. 2. F. Yorath – L/Cpl 303 Francis Leonard Yorath, 5th Bn – see Digger 36 (p.25-7). 3. The two Parkers (brothers) – L/Cpl 950 George Frederick Parker, 7th Bn, (KIA 25/7/1916) & L/Cpl 951 Thomas Picton Parker, 7th Bn, (RTA 7/11/1915)

Others: Fred & Rolun Adams (Mildura brothers) – Pte 868 Frederick James Adams, 8th Bn – KIA 25/4/1915 [AWM Photo H05906] & Pte 1127 Edgar Robert Adams, 8th Bn, died whilst POW 25/4/1915 [AWM Photo H14064]; Captain Dexter – Chaplain Walter Ernest Dexter

5th Bn Men: Mr Levy – Lieut (later Capt) Leopold Levy; MacQueen – Pte 551 Frederick John McQueen; McIlwraith – Pte 553 David Keith McIlwraith – KIA 25/4/1915; Vines – Cpl 524 Ashley Robert Vines; Lieut Hamilton – 2nd Lieut Charles Builth Hamilton – DOW 18/5/1915; Sgt Fairley – L/Cpl 993 Ernest Robert Fairlie – KIA 8/5/1915; Sgt Walker – Sgt 518 (later Lieut) Victor Langford Walker; Corporal Cole – Cpl 602 Eldon Torel Trevor Cole – KIA 18/6/1915; Major Lockhart – Maj Robert Pearce Flockart, DOW 15/7/1915


Heather (Frev) Ford


.....from the Western Front in 1914 to the Balkans in 1915 to the High Seas 1916 to 1919 – Edith Amy Trebilcock – AVH, BRC, QAIMNSR, AANS


Although born in England in 1875, Edith migrated to Australia with her family late 1880, early 1881, and this was to be the first of her many sea voyages. After receiving her early education in Ballarat, she trained as a nurse at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne for 3 years between 1899 and 1902. Her training over, she left the Alfred and went into Private Nursing, before taking up the position of Matron of the Sir Samuel Hospital in WA, followed by the Laverton Hospital, WA in October 1911.


Returning to Victoria, no doubt to visit family, Edith then embarked from Melbourne on the 9th November 1912 aboard the Wakool for England, arriving in London on the 8th January 1913. The Governor General had sent a letter to the UK Prime Minister stating that “my Prime Minister would be glad if facilities could be afforded to Nursing Sister E.A. Trebilcock, Army Nursing Service (5th MD) to obtain training at Netley or other Military Hospitals, during her visit to England, on the understanding that no expenditure to the Commonwealth will be incurred thereby.”

On her arrival in England she had been directed to present herself to the Matron-in-Chief at the War Office, however it was noted that as of October 1913 she had not done so. Edith instead appears to have been receiving private tuition in midwifery at the Paddington Workhouse Infirmary, and on the 9th of June, along with 429 other candidates, she passed the Examination of the Central Midwives Board.

Soon after sitting her exam, she boarded the Baltic for America, arriving at Ellis Island on the 5th of July. During her time in the US Edith was employed as Head Nurse of a Sanatorium in Highlands, North Carolina, before eventually returning to the UK, where she was residing in August 1914.


Within days of the declaration of war, many ‘well-healed’ ex-patriot Australians in England, banded together and made an offer to the War Office of an Australian Voluntary Hospital (AVH), staffed and funded by them, to be sent to the front. Upon acceptance of their offer they advertised for staff, and Edith was one of the first 17 (mostly) Australian nurses to volunteer. With the chief organiser Lady Rachel Dudley as Superintendent, Ida Greaves from Newcastle, NSW as Matron, and Colonel Eames, a doctor also from Newcastle as the Commanding Officer, Edith sailed for France on the 28th August 1914 on board Lord Dunraven’s Hospital Yacht, Greta. She takes up the tale in the following letter:

“We left Southampton on August 28 for Havre, then the naval base, but the Germans were encroaching so much in that direction that we hurried from the hotel at which we were staying on to the Greta, the yacht Lord Dunraven had chartered for our expedition. Here we spent several uncomfortable days and nights, and were again landed in Havre, which was so crowded that a bed was an unknown quantity. And very thankful we were to get on board the Asturias, which brought us down here (St Nazaire), to what has since been the base. Lady Dudley took the best private hospital here, and opened it for officers only, and in a few days we had more patients than we could accommodate. Then we took over a large school adjoining as an annexe. Here we nurse the Tommies, accommodating ninety at a time, and here it is we have done our best work.

“In a month we handled 750 cases, and when I tell you that we are but seventeen nurses and our orderlies for the most part are untrained you can imagine something of our work. Many times we have been strained almost to the breaking point, but have managed to endure and do good work.

[Their patients were the sick & wounded soldiers from the Mons front]


“It is different from ordinary hospital work. We hear when the trains with the wounded are expected in, and we are ready to receive them. The serious cases are immediately got to bed. Then we feed them all; after which they all have to be washed and their wounds dressed. We have received as many as 170 patients in a day, so you will see our task has not been an easy one. Their wounds are often filthy and sloughing, having in many cases been undressed for two and three days. We hear that many of the hospitals have a great deal of gangrene, but so far we have had none, though we have had tetanus (lockjaw), which is even worse. We have had seven deaths from it…. It is so awful and so hopeless. Here we see in a very small way some of the horrors of war.

“Besides the hospital and annexe we have a camp, a postcard of which I will send you…One evening last week we attended a concert given by our people at the camp. It was a weird affair. A beautiful moonlight night, a waning camp fire, the inner circle composed of sisters and officers, beyond this hundreds of our British soldiers, and on the outskirts crowds of French people. Lady Dudley was sport enough to contribute to the programme, and we wound up the evening by having supper with the officers and afterwards motored home.

“Our home is in the corner of the main street, and we see all the soldiers march past – in one direction to the rest camp, after disembarking; in the other, to the front! They win one’s respect, with their cheerfulness and grit. They are always singing as they march, their favorite songs being ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ and ‘Oh, you beautiful doll.’ We see thousands and thousands of them pass. ….. Then when they return to us wounded and suffering, their cheerfulness one marvels at! Only here and there one meets with one who whines.

“We have packed up here and have to quit St Nazaire. Lady Dudley has taken the Hotel Carlton in Paris, but latest news tells us we are not going there. We certainly hope to get nearer the front, but so far know nothing. When our orders come we shall get out speedily.”


It was early in October when they first received the order to pack up and prepare to move again, and eventually they entrained for Boulogne, where they arrived at the end of the month. The new hospital was speedily set up in the Hotel du Golf in the nearby town of Wimereux, and they were soon receiving wounded from the first battle of Ypres.

A visitor to the hospital made the following interesting observation:

“What the Australians lacked they made or invented. An operating theatre was, of course, needed. The most suitable room having been decided on, it was a question of workmen to transform it. There were none. The men were busy lifting and carrying, so three sisters rolled up their sleeves and ‘turned to’ themselves. They scraped every inch of paper off the walls at a rate which would have caused a paper hanger to faint. Then the tallest sister of the three mounted on an improvised scaffold and manipulated the whitewash brush.”

During the first week of the makeshift theatre’s existence, 79 serious operations were performed. The staff laboured on with very little rest, not only treating the thousands of wounded that passed through their midst, but also building up a highly efficient and well-equipped hospital as they went.


Perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, they had to contend with bitterly cold winds, and as winter arrived, gales and even blizzards; one such sudden gale managed to take out a window in one of the hospital wards. Luckily for Edith and the other nurses, they were accommodated in a nearby building, and the Medical Officers eventually took over the Golf Clubhouse, but the majority of the male personnel had to contend with life under canvas, which a blizzard in mid-November soon made ‘short work of’.

As the fighting continued around Ypres, they were continually on alert, ready to pack up and move again at a moment’s notice. However, as it turned out, the AVH remained in Wimereux until July 1916 when it was taken over by the War Office and renamed the 32nd Stationery Hospital. Edith though, had moved on long before this, having returned to the UK in December 1914.


Responding to the urgent appeal from the Serbian Red Cross for assistance in the Balkan States, Edith had volunteered her services despite the difficulties & danger she knew lay ahead. Disease was raging in the battle areas, and the hospital arrangements and equipment were hopelessly inadequate. Together with 2 British doctors and 3 other nurses, Edith was to help establish a British Red Cross hospital in Montenegro. The party reached Salonika on 3rd March 1915 & the following is an account of some of their trek through the Balkan Mountains:

“In Nish on the following day [the 4th] the party was met by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had provided carriages to convey them to clean, comfortable apartments – a thoughtful provision, as they found the town indescribably filthy, with an absolute lack of all sanitary arrangements. Typhus fever was raging there, and the party met the R.A.M.C. Sanitary Commission, consisting of 25 doctors, all striving earnestly to relieve the terrible sufferings of the people. In Scopje the visitors were met by Lady Paget, who was there to welcome the members of her own party of nurses, a typhus hospital having been established a couple of days previously. A special car was provided by M. Petchar, one of the Serbian Ministers, who accompanied the party for several days, and was solicitous for their comfort throughout. M. Petcher is a graduate of the Vienna University, and a splendid linguist, speaking seven languages fluently.


The up-hill journey was begun in earnest in Kruchivats, where they found the railway station full of soldiers, many of them sick and wounded, on their way to Nish. The country was beautiful, with many fertile valleys, but the work of ploughing was being performed by women and boys. The Serbian is a soldier before everything, and at the first call all who were capable of bearing arms flocked to the colours. There were many pathetic scenes by the wayside – ruined villages and cottages, with clusters of graves – rude tombstones and crosses decorated with torn flags – evidences of the great struggles which had taken place between the contending forces. In Ugitze the little party was met by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Montenegro, and the chief of the Serbian army in that part of the country. At midday the visitors were entertained at an excellent lunch, a very good orchestra playing several English selections, which sounded strange in such surroundings. In the evening they dined at the officers’ mess – the first occasion on which women had been admitted. The dinner was served splendidly, and some of the toasts proposed were very complimentary to the British nation. It was touching to see the love and devotion which they entertained towards Britain – a country practically unknown to Serbians until recently. They are a fine people, their soldiers – both officers and men – being brave, intelligent, and of splendid physique. Miss Trebilcock says that she will never forget the kindness and consideration with which they were received everywhere – they were waited upon hand and foot.


After the party left Ugitze the road ascended rapidly. Rain and driving sleet were succeeded by snowstorms, great pine trees bent under their icy burdens, and the effect was grandly desolate. The country through which they were traveling is termed the Switzerland of Serbia, and the panoramas of majestic mountain scenery could hardly be surpassed in any part of the world. Messengers were sent ahead to ensure that meals and accommodation should be in readiness, and nothing could exceed the thoughtfulness of those in charge of the party. The scenery continued indescribably grand and beautiful, and in places where the snow had melted primroses and other flowers were beginning to peep out. The town of Vadesta, originally an Austrian possession, was found to be in the possession of the Serbs, and the nurses were taken to the military barracks, where the officers gave up their quarters to provide them with accommodation. There were no female attendants, but soldiers, big kindly fellows, were told off to render any assistance desired. It was a novel experience to have a jugful of water poured on the hands while washing, and to have a towel handed over by a giant in uniform, with sword at side. The situation was embarrassing at times, the nurses having to push their soldier servants out of the room in order to obtain a little time for themselves. The officers entertained the party splendidly, and after dinner a number of complimentary speeches were made on both sides. The officers sang, by request, the National Anthem of Serbia, and in return they were given “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and other songs of the trenches.


From there onward the mountainous journey became more difficult. In the absence of an engine recourse was had to an open truck pushed by soldiers, and in another place the journey was made on horseback. At the Montenegrin frontier they were met by an escort of officers, to whose protection they were assigned. Lunch was prepared by an Austrian woman, who had been captured by the Montenegrins, but was being treated kindly. The scenery was still very beautiful, but the accommodation was primitive, and there was nothing in the way of sanitation. A two-roomed shanty would be entered sometimes. One room would be devoted to an entire family, the other being occupied by horses, cows, and sheep. Later the journey was continued on sleighs, which had been sent out to meet them. A comfortable, clean house had been set apart for them, and they were accorded a great reception as they passed through the streets. It was at this stage that M. Petchar, who had acted as guide, philosopher, friend, and interpreter throughout the eventful journey, bade the party adieu, having to take up his duties again at the Serbian seat of government. In order to secure the prompt transmission of her letter, Miss Trebilcock brought her story to a conclusion, promising to supplement it with a further communication at the first opportunity.” [unfortunately no further correspondence could be found]


On reaching their destination, Edith was in charge of the Infectious Hospital at Plevlie (Pljevlja) until the 6th of July 1915. Typhus continued to spread after Austrian troops drove thousands of refugees over the frontier from Bosnia & Herzegovina in the April, and Austrian Aviators wantonly bombed undefended towns, while plans for invasion continued to build. Luckily for Edith, she moved on before these plans came to fruition.


Returning to England, she applied to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) on the 16th of August, but her time with this Unit was to be short. Having joined for duty at the Military Hospital in Ripon on the 21st of September; a month later she was tendering her resignation. When asked for a reason Edith stated: “I resign because with my experience and ability I feel myself worthy of a better position than that of ‘staff nurse’ which I now occupy.”

Obviously finding it difficult to further her career in England, Edith eventually made the decision to return to Australia, and on the 24th of March 1916 she boarded the Osterley for home. This wasn’t to be the end of her war nursing however, as in December that same year she enlisted for overseas service with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). Allocated to the No. 1 Sea Transport Section (STS) she embarked on the Orontes on the 23rd of that month, albeit as a Staff Nurse!


The Sea Transport Sections, of which there were 10, saw service on the transport ships, catering to the medical needs of the reinforcements going abroad, and the invalids returning home. They were established in 1916 as a partial replacement to the random selection of medical staff for each voyage. The idea was to allow the STS staff to meld together and build on their ship-board experiences to create an efficient team, which would remain together through many voyages. The teams generally consisted of a medical officer, 7 nurses, a dispenser, a masseur, 3 NCOs and 16 other ranks to work as orderlies.


Work on the transport ships was of course extremely hazardous, as unlike the hospital ships which flew the red-cross, they were legitimate prey to the enemy. With nerves often on edge, carrying out their nursing duties was made even more difficult by a continually rolling ship, which at times escalated in stormy seas. The cramped, stuffy conditions below decks were worse at night, when lights were masked in brown paper funnels and much of the work had to be done by touch alone. It was one of the services avoided by many, not only because of these difficulties, but also because of the sheer monotony of the voyage. Edith however, seemed well suited to the roll, and over the course of the following 2 years, together with her team, saw duty on the transports Themistocles, Suevic and Marathon. Whilst in England between each trip, as Edith awaited the return journey, she was granted furlo, and then attached temporarily for duty to either the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital (AAH) in Southall or the 1st AAH at Harefield. Her last trip home on the Marathon began only days before the armistice, depositing her back in WA on Christmas Eve, her appointment then being terminated in early February of 1919.


Yet again Edith signed on for more. Her reappointment with the AANS was for Special Service for the one voyage only, and this time she was given the rank of Sister. Together with AANS Staff Nurse Catherine MacLean & Miss Gilmore of the NZ Nursing Service, she embarked in Sydney on the SS Kursk on the 29th of May 1919. The Kursk was carrying German Prisoners of War who had been interned in Australia and were now being repatriated. Following their arrival in London on the 23rd July, Edith’s appointment with the AANS was again terminated – it had been whispered that she would be taking up new duties in England ‘which may eventually bring her into a new sphere of nursing.’

What these new duties were, or whether Edith entered a new sphere of nursing, is unknown, but what is known is she didn’t remain in England indefinitely. The following year she travelled to Canada, and eventually crossed again to America, where in California on the 18th February 1921 she was accepted for US citizenship.


Endnotes: Edith was born 17/1/1875 Luton, Bedfordshire, England (though she usually gave her DOB as 1878) – the daughter of John TREBILCOCK & Charlotte CROXFORD. Her father, a grazier, died in 1909 and her mother died in July 1914 while Edith was overseas. Her brother, Harold b.12/8/1878, who served in both the Boer War & WW1 – lost a leg & RTA in 1918 as a 2nd Lieut with the 3rd Tunnelling Coy, AIF. He died at the Heidelberg Military Hospital 21/6/1949.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2012

Trebilcock, EA.jpg


A ship's life - The Kanowna Story

blog-0834501001402557042.jpgShe was ‘said to mark a new era in the Australian coastal trade’, a magnificent steamer with ‘superb accommodation for 270 passengers, and having a cargo-carrying capacity equal to 7,000 tons weight and measurement’. The SS Kanowna, built in 1902, was a sister ship to the SS Kyarra (1903); both having been built by Messrs W. Denny & Co of Dumbarton, for the A.U.S.N. Co, and both became popular, plying their trade along Australia’s coast in the decade to follow. Visiting Melbourne on the 15th May 1903 on her maiden voyage from Sydney to Fremantle, the Kanowna began a fascinating career that would span 26 years of ups and downs.


Some of her ‘downs’ included the loss of one of her young seaman in the March of 1913, when he drowned after falling from the top spar onto a wharf and rolled into the water. This was followed less than a week later by the loss of hatch coverings and damaged railings in stormy seas. In May 1914 she was involved in a collision with the Mt Kembla in the Brisbane River, and the following month was delayed in her voyage by a sudden strike of firemen, after one of their members was involved in an altercation with the Second Engineer. Then, only a couple of months later the Kanowna was ‘almost’ steaming to war.


Having been hastily requisitioned by the Kennedy Regiment, who’d embarked at Townsville on the 8th of August 1914, she had deposited them on Thursday Island to patrol the wireless station and guard the Torres Strait.

Volunteers were then called for to join the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), and 500 of the regiment who answered the call were soon back on board and heading to Port Moresby, to rendezvous with the rest of the AN&MEF in readiness for the capture of German New Guinea.

However, when on the 4th September, Colonel Holmes inspected both the Kanowna and the men she carried, he found everything lacking. The ship and the men were ill-equipped, the officers inexperienced and the troops mostly trainees. And to make matters worse the crew, who had not volunteered for active service, were showing signs of discontent. Yet it was decided that they would continue on – the troops to be employed in garrison duties only.


The convoy, which included the Sydney as part of her escort, set out on the 7th September, and had not gone far when it was realized that the Kanowna was lagging. It was soon reported by her captain, John Lewis Ward that the firemen had mutinied. Captain Glossop, on the Sydney, ordered that the offenders be restrained and the Kanowna return to Australia. The disappointed troops then stoked the ship back to Townsville, where many of them joined the AIF. One of note being Captain Hugh Quinn, later promoted to Major, before being killed in action at Quinn’s Post on the 29th May 1915 (and in a quirk of fate, his kit bag was later returned home to Australia on of all ships, the Kanowna).


The firemen protested their innocence and demanded an inquiry into the alleged mutiny, meanwhile the Kanowna returned to her trade along the Australian coast. The finding (which eventually came through in the same month that Major Quinn was killed) was that no mutiny had occurred, and that Captain Ward had ‘acted hastily and without judgment in dealing with the situation.’

Her next trip for the war effort, carrying various reinforcement troops, saw the Kanowna travel to Egypt having left Australian waters at the beginning of July 1915, now under the command of Captain William Smith. Not all on board made it that far however, as Private Paul Jones (1735) was lost overboard on the 12th July whilst suffering a fit of delirium during a bout of measles, and Trooper Alfred Cox (1081) of the 10th Light Horse succumbed to heat apoplexy in the Red Sea on the 25th of July. Both are commemorated on the Chatby Memorial in Egypt.


From Egypt the Kanowna then sailed to England, where along with the Karoola (No.1 HS), she was converted into a hospital ship. The transformation had some faults, but the work had been carried out in almost half the usual time, and many problems could be rectified during and in between future voyages. For now, she had received an exterior paint job of red crosses on a white hull encompassed with a green band, and was fitted with numerous hospital wards to accommodate approximately 450 patients; an operating theatre, X-ray department and dental surgery. Plentiful fresh water taps and steam sterilizers were fitted throughout the ship, and her hold was filled with bulk hospital stores. No. 2 Hospital Ship Kanowna, then took on her new hospital staff, who had arrived in England at the end of August on the A67 Orsova.


Heading up this team was Lt Col Archibald Brockway, a 52 year old, South African born Doctor from Brisbane, while the Matron in charge of nursing staff was Ethel Strickland; both of whom were to stay with the ship until mid 1918. An insight into Matron Strickland’s dedication was shown whilst awaiting the fit-out of the Kanowna – rather than accept a free pass to travel anywhere in the UK, she chose to stay in London and visit all the hospitals and convalescent homes, ‘and was most impressed with what she saw’. The staff of Medical Officers, Nurses and Orderlies had been finalized when the Orsova had docked at Suez, following changes made due to some member’s propensity to seasickness. Over the course of the Kanowna’s time as a hospital ship, staff would come and go, but some remained with her through all 10 voyages. Amongst these were Melbourne surgeon, Capt John Sandison Yule, and medical orderly Pte Ernest Philip (295) from Willaura in country Victoria. As per all military units, the Kanowna staff were issued with a distinguishing colour patch, theirs consisting of a vertical red rectangle centred on a brown diamond.


1st Voyage as No.2 HS:

The new hospital ship eventually left England on the 26th of September and travelling via Malta, where passengers were landed and patients embarked, they arrived at Alexandria on the 8th October. While in dock a few problems were sorted out as more refitting took place, before traveling via Suez where the majority of their 450 patients were boarded. Some of these men were severely wounded, which resulted in a few serious operations during the voyage, but only four never made it home. The first death occurred only a day out from Suez, while the other 3 men held on till they were almost home – all being buried at sea by Captain Chaplain James Hanrahan.

It was Pte Gordon Maxwell (730) suffering from cerebral thrombosis who succumbed first on the 21st October 1915 in the Red Sea. It must have seemed he would be the only casualty, when mere days before reaching the west coast of Australia Pte Edgar Robards (2228) died on the 11th of November from a Cerebral abscess, the result of an earlier GSW to the head. Then having disembarked the WA patients and en-route to Adelaide, Pte James Kerr (218) of the 8th Light Horse died on the 19th of Diphtheria, having been originally evacuated from Gallipoli with influenza. And finally, the Canadian born Pte Victor Reston (2343) died on the 24th of November of Pulmonary TB the day before reaching Sydney.

The Kanowna was also carrying amongst her sick and wounded, 4 men who had lost their sight. Two of these having also lost a limb, Sgt Hugh Ball (966)of the 9th Light Horse and Lieut Edwin Maurice Little – Lieut Little was traveling with his new wife; the English missionary who had nursed him back to health in Egypt.


Lavished with Red Cross comforts and well cared for by the hospital staff; despite the deaths, this first voyage to Australia in her new role as a hospital ship was considered a great success. However, after spending three weeks at Garden Island undergoing more alterations and repairs, before leaving Sydney on the 22nd December for her next trip to Egypt, the Kanowna became part of an experiment that sadly ended in controversy. 14 women had joined the staff as ‘Ward Assistants’, freeing up their male counterparts (Orderlies) to take on fighting roles. Unfortunately, as these ladies were given nurses uniforms and often referred to as probationary nurses, a misunderstanding with the Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) ensued. They argued that it was unfair to allow this when there were so many trained nurses waiting to fulfill rolls in overseas service, as well as the fact that using untrained women was a danger to sick and wounded men.


2nd Voyage as No.2 HS:

During the voyage from Australia to Egypt and back again, these women quite capably carried out duties that had little to do with nursing. Although a few did have some nursing training, most had come from previous occupations as ‘Domestics’ and their skills were utilized in similar ‘housework’ on board ship. Unfortunately, the pressure from the A.T.N.A prevailed, and on disembarkation in Sydney in the March of 1916, all 14 women were discharged. These ladies who had put their lives on the line were left high and dry, even though they had been highly praised by all the medical staff, including the O.C. and Matron Strickland, who went so far as to supply each of them with a letter of appreciation for their work. Perhaps Lt Col Brockway could be forgiven for not standing up to the pressure, when it’s considered that one of those 14 was his daughter Amy, and he may have faced an accusation of nepotism. It’s interesting to note that there appears to have been no deaths during this voyage, although this probably had more to do with the fact that they carried a higher degree of convalescent patients compared to the previous trip.


3rd Voyage as No.2 HS:

The Kanowna sailed again in early April staffed with male orderlies once more, and carrying reinforcements for the AAMC (Medical Corps) to Egypt. Her 3rd journey home to Australia as a hospital ship, which arrived mid June 1916, was also highly spoken of by the patients who greatly appreciated the concerts and various entertainments, along with other little kindnesses bestowed on them by the ship’s crew. Inevitably though, death could not be escaped a second time and three occurred. Two of these men were buried at sea, Pte John Peace (2404) & Cpl George McKnockiter (455, MM). George’s parents were notified of his Military Medal a year after his death, and it gave his father some form of comfort: “This is gratifying news & I am especially pleased & proud to know that the lad did his duty so well & that his services have been recognized.” The third casualty, Pte Jack de Boer (1133) died, and was buried ashore while the ship was docked in Colombo. Jack, who had been born in Holland, had been wounded during the Gallipoli landing on the 25th April 1915 – a gunshot wound to the spine causing paraplegia.


4 Voyage as No.2 HS:

Destined this time for England (via Egypt), the Kanowna re-sailed from Sydney on the 4th of July 1916 with some interesting passengers. These included 5 of the German Emden prisoners who had been interned in Australia, but due to severe incapacity were being repatriated. She also carried a group of 20 Red Cross nurses who had volunteered to work in France, and were known as the ‘Bluebirds’ because of their distinct blue uniform. Among their number was ex-Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) nurse, Elsie Cook, who was married to the son of ex-Prime Minister Joseph Cook. In the ship’s hold were 50 tons of Red Cross goods, and another 200 tons were loaded when she docked in Melbourne.


Embarking 400 invalids at Alexandria, they continued on, collecting a few more patients from Malta and Gibraltar along the way. Arriving at Netley (Southampton) on the 26th of August, they unloaded all their patients, along with Sister Alice Bull who’d been on staff since September 1915. Sister Bull was admitted to Vincent Square Hospital with enteric fever, and then served in England and France before her return to the Kanowna in July 1917.

New patients were taken on board on the 8th and 9th of September and they set sail for Egypt once more, where many of the patients they embarked at Suez were suffering either Nile fever or Bilharzia (a tropical, parasitic disease). They left Suez on the 23rd of September, and the return to Australia was almost a de ja vu of her previous return from Egypt. Once more 3 men died with two being buried at sea and one at Colombo. Boer War veteran Lt-Col Harold Bean, a doctor with the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance succumbed first on the 25th of September, being followed 2 days later by the Irish born Pte Patrick Donovan (2093) of the 3rd Battalion. Pte Walter Johnson (3139) from NSW, died whilst they were in harbour at Colombo on the 6th of October, from a wound he’d received at Pozieres on the 22nd of July. He was taken ashore and buried at the Kanatte General Cemetery with Jack de Boer.


Lt Col Brockway reported that “The trip was as smooth as a river from Southampton to Colombo, but the heat in the Red Sea was unspeakable. The devotion of the nurses under these trying circumstances was wonderful, for the slightest effort was sufficient to make one feel as if one were in a Turkish bath, but the nurses never flinched from duty throughout. They are women to be proud of. Stormy weather was experienced from Colombo to Cocos Islands, but the Kanowna is a fine sea boat, and little discomfort was felt, even among the patients. From Cocos Islands to the Heads the weather was fine and the sea smooth. On the order of the High Commissioner in London a professional musician accompanied us during the voyage, and arranged three concerts each week, either in the wards or on deck. These entertainments were hugely appreciated by all on board, and I might add that the gratitude of us all is due to the stewards, who in every instance materially assisted in the concerts.”

One of these stewards unintentionally left the ship not long before she once more sailed out of Circular Quay on the 8th November. John Campbell had been working on the top deck, when he fell between the ship and the wharf into the water. He was admitted to the Sydney Hospital suffering from shock, immersion, and a severely lacerated leg.


5th Voyage as No.2 HS:

Captain Smith didn’t sail this time either, and the command of the Kanowna was taken over by Captain Sam Gilling. Travelling via Bombay, where a boiler was repaired and 150 Imperial patients were embarked, they continued on to Egypt, losing a mental patient overboard en-route. More Imperial patients were brought on board at both Port Said and Alexandria and they sailed for England on Christmas Eve, reaching Southampton on the 5th January 1917.

Her new batch of invalids on board, she departed for Australia once more on the 14th of January. Among the many patients were two members of the AANS, Sister Ursula Carter and Staff Nurse Nellie Allworth, both were being returned home ‘for a change’ to help alleviate their illnesses. Although 3 patients were ‘lost’ during shore leave at Durban (possibly having deserted), it appears there were no actual deaths this trip. However, it was noted that as the Kanowna docked at No. 1 wharf Woolloomoolo, Sydney on the 11th March, that both she and the many faces that lined her rails appeared rather weather-worn after the long journey.


6th Voyage as No.2 HS:

When the Kanowna departed again from Fremantle at the end of March 1917, she was carrying a small group of AANS nurses to Egypt. Travelling again via Bombay, they picked up 260 Imperial patients, one of whom, Lieut Rogers, died from head wounds en-route. Upon their arrival in Egypt at the beginning of May, the ship’s female nursing staff was reluctantly sent ashore with the other AANS nurses. They had orders to travel on the faster ship Saxon to England via Marseilles, while the hospital ship, regarded as too slow at this time for the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean, sailed the long way around the Cape of Good Hope. Reaching their destination by mid-May, the Kanowna nurses were then temporarily attached to hospital duty until time to rejoin their Unit. Matron Strickland was attached to the 2nd Australian Auxillary Hospital (2nd AAH) at Southall, while the other nurses were dispersed between both the 2nd AAH and the 3rd AAH at Dartford. During this stay in England, Ethel Strickland received the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) at an investiture in Hyde Park on the 2nd of June.


Following the Kanowna’s safe arrival in England towards the end of June, she lost her chief steward Frederick James Folkes, who had been with the ship since at least 1914 and the A.U.S.N. Co. for over 30 years. From Dulwich Hill, NSW, he died of pneumonia on the 2nd July 1917 at Newport, aged 49.

Finally, with a new batch of patients, and all staff back on board, including the long absent Sister Alice Bull, the Kanowna departed England once more in mid July. Unfortunately Sister Bull had just left a ward in the early hours of the morning of the 31st of July, leaving a slightly disturbed patient in the care of a night orderly. Lieut Maxwell Stewart, who’d been badly wounded by a shell at Messines the previous month, took this opportunity to rush past the orderly and leap overboard. Lieut Maxwell’s only brother George had been killed in action in 1915 whilst fighting with the Imperial Army and his sister Elsie, a Staff Nurse with the AANS had been returned to Australia in 1916 medically unfit. The 2nd death occurred 10 days later when Gunner Charles Kettle (29741) succumbed to a malignant growth that had originally appeared on his tongue in the April of that year. Then only a day out from Fremantle, nineteen year old Pte Reginald Wilkins (4271) gave in to TB on the 30th of August. On reaching Fremantle they were greeted with industrial strife, and a guard was supplied to the Kanowna to prevent any damage from ‘strikers’ while voluntary labour re-coaled the ship. She finally docked in Sydney on the 14th September and as per previous voyages all staff was granted leave.


7th Voyage as No.2 HS:

The strife continued to dog them, when on the 25th September with all hospital staff re-embarked and prepared to leave Australia’s shores once more, they were refused a crew by the Firemen & Seaman’s Union. However, a volunteer crew was quickly advertised for, and by 4pm the next day they were on their way. Only four days out from the WA coast and tragedy struck when Sgt Albert Anderson (14156) died suddenly from a ruptured aneurysm. He had been with the Kanowna since April 1916 and his was the first death amongst the hospital staff.

Embarking British patients at Cape Town, they deposited them at Avonmouth on the 29th November. They then collected their return patients on the 16th December and sailed 2 days later. During the evening of the following day Sgt William Alexander (104) died of Phthisis (TB). Cpl Thomas Toogood (4011) joined him 2 days later, succumbing to a head wound he’d received on the 2nd October at Ypres – a veteran of the Boer War he left behind a widow and four children.


Christmas day 1917 saw them safely through the danger zone for submarines, and after a special dinner, staff members went from ward to ward singing carols. All good cheer came to an end on the 30th December when they lost the first of their ‘mental patients’, after Pte Alfred Anderson (856) slipped out of the section of the mental ward known as the ‘Bird-cage’, walked to the railing of the ship, said “Well here goes. Goodbye and God bless you,” and threw himself over before anyone could stop him. Two hours later after a fruitless search, the Kanowna continued on her way, and a couple of weeks later, whilst in port at Durban, another mental patient escaped ashore; not to be found before the ship sailed.

A fair bit of rough weather was encountered between Durban and Fremantle, at one stage overturning an entire block of double tier cots in one of the wards. Two more patients died during this time, Pte Cyril Castleden (532), and Pte Edgar Burchell (6848); the last casualty for the voyage being Pte Ernest King (109) from NSW, who succumbed to his wounds on the 9th February 1918, between Fremantle and Melbourne.


8th Voyage as No.2 HS:

More problems with the Fireman’s Union saw another delay in sailing, while the volunteer crew from the previous voyage was replaced with men more acceptable to the Unionists. The Kanowna sailed again on the 27th of February, heading straight to Bombay to pick up Imperial patients. She also took on board an Australian nurse, Narrelle Hobbs, who had fallen ill whilst serving with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR) in Mesopotamia, and been invalided to Bombay. Travelling with Narrelle was her sister Elsie, who had gone to India to bring her home.

The Imperial patients were disembarked at Suez and replaced with Australian patients, most of who were being invalided home from hospitals in England, and had travelled thus far on the Wandilla. Three days after leaving Suez, Pte Alfred Chapman (1630) of the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH) died from a spinal cord disorder, followed another three days later on the 21st of April by Cpl Ormond Hoyes (942). Cpl Hoyes had enlisted in the first month of the war in 1914. On the evening of the 9th of May, Pte Harry Reid (6090) succumbed to his wounds and was buried at sea at 9am the following morning. An hour after his funeral, Sister Narrelle Hobbs also died, and the ship was slowed for a second burial that afternoon. They were only four days out from Fremantle.

Arriving at Fremantle on the 14th of May, they lost their last patient for the voyage. Driver Robert Cutts (834) from NSW died whilst they were docked, and was taken ashore and buried in the Fremantle Cemetery. Continuing on, they reached Sydney on the 25th and the following day the Kanowna’s sister ship, the Kyarra, was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel.


9th Voyage as No.2 HS:

Her second last voyage as a hospital ship saw a major change in the staff, with the replacement of both Lt Col Brockway and Matron Ethel Strickland. Both were transferred to AMC Details, and Lt Col Brockway returned to civil life soon after. Ethel terminated her appointment with the AANS on the 22nd of September in order to marry the following day. The groom, Major Ronald V.S. McPherson (8th FAB) had been a patient on the Kanowna on her 7th voyage home.

Taking over from Brockway was Lt Col Arthur MacKenzie, a 35 year old doctor from NSW. Ethel’s successor was Matron Violet Mills, who had served on transport duty in the first 2 years of war. They departed Sydney on the 5th June 1918, and experienced some fairly rough weather for the entire round trip. Even before reaching Albany, they had lost parts of the ship to the winds, and the operating theatre was wrecked. Once again most of the invalids they took on board at Suez were from the hospital ship Wandilla, and they departed with them on the 22nd of July. Despite the bouts of unbearable heat and seasickness, all came home safely, as the majority of patients were convalescent, although many operations were still performed throughout the trip. On reaching Sydney on the 4th of September, the Kanowna entered dry dock for repairs, alterations and restocking.


10th Voyage as No.2 HS:

She was ready to sail again from Sydney on the 17th September, but Matron Mills wasn’t. Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, she had been struck off strength the day before, and was replaced by Matron Janey Lempriere. Janey had originally sailed with 24 other AANS nurses in the 1st Convoy to leave Australia in 1914, and had previously served in the Boer War. At least one staff member would have departed Sydney this day with a very heavy heart; Pte Henry Nobbs (19785) who’d been with the ship since February, had attended the funeral of his baby daughter Kanowna Pauline earlier that morning.

Now under the command of Captain P.H. Day (who had played a part in the capture of Count von Luckner of the German raider Seeadlar in an incredible bluff in 1917), the Kanowna eventually left Fremantle on the 27th September. She docked at Colombo on the 9th of October, where they embarked Imperial patients before heading on to Suez, arriving on the 23rd. A change in orders moved them on to Port Said, where they were informed they were to be sent to collect repatriated British prisoners of war from Turkey. Shunted from Port to Port, their final destination was Phokea (Foca) in the Gulf of Smyrna. Here they embarked approximately 700 (including 20 civilians) on the 1st of November and sailed for Egypt later that day. One of those they took on board was Able Seaman John Harrison Wheat, who’d been captured from the AE2 in 1915. Another was John Still (Imperial Army), the gifted poet who penned ‘The Ballad of Suvla Bay’ whilst in captivity in 1916; he stated they were given a royal welcome by all on board. Freedom was to be short-lived for a few however, as 2 men died before reaching Alexandria, and another while they were in the process of disembarking on the 6th of November.


On the 9th of November they left Alexandria for Malta, receiving wireless news of the Armistice whilst en-route. Along with the joy of the end of the war, came the beginnings of something even more deadly – the influenza virus. By the time they embarked their patients on the 14th, they had 6 staff members sick. Stopping at Gibraltar on their way to England, they left behind Staff Nurse Amy Simpson, whose illness was complicated by pneumonia. Amy, on staff since March 1917, survived and was soon returned home, but unfortunately died within a few years of her return. Along with the invalids they disembarked in England on the 24th & 25th November, were 4 more seriously ill staff members. Of these, Warrant Officer Leo Thomas Tyrrell (240) didn’t make it, passing away on the 3rd of December 1918. Tyrrell had been with the Kanowna since her first voyage as a hospital ship, but sadly would not be a part of her final trip home. He was buried with full military honours in the Hollybrooke Cemetery, Southampton.


The Kanowna went into dry dock for more repairs and the staff was granted leave. It was the 5th of January 1919 before she was ready to return to Australia with her wards once again full of patients. Four men died on this final journey home, the first being Pte Albert McGarry (3414) only 2 days after boarding. Pte William Barwick (6547, MM) died as they docked at Port Said, and was taken ashore the following day and buried in the Port Said Military Cemetery [though this is under investigation by the CWGC]. On the 28th of January it was necessary to amputate the lower part of (6580) Pte Bertram Scott’s right leg, damaged by a shell in April 1918. Unfortunately Pte Scott collapsed and died a few days later. Finally, in the early hours of the 19th of February, before the Kanowna reached Fremantle later that day, Pte George Beck (1081) died as a result of a head wound he’d also received in April 1918 – George was an only child and his parents were heartbroken.


Travelling around the Australian coast disembarking her patients into quarantine along the way, the Kanowna reached Sydney on the 8th of March, and was herself held in quarantine until the 14th. Following her release, the NSW invalids were disembarked and the crew immediately refused to continue on to Brisbane. Their six-month contracts had already expired, and they feared being held up in quarantine yet again. As the Kanowna was due to be demobilized as a hospital ship when she returned to Sydney from Brisbane, it was arranged to disembark the Queensland invalids and train them home, and by the 18th of March 1919, the crew, all stores and the hospital staff had gone ashore for the last time.


A month later, SS Kanowna departed Sydney with passengers for India, and on her arrival collected troops for England. Although she was no longer officially classed as a hospital ship, she still had one more batch of patients to return home from England to Australia. With Matron Adelaide Kellett, yet another AANS nurse who’d sailed with the original convoy in 1914, in charge of the nursing staff, these soldiers were embarked on the 28th of August 1919. Among them was flying ace Lieut Leonard T.E. Taplin, D.F.C., who had been shot down and taken prisoner of war in September 1918. Taplin was one of the many who had married whilst in England, and his new bride would sail a couple of months after him.

In the early hours of the 4th of September as the ship was nearing St Vincent, off the west coast of Africa, Provost Sgt Albert Burt (2159) wandered from his bed and was lost overboard. He had been suffering mental and physical slowness after a bout of influenza, and a Court of enquiry found that as he had shown no signs of suicidal tendencies, he could quite easily have stumbled and fallen overboard, as jumped.


Arriving back in Sydney on the 26th of October 1919, the Kanowna ended her war service and was stripped of all troop fittings and temporarily used as a cargo carrier, until she could be reconditioned and returned to her owners and her old life in the Australian coastal trade. Travelling around the coast in July 1923 she carried a very important passenger to Sydney; none other than ‘the girl with the flags’, Miss Ethel Campbell, who was visiting Australia on the invitation of the Returned Services League. http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/blogs/entry/1646-the-girl-with-the-flags/



Sadly, after surviving all those dangerous years of war, the Kanowna was to meet her end in February 1929, after she ran aground on Cleft Island (aka Skull Rock) near Wilson’s Promontory in bad weather. Captain Robert Sharland had taken command of her in 1921, and he had just handed over that command to Captain Newberry, whilst he took a holiday. A court of enquiry found that “prior to the casualty the ship was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care.” Fortunately however, no loss of life occurred, as a daring rescue in choppy seas on the night of the 17th saw all passengers transferred to the freighter, Mackarra, and the following day the crew were also picked up before the Kanowna finally sank.


In 1931, Mrs Ina Powels, who had served on the hospital ship as a masseuse, presented the newly formed branch of the Returned Soldier’s League at Austinmer, NSW, with the original Red Cross flag flown by the ship. The first reunion of the hospital ship staff was held in September 1935 at Scott’s Hotel in Melbourne. Among the 37 in attendance was the previously mentioned Sister Alice Bull. It was noted on the night that four of the orderlies who’d served on staff had since qualified as doctors. The gathering was such a success that it was decided to meet annually, and eventually the Kanowna Association was formed. Colonel Brockway was a noted guest of the Association at the 1938 reunion.


The wreck of the Kanowna was discovered in 2005.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2012


* Links to the Service Records of the mentioned staff of the Kanowna can be found at the following link: http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/groupstories/3400


blog-0236092001402469309.jpgWhen war erupted across the world in August 1914, many Australian women visiting England, found they could ‘do their bit’ by joining the various aid organizations. Mrs Ada Hogg was one of these, although she was actually en-route to Paris as the news broke. Having been widowed the previous year, Ada had joined a round-the-world tourist party in May 1914, and parted from her tour group in Milan on the 1st of August to attend the International Esperanto Congress in Paris. Arriving to a city in turmoil, she was told that Paris was closing her gates that night and all foreigners must leave immediately. Tired and hungry she joined the mass evacuation to Dieppe, and after a night spent in the pouring rain on the wharf, finally caught one of the boats to England. After a short rest she wasted no time in volunteering her services, taking on the position of Assistant Treasurer with the Soldier’s and Sailors’ Families Association (SSAFA) at Shepherd’s Bush.


Considering it a privilege to be helping in such important work, Ada was not afraid to put in the long hours needed to assist the families of the dead and wounded as the war progressed, especially as she was no stranger to work. The daughter of a teacher, Ada had also gone on to teach, and together with her late husband had established the Adelaide Shorthand & Business Training Academy in South Australia. For some years she had also been the President of the Adelaide Esperanto Group (a language developed in the 1870s for use in international communication)


In 1915 working in London was not free from danger, as Ada attests to in the following letter dated September 9th 1915:

“I retired quite early, weary after my strenuous half-holiday from my self-imposed office duties (which I spend at the Woolwich Arsenal canteen). I had heard our anti-aircraft guns firing at the Zeppelins the previous night, but hoped not to be disturbed again. However, 11 o’clock came, when the roar of machinery, and the noise as of a rushing, mighty wind heralded the near approach of a Zeppelin. Of course, I did the thing we are particularly warned not to do, which was to rush out on to my little balcony, and from there I saw an immense, grey monster, resembling in length a tube train on wings; and flash, flash, boom! boom! explosion. Bombs were dropped in rapid succession. The result was indescribably terrifying. There was the noise of the concussion, of the smashing and falling of glass from hundreds of windows, and the screams upon screams from the poor little crippled children who sleep out in a hospital across the way.


This was all rather too close to be pleasant, so I got back to my room, groped around for dressing gown and slippers (the electric light had been cut off), and, still groping, found my way down five flights of stairs to the basement. All this time (in all about 15 minutes, though it seemed much longer) the deafening noise continued, but it was now our anti-aircraft guns and the added whirrrr-birrrr of pursuing aeroplanes. In the basement I helped to quieten the crying babies and the hysterical maids. The latter had been asleep at the back of the hotel, and had been rudely awakened, poor things, by the explosion and the shattering glass. Then, still aweary, but this time provided with candle and matches, I got back to my room. However, the fires caused by the bombs seemed too near to be pleasant, so I watched for an hour until they were well got under, and then to bed and sleep, for there was work to be done on the morrow.


This morning I visited the square and saw the huge excavation made by a bomb almost in the centre, and the poor, hurt-looking buildings all around (four of which are hospitals), with glass-less windows, all so pitiful. But how much worse it might have been if the bomb had fallen on one of the hospitals, or even on the hotel. As it is, I don’t think one life was lost just here, but as I said before, it was all quite too close to be pleasant. Some experience, eh?”


In December Ada resigned her position with the SSAFA to take up the position of honorary secretary of the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital in Le Touquet, France. She had been working at this British Red Cross Hospital for nearly 2 years, before returning to England for a rest in the latter half of 1917. However, once again she was harassed from above:

“Two days after my arrival from France for a hard-earned rest, about 207 Gothas bombarded us with disastrous results. Finding this not conducive to a rest cure, I went to the country for a month. I had no sooner got back than we were treated to the moonlight raids. What with the whirr-rr-rr of the double-engined hostile machines overhead, the pop-pop-pop of the machine guns, the thud of falling bombs, and the booming of our anti-aircraft guns (two of the biggest are not a quarter of a mile from here), is it any wonder that we are developing nerves? Then a three-weeks’ interval, and this time an early evening noise and explosions from the barrage of zone of fire put up by our anti-aircraft. I don’t go out to see the sights now; my inquisitiveness was cured by my Zeppelin experiences.”

“I am off to France next week for a little sleep and quietness, for, in spite of the fact that the newspapers tell us that we are perfectly calm, which, of course, we are, it is rather a nerve-racking experience.”


Before the year of 1917 was over, Ada had transferred to the Secretary-ship of the Leith War Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland. A year later when this hospital was taken over by the U.S. Navy, she returned to London, and as a representative of the Australian Red Cross, began a six month course at the Surgical Requisites’ Association. She was only a week into her course when the armistice was signed:

“At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the firing of the anti-aircraft guns around London signaled – not an air raid this time, but that they were a thing of the past; then the sirens on the river shrilled their shrieks of joy, and London went mad. Bunting appeared magically, shops were closed, and streets filled to suffocation. Every taxi carried its merry load – on the roof, bonnet, anywhere. Motor and horse-driven vehicles overflowed with excited, yelling humanity. Flags were brought at any old price, and wildly waved, bells clanged, bands played, and Bedlam was let loose. Outside Buckingham Palace the immense crowd demanded the King. Believe it was Australians who started the chant, “We want George; we want George,” until he appeared, and then changed the tune to “We want Mary; we want Mary,” until she came also.

Through Piccadilly one had to fight one’s way, but the jostling, happy crowd was exhilarating; the rain dampened our clothes, but not our enthusiasm. Tea was only procurable at a Chinese restaurant, all the rest had sold out. Then down the Mall, lined with captured guns, to Victoria. After two hours’ wait and struggle to buy a ticket, get through the barrier, board a train, and do a 10 minutes’ journey, I arrived home, wet, tired, disheveled, and dirty, but I wouldn’t have missed it for something. The funniest sights I saw were the traffic being held up in Regent street by a long line of arm-linked hilarious officers doing the goose-step; and, in a side street, a very drunk Scottie and a very drunk Aussie, solemnly kissing each other, French fashion, on either cheek. Yesterday I was one of the crowd of enthusiasts who welcomed Marshal Foch and M. Clemenceau. It was an inspiring welcome, too. Spend Friday evenings doing the waitress stunt at the Anzac Buffet, and just love it. Hope to be home before Christmas, 1919”


The Surgical Requisites Association, which was the orthopaedic branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, had been established by a group of Chelsea artists and sculptors to develop improvements in surgical aids. Their inventions of different types of artificial limbs, as well as splints, beds, ‘soaking baths’ etc, were groundbreaking in dealing with the relief and comfort of the many unique cases of twisted and distorted bodies and limbs that the war had produced. Working with these ingenious women for nine months, Ada then used the orthopaedic knowledge she had gained, in the service of the Surgical Requisites branch of the AIF.


With the war over, the Handley Page Aircraft Coy modified a number of their planes to carry passengers on the London-Paris route, and Ada didn’t allow her previous fear of enemy aircraft to deter her from experiencing life in the air on a more personal level:

“I have the distinction of being the first woman to attempt a flight in a Handley-Page passenger aeroplane de luxe. I say ‘attempt’ advisedly, for though we started off all right, with the six passengers sitting in armchairs – I the only Australian – we had two forced landings. We should have reached London three and a half hours after having left Paris. As it was, we only got as far as Amiens, and had, somewhat ignominiously, to catch a train, and travel in the more orthodox manner. No! I was not in the least sick when in the air. My experience of flying was that there seemed almost a cessation of motion, except when one struck an air pocket, then things were decidedly stirring. But I was upset in more ways than one by the forced landings. After them I am not ashamed to own that I had a nervous breakdown.”


Ada’s hope to be home before Christmas 1919 was never realized, but she was however on her way; spending Christmas on board the family ship Konigin Luise which had sailed from England on the 19th of December. In early February 1920 Ada finally stepped back onto Australia’s shores after almost 6 years absence. The following are some of Ada’s observations from the war:

“When the Australians felt the pinch of the war most, was having their dear ones so far away – they had to bear a terrible spiritual strain ,if not the actual physical strain.”

“I loved the French people. They seemed to me to be the very spirit of the war. Nothing ever crushed their indomitable determination.”

“One thing I learned thoroughly well when working among the wounded was the value of cheer. Still another was man’s love and kindness for his fellow-man. It did not matter what personal sorrow weighed on one’s heart, the boys had to be cheered up. We learnt to store – and repeat – every funny story we could get hold of. I was a great success with these! But I had a serious rival in a Catholic padre. When the boys on my side of the ward were laughing harder than the boys on his, Padre used to say: - ‘We must meet afterwards, Sister, and swap yarns,’ and we always did.”


It seems that Ada’s time away from Australia had given her the ‘bug’, and she spent the rest of her life traveling extensively and living in many different countries, possibly doing Red Cross work. She was made a life member of the Italian Red Cross, and apparently she received honours from the French and Italian Governments.

In 1937 however, Ada was home in Australia and living in Sydney, when following a brief illness, double pneumonia took her life on the 16th of June at the age of 66. She was privately cremated and her ashes were then transferred to Adelaide, where they are interred with those of her husband William in the Crematorium Section of the West Terrace Cemetery.


Endnotes: One of 12 children, Ada Maria HALLIFAX was born 16/4/1871 in Lexton, Victoria – the daughter of Augustus New HALLIFAX & Mercy ALLEN. Her mother died when Ada was seven, and her father remarried the following year. Her father had come to Australia as a convict in 1846, but went on to be a teacher & a J.P. Ada married William HOGG 13/12/1897 in Nth Adelaide, he died 13/6/1913, age 48. The couple had no children. In 1909 Ada was saved from drowning, and in a twist of fate, one of her rescuers drowned the following week! As well as the Victory & British War Medals, Ada was entitled to the 1914/15 Star (just!). In later life she sometimes seems to have been known as Mrs HALLIE HOGG – possibly a name that she wrote under. The AWM photo shows Ada (Assistant Quartermaster HOGG) in her Red Cross uniform c1919.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011


Our Darling Boy - Frank Yorath

blog-0883180001402371472.jpgAlthough born and breed in the small Victorian country town of Rheola, Frank was living in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran when war broke out. Employed as a carrier and coach painter, in his leisure time he honed his skills with the Prahran Rifle Club and served as a Sergeant in the 78th Infantry.

Eager to be a part of it all, Frank was amongst the first to front up at the Prahran Drill Hall on the 17th August to sign up with the 5th Infantry Battalion. Two days later the men from Prahran set out for Victoria Barracks, where they joined the rest of the battalion before following the band to the newly established Broadmeadows Camp.


Their initial training over, they marched out of camp on the 21st October 1914 and embarked at Port Melbourne on the A3 Orvieto. Having rendezvoused with the growing fleet at Albany, the Orvieto as flagship of the First Convoy, then lead the troopships out of King George’s Sound (following their escort) on the 1st of November, en-route to war.


The Convoy arrived safely at Colombo, thanks to the Sydney (one of their escort) disabling the German raider Emden, and here the Sydney transhipped the Emden survivors to the Orvieto and the Omrah, which they then offloaded at Suez. Travelling on to Alexandria, the 5th battalion disembarked on the 4th of December and proceeded to Mena Camp where they carried on their training under the shadow of the pyramids.


Frank spent the first half of March 1915 in the Isolation camp at Abbassia with German measles, but 3 weeks later was fit enough to board the Novian with his battalion and sail to Lemnos. During the weeks spent in Mudros Harbour ‘landing’ practice took place, until at last Frank and his mates were able to put their new skills into practice on the morning of Sunday the 25th of April 1915. After all the build-up, Frank’s involvement in the initial fighting was to be short-lived, but perhaps thanks to the ‘accident’ described in the following letter, he did however survive that first day.


[Letter begun on Sunday 2/5/1915]:

“Well, dear parents, much has taken place since I last wrote. I am safe and sound, as you can see. I was put out of action last Sunday by a bayonet wound in the arm, but am getting alright again. I presume you have read the full account of our landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was a great experience, and we were successful. It was a very uneven go - rifle fire against artillery, machine guns, and rifle fire. Three hours after our troops had landed, the enemy were driven back 3 miles. We were ordered to reinforce the firing line at about 10 a.m. I was put out of action somewhere near 12 o'clock. A chap who had his bayonet fixed stumbled over some scrub, and the bayonet caught me in the elbow. I stayed in the thick of it for two hours afterwards, but as I could not use my rifle I had to retire. I have often wondered how I escaped alive, much less getting back without a scratch. Shrapnel was falling right along to the beach, and bullets were whizzing past me like a long, continuous swarm of bees. The worst is over now, and we are not likely to strike such a hot fire again. I can tell you that I will never forget my baptism of fire if I live to be 100 years old.


You would laugh if you saw me sitting on this hatch with a blanket for a writing table. I have had a headache ever since last Sunday, and do not feel in much of a humor for writing, so you will excuse me if this letter is muddled. It was awful to see some of the poor chaps. Some described it as a "hell on earth." I may state that it was not an easy task the Australians were given. I never told you where we mysteriously disappeared to after leaving Cairo. Well, we embarked on the [censored (Novian)], and concentrated in a little harbour on the Island of Lemnos. It is a Grecian island. It was bonza and green, with the larks singing, wild flowers and fields of corn, and reminded me of home. We landed several times, and had a couple of interesting marches. It was the nearest we had been to Australia since we left.


We left the Island of Lemnos on the 24th of April, and when we woke up next morning at 2.30 a.m. we found ourselves in the midst of the battleships. We had breakfast at 2.45 a.m., and then had to await orders. We watched our navy bombarding the coast where howitzers were supposed to be. Just about dawn our first party landed. Where we landed there was scrub between two and four feet high and wild thyme, which has a very sweet smell. Bullets and shrapnel were flying around very thickly, but we were "cracking" jokes all the time. We soon knew shrapnel was no joke, though, and I was calmer than if I was firing for the "King's." We were taken off in four rowing boats, pulled by a pinnace, which could not go right in, and only had to row about 50 yards. We landed in water up to our waists, and had only gone about 100 yards along the beach when a shrapnel whizzed over our heads and burst where we had a couple of minutes ago landed. That was at 9.30 a.m. We then climbed up the first ridge, where we got orders to reinforce the firing line. When we got to the top of the next ridge the bullets were flying thick and fast, and a machine gun was also "barking." As soon as we mounted the ridge we laid down and got to work, going forward in short, sharp rushes. It was in one of these that I received my wound.


I was taken aboard the [censored], which is being used as a hospital boat. We left the Gulf of Saros on Tuesday, 27th April, and arrived at Alexandria on the Thursday following. The worst cases were taken off there, and the remainder taken to Malta, which is about a four days' trip from Alexandria. My arm was stiff for a few days, but is as right as it can be now. I would like to [be] back for the fall of Constantinople, and do not think much resistance could be offered with our navy knocking at the door from the Dardanelles. I saw all the battleships in action. The Queen Elizabeth is a beauty. Her 15in guns are capable of throwing shells 27 miles, which, I am told, cost about £1000 each. Fancy her "barking" at Constantinople. This will be old news to you, I suppose, but we must thank God we are able to tell these things. Perhaps I may never see such fire again all through the campaign. The Australians have made a name for themselves which will live long in history. The old South African men declare that they never saw anything like Sunday's fire in any part of the Boer War.


I will now give you a few particulars of what I saw while in Malta, which, in my opinion, is a grand little place. The Maltese and English people here are very kind, and give our men who are wounded plenty of cigarettes, cakes and etc, and are made a real fuss of. One is often stopped and asked to give an account of the fighting he has seen, and after a few minutes' conversation is surrounded by a great crowd of people, who are not at all easy to get away from. I went to a picture theatre (free for wounded soldiers), and it was real good. The streets are lovely and clean, and so different to Cairo. It is very funny to see them selling milk here. They drive a herd of goats from door to door, and milk a pint, or whatever quantity you want, while you wait. Malta is well fortified, and I do not think much harm could be done to it. We left Malta on Thursday and arrived at the Island of Lemnos on Saturday night - a two and a half days' trip."


While out of action, Frank had been spared the decimation of his battalion at Helles, and rejoined the remnants of the Fifth as they returned to Anzac on the 16th/17th of May. A month later he had a short stay in hospital with influenza and diarrhoea, which was quickly followed by a bout of gastro, then, in July he was promoted to Lance Corporal. Having survived Lone Pine and the monotony of trench life Frank and his mates left Anzac once more on the 9th of September, for a well-earned rest at Lemnos. Within days he found himself in hospital with a fever and was still laid up when his battalion returned to Anzac on the 24th of October. Frank was finally discharged from hospital on the 26th of November and was still in camp on Lemnos when his battalion returned a few weeks later – the evacuation from Gallipoli having begun.


Returning to Alexandria on the 10/1/1916, the Fifth endured another 2½ months of training in the desert sands before embarking for France on the 25th of March. However, for some reason not noted in his records, Frank did not sail with them. He instead remained at the Overseas Base at Tel-el-Kebir and didn’t embark to join the B.E.F. until the 9/5/1916. On arrival in France he joined the 1st Div Base Depot at Etaples and was made EDP Corporal the following day. He remained at the Depot until finally re-joining his battalion on the 30th July at Bonneville, where they’d been sent to rest after the first Battle of Pozieres.


After a couple of weeks the Fifth returned to the Pozieres trenches, and only 2 days in, Frank was amongst the many casualties as the line was persistently cut-up by shellfire. With a shell wound to his thigh received on the 17th of August, he was admitted to the 13th General Hospital in Boulogne on the 19th and then transferred to England and the 3rd Northern General Hospital in Sheffield on the 21st. A week after he was discharged from hospital, he was granted furlo, from the 11/10/16 to the 30/10/16. Frank was then marched into No. 1 Command Depot at Perham Downs, where he remained until 28/4/1917, at which time he was transferred to the 67th Bn at Windmill Hill Camp.

The 13th of May saw him on command at the Lewis Gun Course at Tidworth, followed by a Musketry Course at Hayling Island from the 4th of June, before being returned to Perham Downs on the 31/8/1917, for a tour of duty on the Instructional Staff of the Overseas Training Brigade. Over the following months he was transferred around the camps, until finally on the 1st of February 1918 he boarded the Balmoral Castle for return to Australia. Frank had developed a cough in the October of 1916, which had eventually been diagnosed as TB, and he was going home for a ‘change’.


Arriving back in Victoria on the 23rd of March, he was sent to the Military Sanatorium at Macleod. In early May while visiting his family in Rheola, he was given a huge welcome home party and presented with an inscribed gold medal to commemorate his service. Frank was engaged to a local girl, and at some stage after he’d been invalided to England, she apparently also made the trip, probably to be with him, but perhaps also to volunteer her services; and in July, Frank applied for her free passage back to Australia. By September it was noted that his condition, which was considered curable, was improving, but even so he wouldn’t be fit enough for further military service, and towards the end of October he was finally discharged from the AIF.


The war over, and Frank’s health continued to improve. As a keen marksman, he attended a rifle competition in Melbourne in April 1919, only to return home with the dreaded influenza virus. He was admitted to the Inglewood Hospital but unfortunately wasn’t strong enough to withstand the attack, and died of pneumonia on Sunday the 20th of April, aged 26. Frank was given a military style funeral at the Rheola Cemetery, with many of his ‘returned’ mates in attendance as coffin bearers and the firing party.


His broken-hearted parents inserted the following verse in the local paper:

A gallant Anzac. Our darling boy.

Sleep on, dear one, and take thy rest,

Thy earthly task is o’er,

For you have left a troubled world,

To reach a peaceful shore.

Followed by a tribute from his fiancé Jean:

God be with you till we meet again.

His warfare over, his battles fought,

His victory won, though dearly bought,

His fresh young life could not be saved,

He’s resting now in a hero’s grave.


Endnotes: 1. Born Francis Leonard YORATH on the 24/2/1893 at Rheola, Frank was the youngest son of Howell William YORATH & Annie JONES.

2. His fiancé Jean Mildred INNES married Albert Victor EADES in 1924 – Albert had originally enlisted in the 5th Bn with Frank at Prahran on the 17/8/1914. 3. Frank is listed on the Inglewood & District War Memorial & on the Rheola Honour Board which hangs in the Rheola Community Hall.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011

Yorath, Frank - Rheola Cem - Copy.JPG


blog-0585107001402210457.jpgOne of only eight Australian nurses to be awarded the Military Medal in the First World War, Sister Eileen King stood alone in the fact that she wasn’t serving with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). In early 1915, a request had come through from the Imperial Government for nurses to be sent to England to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR). Eileen was one of those selected by the Australian Department of Defence, and together with 28 other volunteers, she boarded the RMS Orontes at Port Melbourne on the 14th of April 1915. Travelling with her in this little group were 3 other nurses, who like Eileen, had received their nursing training at the Homoeopathic Hospital in St Kilda Rd, Melbourne: Katie Heriot, Constance O’Shea & Estelle Doyle.


Eileen had followed in the footsteps of her older sister Amy who had also trained at the Homoeopathic Hospital; but Amy was already in Egypt, having sailed with the large contingent of AANS nurses on the Kyarra in November 1914. The King sisters had been born in Queensland almost 7 years apart; daughters of Thomas Mulhall King, I.S.O., retired Auditor-General, and Commissioner of Railways of Qld, and his first wife, Jane MacDonnell.


The Orontes deposited her contingent of nurses at Tilbury Docks on the 23rd of May and they were taken under the wing of the War Office. Eileen then embarked for France on the 9th of June, where she served in what she considered “a very pretty little spot” at the 7th General Hospital in St Omer (together with some of her other Orontes mates). She remained here for almost a year; until following a month of sickness, she was transferred to the 14th General Hospital at Wimereux in the May of 1916. Her matron at the 14th GH considered Eileen to be an excellent nurse – quiet and good tempered and much liked by her patients. However, it was toward the end of the following year of 1917, while in Belgium not far from Poperinge, that she showed the greatest ‘bravery and devotion to duty’.


Two months after her posting to No. 63 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) at Haringhe (named Bandaghem by the troops); Eileen escaped death, but not injury, when the CCS was bombed by enemy planes on the 29th November 1917. The ‘London Gazette’ noted that “She was severely wounded in both legs and though suffering from shock and loss of blood, continued to give directions etc., as to the care of wounded. She showed great pluck and presence of mind.”


Sister Mary Loughron, one of Eileen’s Orontes companions, had the following to say about the bombing: “The day sisters had all gone to bed when the warning was received, and the patients were prepared for quick transference. Sister King was amid the din, but took no notice until she was thrown down, and, being unable to move, it was found that she was struck in the thigh and calf of the leg.”


The tented CCS consisted of seven wards, and while still under fire, the patients were moved to the least damaged areas, where they could be cared for until evacuated. Eileen sadly noted that she was only able to save six of her men that had been injured. Her own injuries as Sister Loughron noted, consisted of bomb wounds to the right thigh and the left calf, which resulted in a compound fracture of the left fibula, and destruction of the tendo achillis; as well as burns to her left foot.


When she too was evacuated back to the 14th General Hospital, this time as a patient, Eileen had the good fortune to be re-united with her sister Amy, who had been specifically transferred there to care for her. The sisters where then transferred to England on the 2nd January 1918, where Amy continued to care for Eileen at Southwell Gardens in London. This hospital had been opened in July 1917 to cater specifically for ill Australian nurses. Located in a bright, cheery house with accommodation for 26 patients, and staffed by Australian nurses, it provided not only the necessary medical facilities, but also maximum comfort, for these ladies who were so far away from home and friends.


The Times carried news of Eileen’s award in February 1918: “It was announced on Jan 30th that the King has been pleased to approve of the award of Military Medal to the following lady for bravery and devotion to duty on the occasion of a hostile air raid on a casualty clearing station. …..”


At the beginning of April Amy returned to duty in France, and after having her sick leave extended, Eileen eventually resumed nursing in the July. She was posted to the Sister’s Hospital for the QAIMNS at Vincent Square in London for light duties only. By this time her right thigh had quite healed, but her left leg was still weak, and caused her to limp slightly. Over the following months she had various periods of sick leave as her left leg tended to break down whenever she worked for any length of time.


In the February of 1919 Eileen was invested with her Military Medal by the King at Buckingham Palace, following which she was entertained at Marlborough House by Queen Alexandra and presented with a photograph and a book. That same month also saw another appearance before the Medical Board, where the decision was finally reached that she was unfit for work for a prolonged period, and should therefore be repatriated to Australia. Matron Conyers (AANS) tried to arrange for her sister Amy to return home on the same boat with her, but to no avail; however it was arranged that one of Eileen’s original Orontes companions, Sister Madge Donnellan would travel with her.


Yet, although the King sisters sailed in different ships, they both began their journeys home only days apart: Eileen on the Roda, sailing on the 8th May 1919 and Amy on the Wahehe sailing on the 10th. Arriving back in Brisbane in July, they spent some time with their family before returning to Melbourne, where Eileen received further treatment for her injuries at the 11th General Hospital in Caulfield. Following an operation by Dr Syme, she underwent a period of massage & electricity therapy, but in March 1920 she was still experiencing problems when she wrote a letter to the Matron-in-Chief of the QAIMNS, Miss Beadsmore Smith: “My old leg gives me quite a lot of trouble & the one that was not so badly wounded is not behaving at all well. I suppose it’s because it has most of the work to do. Col Syme operated soon after I got home & broke down adhesions. I was in hospital for over three months with that & when I left was practically as bad as before he started. About a fortnight ago I started to take millinery lessons, but don’t know if I will be able to go on with these as I find it very tiring. I only hope I will as I have to do something & I will never be able to nurse again.”


Aware that Eileen was struggling financially, Miss Beadsmore Smith organized to have a draft of £25 sent to her from the QAIMNS Benevolent Fund in the hope that she would put it towards the cost of her millinery lessons.


Amy continued nursing in Melbourne; sharing a house with Eileen in South Yarra, and although Eileen said she would never nurse again, she eventually took on the position of assistant matron at Melbourne Grammar School, where she was considered as very efficient and well-liked by the boarders. It was however noted in November 1926 that her health had broken down again, and she was once more spending time in the Caulfield Military Hospital. In 1936, still in South Yarra, the sisters were living with their stepmother Aniella, with Eileen’s occupation by this time listed as ‘home duties’.


The following year at the end of January 1937, Eileen boarded the Mongolia for England, where she was intending to stay for some considerable time. Her brother Reginald, a former Deputy Premier of Qld, travelled down to Melbourne to see her off, before following up with a trip to England himself some months later.


In April 1939 Eileen was honoured with an invitation to propose the toast of “Fallen Comrades” at the Diggers Abroad reunion dinner in London, which was also attended by the Duke of Kent and Field-Marshal Lord Birdwood. During this time her sister Amy was also in England, and they took the opportunity of visiting Paris together.


Having already survived the blitz, Eileen made out her Will in the December of 1942, perhaps with some premonition, because just over three months later she was lost at sea. Embarking on the merchant vessel, Melbourne Star on the 22nd March 1943, she was returning home via the Panama Canal. Carrying a cargo of munitions and 31 passengers, the ship was crossing the Atlantic Ocean about 480 miles south-east of Bermuda, when she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-129 on the 2nd of April. Of the handful of survivors that managed to scramble from the water onto intact life-rafts, only four crew members were eventually rescued.


Eileen is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website along with other Civilian War Dead.


Endnotes: Eileen’s sister: Amy Evelyn KING (1882-1961) – Sister, AANS (MID, ARRC)


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011 & 2014


The Macumber Brothers

blog-0130080001402038929.jpg[Photo of Bill Macumber]


Inglewood in central Victoria sprung into existence during the gold rush in 1859 as the surrounding district provided rich pickings for many a determined prospector. The Macumber brothers, Bill and Sam were born in the area long after the gold had petered out, but that didn’t deter them from trying their luck. They also worked as timber-cutters, which probably supplemented their meager earnings from prospecting. Four years separated them in age, Bill being the eldest born in 1890, but at the outbreak of war it was Sam who tried to enlist first.


Far from being a tall bronzed Aussie, the fair skinned Sam only stood 5 foot 4inches tall, and the army didn’t want him unless he was at least 2 inches taller. Not to be beaten, he tried a second time, and on the 28th of November 1914, a week after his 20th birthday, Samuel Phillip Macumber enlisted in the AIF. The decision to accept him was strange in more ways than one; first because the height requirement wasn’t reduced to 5’ 2” until June 1915 and second because Sam actually had two fingers missing from his right hand. Having lost his index & middle finger at the age of 11 months, Sam had still learnt to use a gun, and convinced the army that he’d “lived by the use of the gun, shooting game – ducks, hares etc”. His 3 years serving in the Citizen Forces probably also stood him in good stead.


With 5 months of training under his belt, Sam embarked on the A56 Palermo on the 7th May 1915, as Trooper 949 with the 5th reinforcements of the 4th Light Horse Regiment. Sailing via Egypt he joined his unit (minus horses) on the 5th of August at Ryrie’s Post, Anzac. A month later, suffering with dysentery and rheumatism he boarded the hospital ship Neuralia which deposited him in Malta. Having ‘inadvertently’ added a couple of weeks to his stay on Gallipoli, he wrote the following letter home during his confinement in hospital. Dated the 15/9/1915:


“I had about six weeks in the firing line, and saw some good fighting by the Australians. We got one trench off the Turks at a place called Lone Pine. It was one of the worst places I have ever been in, as when we were not fighting the Turks the stench from their dead was enough to give us fever. We hung to it, and filled up the trench we captured, while the Turks filled it up eight yards further along. When we moved about the ground used to spring up and down with the dead bodies. I have had a few narrow escapes, but we see marvellous escapes every day. One night I got a bayonet through my tunic, and next morning while I was observing got one [a bullet] through the turned-up side of my hat. I think I was very lucky, as the badge in the hat got broken but turned the bullet. This is nothing to the luck some fellows have in escaping with their lives. One night we were having a bomb fight, and a six pounder fell between a chap’s shoulders and burst, but only blew the back out of his coat without injuring him. I will be glad when I am back having another go. We have just finished dinner, and it is great not to have to duck and dodge about from shells when we are eating. I will describe a little thing that happened one night in Gallipoli. We had half a Turks’ trench in our possession, the Turks still holding the other half. The space between us was anything from four to seven yards. About 11pm they got a machine gun in their trench and started cutting out our end – which we had done up with sand bags to prevent them rushing over if they charged us – with bullets. I was relieved at 11, and allowed to have a lie down, but at about 11.30 our sergeant came around and, waking my mate and me, told us to go on observing as the observers and bomb throwers had been shot. We scrambled up to go, but when we came to the turn a corporal told us that the machine gun had cut the end out of our trench and was sweeping it clean. At first we didn’t know whether to go forward or not, but then said we would chance it, as we were told to do so by our head. We laid down on our stomachs and dragged ourselves along to the end that had been destroyed, a lance-corporal coming with us. Meanwhile the bullets were whistling down the trench over our heads at the rate of about 600 a minute, and we also had to contend with the bombs they threw. We got there and built a new end, but when it came daylight I could not understand how we had done it, as the bullets must have been everywhere round us, the trench being only about 2ft wide.”


The above incident, which took place on the night of the 22nd of August in the Lone Pine trenches, was also noted in the 4th LH Unit History. However, the only men referred to are L/Cpl Tom Roberston (481) and Cpl Len Gooding (720), both of whom received mentions in dispatches for their part in volunteering to rebuild the sandbag wall.

Sam never returned to Gallipoli, he was one of the 70 Australian invalids picked up at Valetta on the 5th of October by the Kanowna, on her first voyage home from England in her new role as a hospital ship. Travelling via Egypt where some last minute refits were carried out and more patients embarked, they finally set sail again on the 20th. Landing in Melbourne on the 22/11/1915, Sam was then discharged on the 16/2/1916. He had been invalided home medically unfit, not only because of rheumatism & dysentery, but also because it was considered that due to the ‘crippled state of his right hand he is not fit for active service.’


Three days after Sam had left Australia’s shores in May 1915 his brother Bill had also enlisted. Bill too was a small man, the same height as Sam, but he was dark with black curly hair. Less than a week after Sam landed at Gallipoli, Pte 2414 George William Macumber (Bill) embarked with the 7th reinforcements for the 14th Battalion on the RMS Persia. Bill & Sam would have been in Egypt at the same time for nearly 2 weeks, but whether Bill had the chance to visit his brother on the hospital ship while it lay in port at Alexandria is probably unlikely.


After joining his unit on the 23rd of October on the Isle of Lemnos where they were recuperating, Bill finally landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula at the beginning of November as the 14th Bn returned to their old trenches at Durrant’s Post.

Far from having been at ‘the Landing’, as his (future) eldest son believed when he applied for his father’s Gallipoli medallion in 1967, Bill was soon to be taking part in the Evacuation. Surviving the following 7 weeks as the miserable winter set in, he returned to Lemnos with his battalion on the 18th of December and to Egypt after Christmas.

While waiting to embark on the next leg of his war service, Bill was a casualty of the re-arrangement of the battalions, and found himself transferred into the newly formed 46th Bn (sister battalion to the 14th). He also spent a week in hospital with a fever – a reaction to an inoculation, and another 2 weeks with the mumps. Eventually, on the 3/6/1916 the 46th Bn set sail for France. Meanwhile back in Australia, Sam had managed to re-enlist on the 18th of March, but was again discharged medically unfit 6 months later.


Having survived Pozieres, the 46th Battalion’s next major battle was to be their attack against the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt on the 11th April 1917. Bill was also very lucky to survive this disaster, and later that year while in England, wrote a little about it to his parents:

“Things over in France are still going strong, and the Australians, as usual, are up to their necks in it. We have been in some battles in France, and I do not like the idea of going back and facing it again. I know well that I can never stand another winter in the trenches. The Bullecourt stunt, when we broke Hindenburg's line, fixed me up. I was lying out in Fritz's barbed wire for twelve hours, and could not move a single muscle. It snowed all the time, and we had about six inches of snow on us. I was only about 20 yards off his trench all the time. That was where we got to when he counter attacked and drove us back. I can tell you I thought it was all over with me, and my thoughts went back to the old homestead and faces I love. Fritz took [censored] of the Australians prisoners that day, and the ground was strewn with the dead. How I escaped from being taken prisoner or shot I do not know. I have seen some awful sights, things that no man could look on, but one thing I can honestly say and that is I always kept my post. I was recommended in the Messines stunt for bravery whilst under shell fire, but so far I have not heard much more about it. But that does not worry me.”


After his ordeal on the wire, when ‘387 of his mates were either killed, wounded or [taken] prisoner’, Bill spent 2 weeks in hospital with influenza. And then came the successful Messines stunt. While the 46th was mainly held in reserve, Bill was one of 50 other ranks detached to the 45th Bn as carrying parties during their advance. He was recommended for the Military Medal for gallantry during the 7-9 June, and the reason he heard no more of it, was because the award was not forthcoming.


Yet he was rewarded in a sense, being sent to England on the 12/7/1917 where he was attached for duty with various Training Brigades and Schools of Instruction. During this period he met Eleanor Mangin (known as Nellie) and they were married in the December of that year. Nellie had an infant son, who as noted earlier, grew up believing his ‘father’ had been in the original Landing at Gallipoli. Taking time out from instructing others, Bill attended a course at the Tidworth School of Musketry between the 17/1 & the 16/2/1918, and qualified 2nd Class with full working knowledge of the Lewis Gun. His inevitable return to France came on the 8th of May and he rejoined his battalion in the line North East of Villers-Bretonneux a few days later.


Sam was definitely keen to share in the action with his brother, as in April he attempted to enlist for overseas service yet again, and was rejected once more. A week later on the last day of April 1918 he finally admitted defeat and enlisted for Home Service with the 3rd District Guard.


The 46th Bn were in and out of the line participating in the practice of peaceful penetration, when 2 months after rejoining them Bill was slightly wounded, but remained at duty. This was followed by the ‘big push’ which began on the 8th of August and after gaining their objectives the 46th were relieved on the 10th, but found themselves back in the line near Lihons on the 15th. The enemy continually harassed them, their artillery perfectly ranged to what had previously been their own trenches, and it was on the 19th of August during a particularly heavy bombardment that Bill coped a ‘blighty’ that possibly saved his life.


Nursing his leg wound, he traveled through the hospital system and was admitted to the 1st Birmingham War Hospital at Rednal on the 24th. Three days later, Sam was discharged from Home Service, but this time at his own request, and this was effectively the end of the war for the Macumber brothers. Bill was discharged to furlo (from hospital) a couple of days after the armistice, and then waited out his time in the camps, until eventually on the 3rd July 1919 together with Nellie and young Jack, he boarded the family ship Zealandic for home. Bill and Nellie had another 3 sons, and along with Jack, all 4 served during the 2nd World War. Sam married Maria Hobbs in 1927, but by 1931 they were living separately and Sam later remarried (to Miriam).


The Macumber brothers continued prospecting around Kingower (in the Inglewood district) for a few years after the war, searching for wolfram (tungsten), feldspar and other rare minerals. Failing to strike it rich, they eventually downed tools and moved to Melbourne, Sam finding employment as a wire worker and then a brewery worker, and Bill doing labouring work until he took on the position as gate-keeper with the railways, on the Brunswick line.


In the early 1950’s Bill and Sam read with great interest that uranium had been discovered in northern Australia, and they were reminded of some unusual granite outcrops they’d come across around Kingower. Following a hunch, they returned to their old diggings with Geiger counters. Finding high radioactivity, they formed a syndicate with a few mates and took up a mineral lease over an area of 8,000 acres. Having sunk various shafts with very high readings in a couple of them, they were convinced they had a rich find. They called in the State Government, and in April 1954 the chief Government geologist began a detailed survey of the area. As the news broke that uranium had been discovered in Victoria; almost a hundred years after it had come into prominence during the gold rush, the area around Inglewood once again hummed with enthusiastic prospectors. Unfortunately, although of high quality, the uranium wasn’t in large enough quantities to make it commercially viable to mine, and the brothers once again returned to life in the city.


The final resting place for the Macumber brothers is the Springvale Botanical Cemetery, but they are also remembered on the Inglewood & District Soldiers Memorial. Bill died in early April 1961 and is buried in the Simmons Lawn, where Nellie joined him in 1967. Sam also died in 1967 and his cremated remains were interred in the Dodonaea Wall.


Endnote: Bill and Sam were the sons of George Ellerton MACUMBER and Elizabeth PRYSE. Their cousin Alexander Leslie Pryse (481) DOW 15/7/1916, after receiving a shell fragment in his back whilst the 57th Bn were preparing for their part in the Battle of Fromelles.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011


The Girl with the Flags

blog-0388181001401951456.jpgTo many an Australian soldier she was simply ‘the girl with the flags’, but Miss Ethel Campbell was also known as the ‘Angel of Durban’, and by various other monikers. She was born in Scotland in 1886 but was living with her family in South Africa during the war years. After her fiancé was killed in the war, she devoted herself to caring for the troops who visited her city.


Working with the Y.M.C.A., Ethel, an expert signaler, began signaling to the troopships in 1915 as they arrived in the harbour: “Welcome, brave Australians. Come along to the Y.M.C.A. Hut, near the Town Hall.’ And then sending them a final farewell: ‘Good-bye, Australians. Good luck. Come back soon.’ Standing on the wharf or at the end of the breakwater semaphoring with her flags, she continued this practice through fair weather and foul right throughout the entire war, and was a very welcome sight to the troops after many weeks at sea.


Unlike other ports of call en-route to the war zone, Durban had a strict policy of closing all ‘public houses’ and hotel bars while military transports were in port, and so they offered the very best of wholesome entertainment through the YMCA. The YMCA Hut, known as the “Soldiers’ Rest”, stood in a tree-fringed reserve opposite the Town Hall, and was a large building where the troops could relax, write letters home, have a wash and of course partake of a great meal at a minimal cost. Concerts and other entertainments were also provided by the staff of ladies who quite happily mothered the boys and made them feel at home, none more so than the ‘Angel’ herself, Miss Campbell.

Ethel was not the only member of her family eager to look after the Australians while they were in port; her father Dr Samuel Campbell, an influential citizen of Durban, often entertained soldiers of all ranks in their home at Berra in the Durban hills.


As a result of all this ‘mothering’, a drunken soldier was a rare phenomenon in Durban, yet the Australians were still a target for disparaging remarks from some of the wealthy locals. On hearing of these remarks, Ethel who was a prolific writer of poetry, forwarded the following to a Durban newspaper:



[Dedicated to some of the “elite” of Durban, after hearing their opinions of the Australians. “We are not cotton spinners all, but some love England and her honour yet.”]


We stand on the shore of Durban,

And watch the transports go

To England from Australia

Hurrying to and fro,

Bearing the men of a nation

Who are heroes to the core

To stand in fact by the Motherland

And they’re sending thousands more!

We’ve watched the ships returning,

With the cripple and the maim,

With limbs that trail and falter

Their’s an immortal name.

The deathless name of “Anzac”

That thrills from pole to pole,

The remnants of the heroes

On the long and glorious roll.

And now in their tens of hundreds

Come the men to fill their ranks,

And what can we do to show them

Our love, our pride, our thanks,

We can’t do much (I own it)

But give them a passing cheer

While the real elite, beat a shocked retreat

Why, they saw one drinking beer.

O God! could we show these misers

The path that the “Anzacs” went!

Could they talk with a sneer of Australians

When one or two get drunk!

I’d rather a drunk Australian

Than a wealthy Durban funk!

He’s a better man than you are,

You dear teetotal saint!

You do not drink – you will not fight!

What a wonderful restraint!

We stand on the shore of Durban,

For we’re not all made like you,

And the glorious name of “Anzac”

Thrills us through and through!

But all we can do is to cheer them,

And throw them a trifle from shore,

We’re not millionaires (like some are)

Or perhaps we would try to do more.

They’re coming in tens of thousands,

And here’s to their honour to-day,

Here’s to the sister dominion

Who is showing us the way?


The ‘trifles’ that Ethel threw the soldiers from shore are best described by an Australian nurse. Mrs Isabella Throssell, the sister-in-law of Hugo Throssell (VC), had served with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service during the war, and was returning home with invalid troops many of them 1914 men, on the Runic in 1918. They arrived in the Fremantle harbour as the armistice was signed, but knew that they could not go ashore due to quarantine regulations. They did however expect some form of recognition from their countrymen, but were totally ignored both that day and the next. Mrs Throssell said that their “reception was a most chilling one – one which will take many years to efface from the memory”; “we lay there as an outcast”, and finally as human nature could stand it no longer, the cry went up across the ship, “Don’t you wish you were back at the last port?”

Their last port of course had been Durban, and Mrs Throssell explained:

“How different was the reception accorded the men there. On approaching port a launch came with Miss Campbell, the now world-famed girl signaler, who with her flags spoke thus: ‘Welcome to [censored] Thank you for what you have done for us. Are there Anzacs on board? A double welcome to them. We are proud of you. Sorry you cannot land, but can we do anything for you – shopping, etc.?’ Receiving an answer, ‘Yes,’ she arranged to have our orders sent down by basket, and went away to execute them, for many had come on board with short notice, I myself having but two hours’ warning. In the meantime a launch came out simply laden with fruit; those great coal baskets filled with bananas, oranges, pawpaws, passion fruit, boxes of cake, sweets, eggs (luxuries you people can never appreciate until you have been strictly rationed), all sorts of medical comforts and toilet accessories, papers, magazines, and games, even extra records for the gramophone. There was fruit enough to serve all round and to give three fruit salads per man. Think what that meant. The Australian residents sent a large issue of cigarettes, pipes, and tobacco to the officers and men, and a big box of sweets and cakes to each sister; and the troopship was one bower of flowers from stem to stern. On leaving we received a similar farewell. People lined the moles and cheered and cheered, and many boys registered a vow to visit this place at the earliest opportunity, regretting the necessity which prevented their landing then. The last thing seen was Miss Campbell waving au revoir and a safe journey home.


In appreciation for the many kindnesses shown them, the troops often took up a collection in order to purchase a gift for Ethel, amongst these were a gold watch; a set of silver toilet tableware, inscribed with her name and ‘From the Australian Soldiers’; and a writing table of Australian maple, specially commissioned for her. After peace was declared the Australian Comforts Fund presented her with a gold-mounted ACF symbol, and she received an MBE in 1919 for her services to the war effort.


The Returned Soldier’s League (R.S.S.I.L.A) showed their appreciation in 1923 with an invitation to Australia. They arranged Ethel’s itinerary and supplied her with private secretaries and guides to help her throughout the journey. Together with her parents she began her tour in Albany, where the first contingent had originally gathered in the harbour nine years before. On the arrival of her ship Diogenes on the 28th of June, a welcome message was signaled to her from the shore, and she responded in kind. Attending her first reception she was asked for a message to transmit to the returned soldiers of the Eastern states. Her message read: “Coo-ee! Be with you soon. Deeply touched and greatly gratified with Australia’s first welcome.” Travelling throughout the country she attended many functions in her honour, dedicated memorials and visited hospitals, and of course was warmly met by large crowds of diggers and their families everywhere she went.


During her visit, she discovered that it wasn’t the food and other comforts that the diggers had the fondest memories of; but her signals of greeting and the many poems she presented to them. “One man could recite all the poems I had written about the diggers during the war – nineteen of them!”

“……I could go on for hours telling of the wonderful kindness and hospitality of the Aussies; of the flowers, and the beautiful poems of welcome I got, and gifts ranging from the most treasured relics – such as a piece of the altar rail of the cathedral at Ypres, down to live wallabies and young kangaroos. The Federal executive of the league gave me the most beautiful album containing a hundred official photographs of the Australians at the front. The bouquets I got were wonderful – some were in the shape of troopships – and my railway carriage was always a bower of flowers. I was met very often with decorated motor cars, and in a number of towns the diggers pulled the car by ropes through the streets, and in one town I was carried shoulder high. In another, where I arrived at night, there was a torch-light procession. The town bands and pipers and even aeroplanes came out to meet me.”

“I saw a great deal of the working of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia and it impressed me very much. Largely through their splendid efforts the Australian returned soldier is getting wonderfully good treatment. Then the Limbless and Maimed Association in each State, and the Tuberculosis Association and Blinded Soldiers’ Association are all doing magnificent work….”


Having visited many hospitals Ethel also had the following to say:

“To what extent Australia did her wonderful part in the war is brought back to one by these scenes of suffering. ……. Many of those splendid young lives, frightfully crippled, have been suffering there as cot cases for the last eight or nine years. It is absolutely heart-rending. There is a man at Randwick with terrible injuries to his skin from mustard gas; he has been lying in a bath for eight years. One goes round the wards smiling, though one feels much more like weeping.”


Although most of their Australian visit was an endless whirlwind of war-related functions, the Campbells did manage to spend some time with family. While in Queensland they stayed with Dr Campbell’s sister Lady Cowley and her husband Sir Alfred Cowley, who during the war had been chairman of the Administration Committee of the Queensland Patriotic Fund and president of the Queensland Soldier’s Comforts Fund.


Returning to Durban in December, Ethel continued a regular correspondence with many soldiers and organizations; and in memory of Anzac day, would send messages of commemoration & hand-decorated copies of her verses to various R.S.S.I.L.A.s around Australia.

Dr Campbell died in March 1926 and in 1929 Ethel’s mother sold their home in the Durban hills and the 2 of them traveled the world for a couple of years, before eventually returning to Sth Africa and settling again in Durban.


Although the Great War was to be the war that ended all wars, when it was followed up by World War 2, Ethel once again took on her role of the Angel of Durban, welcoming the diggers of the 2nd AIF. Unfortunately in 1944 she suffered a nervous breakdown, and her mother asked the Australian newspapers to let it be known that she would not be able to reply to the huge mail she regularly received from Australia. As the result of her health, she found it necessary to move from Durban to Hilton, 70 miles away, though still managed the occasional visit to Durban while a troopship was in. However, due to her growing absences from the wharf, many of the boys took it upon themselves to ‘thumb’ their way to her home, and soon it became a part of their ‘duty’ to visit her. She dubbed her new home “Little Australia”, and there she entertained thousands of Australian troops who patted her dog “Digger”, played two-up on her two-up tower, and sang the songs she’d written about them.

As can be imagined, news of her death in April 1954 was received with great sadness throughout Australia, many diggers of both wars feeling a great sense of personal loss. We who follow can only be grateful for the comfort she brought our men in such troubled times, and yet relieved that the Angel’s services were not required for a third time.


Lest we forget the girl with the flags – Miss Ethel Campbell, M.B.E – the Angel of Durban


Endnotes: Two of Ethel’s brothers served with the RFC in WW1, one also went on to become a prominent poet. Ethel published a few books of her poems – most of which were about the Australian soldiers. One newspaper article notes that she was known by the 2nd AIF as Mrs Collins – but another source states she never married.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011


The following is a snippet from ‘A DIGGER’S DIARY’ – a column in the Western Mail (Perth) – Conducted by “Non-Com” – which published brief accounts and reminisces from ex-service men:


Thur 1 Nov 1934:

Brevity of Service

Dear “Non-Com” – I left W.A. on October 9, 1917, having just turned 19 years of age the day before. Went over to Broadmeadows, Victoria, was there two weeks, embarked again and went via Panama Canal to England. Trained at Codford until the beginning of April, 1918.

Landed in France and joined the 51st Battalion on April 14. Hopped over at Villiers Brett. at 10.30 pm on April 24 and was wounded at 10.45 pm. The next day was in hospital at Rouen. Ten days later was on my way to England.

In Birmingham Hospital three weeks, Harefield Hospital four weeks, then boarded C2, and put on the Wandilla hospital ship. Travelled on her to Alexandria and transshipped to Kanowna at Suez. Arrived in W.A. August 29, 1918.

Boiled down, I went right around the world, was in the firing line for 15 minutes and was home again inside eleven months. As I was born on October 8, I have had every birthday in Australia.

So now trot ‘em out, and see if anyone can beat that. – “Fifty-Firstite”. Guildford.


The author sharing his experiences and offering up the challenge was John (Jack) Henry WEST.

Jack, as he stated above, was born on the 8th of October in 1898 in Cootamundra, NSW – the son of John and Mary Elizabeth West.

As he was under age when he enlisted in Fremantle, WA, on the 1/5/1917, he originally informed the army that his parents were deceased and that his brother, Clarence William was his next of kin. These details were then changed to show that his father was actually absent in South Africa, and his mother was living in John Street in Fremantle.

After his 2 weeks at Broadmeadows in Victoria, Jack embarked with the 11th reinforcements of the 51st Battalion, on the 30/10/1917 on the Aeneas, as Private 3995. They landed at Devonport 2 days after Christmas and were marched into Codford.


Following another 3 months of training, Jack crossed to France on April Fools Day 1918, and along with 151 other reinforcements was marched into Corbie on the 13th of April, where the 51st Battalion was then billeted. On the evening of the 20th, although safe in the cellars of their allotted houses, the new recruits were welcomed to the war zone by a heavy enemy bombardment. Jack probably also witnessed the famous dogfight and eventual downing of the Red Baron on the following day on Corbie Hill.

On the morning of the 22nd the 51st Bn moved on to Querrieu, and then on the 24th to Blangy-Tronville.


That evening they received orders for the counter-attack on positions near Villers-Bretonneux, and were moved out at 8.20 pm. The War Diary states that “the whole battalion had deployed and were in position at 10.10 pm, ….., and at 10.10 pm the battalion moved forward to attack Immediately the line commenced to advance hostile machine guns fired heavily on our left from the Bois de Aquenne.” Jack may have been a little out with his memory of the timing, but none-the-less he was obviously one of the many casualties that were sustained so early in the attack, when he received a severe wound to his left shoulder (on the 24th).

His Anzac Day was spent traveling through the 25th Field Ambulance to the 5th Casualty Clearing Station, and then on the 26th he was admitted to the 5th General Hospital in Rouen. His luck was in when he received his ‘blighty’ and embarked on the Carisbrook Castle on the 7th of May for the crossing to England. The following day he was admitted to the Kings Heath Section of the 1st Australian General Hospital in Birmingham, before being transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Harefield at the end of the month.


Finally Jack was to return home, and as he previously noted, embarked on the Wandilla on the 30th of June and then transshipped to the No. 2 Australian Hospital Ship, the Kanowna, at Suez on the 21st of July. The Kanowna sailed the following day, experiencing extremely hot weather in the Red Sea, followed by some rough seas and monsoons before their arrival at Colombo on the morning of the 6th of August. The patients were then allowed shore leave for the 2 days they were in port, and Jack, being well able to walk, would have no doubt taken the opportunity to see the sights.

Before arriving at Fremantle on the 24th of August, they experienced a few more days of rough seas, during which many patients suffered sea-sickness. Jack stepped back onto West Australian soil that morning, along with 54 other invalids (not on the 29th as he’d noted), having as he so proudly stated, traveled right around the world for his 15 minutes in the firing line.


Jack’s medals had been issued and returned to stores in 1924, the army obviously unable to trace his whereabouts. It wasn’t until April 1933 that he thought to apply for them, and luckily received both the British War Medal & Victory Medal by the end of the following month.

In 1925 Jack married Beryl Margaret Mary MARSHALL, and they had three children, Ray, Beverley and Athol John. The family lived at Guildford, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia. Jack signed up for his 2nd war on the 7/1/1942 as a Signalman – and saw 2 years of service before his discharge.

Still resident in Guildford in 1964, Jack passed away on the 3rd of January at the age of 65, and was buried in the Guildford Cemetery. Beryl joined him there in 1995.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011


blog-0779963001401769699.jpgAmong my list of things to see and do on the 2010 FFFAIF Tour of the Western Front, was to make sure I sighted and photographed the name of Alan James MATHER on the Menin Gate. A little sad that we’d be so close, and yet so far, and wouldn’t be able to attend his reburial on the 22nd of July – I whispered ‘welcome in from the cold’ to the eventually to be erased inscription.


Private Mather’s remains had been discovered at St Yvon (St Ives) in August 2008, during one of the ‘Plugstreet Project’ digs by the ‘No Man’s Land’ historical group, who were researching the Australian 3rd Division’s role in the Battle of Messines in June 1917. A year before, Andrew Pittaway & I had been fortunate to visit one of their earlier digs in the area near Ultimo Crater. So, although we hadn’t been there when the ‘unknown’ soldier was found, it was only natural to take an interest in his story.


Fortunately for Mather, DNA testing finally gave him back his identity in June 2010. Unfortunately for us, our plans were already well set in concrete and as suggested earlier, by the 22nd we were to be far away on the Somme.

My disappointment however was greatly alleviated, when on the 17th July, after visiting the Toronto Ave Cemetery for one of Andrew’s special commemorations of a 33rd Bn soldier, the decision was made to stop at the nearby Prowse Point Cemetery for lunch. A worthwhile decision at any time, for among the many beautiful & tranquil cemeteries that dot the Western Front, this is one of the exceptional ones. It is also unique in the sense that it’s the only cemetery on the Salient that is named for a soldier, Brigadier-General Charles Prowse – who as a British Major, made an heroic stand here in October 1914.


Anyway, I now had the chance to visit what would very soon become Mather’s final resting place. I felt there was little more I could do to pay my respects until perhaps my next visit to Belgium.

However, standing there in Prowse Point, Andrew & I began to ponder – why this cemetery? Having been killed during the Battle of Messines with the 33rd Bn, it seemed more appropriate that Mather should have been buried in Toronto Ave Cemetery, were 44 other members of his unit who’d died in the same battle were laid to rest. We decided it was probably the most practical solution though, as Toronto Ave was such a tiny secluded cemetery, it may have been a little difficult to open up a new grave & support the amount of visitors that would be in attendance at the reburial ceremony. It was perhaps also appropriate that he had been found at St Yvon, and this cemetery was on Rue St Yvon. Still, a shame though, not being with his mates, but perhaps he’d be in good company.

It was then that I pursued my usual tendency to become side-tracked, and check on his future neighbours. Resting right beside him would be Benjamin Gordon FRANCIS of the 27th Battalion, killed on the 8/1/1918. And in the row directly behind him, were two more 27th Bn men also killed on the 8/1/1918, as well as another four of the 27th Bn, all of whom died on Christmas Day 1917.

The four men killed on Christmas day were Privates Vivian Neville MAIN, Frank CULLEN, John Joseph McGUIRE & Charles John ‘Bull’ JENNINGS.


After a 10 day stint, the 27th Battalion had been relieved from the lines on Christmas Eve & marched back to the Romarin Camp. The next morning they woke to a white Christmas, for it had snowed during the night. They were allowed to rest during the morning, but later that afternoon a large fatigue party was sent back to the forward area, and these four men had been allocated to one of the wiring parties to lay wire in front of the new support line. The work was almost complete around 9pm when the Germans, possibly noticing movement against the white background, shelled them with high explosives. One shell caught all four men, and three others were wounded in the shelling. They were all carried back behind the lines, where the four dead were buried together the following day.


It’s interesting to note that the cemetery actually came into existence the month after Prowse’s stand, in the November of 1914, and then the following month was witness to the 1914 Christmas Truce between British & German soldiers. Just a little way along Rue St Yvon, towards St Yvon itself, can be found a memorial cross to mark the occasion. This was placed here by the ‘Khaki Chums’ in 1999 on the 85th Anniversary of the Truce – at the end of their own Christmas spent here in the cold & mud & rain of Flanders, to raise money for ex-service charities. Eleven years later, the cross, which the ‘Chums’ had never meant to be permanent, is still in good condition owing to the care it has had from the locals.


Unfortunately there was no truce on the 25th December 1917, and it was to be Pte Main’s first and last Christmas away from home. Neville, as he preferred to be called, had enlisted in the March of 1916, but hadn’t sailed for England until the 24/1/1917, 4 months after the death of his brother 2nd Lieut Eric Main at Mouqet Farm. Perhaps trying to emulate his elder brother, Neville had been training, studying, & working his way up through the ranks, eventually sailing as a provisional Sergeant. However, after more training and a short stint in hospital, he finally joined his unit at the front in the middle of November having reverted to the rank of private. A month later and May & Mark Main lost a second son to the war.


Pte Frank Cullen spent his first Christmas of the war on board the Afric, arriving at Plymouth on the 9th January 1917. A month later he was in hospital with acute bronchitis, and remained there for just over 3 months. In the July both he and Neville Main made their Wills, and when Neville became witness to his, neither man could have known just how entwined their fates would be. Frank proceeded overseas to France on the 25th September, 3 months to the day before that fatal Christmas, and joined the 27th Bn in Belgium on the 5th October. He was half way into his 22nd year on earth, when like Neville he passed on all his worldly goods to his mother.


Similar to Frank Cullen, Pte John McGuire was also at sea for Christmas 1916, but his ship the Berrima had only left Fremantle 2 days before – and he actually spent Christmas Day in the ship’s hospital. Having originally been rejected in October 1915 for not having any natural teeth, John had served his time as a Garrison Guard, until a loosening of requirements allowed him to enlist in the October of 1916. Arriving in England in the middle of February 1917, he managed to strike up a few minor offences before proceeding to France on the 14th June. Before he could join his battalion he experienced a couple of stints in hospital, eventually being taken on strength at the end of August 1917. John then served with the 27th for 4 months before Christmas took him. At the time of his death, his younger brother Patrick was fighting pneumonia in a Boulogne hospital, eventually being sent home 3 months later.


‘Bull’ Jennings was not only the longest serving and the oldest of the four, but he was also the only one married. A thick-set man, hence his nickname, he had enlisted in August 1915, but didn’t sail until the January of 1916. After a short time with his battalion in Egypt, they reached France towards the end of March. In October Bull came down with pleurisy and was sent to a hospital in England. He was released to the Weymouth Depot on the 5th December, and that’s where he spent his first overseas Christmas. His eventual return to France wasn’t until 2 months before the following Christmas, the one that was to be his last. Bull left behind a widow and two young sons.


Alan Mather’s next ‘door’ neighbour, Pte Benjamin Francis had survived that fatal Christmas day, only to meet a similar fate 2 weeks later. He had sailed on the Afric in November 1916 with Frank Cullen, but had proceeded to France in the April. After serving for 4 months he was returned to England in August with Trench Fever. Benjamin was still in England going through the re-training process when his four battalion mates were killed, but returned to France 2 days later. He rejoined the 27th Bn in the Romarin Camp in Belgium on the 1st of January, just as preparations where being made to return to the front line, which they did the following day. During the night of the 8th January, Benjamin together with Pte Victor Allen & Cpl Charles Melville Harry, formed a Liaison patrol, and were just returning from a visit with the battalion stationed to the right of the 27th Bn, when they were hit by a minenwerfer which killed all three men.


Cpl Charles Harry & Pte Victor Allen were not buried beside Benjamin but instead are buried in the row behind, alongside their Christmas Day mates. Pte Victor Allen had also sailed with the 17th Reinforcements on the Afric with Benjamin & Frank, and proceeded to France in April. A month later he was wounded in the leg during heavy enemy shelling on their front-line at Noreuil. Eventually returning through the hospital system to England, Victor was out of action until the start of November, when he once again rejoined the battalion in Belgium. His experience of the 1917 ‘white’ Christmas may not have been his first, as like so many members of the A.I.F., Victor had been born & raised in England.


Cpl Charles Harry was the only one of the soldiers mentioned here who was a 27th Bn original and a Gallipoli veteran. He experienced 3 war-time Christmases – the first on the isle of Lemnos after the Gallipoli evacuation before returning to Egypt. The second in camp in England where he was retraining after a stay in hospital, and the third at the Romarin Camp in Belgium – two weeks before his death. His parents William & Priscilla Harry would have found at least some consolation, when a few weeks after his death, his brother 2nd Lieut William Harry (MM) began his journey home to them, no longer fit to fight, but safe.


Friends are often telling me that everything happens for a reason, and so I’d like to believe that the real reason I was unable to attend Pte Mather’s funeral, was so that I’d be inspired to discover the stories of his new mates. And besides, from reports I’ve read and photos I’ve seen, it appears there were many well-wishers in attendance on the 22nd July, with the FFFAIF being represented and a wreath laid on behalf of members. Luck would also have it that some UK friend’s also visited in the following days, and sent me a photo showing the grave in all its floral glory. Pte Alan Mather will spend his first Christmas at Prowse Point Cemetery this December, surrounded by mates who he may not have known in life, but who shared similar experiences in those final days before death. No longer alone – he is in from the cold at last.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2010


The Invisible Scars of War

blog-0328766001401684786.jpgYOUNG MAN TAKES HIS LIFE

The quiet, old-fashioned home of Mr Daniel Woodfield, nestling snugly in a picturesque and fertile valley among the hills to the north of Rheola, was the scene of a distressing tragedy on Friday night, when the second-eldest son of the family, Andrew, took his own life without apparent cause or reason.


It was mid 1920 and Andrew Woodfield had just turned 30. A year had passed since his return from the war, and although he had not been his ‘old self’ since returning home, he seemed to be finally settling in. Some months earlier, under the influence of drink, he had threatened to shoot himself, but since then had abstained from alcohol and seemed to be satisfied with his prospects. He didn’t have any money worries, and had actually only just returned from a trip to Melbourne, where he’d been organizing the purchase of a block of land through the Repatriation Department.


That Friday evening there was a dance at the local hall, and Andrew’s father’s services as a musician were in demand. He suggested Andrew accompany him, but wishing to play football with the Rheola team the following day, Andrew opted for ‘spending a quiet night in front of the fire’. Daniel left behind a contented, cheerful group of three, Andrew & his 2 teenage siblings, Norman & Eliza. Their mother was visiting in Melbourne with another of their siblings. During the course of the evening, Norman suggested that he needed a haircut, and Andrew quite happily performed this duty for him. The three eventually went to their beds around 9.30pm.


Somewhere around midnight Eliza was awakened by movement in the adjoining living room, as a fully dressed Andrew was wandering around with lamp in hand. Presently Eliza heard the glass from the lamp shatter on the floor, followed by ‘the report of a rifle and the sound of a body falling heavily upon chairs’.

Both she and Norman rushed to their brother’s side to find he was still alive but in a serious condition. Leaving Norman to make their brother as comfortable as he could, Eliza caught and harnessed one of the heavy working horses and set out on the lonely drive to Rheola, over rough, heavy roads, to summon her father. On her arrival at about 1a.m. dancing was in full swing, but on receipt of the sad tidings the assembly broke up and Mr Woodfield was accompanied to his home by several friends anxious to render what assistance they could. On arrival it was seen that medical assistance was imperative, and Mr Woodfield at once started on the long drive to Inglewood. Motor power made the return journey shorter, but before the arrival of Dr Deravin death had resulted, the bullet having passed upwards from the throat to the brain.’


Andrew had enlisted two months after the Gallipoli landing, and had sailed with reinforcements for the 6th Battalion in the September. Not long after reaching Egypt, he was hospitalised with mumps, and his baptism of fire didn’t come until much later, when he arrived in France with the 57th Battalion, and walked straight into the Battle of Fromelles. Seeing the rest of the war out without being hospitalized, it was however reported that he had experienced the effects of gas, which the majority of front-line troops probably did to some degree.

One newspaper reporting his death stated that “His action is attributed to indifferent health, following on the effects of being gassed.” Although the Deputy-Coroner simply found that death was due to a gunshot wound, self-inflicted, while, in his opinion, suffering from temporary insanity.” – a fairly standard verdict in the majority of these cases.

The small town of Rheola had given Andrew a huge send-off before he sailed to war & again had welcomed him with open arms upon his return mid 1919. He was also welcomed lovingly back into the family home, and as stated earlier, was preparing to launch into his own independent future and build a new life. A member of the local branch of the R.S.S.I.L., he must also have kept in regular contact with his mates.


So what went wrong?

These men were hailed as heroes on their return home, but the people were ‘war weary’ and soon wanted to forget and move on. Many of the returned men no doubt wanted to forget some of their experiences too, but this wasn’t always an easy thing to achieve. Sleepless nights found many of them reliving the horror that those who had stayed behind would never really understand.

They were expected to meld back into civilian life in a country that had changed, in a body & mind that had also changed. How could they settle into the old routines, when they had lived an alien life for so many years? How many of them found it hard to carry on, knowing what they had been, dreading what they might still be – taught to kill & maim, and then expected to nurture a family?

It was an era when ‘men were men’, and they didn’t talk about their feelings – they bottled them up and tried to go on, except perhaps when they ‘hit the bottle’ in an attempt to forget.

Andrew’s was just one of many suicides during and after the war, but fortunately one of the few that had had his story told openly and compassionately. So many suicides were clothed in secrecy – to protect the image of the ‘hero’; to protect their families; to hide the shame.


Andrew was buried in the style of a military funeral, his mates wearing service dress and providing the firing party. The Last Post sounded over the Inglewood Cemetery on the 4th of July, where he now rests in peace; though sadly, no tombstone marks his grave.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2010


The Malcolm Quartet

blog-0104616001401502670.jpgEven when trawling through the death, destruction, and overwhelming sadness that was the Great War – occasionally you touch on something that brings a smile to your face and lightens your heart. This photo did this for me.

Immediately I wanted to know more about this happy foursome, and even though I read in the photo caption on the AWM website that they all returned safely home, I felt compelled to delve further.

The Malcolm siblings were four of five. The eldest being Norman (left of photo), whose twin brother Harold was the only one who didn’t enlist. The twins were born in the Victorian country town of Kerang in 1881, the year following the marriage of their parents Henry and Mary. We then have Stella also born in Kerang in 1886; resting on her shoulder is Eric, the baby of the family, born in 1895 and finally Edith born in 1891. Edith and Eric were both born in Hamilton.

Norman was the first to enlist in May 1916 – a married man, his first child was born that same year. Leaving the Civil Service where he’d been employed as a Surveyor & draughtsman, he worked his way up from Cpl to 2nd Lieut; his training including six months in the Engineers Officers Training School at Roseville. Finally in mid-1917, Norman sailed to England with the 9th reinforcements of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. He joined his unit in France in October and was promoted to Lieutenant in the December. During his time with the Pioneers, he spent some time in the instruction of NCO’s in various courses including Knotting & Lashing, and Bridging (Trestles). Towards the end of the European winter, in February 1918, Norman was suffering with Pyrexia and Bronchitis. After months in hospital he was returned to England in the May, and shipped home the following month with fibrosis of the lung – his war over.

In 1919 Norman was appointed a member of the Closer Settlement Board, and continued in this capacity after they become the Closer Settlement Commission in 1933, until at least 1938. During this time he dealt with the purchasing of properties under the Soldier Settlement and Closer Settlement acts. He was also a member of the Great Ocean Road Trust, who oversaw the building of the world’s largest memorial – a memorial to Victorian soldiers built by returned soldiers.

Dying at the relatively young age of 66, Norman was cremated at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery on the 21st of July 1948, and his ashes rest in the Agonis garden beneath a rose. His wife Elinor joined him there in 1963.

Stella also enlisted in 1916, as a Staff nurse with the AANS (Australian Army Nursing Service). After 3 months of home service at No. 5 AGH (Australian General Hospital) in Melbourne, she sailed for England on the 6th December, disembarking at Plymouth in February 1917, and by the end of that month was in France. She was first posted to the 2nd General Hospital at Rouen, before being transferred to the 3rd AGH in the July. The rest of her time in France alternated between Australian Casualty Clearing Stations & General Hospitals, with fairly generous amounts of leave during this time. It wasn’t until just over a month after the armistice that Stella was promoted to the status of Sister. Finally returning to London in the March of 1919, Stella departed England on the 8th May on board the HMAT Devanha, arriving in Melbourne on the 23rd of July.

In 1923 she applied for assistance to undertake a course in Midwifery. Never having married, Stella died in 1964, age 78. She too was cremated at the Springvale Cemetery, and her ashes scattered in the grounds.

Both Edith and Eric joined the war effort in the May of 1917.

Eric had been educated at Melbourne University & pursued the career of an Orchardist. His pre-war training included 2 years as a Lieutenant with the Senior Cadets and 3 years as a sapper with the 7th Field Company Engineers, before receiving his appointment with the AIF on the 1st of May. He sailed on the Ulysses in December, as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 33rd Reinforcements of the Field Artillery. Changing ships, and travelling via Egypt, Italy & France, he finally disembarked in England mid way through February 1918. Eventually returning to France in the May, he was taken on strength with the 8th Field Artillery Brigade, and promoted to Lieutenant the following month. Just days before armistice Eric was sent on leave to the UK, but returned to his unit in France in the December. He began his journey home in the July of 1919 on board the Wiltshire, and his appointment was terminated in the September.

With his wife Alice, he lived in Warragul in 1937, and then Mornington in 1940, at which time he enlisted in the Second World War as a Recruiting Officer, until 1944. During the war the family had moved to Corio, before eventually moving to West Australia, where they were resident in Collie from at least 1949-1954. Eric’s trail then goes cold.

Edith enlisted 3 days after Eric. She had completed her 3 years of nursing training at the Alfred Hospital, and like Stella, she joined the AANS as a Staff Nurse. Embarking on the Mooltan mid June, she was eventually destined for Salonika, where she was posted to the 66th General Hospital at the end of July. From here she was transferred to the 42nd General Hospital in the November, where she remained until the July of 1918. Edith then found herself in the Convalescent Camp with anaemia. A month later a medical board pronounced her unfit for general service for 6 months and had her returned to Australia by the beginning of October. Although the war finished the following month, Edith wasn’t discharged until the 23rd of January 1919.

In 1927 Edith married veterinary scientist Ralph Bodkin KELLEY (OBE). Ralph had served through the war as an officer with the Veterinary Corps and the Light Horse. He had then been employed to train ‘rookie’ soldier settlers in the management of their livestock. Taking up a soldier settlement farm himself, he like many others failed to make ends meet, and acquired the job of managing livestock for the MMBW. In 1931, he was employed as an animal geneticist with the team that eventually became the CSIRO, and traveled extensively over the following years. Whether Edith and their son Brian traveled with him is not known. In 1935 the family was based in Sydney, and by 1954 in Queensland. Ralph died at Nambour in 1970, and was survived by Edith & Brian.


1. Norman Harty MALCOLM (1881 – 1948) – Lieut, 2nd Pioneers. 2. Stella Agnes Blyth MALCOLM (1886 – 1964) – Sister, AANS. 3. Edith Eileen MALCOLM (1891 – post 1970) – Staff Nurse, AANS. 4. Eric Hamilton MALCOLM (1895 – post 1954) – Lieut, 3rd Div Artillery. [AWM Photo PO3166.001]

Heather (Frev) Ford, 2010


Cycling & War

blog-0886330001401250115.jpgMemorial to Francois Faber, inside the Basilica, Notre-Dame de Lorette


[Originally written early 2010 before my journey, the following has been slightly reworded today.]


July 2010 saw two European Tours that held great importance for me. Both began their journey in the Netherlands, traveling down through Belgium & France, where they culminated in the city of Paris.

The first began in Rotterdam on the 3rd July & was initially watched closely by myself, late at night on TV – this of course was ‘le Tour de France’. The second was the FFFAIF Western Front Commemorative Tour, and along with my FFFAIF Tour companions, I landed in Amsterdam 11 days later. As we made our way into Ypres, the Tour peleton (main bunch of riders), already half way through their journey, were pushing their tired bodies through the French mountains from Chambery to Gap.


Le Tour, which began in 1903 as a publicity stunt, continued each year thereafter, growing into the world’s greatest cycling race, only grinding to a halt during the years of 2 world wars. 1914 saw the last of the tour for 4 years, and the beginning of Australian participation. Victoria’s Duncan ‘Don’ Kirkham & Iddo ‘Snowy’ Munro began the race in Paris along with 143 co-riders, at 3am on the 28th June. While later that day 2000 kms away in Sarajevo, the ‘Black Hand’ set off the chain of events that culminated in the Great War, with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. During the next month the cyclists fought their own battles through the mountains & valleys of France, while the major powers sorted out their allegiances.


Two days after the Tour rolled across the line in Paris, with the 1913 winner, Belgian Philippe Thys having lead from start to finish, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia (28th July). This was followed by other declarations of war, including Germany declaring war on France on the 3rd of August and then Belgium on the 4th – which of course lead to Great Britain declaring war on Germany, and effectively bringing Australia into the mix.


Kirkham and Munro had proved that Australians could hold their own in a foreign country against all adversity, not only finishing the grueling race, but coming in 17th & 20th respectively. With the threat of war imminent, they had joined the exodus from France and returned to Australia, while many of their fellow cyclists went straight into the fray – some never to return.


Three well-known victims were Lucien Mazan (who rode as Petit-Breton), winner of the Tour in 1907 & 1908; Francois Faber, winner in 1909 (& 2nd 1908 & 1910); and Octave Lapize, winner in 1910 (the only one of 6 Tours that he had finished).

Faber was the first of the three to give his life. A member of the French Foreign Legion, he was killed on the 9th May 1915 in the Battle of Artois. Lapize, who served as a fighter pilot, was shot down on the 28th June 1917, and died from his injuries on the 14th of July. Petit-Breton also lost his life in 1917 when he crashed into an oncoming car on the 20th December at Troyes, having already lost his younger brother Anselme in the June of 1915.


Another French Tour cyclist to make the ultimate sacrifice was one of the Alavoine brothers, Henri, who died on the 19th July 1916. Henri had never made it to the podium, as had his brother Jean (including 3rd place in 1914), but had managed a 25th place in the 1913 Tour.


After Kirkham and Munro had returned to Australia, Munro twice attempted to join the AFC, but was rejected because of his feet – they were simply “to flat for flying!” (His son however, who was not so flat-footed was accepted to serve during WW2.)

With the lack of cycling events due to the war, Kirkham opted to take up farming until racing resumed. Meanwhile his older brother, Malcolm, chose to leave his farm to enlist in the Light Horse in the June of 1915. Rising through the ranks, ‘Mac’, as he was known, was a Lieutenant in the 59th Battalion when he was killed by a shell on the 2nd September 1918, in the action near Peronne. As the 2010 Tour began its leisurely final stage into Paris on the 25th July, I and my fellow battlefield enthusiasts were setting out on our 2 day exploration of the Peronne area, and ‘Mac’ was uppermost in my mind.


A year into the war, one keen Victorian cyclist decided to use this preferred means of transport, to cross the Australian continent from Darwin to Adelaide to enlist. Admittedly, he was also using this exercise to try and break the cross-continent record set by his mate the previous year, and in which he himself had failed due to an injured ankle. Unfortunately, bike trouble upset Jack Fahey in his second attempt at the record, but he did finally make it to Adelaide where he married his sweetheart, and promptly enlisted on the 21/9/1915. Spr John Andrew Fahey (552) sailed with the No. 1 Mining Corps in February 1916, and probably never rode another bike for the duration of the war.


Bicycles had been used by the British military since at least 1885, with the other major powers soon following suit, and their usefulness was eventually realized during the Boer War (2nd).

The European and British armies incorporated Cycling units into their structure from the onset of the Great War, but Australia could not be swayed towards their value until 1916. As the AIF returned to Egypt from Gallipoli & the reorganization of units began, new Cyclist Companies were raised. Many of the original volunteers came from the Light Horse, and one of these was Pte Thomas James Robinson (2061) who joined the 4th Div Cyclists from the 3rd LH Regt. Pte Robinson returned to Australia in 1919 and followed a professional career as a cyclist, competing against such greats as Hubert Opperman – only putting aside his wheels at the age of 66. (Living until 2001, age 104, he was known as the ‘Last Light Horseman’.)


The Cycling units were yet another form of mounted infantry, without the high maintenance associated with the horse, nor the suitability to the heavy desert sands of the camel – and so they were destined for the Western Front.

Cyclist training included scouting and reconnaissance, but for most of the war small parties of the men found themselves being ‘detached’ all over the country on a plethora of odd jobs. As well as despatch riders, patrolling & signaling, these included general work parties, POW guards, burial parties, repair gangs, salvage work, loading & unloading supplies, assisting local farmers with their harvest, traffic control, cable laying etc etc etc.

There were also times when they left their bikes in safe keeping & took their part in the frontline trenches as Infantrymen. This endless list of detachments gives some idea of how unnecessary the Cyclists were as a unit in static warfare, and yet how useful they were to the general support of the Army overall.

Although a lot of their work kept them from much of the fighting, they still faced their share of danger, which of course resulted in casualties.


The first Australian Cyclist to lose his life on the Western Front was L/Cpl Clifton Gordon Leslie (947), who was unlucky enough to re-enter his dugout during a German bombardment on the 30th October 1916 – just as it was blown to smithereens. L/Cpl Leslie is buried in the Bernafay Wood British Cemetery, Montauban, France.

It’s believed that the very first British soldier to be killed in action on the Western Front was a 16 year old cyclist, John Parr. He was operating as an advance scout, when he met with the enemy and was shot on the 21st August 1914. Buried by the Germans, this young lad who lied about his age to enlist, can be found in the Saint Symphorien Cemetery, Belgium.


Although the Tour riders of today ride far more sophisticated bikes and travel under better conditions than those of earlier days, and of those from the Cyclist Corps – there are still some things that never change. Pushing uphill on a bike still takes a lot of strength & willpower (even with fancy gears); staying upright on thin tyres over cobble-stoned streets & icy roads still takes a lot of skill – and there will always be unsuspected obstacles:

Tour riders have often battled collisions with spectators & stray dogs, sometimes resulting in the same situation as Ptes Allan Foster McConnell (4557) & Charles Robert Richardson (4884), who found themselves badly bruised & shaken, and their cycles unrideable, after a collision with a shying horse. Sadly Pte McConnell was later blinded by an explosion, but married a nursing aide and returned to Australia, raised a family, and lived to the ripe old age of 93. At the end of 1916 Richardson was also badly wounded and returned to Australia in 1917 for discharge.


Pte John Green (1053) luckily escaped injury when his rifle detached from its carrier & ripped out some of his wheel spokes. Similarly, although it’s unlikely to rip out spokes, the damage to bike and Tour rider can be quite severe when a discarded ‘feed bag’ becomes entangled in a wheel, sending them crashing to the ground.

And then there’s always that slight touch of two wheels when riders are close together in a bunch. Many a Tour rider has come a cropper, often bringing others down with him when this has occurred – an ‘accepted accident’ amongst riders today. But typical of the larrikin Digger, apparently it was a favourite pastime of the Cyclists to nudge the wheel of their officer, in the hope of seeing him fly into a roadside ditch.

Although this wasn’t the case with L/Cpl Henry George Manson (4546) in July 1916, when in a tight situation, his wheel clipped that of the rider in front sending himself sideways under the wheel of a passing lorry. Even though it contacted both legs, he was lucky to recover after only a month in hospital, but transferred to his original battalion (14th Bn) after recovery, only to be KIA at Bullecourt on the 11/4/17. Manson, who is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, left behind a widow and son.


On a lighter note, Pte William Smith (1994) was the catalyst for an impromptu battalion swim, after both he & his bike plunged into a canal whilst riding to St Omer in July 1917. (At the very time when Le Tour should have been in full swing) Pte Smith was retrieved safe & sound, and returned home that way in 1919.

Not so lucky was Pte Percy Norman (1335), the last Australian Cyclist to die before wars end. Percy ‘accidentally’ drowned when he rode into the canal on the 17th October 1918. His body was later retrieved and buried in the St Pierre Cemetery, Amiens.


Another late war death was New Zealander, John ‘Jack’ Arnst. Jack had never ridden the Tour de France nor served in the Cyclist Corps, but he was a champion cyclist, known in both NZ & Australia. Serving with the Canterbury Regt, NZEF, he was killed in action at Bapaume on the 25th August 1918, being buried at Grevillers British Cemetery.

John Parr (mentioned earlier) may have been the first British soldier killed in action on the Western Front, but interestingly one of the last British soldiers killed in the war was also a Cyclist. Pte Edward Sullivan, had served since 1914, and was a Lewis Gunner in the 7th Corps Cyclist Battalion, when he was killed the day before Armistice, on the 10th of November 1918. He too is buried in Belgium, in the Irchonwelz Communal Cemetery.


With the war over, 1919 saw the resumption of le Tour de France, which was welcomed back by its hosts with even greater enthusiasm than earlier years. The war ravaged country needed some form of enjoyable diversion after so much heartache and bleakness, and although racing bikes and equipment were incredibly scarce, they managed to make do.

Since its inception, Tour founder Henri Desgrange was always looking for ways to make the Tour tougher for the riders, but also more interesting for the spectators. The race leader was hard to spot tucked up in the bunch, especially in 1919 when due to lack of dyes after the war, all participants were dressed in grey. So when part way through the race, one of the race directors came up with the idea of a yellow jersey to be awarded to the leader, Desgrange jumped at the idea. And so ‘le maillot jaune’ (the yellow jersey) was born, and it was first awarded to Frenchman Eugene Christophe on the rest day after the 10th stage. Eugene’s Tours were constantly dogged by bad luck, and he never actually managed to win one, however, he had been lucky enough to have survived the war – though it did “take the best years of his life”. Eventually taking the lead from him and winning ‘yellow’ for 1919, was Belgian, Firmin Lambot – making it 2 Belgian riders that ‘book-ended’ the First World War. The Belgians then continued to dominate until 1923 when France at last reclaimed her race.


Another that had survived the war was the Italian, Ottavio Bottecchia, who had served for some time in a Cycling unit. Having turned professional after the war, he went into his first Tour de France in 1923, finishing second. The following year he became the first Italian to win the Tour, and then followed this up with another win in 1925. Unfortunately his career was cut short 5 days before the start of the 1927 Tour, when he was found dead near his bike – under (violent &) mysterious circumstances.

The Australians didn’t return to the Tour until 1928, when a team of 4, including Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman, who had been greatly helped in his training by ‘Don’ Kirkham, managed to finish an impressive 12th.


As my own Tour took me on my (second) battlefields journey through the beautiful countryside of Belgium and France, I soaked up the spirit of the great Aussie Battlers, who have cycled their way into history through war & peace, and in doing so, have earned the respect of many. Vive le Tour!


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2010, 2014


Lewis Yelland Andrews, OBE

blog-0860245001401173902.jpgHornsby Memorial photo taken by Scott (aka Waddell - GWF)


I first came across Lewis Yelland ANDREWS while researching Capt Gerald MASSON (9th LH), who had married AANS Staff Nurse Jessie ANDREWS in Egypt in March 1919. Gerald & Jessie had stayed behind in Palestine after the war and in 1921 while working with the Palestine Civil Service, Gerald inquired after his medals, mentioning that co-worker L.E. Andrews [sic] had received his 1914-15 Star that morning. Being curious, I wondered whether Lewis and Jessie might be related. I failed to find a connection, but my interest in Lewis Andrews increased after I discovered that he had been assassinated on his 41st birthday in 1937.


Lewis Andrews had been born in Ashfield, NSW, and grew up in the Hornsby district, attending school at Gordon. He had then gone on to become a Stenographer in a Sydney counting house, before enlisting in the 1st Light Horse in November 1914, at the age of 18. In Egypt he was attached to the Camel Transport Corps (CTC) as a Company Quartermaster Sergeant, and received a Mention In General Maxwell’s Despatches in March 1916. Later that year when the Egyptian CTC were recruiting for Officers, Andrews and others in a similar situation, applied for discharge from the AIF to take up commissions in the Egyptian Army.


The Camel Transport Corps took over from the mechanical & horse-drawn wheeled transport, when more practical in the heavy sand and mud of the desert. The corps consisted of Australian & British companies. The companies were made up of between 500 and 2000 camels, which were loaded, driven & generally looked after by native Egyptians, but commanded by Imperial & Australian Officers & NCOs. These camel trains were crucial in supplying the Light Horse and other Allied units that were scattered throughout the deserts of the Sinai & Palestine. The Egyptian CTC, which followed a similar structure to the CTC, was initially to cater to the Egyptian and British armies who were garrisoning the far reaches of Egypt and the Sudan.


After joining the Egyptian CTC, Andrews served for a time as an adjutant to Major Norman Bentwich, who described him as showing “qualities of courage, brightness, and resourcefulness which were bound to carry him far.” And true to nature, Andrews eventually “commanded a company, and took his camels right through to Syria,” and by the end of the war had risen to the rank of Captain.

With the war over, Andrews & Gerald Masson joined the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration staff (OETA). The OETA had been formed with the British occupation of Palestine and Syria, and was to continue until the 1st of July 1920, when it was replaced by a civil administration. The new Civil Government was formed under Sir Herbert Samuel as the first High Commissioner of Palestine, and many of his immediate staff had served with high distinction through the war. One of these being Norman Bentwich, who had taken on the roll of Senior Judicial Officer in the military administration, and was to continue as Attorney General in the civil service.


Bentwich therefore continued his association with his former adjutant Andrews, and his praise for him was endless: “His advance in a small service was exceptionally rapid. Not only did he make himself fluent in both Arabic and Hebrew, but he won in remarkable degree the confidence of his superior officers and of Jews and Arabs equally in the happier days when that was still possible.” Andrews rose from a District Officer to an Assistant District Commissioner, to Deputy Director of the newly formed Department of Development in 1930, eventually taking over as Director. He was awarded an OBE in 1929.

Bentwich went on to say that Andrews “gained steadily in experience and authority, but never lost those qualities of courage, merriness, and resourcefulness which marked his youth. Everybody liked him and trusted him, knowing his Yea was Yea and his Nay was Nay. Whenever there was a hard task requiring both local knowledge and firmness Andrews was chosen.”

Another who knew Andrews well was Sir Stewart Symes, late Governor of the Northern District and Chief Secretary to the Government of Palestine. They had worked closely together in the early days, especially during the period 1920-25, and Symes also thought highly of the ‘young’ Andrews:

“An instinct led him unerringly to the centre of any disturbance, political or other. Once arrived, his personality quietly asserted itself until such time as his shrewd wits had discovered the practical measures to be taken. With him decision and action were nearly simultaneous processes, and he handled men with the same easy mastery as he rode his horses or drove a car across difficult country in all weathers.”


All seemed to agree that the outrageous murder of Andrews, who had recently been appointed the District Commissioner of Galilee, was not only a loss to family, friends & colleagues, but also a great loss to Palestine and its people. Andrews had been well aware that he was a ‘target’, having received various death threats after the active measures he’d taken to suppress disturbances the previous year. As a result he had employed a body guard. British Constable, Peter Robertson McEwan, had almost completed his term of service, and was soon to leave for New Zealand to marry. However, on the Sunday morning of Andrews’ 41st Birthday, the 26th September 1937, he was still very much on duty.


Along with the assistant District Commissioner, Pirie Gordon, the pair had just exited the doors of the English Church at Nazareth where Andrews was a church-warden, when the assassins struck. Andrews yelled for Pirie Gordon to run for it, and he managed to escape. However, the three Arab terrorists fired on Andrews and his protector, bringing them both down. Andrews was hit from point blank range in the head, chest and stomach, while McEwan received bullets to the head and shoulder.

Both men were buried the next day in the Protestant cemetery outside Jerusalem. The funeral was attended by Government officers and officials as well as representatives of both the Jewish and Arab communities. A detachment of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment was responsible for according them military honours, and many wreaths were received from the Jewish colonies in Galilee.


In 1922 Andrews had married Maude Elizabeth KIRKHAM and they had 3 children (2 daughters Georgina & Diana & a son). At the time of his death his family was safe in England where the children were at school. As the widow of a Government official, Maude was eligible for one year’s pay and 240 pounds pension. However, after complaints from official circles it was decided in the House of Commons that the family would receive special compensation. As a result Mrs Andrews was awarded 350 pounds per annum pension, with a further 60 pounds for each of the children until the age of 18. In addition, under the Palestine Pensions Ordinance, a gratuity of 1,400 pounds was payable to Andrews’ estate, along with small gratuities to his children.

Lewis Andrews had gone to war for his country, Australia, and never returned – but it was his adopted home, Palestine, that he gave his life for.



1. Lewis Yelland ANDREWS (1896-1937) was the son of Albert Edward ANDREWS & Georgina CLEMENTS. Brother, Herbert Harold (1898-1957), Pte 713, 2nd Div HQ 1916-19.

2. Gerald MASSON returned to Australia in 1944 after 24 years spent in the Palestinian Government. He died in Adelaide 30/9/1963.

3. Norman de Mattos BENTWICH, who himself had survived an assassination attempt in 1929, died in England in 1971. Charles Harry Clinton PIRIE GORDON died in 1969.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2009



Many soldiers traveled half way around the world to do their bit for the war effort and then died in silly accidents. Violet Ann Robertson wasn’t a soldier of course – but she was a soldier’s widow, and her death in England in 1917, was as much a tragedy as her husband’s had been 2 years earlier at Gallipoli.


Violet’s parents Frances & Harry Chapman had both hailed originally from England, but had married in Australia in 1867. One of ten surviving children, Violet, who was also known by the family as ‘Dearwah’, had been born in the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale in 1885, and was just four years old when she lost her father. Her mother never remarried.

In 1909 at the age of twenty-four, Violet married Alexander John Robertson. Two years her senior, he had been born in Bundalaguah in country Victoria. A Melbourne University graduate, with a Bachelor of Mining Engineering and a Master of Science, he had also been a member of the University Rifle Club and completed four years in the Victorian Cadets.


Alexander was working in Western Australia, as a Mining Engineer & Geologist with the WA Mines Department, when he made the decision to enlist in the AIF in 1915. After passing through Officer Training School in March & April, he embarked at Fremantle on the A2 Geelong on the 6th June 1915, sailing as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 6th reinforcements of the 11th Battalion.

Not wasting any time, the reinforcements were sent via Egypt straight to Gallipoli. Alexander and his men reported for duty on the 4th August, and were immediately thrown into a fight for their lives. Their battalion had just captured a Turkish position which they named Leane’s Trench, and on the morning of the 6th the Turks threw everything into regaining it back. Alexander led his platoon in the defense but luck and ‘experience’ failed him. It was noted in “Game to the Last”: “As ‘near as I can make out, he was hit in the head by a piece of bomb exploding in the trench; he then got up on the parapet and emptied his revolver into the oncoming enemy…..From the time he jumped on the parapet there was no hope for him, as Jacko was raining bullets into us’.”

Alexander was buried in the Shell Green Cemetery by Chaplain J.G. Robertson. (probably no relation)


Since Alexander had sailed, Violet had been living with her sister Lucy in Kew, Victoria, but in January 1916 she returned to Western Australia, possibly to tie up some loose ends. With no children to keep her in Australia, the following month she embarked on the Medina, and set sail for England. Her intention was to spend a couple of years there, and complete a course in nursing, preferably in one of the Australian hospitals as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment).


The Australian VADs mostly consisted of women from middle to upper class families who had the private means to travel overseas to help in the war effort. No doubt they had as many reasons for volunteering as the soldiers; those wanting to do their ‘bit’ for King & Country, others thinking only of helping their men, and then there would have been some who saw it as a chance to break away from the stifling conventions of the time and perhaps experience a little freedom, or even a little adventure. Possibly in Violet’s case, a small amount of survivor guilt may have even swayed her decision.

Living at Abingdon Court in Kensington, she found employment in the Coulter Hospital at No. 5 Grosvenor Square, London. This was a hospital which had been established in September 1915 by an American Mrs Charlotte Herbine, in a house lent to her by Sir Walpole Greenwell. With the generous help of American friends and large contributions from Lord Sandwich, who was the hospitals first president, Mrs Herbine ran the 100 bed hospital with Lady Juliet Duff as the commandant and Miss Baxter as matron.


These auxiliary hospitals were often set up in houses, schools, halls etc by various organizations such as the Red Cross and St Johns, or as in this case, by private individuals or groups with the means to do so.

Working in such a hospital, Violet may have escaped the type of hostility that could be encountered working as a VAD in a Military hospital. This was often the case when the VADs were seen as an extra burden by the trained nurses, who didn’t have the time to teach them even the simplest tasks. There was also a certain amount of jealousy if a VAD was referred to unwittingly as ‘nurse’ or ‘sister’ by the unbiased patients.


Violet did well at Coulter where she began as a wardsmaid. After passing her VAD examinations, she was appointed quartermaster and drug dispenser to the hospital, and later went on to become an assistant electrician. However, late in 1917 she was ready to move on from her hospital work, having qualified to go to France as a motor ambulance driver. But a twist of fate intervened.

Gunner Morris Stansmore, ex Light Horse, who was on furlo after his release from hospital, was teaching Violet to ride. It was Thursday the 29th of November, and they had been riding together around the fashionable bridle path, Rotten Row, in Hyde Park for about 45 minutes, when Violet suggested that they trot. She was riding astride, but Gnr Stansmore felt she had ‘bad hands’ with a horse, however he let her go and followed her. “She was at a hand gallop and went all right for about 50 yards when she sat up and pulled, but it had no effect. The corner at Victoria Gate was very sharp and dangerous and here the horse suddenly swerved, and Mrs Robertson was thrown on her head under the rail.”

Taken by army ambulance to the nearby St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, Violet failed to recover. The resulting inquest carried the verdict of accidental death on the 29th November 1917.


Gnr Stansmore, his furlo over, returned to Base on the 3rd December, only to go AWL 2 days later for a period of 3 days. No punishment was meted out for his transgression. Instead the charge was marked ‘dismissed medical grounds’; the leniency perhaps taking into account his possible feelings of guilt over the death of his pupil. He returned safely to Australia mid 1919, where he died in Melbourne in 1948.

Violet’s brother-in-law Captain Horace Stevens, a dentist with the 14th Field Ambulance, was detached from a training depot in Grantham and marched into Admin HQ in London the day after Violet’s death. It’s highly possible he had taken on the task of seeing to her affairs.


Violet and her husband now rest in separate countries, a world away from their homeland – but as her mother noted in sad and loving remembrance on the first anniversary of her death: “Both went to do their duty for their country.”



Quote 1: from “Game to the Last” by James Hurst

Quote 2: from an article in “The Times”, supplied by P. Wood & J. Strawbridge (UK)


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2009


A most unusual death

blog-0351567001400907961.jpgPhoto of J.H. Davies grave kindly supplied by Matt Smith, Australian War Graves Photographic Archive


John Henry DAVIES was born in Camberwell, London on the 10 December 1882. At the age of 29, mid-way through 1911 he married Louisa Constance BEAVAN, in the parish of West Ham. Louisa had been born and raised in the area, and there she remained, pregnant, in 1913 when John made the trip out to Australia. Joining the Royal Australian Navy on the 2nd last day of that year, John served as a Petty Officer and was stationed on Cerberus until just after the war broke out.


It appears that he may have been a seafarer long before this because on enlistment he was already adorned with tattoos. One of these depicted the American Eagle supporting the Union Jack & Stars & Stripes, which suggests he may have spent some time in America. With the outbreak of war, John found himself stationed back in London, if only for a short time, but perhaps long enough to see his wife and his new son James, who had been born earlier that year.


He was then transferred to the HMAS Sydney, and according to his records should have been on her during Australia’s first sea battle; the encounter with the SMS Emden. However, he is not listed in the original list of crew, nor the supplementary one that included those who had joined after 30/9/14 & before the battle on the 9/11/14. So, if he hasn’t been mistakenly left off the list, perhaps he hadn’t quite made the connection in time.


After the Emden encounter, the Sydney deposited the survivors aboard other ships at Colombo and then proceeded on to Malta. From here she was sent to patrol around Bermuda until well after John left her for his return to London. While stationed at the London Depot for almost a year, he received promotion to Gunner on the 9th of March 1916, and also spent time with his family. Once again he left behind a pregnant Louisa, as he embarked overland on the 1st day of 1917 to join up with the HMAS Brisbane in Malta.


The newly commissioned Brisbane didn’t reach Malta until the 4/2/17, a few weeks after John’s own arrival, and was then transferred to the Indian Ocean to join the hunt for the German raiders Wolf and Seeadler. Following this, she patrolled Australian waters June to September, and later the western Pacific until January 1918, after which she again returned to Australia. At the end of October she set sail for England, and was between Colombo & Aden when the war finished. She then side-tracked for a month spending the time with the Australian Destroyer Flotilla around Turkey, before eventually reaching England in the January of 1919. The following 3 months she was laid up at Portsmouth for a refit, and John again had the chance to see his wife and growing family; his previously unseen daughter Phyllis already a toddler by this stage. On the 17th April the Brisbane began her return trip to Australian waters, and for the third and last time John left behind a pregnant Louisa.


The Brisbane was still patrolling around Australia on the 1st of October 1919, when John left her for the depot ship Penguin, which had been berthed at Garden Island since 1909. From here he returned to Cerberus at the beginning of 1920, before finally being transferred to the HMAS Geranium on the 18th July. The Geranium was one of three ‘flower’ class sloops that had been transferred from the Royal Navy to the RAN in late 1919. (The 3 were also known by the nickname ‘herbaceous border’) Commissioned as the first RAN survey ship in early 1920, Geranium was carrying out survey work in Napier Broome Bay (W.A.), when John went ashore with a few others to shoot kangaroos. He became separated from the party, and an initial search found nothing. The day he went missing was the 1st of October 1920.


The area known by the aborigines as Pago, was quite isolated except for the Drysdale River Mission Station, which had been established in 1908 by a group of Spanish monks from the Benedictine order, with the intent of bringing Christianity to the local natives. The men from the Geranium managed to secure the services of a ‘black tracker’ from this station, ‘who pursued the tracks of the wandering gunner for over a week, through dense jungle, rocky creeks, and over sandy hills. The tracker was relentless and untiring and the party of armed officers and marines who followed, staggered on with sheer exhaustion, until the tracks of the lost gunner disappeared into the sea. He had apparently lain down by the edge of the water and had been seized by an alligator [crocodile] …………….’

The search was abandoned and the men returned to the ship, which had struck a reef during their absence and needed to find a dry dock for repairs. Before their help had been sort, the inhabitant’s of the mission which was run by Father Sosa, had not seen any other ‘white men’ for several years, and “were greatly interested when told by the sailors that the war had ended in favour of the Allies.”

Three weeks after he went missing, John’s badly mutilated (& half eaten) body was found by natives, in some long grass on the banks of the Drysdale River. He was buried in the Pago Mission Cemetery by the Benedictine monks.


John’s third and final child, a son named after him, would never see his father, and the older two would only have vague memories. It can only be wondered at whether their mother told them the true cause of their father’s unusual death. Louisa applied to the Navy for a War Gratuity, which would have been a single payment made according to specified rates and the length and type of war service. Whether it would have been substantial enough to ensure them any sort of a comfortable future can also only be wondered at.


When the HMAS Geranium returned to Napier Broome Bay the following year to carry out more survey work, they erected a wooden cross over John’s grave. The inscription read: “In memory of Gunner H. Davies, H.M.A.S. Geranium. Died Oct., 1920.” Returning yet again in 1925 it was decided that a more substantial monument should be erected, and in 1926 the wooden cross was replaced with a reinforced concrete cross, inlaid with lead lettering, that had been fashioned by the ship’s artisans.


Today the Mission Station is nothing but ruins. After being abandoned by the monks in 1936, it was apparently used during WW2 as a defence base, which resulted in it being bombed by the Japanese in 1943.

However, the small cemetery can still be found (usually by 4 wheel drive enthusiasts touring the Kimberley), with John’s concrete cross being the only surviving tombstone.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2009


blog-0654388001400814984.jpg“My God – a torpedo!” was the shout from a sentry. “We watched the line of death getting nearer until it crashed, and the whole ship reeled. Then the order was given, ‘The ship is sinking – abandon ship.’” A subaltern on board the Southland went on to say, “Without a cry or sign of fear, or more hurrying than on a brisk march, and singing ‘Australia Will Be There,’ the order was carried out.”


It was about 9.45 on the morning of the 2nd of September 1915, and the Southland had just encountered the German submarine UB14, under the command of Oberleutnant Heino von Heimburg. As part of the 6th Brigade convoy, she had left Alexandria 3 days before, carrying troops for the Gallipoli campaign, and was only about 65km south of the isle of Lemnos when hit.


Her contingent included the 21st Bn, B Coy of the 23rd, the 6th FAB, members of the 2nd DSC, as well as 6th Bde & 2nd Div Headquarters staff, a NZ Artillery unit and various other sundry details.


The convoy had been following a zigzag course all the way, the ‘torpedo guard’ on each ship keeping their eyes peeled for submarines. The Nile, carrying the 24th Bn and well ahead, had spotted the sub and managed to outrun it, the Scotian with the 22nd Bn on board also managed to dodge it, but the first the Southland knew of her predicament was the approaching torpedo.


Cpl J.D. Burns, author of the 1914 poem ‘For England’, observed that “None of the guards, I think, saw anything of the submarine, although some of them saw the torpedo coming. We had a 4.7 gun at the stern, and she fired once but without hitting the submarine, and I doubt even whether the gunner really saw her, although he said he only missed her by a yard.” Pte J. Piggott’s contribution to the picture was an impression of the gunner standing by his gun after the unsuccessful shot at the periscope, swearing because he had missed.


According to Pte Ernest Thomas, Captain Kelk gave the order “Hard astern”, and just stopped in time to prevent the torpedo striking the engine-room and boilers. A second torpedo luckily missed her altogether. The torpedo that found its mark, as noted by Pte Robert Norman of the 21st Bn “struck us in No. 2 hold, just in front of the bridge. Luckily, the hold was full of coal, and that had a lot to do with saving of the ship. I saw the coal and water fly up into the air about 30ft.”


George Langley, newly promoted to Captain that morning, was talking to Pte West as they stood up on the hatchway and watched helplessly as the torpedo struck just below them. Leaving a large hole in the port side and propelling deck stanchions right through the other side of the ship, it soon began to list. Thrown into the air, Langley then fell through the hatch into the bilge, which luckily for him was already filling with water, breaking his fall. Struggling hard in the rushing onslaught and choking on sulphurous fumes, he was grabbed by a 23rd Bn Private and dragged from the water. Back up on deck, battered and bleeding, he took charge of his men during the evacuation, until he later collapsed. Langley returned home in 1919 with a Serbian White Eagle, the DSO & 3 MIDs.


Not so lucky were the other men on the hatchway with Langley, who were also thrown into the air but landed hard on the deck. Pte Charles West received ankle injuries, and was sent to hospital in England, returning home in August 1916 with chronic gout. Pte John McLean, 42 years old and married, had his left ankle crushed and was returned to hospital in Alexandria the following month, rejoining his unit in January 1916.


At least nine men were killed in the initial explosion, and although the 23rd Bn took the brunt of it, a few 21st men suffered too. Pte Rowe had just walked away from the deck near the hatchway where he and Albert Heywood had been sitting. Sadly, Albert was almost blown beyond recognition, and was buried at sea later that day. Pte Arthur Healy, a 19 year old painter from Melbourne, was also killed and, his body was later recovered from the hold and buried at Lemnos with six 23rd Bn men. A further body found in the hold was that of Pte Oliver Holmes. The mate he was with when the torpedo struck, found it a mystery as to how he got there, his only theory being that he’d jumped overboard and been sucked in through the hole.


Cpl Robert Young and his mates were still down below packing their kits when they soon found themselves covered in water. Grabbing their lifebelts, they rushed to their boat stations which they’d been shown the day before. However, as the troops had been about to fall in for inspection and instruction, many were already on deck, and they actually had to race below for their lifebelts before returning to their allotted place.


While waiting their turn for a boat, some men removed their puttees and boots just incase they had to take to the water, others started collecting loose timber and anything else that might float. Many ‘had to stand for nearly two hours on the enclosed promenade deck, on what during the first 30 or 40 minutes was believed to be a sinking ship.’

The Chief Engineer went about his work shutting off the bulkheads to make No. 2 hold watertight, and also closed many portholes. Kelk set a fine example as ship’s Captain: He was smoking a cigarette when the torpedo hit us. He just walked sedately up and down his beat on the bridge until we were all off the ship, and he never stopped smoking.

General Legge, in command of the 2nd Division, stayed on the boat deck where all could see him and called for his cane and spurs. Coolly he put on his spurs, lit a cigarette, and leaned over the rail. It was to give his men confidence. His chief of staff, Colonel Gwynn, beloved by all Duntroon College boys, joined him there, and they remained calmly watching the proceeding till the end. Legge & his 2nd Division staff were eventually taken off the Southland by the hospital ship Neuralia.

The medical officer of the 21st Bn, Capt J.P. Fogarty organized for the sick bay to be cleared, and made sure that these men and the other injured, where in the first boats to be launched.


The crew

Unfortunately the Southland was mostly manned by a scratch crew, picked up in Egypt, and described by Capt Langley as an unimpressive lot. Many of them, stokers especially, rushed the first boats and caused havoc. Cpl Ivor Williams states in his diary that he saw the bodies of “two of the crew who had been shot for looting”.

However, one crew member ‘an old sailor’ was badly injured while working hard to lower the boats. As one of the davit ropes kept jamming in the pulley block, he set out to put it right, and as the boat was raised clear, it swung heavily outwards crushing him against the davit. He fell unconscious and was lifted into the boat before it was lowered to the water.


In the water

Col Richard Linton, Commander of the 6th Bde was in one of the first boats lowered. Unfortunately it was soon overturned, and being a strong swimmer, Linton decided to remain in the water, allowing others to take his place in the boats. However, many hours later when he was finally taken on board the French destroyer Massuo, the shock & exposure had proved too much and his heart gave out. Surviving him was his son Robert who was rescued by the Neuralia.


Pte Norman, with his mate Charlie, watched as one boat reached the water and turned over, and “The next boat was let down by only one end, and shot most of the chaps into the sea. That was enough for me. We took off our boots, putties, and tunics, and went astern, where we threw over some of the hatchway and slid down a rope to them.” He later managed to climb aboard one of the canvas boats, which needed constant ‘bailing’ to keep it afloat for another 3 hours before being picked up. Pte Norman was discharged mid 1917 after being wounded in France.

Signalers Keith Allard & Rex Moffat also watched the above incident from their separate positions in the water. Keith described it as a sight he would never forget, when the dangling boat then went crashing down onto its previous occupants floundering in the water below. Both being strong swimmers, Keith & Rex, who’d joined the 2nd DSC together, had volunteered to jump from their overcrowded boat before it was completely lowered. “As soon as we struck the water we got separated somehow, and the last I saw of Rex he was swimming towards the boat a bit ahead of me; then a chair or something hit me from above, and when I had sufficiently recovered my nut I was a long way from it, so resigned myself to a swim…..”

Keith spied another boat in the distance and made for it: “Eventually I reached it, about a mile or so from the ship, and got hauled in, although I don’t remember that; I was feeling a bit goosed. However, after five minutes spell, I got on to an oar and started to row. Not that we wanted to row anywhere, but just to keep head on to the waves and keep the water down. It was a collapsible boat, and lived up to its name admirably and collapsed frequently.”


Lieutenant H.A. Crowther observed that “The boats were lowered from the davits full of men. This was one of the reasons for them jamming, a situation that had proved ill for the old sailor’, and an alternative way of freeing them had been to cut the ‘falls’. This left us without tackle to lower the canvas collapsibles from the boat deck on top. However, the ship’s officers were regular Trojans, and we rigged bridles and got them down somehow, chiefly by brute force.”

As the first of these rafts began to drift away, Pte Geoffrey Smith of the 21st Bn, distinguished himself by diving from the deck and hauling it back to the ship for the men to climb down into. Smith died in December that year from wounds received at Gallipoli.


Pte Harold Close from Bendigo was one of those that had avoided the life boats. “Some of the crew seemed to lose their heads, and the boats were managed terribly; they got overcrowded, and some were upset. I never tried to get into a lifeboat, as they were overcrowded, so I made for the collapsible boats, and after helping to get off two or three of them I got into one by sliding down a rope.”

Unfortunately, after recovering from wounds received at Gallipoli later that month, Harold’s luck ran out and he was killed by a bomb, only months after his arrival on the Western Front.

Another that helped launch some of these collapsible boats was Cpl J.D Burns. When he finally took his place in one, he noted “It was a fine afternoon, and the sea had not appeared rough from the deck of the steamer. From our little boat, however, the aspect differed considerably. We pitched and tossed most frightfully, and all we could do was to keep her head on to the wind. I took an oar as long as I could, but it wasn’t long before I got miserably seasick, and I am afraid I was helpless from then on until we were picked up.”

Sixteen days later, James Burns was dead, shot through the head at Gallipoli, and buried in the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery.


John McClure, a stud groom from Newbridge was on guard duty and had missed his allotted boat, so he eventually donned a lifebelt and took to the water. About 2½ hours later he was picked up by the Ben My Chree. “We did look sights, some naked and some nearly so.” He later went on to win the DCM at Mt St Quentin in 1918, returned to Australia in 1919, and lived to the ripe old age of 80.

Ben Esposito, who went on to win a military medal the following year at Mouquet Farm, found himself floundering in the water after the boat he was in capsized. He managed to make it back to the ship, and unprepared to tempt fate again, stripped, before securing his place in another boat. His mate Lawrence Mahon from Essendon & another man, William Copeland, a Boer War Vet, who’d also been on the capsized boat, weren’t so lucky and both drowned.


Another that drowned was Lindsay Adams. His brother Reg had last seen him in a boat with his lifebelt on and presumed he’d be safe. Reg himself had initially been in the ill-fated boat that upended its occupants and then crashed on to them below. Realizing how crowded it was, he’d returned to the deck only moments before. Unlike Reg, Pt Henry Bowen had stayed on board the life boat until it tipped him out, and he disappeared after hitting the water. Henry’s brother Walter was also on the Southland, but on a different part of the ship, and unaware of Henry’s fate.

The Sloan brothers, James & Thomas from Scotland both drowned – but in their case, the reports vary greatly as to how. Thomas O’Byrne was another that went to the bottom of the sea, Sgt Albert Baulch saw him jump overboard, never to be seen again.


Pte James Bruce “was on a collapsible raft and saw at a distance of about 30 yards another boat, in which I identified Privates Best and Dockery. Owing to the boat being overcrowded they appeared to be in difficulties. I saw Pte. Best bailing with his hat. A few minutes afterwards I saw the boat overturn. This was the last I saw of Ptes. Best and Dockery.” Pte William Broadhurst had actually been on the boat with Best and Dockery, and he added that: “When the boat capsized, Best got caught underneath and was drowned with several others, Dockery and 2 or 3 I did not know.”

Pte Clyde Richardson related how he “was on deck and heard Pte. Morgan call out, and on looking into the water I saw Pte. Morgan hanging to a rope which was suspended from the ship. I heard him cry out ‘Help me boys, I am settled’. He immediately released his hold of the rope and I saw no more of him.”

With the exception of 2 (on the Lone Pine Memorial), the Australian troops that were lost or buried at sea are commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli.


The Volunteer Stokers

About an hour and a half after being hit, with the ship close to empty and the sea strewn with boats, debris and men, the Captain realized there was a chance she might continue to float. He called for volunteer stokers, and someone asked the chief engineer “Is it good enough?” “I don’t give it much chance,” was the reply, “but I’ve a wife and kids and it’s good enough for me.” Nineteen men, headed by Capt Nelson Wellington of the 21st Bn decided to chance it. Nelson received the Legion of Honour for his work that day.

Lieutenant Crowther who went on to amass a plethora of awards throughout the war, took nine men down the stoke hold and confessed “my knees were very wobbly, but someone had to give the men a lead.” L/Cpl Ahearn also noted that “Some of the volunteers felt a ‘bit off’ as they went down the long succession of ladders and passed the gratings, but it was only for a few seconds, and then they set to.”


The men worked hard for an hour and twenty minutes before they managed to get the ship operational, all the time contending with the uncertainty of their fate, brought to bear even more when the ship changed her list. Ahearn explained how “The fires were down, and there was no water in the glasses; but we followed the engineer’s orders, and nine of us took on 32 fires. Steam had been down – only showing 70lb – hardly enough to keep one pump going. It was awfully hot down there, but our only hope was to keep moving. We kept the pumps going, and got steam up to 200lb, which enabled the engineers to get the ship under way. We had the engines going when a relief party of stokers came aboard. I was never so glad to see a sailor in all my life.”

Leaving the rest to the experts, the volunteers returned to deck where they found themselves surrounded by rescue ships, and a beaming Captain Kelk assuring them “She is going to last, boys.” They broke into laughter with the relief of being back in the open, and laughed even more after becoming aware of their appearances: “A ****** glee-party was not in it with us.” They then proceeded to accept the ship’s company’s grateful hospitality, dining in the saloon on a veritable picnic of chicken and ‘heaps of good stuff.’


Ships to the rescue

The hospital ship Neuralia was first to the rescue, and on board was Capt Frank Apperly, an Australian doctor in the RAMC who was able to take several photos. “…we found the ship in a sinking condition, and all the sea strewn with boats and rafts, crammed with soldiers, who cheered and sang songs as we drew near.” “The more and more one sees of the Australian troops the more and more one feels proud of them.” Daisy Richmond, an AANS nurse on the Neuralia, had been preparing the wards ready for the injured, but as the survivors clambered aboard, she went down to greet them, and shook hands with each & every one, Keith Allard amongst them. As Frank Apperly began plying the troops with brandy, Bovril (beef tea) & dry clothes, he soon discovered that there were several among them that he knew, ‘old Wesley boys’.


The seaplane carrier, the Ben-My-Chree was another in the area that answered the SOS. Allard’s mate Rex Moffat was one of the 694 troops rescued by her. He saw the war out and married an English lass in 1919, before returning home to start a family, while Keith was invalided home early 1916 with Neurasthenia.


The Haverford, carrying the majority of the 23rd Bn, as well as members of the 6th Field Ambulance, was steaming 2 hours behind the Southland and had been narrowly missed by a torpedo herself. The men on board had earlier discussed the Southland’s fate because she was carrying Headquarters, and had come to the conclusion ‘that if any were to be torpedoed she would be the one, as she carried the brains, or most of them.’ Standing to their posts with lifebelts on, they eventually managed to help in the rescue effort by picking up a couple of boatloads of their comrades. Capt Frederick Johnson of the 6th Fld Amb made the following observation:

“We slowed down as we came up, but missed some of the boats, as no rope was thrown out to them. They drifted past us, calling out ‘Don’t you want us?’ and another wag added, ‘We’ve just been fishing.’ In another boat they were singing ‘Here We Are Again.’ All were more or less merry, including the injured, for some had their hands torn with sliding down the ropes; others had got under the capsized boats, and had a struggle to get out, especially if they had the lifebelts on; others got cuts on the head etc. We had four, pretty seedy, on board this boat. One died soon after we got him into hospital this morning, but he had a throat just like a diphtheria patient.”..Capt Johnson lost his own life on the Peninsula a few months later.


Mudros Harbour, Lemnos

The Southland, escorted by the destroyer HMS Racoon, reached the isle of Lemnos under her own steam. Lieut Crowther proudly noted ‘we brought her into harbour in triumph at 9 o’clock that night, and ran her straight on the beach.’

The various rescue ships transferred the majority of the troops to the Transylvania, were they rested, regrouped, and re-equipped. Unfortunately, “the crew went back to their ship on Friday morning, and looted all the officers and soldiers’ kits, stealing razors, etc. But most of the kit was recovered, including part of Pte Norman’s uniform; “ I left my tunic on deck when I went over the side, and all they took were my badges.”


Pte William Stewart died on the Friday on board the Neuralia, from internal injuries he’d received the day before, and was buried at sea. Along with most of the men, Pte Norman soon recovered: “It took us two or three days to get over the shock, and I am feeling fit and well again now. A lot of the chaps are still very bad; their nerves are gone. Some of the worst cases went back to Alexandria by hospital ship tonight.”

Thomas Ainsworth was one of these, he embarked at Suez on the 17th of the month for return to Australia, suffering a dilated heart & bronchitis.

Pte Fred Jenkins, a school teacher from Bendigo was a little worse for wear after his experience.

“All the chaps proceeded to the front a few days later with those on the other transports, but a few of us, with minor injuries, have been in hospital tents for a week. I was right at the gun when our man fired at the submarine, and what with a couple of hours in the water, I got a good shaking up. An abscess formed inside my right ear, and I am practically deaf in it now. The doctors thought they would have to operate, but after several days it all discharged through my ear, and since then I’m just about right.”

Fred walked away from the war in 1919 as a 2nd Lieutenant, with a Military Medal, a Military Cross & Bar.

About six weeks after the Southland disaster, Pte Patrick McDonough’s body washed ashore at Mudros, and he was buried with his other 23rd Bn mates in the East Mudros Cemetery. His brother Christopher of the 21st Bn, survived both the Southland and the war.



In September 1922, Southland survivors of the 21st Bn held a smoke night at Sargent’s Café in Melbourne. The Rev D. Macrae Stewart who had been their padre, addressed the men and imparted how; “Just before the Southland was struck, he was saying to a companion that it was an ideal spot for a yachting cruise. Then ‘Fritz’ chipped in, and for the moment I forgot all about the yachting cruise.” (laughter)

On a more serious note, he commented on how proud he was of them for their splendid behavior during their baptism of fire, which continued into their fierce struggles both on Gallipoli & the Western Front.

21st Bn men in Warrnambool celebrated the 1924 Anniversary with a church parade, and amongst them were 3 survivors, Sergeant-Major Dawson, Mr A. Worland & Colonel Langley who’d been unceremoniously dumped in the bilge when the Southland was torpedoed.



1. There are varying reports of the total number lost from the Southland, those I’ve been able to identify include: 21st Bn = 12; 23rd Bn = 11; other Aussies = 5; NZs = 4; crew = 10 (this may include the 2 ‘alleged’ to have been shot). 2. Officers of the Southland: John B. Kelk – Master; John H. Jones – 1st Officer; W. Robinson – 2nd Officer; B. Harrison – 3rd Officer.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2009


A Determined Young Man

On the 8th January 1916 Ernest John JEFFRIES filled out his attestation papers in Melbourne to join the AIF. He declared that he was only 18 years and 4 months old, but could not produce his parents consent because they were both dead and he had no guardian – in fact he also stated that he had no next of kin and no friends. A farmer, born in Bairnsdale, Victoria, he was only a little man, standing 5feet 2½ inches tall and weighing in at 115 pounds. By this time Gallipoli had taken its toll on Australia’s finest, so despite his tender age and tiny stature, the army decided to accept Ernest, and by April he was steaming his way to Egypt with reinforcements for the 5th Battalion.


Continuing on to France he was marched in to the Base at Etaples at the beginning of June, and here his troubles began. On the 26th of that month Ernest was detailed for guard duty, but chose to remain in his bed – his reward was 28 days field punishment No.1. Two months later he received another 28 days of the same for refusing to obey an order and taking himself off on a day’s leave of his own volition.


Curiously he wasn’t kept at base to carry out his punishment, but instead, joined his unit in Belgium along with a group of reinforcements on the 7th September. Two weeks later Ernest was in trouble again, and this time it was serious, his court martial involved 3 charges: disobeying an order, using threatening language & offering violence to his superior officer.

Ernest was on observation duty with Pte Drummond in the forward trenches at Ypres. They had decided to split their 2 hour shift in half, and while Drummond was observing, Ernest was reading a paper. Cpl Woodham passed by on trench duty and told Ernest to put the paper away & relieve Drummond. He at first refused in an abusive manner, then put the paper in his pocket and stepped up on the fire step. Woodham then asked him to hand over the paper, and after Ernest refused, he pinned him down and took it. Ernest then picked up his rifle ‘opened and closed the bolt, then swung round towards Cpl Woodham and pointed the rifle over the parapet.’ Cpl Woodham wrested the rifle from Ernest and had him placed under arrest.

The court held at Vignacourt on the 22nd of October found Ernest guilty on the first & third charge and sentenced him to 10 years penal servitude. It wasn’t long however before the authorities realized what they were really dealing with – a child. Having discovered that Ernest had only passed his 15th birthday the month before, it was decided to suspend the sentence and ship him back home to Australia as ‘under age’. His departure wasn’t arranged until March 1917, but although he was no longer under arrest, he was detained in custody during this period, for fear that he would wander free and ‘boast of his outwitting justice.’ The army had also become aware that Ernest had been using a false name. In fact the only real truth on Ernest’s enlistment papers was that he did prefer to use his second name of Ernest and he was born in Bairnsdale.


Victor Ernest LEE was born at Bairnsdale in September 1901, the first born child of Herman LEE & Mary Ann DAVIS. When he’d enlisted at the age of 14, his mum & dad were still very much alive and busily building his family, at that stage he had 5 siblings.


Although army life clearly didn’t suit him, Ernest refused to give up. By November that year he’d taken himself off to Sydney, and re-enlisted as Ernest Victor LEE, stating his age as 21 years & 2 months, and his NOK as his ‘real’ grandmother, Esther Lee of Melbourne. He had actually just turned 16 and had filled out a little, having grown to 5 foot 7 inches, with a weight of 158 pounds. Embarking a week before Christmas, his second sailing was on the A38 Ulysses with the 14th reinforcements of the 1st Pioneer Battalion. Only a day out to sea and Ernest was again in trouble of sorts – he was put into isolation with VD, and there he remained until they reached Suez. Changing ships they boarded the HMT Leasowe Castle which deposited them at Taranto, Italy. The train journey across the country brought more problems for Ernest when he was accused by the Station master at Ronco station of committing some offence. This snowballed into his arrest on the charge of ‘using insubordinate language to his superior officer’. The entourage continued their journey, embarking in France on the HMT Antrim and crossing to England where they marched into Sutton Veny on the 13th February 1918.


At the Court Martial held at Sutton Veny in March, Ernest put his side of the story:

‘……some women threw some matches to us from the embankment and while the matches were being thrown the Station Master walked in between the people who were throwing them and ourselves. We put out our hands to catch the matches and on doing this I accidentally tipped the Station Masters cap. Not being able to talk Italian I made signs of apologies. The S. Master did not understand and went away and brought the Colonel. When the Colonel arrived the civilian pointed to me and made some statement I said “I did nothing of the sort”. The man who accused me kept on pointing at me and accusing me. I got excited and kept on repeating “I did nothing of the sort”. I said this about three times. I heard the Colonel give the order to keep quiet and I obeyed the order. I was then taken to the guard room.’

The court found that Ernest had been addressing his remarks “I did nothing of the sort” to the civilian and not the officer, and he was found not guilty and released.


Ernest however, seemed destined for trouble and on the 7th of April he took an unscheduled day off, then on the 24th he went absent again until he was apprehended in London on the 30th. It was beginning to look like Ernest’s only intention was to see the sights when a few days later he was off again, having escaped from custody. His next Court Martial was held on the 27th May and he pleaded guilty to having escaped custody and was found guilty and sent to Lewes Detention Barracks for a period of 140 days.

On his discharge from detention at the beginning of October, Ernest was sent straight to France, and on the 24th of that month was transferred to the Australian Corps Working Party. Three weeks later, the day after armistice, true to form, Ernest went missing again. After his apprehension in Paris on the 19th December he was awarded 28 days field punishment No. 2, clearly with the end of the war, the authorities were not prepared to throw the book at him. Finally on the 2nd of March 1919, Ernest embarked on the Derbyshire and arrived back in Sydney on the 24th April. He was discharged from the army on the 18th May and made his way back to Victoria.


Four days later he was dead.


Meeting up with friends in Kilmore, the boys had gone duck shooting. Ernest waded into a swamp to retrieve some birds and about 20 feet from the bank he cried out, and sank. The medical evidence at the inquiry simply stated ‘heart failure’. He was 17 years & 7 months old.

His mother gave birth to another son that year and named him Gordon John Ernest LEE.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2009


blog-0058922001400668437.jpgAWM Photo 25 May 1918 (left to right): Paul Simonson, John Monash, Aubrey Moss


Eric and Paul Simonson had a close relationship with their Uncle John long before war brought them even closer. John Monash had married their mother’s younger sister Victoria Moss in 1891, and in the early days of their marriage John & Vic relied heavily on their brother-in-law, Max Simonson, as a peace-keeper during this tempestuous time. Maximilian Michaelis Gabriel Simonson had been born in Christburgh, Prussia around 1851, and emigrating to Australia, married Sarah Maria Moss in Victoria in 1884. They had 6 children, all born in Brighton, Eric & Paul being the youngest, born 1894 & 1895 respectively.


Eric followed his uncle into Engineering, and Monash helped him with his studies, advising him that ‘steady conscientious work…a good and wide education is the very best asset, better than wealth and influence.’ During his schooling he’d also been a member of the University Rifles and the Senior Cadets. Having successfully completed his third year at Melbourne University, he walked away from a promising career and into the AIF in the July of 1915. After enlistment he completed a course at Point Cook Aviation School near Werribee, but didn’t join the AFC at the time. Instead, he sailed with the 9th reinforcements of the 8th Battalion as a 2nd Lieutenant, embarking on the Makarini in mid-September.


Paul had also attested in July, but wasn’t accepted until a week before his brother sailed. His mother had given her consent, even though she wasn’t well, and was stoically coping with the mental deterioration of her previously wise and steady husband Max. Paul had been employed as an Accountancy Clerk, but he too had spent time in the Senior Cadets, as well as a couple of years in the Citizen Forces. Embarking only a couple of weeks after his brother, he sailed with the 4th reinforcements of the 22nd Battalion on board the A20 Hororata, as an acting Sergeant.


Both boys arrived in Egypt and remained there. Monash took a few weeks leave from Gallipoli Oct / Nov, and spent a couple of days with his favourite nephew Eric. At the end of November Eric transferred to the 14th Bn, which brought him into the 4th Brigade and therefore effectively under the command of his uncle. Sarah wrote often to her brother-in-law, asking him to look after her sons, and on the 4th of January 1916, Eric was transferred to Brigade HQ as Monash’s Orderley Officer. A couple of weeks later Paul was transferred to the 14th Bn and promoted to Sergeant. He then received his appointment as a 2nd Lieutenant on the 1st of February. However, with the rearrangement of battalions in Feb / Mar, Paul was again transferred – into the 14th’s new daughter battalion, the 46th.


Monash’s nephews took their next step towards the war at the beginning of June, traveling to France a day apart. Paul and his battalion first went into the frontline trenches near Fleurbaix on the 5th of July. Their baptism of fire was relatively quiet compared to the hell their relief was to face a short time later. Eric’s situation was a little different to his brothers, as he was billeted in a 2-storey mansion in Calais. His time in France was cut short though, when on the 14th July Monash set sail for England to take command of the new 3rd Division and Eric went with him as his Aide de Camp (ADC). The quality of Eric’s staff work was appreciated by his uncle, and would have helped make his task easier as they worked tirelessly over the following months to whip the raw division into a fine fighting force. The 3rd Division was into their third month of training at Lark Hill Camp on Salisbury Plain, when it was arranged for the King to inspect them. Eric had the honour of leading the march-by, which continued for nearly 2 hours and was considered a splendid success.


While his brother and uncle made the return crossing to France on the 22nd November, Paul was heading the opposite direction, on leave to England. By this time he’d seen a bit of warfare. He’d been through the battle of Pozieres, and as a result had been promoted to Lieutenant. He’d also spent some time in Belgium, and had just left his battalion behind in the harsh winter slush on the Somme.

To allow them to ease into their new lives, the 3rd Division was placed in a quiet sector at Armentieres, but nothing could prepare them for the weather, it was the coldest winter experienced in over thirty years. Eric didn’t feel it quite as much as the troops however, because for the first couple of months he was comfortably housed in the Plouvier family chateau at Steenwerck. Though most days he and his uncle would walk or ride for miles through the surrounding quagmire attending to the business of war.


At the beginning of December along with two of his fellow officers, Paul was promoted to Captain. Their second Christmas and New Year away from home, was again fairly quiet for both Simonson boys.


In the January of 1917 Monash took another nephew under his wing as an ADC. Aubrey Moss had enlisted in the first month of the war, landed at Gallipoli the first day and stayed put until the evacuation. He’d worked his way up from Private to Lieutenant by mid-1916, and had been doing well until the French winter finally took its toll. The last month of the year saw him laid low with chronic bronchitis, and he walked out of the convalescent home and into his uncle’s care.


As the winter turned to spring the 46th Bn continued the endless trudge around the war zone, alternating between the line, fatigue parties & rest camps, trying not to complain about their bad lot, but just basically trying to stay alive. This was all to change on the 11th April with the disastrous attack on the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt, which left the battalion decimated. Still under strength, their next major involvement and the last that Paul would see with them was at Messines in June. The 3rd Division also played an important role in this action, and although they suffered huge casualties only a small percentage were deaths, and Monash was extremely happy with the outcome.


Eric, who had caught up with his younger brother and been promoted to Captain in March 1917, finally decided to put his flight training to some use. He transferred to England at the start of September to join the AFC, and Paul stepped into his shoes, so Monash still had a Simonson nephew as an ADC.

Reporting to the No. 1 School of Aeronautics at Reading on the 7th September, Eric was then attached to the 29th Training Squad, AFC at Shrewsbury in November, followed by the 43rd Tng Squad, RFC at Fernhill in December. On the 18th January 1918 he was appointed Flying Officer Pilot, and then a couple of weeks later posted to 28 Tng Squad, Castle Bromwich for higher instruction.


Meanwhile Paul had taken to his new role and was described by one junior officer as ‘a first-class ADC’, he didn’t however think too highly of Paul’s cousin Aubrey Moss. The cousins both sported moustaches, (although Aubrey’s isn’t evident in the photo) and apparently were widely known as ‘Mo’ and ‘Arf a Mo’.

When Paul joined Monash’s staff, the Division was enjoying a rest near the coast, but by the 1st of October they were in Ypres, preparing for their part in the Passchendaele campaign. Three days later they made their first attack on Broodseinde Ridge, and their success was considered a ‘remarkable feat’. The weather packed up and conditions deteriorated, and their next objective of Passchendaele Ridge, to be taken on the 12th, eluded them and cost them dear. They left the salient on the 22nd of October.


Returning to the quiet sectors of Armentieres & Ploegsteert until March 1918, they then left the line for a rest. This was short lived however when the German Army began their big push for victory. Monash was enjoying a break in the south of France and hastily caught the morning train to Paris, where he’d arranged for Paul to pick him up. They hit the road with no time to waste, traveling through the turmoil that had broken out in Amiens, and arrived in Doullens at 3pm to find even greater confusion. Deciding to continue on they reached Blaringhem around 7pm, where they found the 3rd Division preparing to depart, and were told that they should report to 10th Corps for orders. Snatching a couple of hours sleep, they departed the next morning of the 26th March, and continued from town to town trying to find 10th Corps. After traveling around in circles for most of the day, they were told they were now to report to 7th Corps. At 1am in the morning they found 7th Corps at Montigny, only to receive the scanty orders to ‘get into the angle between the Ancre and the Somme as far east as possible and stop him’ [the enemy]. Monash sent Paul back to Couturelle to pick up his batman and belongings. Shortly after daybreak on the 27th March, Paul returned and the whole party continued on to Franvillers. A stand was made and Amiens was saved, and no doubt Paul and his uncle eventually caught up on their sleep.


At the beginning of April Eric finally headed back to France, where he was posted to No. 2 Squadron, AFC the following month. It wasn’t until the 24th of September however, that he shot down his first enemy plane and then proceeded to tally up 5 more in the following two months. Because his ‘score’ had surpassed 5, he’d earned the right to be classed as an air ‘Ace’.

On the 1st of June 1918 Monash was given the command of the Australian Corps and Paul & Aubrey continued as his ADCs. The successful battle of Hamel was executed the following month, and then the battle of Amiens began the final campaign of the war. The war over, Monash was offered the post of Director General of Repatriation. Before heading to England to take up the post he and Paul took a quick trip to Waterloo and Brussels, while Aubrey took the opportunity to take a couple of months leave in Paris to marry and honeymoon.


The new phase of the Monash-Simonson partnership began in England on the 1st of December, and Aubrey rejoined them at the end of January. On the 19th December, Eric also returned to England, and from the 10th January 1919 to the 9th of September he was granted leave with pay. His leave time was spent at the Boulton & Paul Aircraft Dept in Norwich. During the war the company had been building planes and it was decided to continue this practice, so they also opened a design department. What better place for an Engineering student turned pilot, to gain valuable experience before returning home.


Following in his cousins footsteps Paul also made the decision to marry. The wedding took place on the 15th of March at the Registry Office in St George Hanover Square. His new wife Beatrice was the daughter of an Accountant, so he and Paul would have had a lot to talk about during the rest of his stay in England. Monash had been campaigning to gain some recognition for his various friends and of course his protégés, and Paul received a mention in dispatches, dated the day after his marriage. He was also awarded an OBE in 1919. The newlyweds finally embarked at the end September, sailing on the family ship Osterley along with other officers and their new wives.


Aubrey also returned on the Osterley with his wife and child, but on a later sailing in the January of 1920, after having spent 6 months in Paris with his new family.


Eric set sail for home on the 15th of November 1919 on board the Ormonde, travelling with his uncle John; along with his Auntie Vic and cousin Bertha who had joined Monash in England after the war. Also traveling with them was General Birdwood, and they were welcomed home to Melbourne on Boxing Day.


Monash continued to look out for his nephews in post war Australia, aiding them with any problems, probably even more so for the Simonsons after the death of their parents. Max passed away in 1920, and Sarah who had suffered a heart condition since before the war, joined him 3 years later. The boys had to stand on their own however when they also lost their favourite uncle in 1931. Eric paid tribute to Monash in 1939 when he wrote a eulogistic report on him which clearly showed the ‘respect, loyalty, admiration and affection’ that he had for his uncle.


In 1923 Eric had married Olive Jenkins, who had been widowed the previous year, and they had (at least) two daughters, Leslie born 1925 and Vivienne born 1926. Vivienne was a driver with the W.R.A.N.S. 1945-46. Eric also enlisted in WW2 and served as a Squadron Leader at Air Defence HQ in Melbourne. He died in 1954 in St Kilda at the relatively young age of 60. Olive lived to see her 90th birthday, passing away in 1985.

Paul and Beatrice had two sons, Donald born in 1920 and Robert born in 1924. Both boys enlisted in WW2, Don earning an MC at Deneki (Kokoda) in 1942, and Robert ending up a POW. Paul lost Beatrice in 1948, aged 51, and he lived to the age of 71, dying in 1966 at Malvern.


Monash’s Nephews:

Capt Eric Laudon Simonson (1894 – 1954)

Capt Paul William Simonson (1895 – 1966)

Capt Aubrey Moton Moss (1886 – 1944)


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2008



Cemeteries for some people can be quite depressing, perhaps because they bring their own fears of death to the fore. But for many history buffs they are beautiful, restful places, full of amazing stories of days gone by. I’ve had a habit of wandering cemeteries since I was young, and after a recent visit, I began to wonder whether the ‘spirits’ were perhaps becoming a little ‘familiar’. I had to admit this day to being a little spooked!


I was into the 2nd day of scouring the Boroondara Cemetery in Kew, for graves and memorials of WW1 Veterans. One of the oldest cemeteries in Melbourne, it is extremely worse for wear, though the ground staff seem to be endlessly busy. Of course we’d just had an incredibly bad storm, and there were uprooted trees and huge branches obliterating many graves, so, I’d already resigned myself to the fact that I might miss some of the Vets.


Having come upon a few lone graves buried deep under years of pine needles, I shrugged my shoulders and decided to add these to the ‘possibly missed’ category. But someone or something had other ideas, I simply couldn’t walk on. One of these graves was nagging at me, drawing me to it. Picking up a large stick, I poked it down through the mass of matted needles, and started dragging it around until I’d made an opening. The letters A.I.F. stared up at me and I instantly broke into a sweat, and the back-breaking work hadn’t even started yet!

Anyway, much later, with my trusty stick (& paintbrush) still in hand, (wondering whether I might have to start lugging a pitchfork with me as well!), I stood there, gazing down at the unearthed Memorial to Lieut John Larkin, who is actually buried in France. Convinced that his parents, whose grave this was, obviously wanted his story told, how could I, deny them.

Totally unaware at this stage, of my previous encounter with John, I began the research.


Michael LARKIN & Elizabeth GEARON (GUERAN) had both been born in Ireland, and coming to Australia, had married in 1891. Their four children were born in the nearby suburb of Hawthorn, John Vernon, their eldest, having been born the year after their marriage.

John Vernon LARKIN (known as Jack) was just twelve years old when he became the man of the family, his father having died at the young age of forty. The family was living in Ballarat at the time, but Michael had possibly already pre-purchased a plot, because he was buried at Kew. Jack attended St Patrick’s College in Ballarat before returning to Melbourne, where still a teenager, he served for a couple of years in the Artillery (2nd Battery at Prahran), and worked as a Clerk with the Crown Lands Office. He gave up the Artillery in 1910 when he was transferred to the country town of St Arnaud, which is where he was still working when he made the decision to enlist in the Great War, at the age of 23.


Entering into the Seymour Camp in July 1915, Jack was taken into the 7th reinforcements of the 24th Battalion in the November, and ‘set sail’ for Egypt on the 26th on board the A73 Commonwealth. They arrived at Suez on New Year’s Day 1916, and after only a day to find their land legs, were thrown into the first of many marches across the heavy sands. When all the Gallipoli troops had returned to Egypt, the rearrangement of battalions took place, and Jack and his mates were trained to the camp at Serapeum on the 24th February, where they were taken on strength with the 8th Bn. Apart from the sandstorms, their month at Serapeum was quite enjoyable, with plenty of chances to swim and ample quality food.

This however, came to an end, and the next stage of their journey began on the 25th of March, when they packed up for the 10 hour train journey to Alexandria. Boarding the Megantic the following morning, they sailed the day after, traveling in their lifebelts & standing to, ready for torpedoes all the way to France. Disembarking at Marseilles on the 31st, they eventually endured an even longer train journey to the north of France, where they settled into their billets on the 5th April. Moving onto Fleurbaix at the end of the month, Jack’s company took over the support trenches, and experienced their first heavy bombardment on the 5th May. On the 15th they moved into the forward trenches for a couple of weeks, thus completing Jack’s baptism of fire on the Western Front.


The battalion’s first experience with gas came on the 17th June, and two days later they moved to Belgium.

It wasn’t long before they were back in the trenches, this time in the Messines sector, contending not only with the enemy, but also with the rain that often fell at night and the general lack of food. Relieved by the 6th Bn on the 7th July, they returned to France, where their next stint was at Pozieres.

During the battle of Pozieres, Jack received a wound to his finger & hand which took him out of the line. It was the 26th of July, and a member of Jack’s company had the following to say about the day:

“A repetition of yesterday but if anything the bombardment was heavier, our trench was full of killed, the wounded we put into a deep dugout until night.

Our experience was a terrible one, it was just a matter of waiting to be killed and wondering whose turn it would be next. ….. At 8pm we saw the Germans massing on our right and that meant everybody had to stand to and be prepared to repel an attack, but fortunately it didn’t come back, by now we only had one Corporal, another Lance Corporal besides myself and thirty men left out of the Company, and the nerves of a lot of them were shattered, very few men stood that awful strain.”


Jack was lucky to be out of it, and was taken to the 1st AGH at Rouen. The following day, the 27th July, while his mates were being relieved from hell, he was on his way to England where he was admitted to the Greylingwell War Hospital in Chichester.

Returning to France on the 2nd November 1916, Jack rejoined his battalion on the 17th, where they had been at rest in comfortable billets at Ribemont. The following day brought a heavy snow storm and a move to St Vasst, followed by Bernafay Camp, allowing him to ease back into it before returning to the mud filled trenches on the 14th December. The battalion was then lucky to be out of the line and in camp at Mametz, for both Christmas and New Year.

1917 continued in the same vein as 1916 with time spent endlessly on the move, alternating between the line, fatigues, training, & rest camps. On the 17th February, Jack was promoted to Lance Corporal. In May the battalion played a part in 2nd Bullecourt, and it was noted that: “During our forty eight hours in the line Fritz put over no less than seven heavy barrages, rather an extraordinary occurrence besides shelling us continuously between barrages.”


Having returned to Belgium, the battalion also took part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. On the 20th September Jack’s platoon lost their Sergeant, Charlie Gladman, during the battle for Menin Road. Charlie came from Serpentine, a small farming community near my Grandfather’s hometown of Bridgewater, and is one of the many soldiers in the area that I’ve been researching. Whilst reading through Jack’s Service Record I had come across a note from Charlie’s father, written in 1917, asking for Jack’s number. The little prickles that had broken out in the back of my neck were still burning as I dug out Charlie’s file, which contained a copy of his diary and some letters. Sure enough, one of those letters was from Jack, who had written to Charlie’s family describing his last moments.

“….. Charlie met his death on the morning of Thursday, 20th September 1917, when we made a very successful push and advance to the east of Ypres, between Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. …..

He and I were together all the way through, and we were going splendidly until after we passed the first two objectives for fully 1000 yards. Just in front of our third objective, our barrage was holding us up a bit, and also one of Fritz’s famous block houses, or pill-boxes, from which he was continuously firing a machine gun at us. Charlie was up on top, and we were discussing as to how we would crawl around this pill-box and bomb the occupants out. We were then less than fifty yards off. Unfortunately it was at that time a heavy 9.2 shell landed less than 10 yards from us, and a piece of the shell casing struck Charlie on the center of the left thigh, practically severing the leg in two. A couple of us laid him in a shell hole, bound up the wound as well as we could and tied a tourniquet of rubber tubing on the top of the thigh. ….. I then left him as we had to continue on with our advance and dig in, but our barrage drove us out, and we had to retire for about 20 minutes, until it lifted. I again went back to Charlie, and found him in really good heart, …..

Unfortunately, next day I found out another shell came whilst he was sitting in the shell hole and tore half his back away, thus killing one of the finest and most conscientious soldiers I have ever met in the army. …..

Kindly excuse me if I have been harsh in expressing myself in such a letter as this, but you probably know two and a half years of this life tend to make one very hard and unemotional.”


Following close on the heels of Menin Rd, was the attack on Broodseinde Ridge on the 4th October, which miraculously coincided with an attack by the enemy at the same hour. However, the Australians won through and achieved their objectives, but at a cost. At the end of October the depleted battalion received a batch of much needed reinforcements, and during the following reorganization, Jack was promoted to Corporal.

His promotion was followed a few weeks later by a month of leave from 19/11/17 to 17/12/17, at Desvres where the battalion was resting. Unlike 1916, Christmas 1917 was spent in the mud filled trenches, but at least they didn’t miss out on their plum pudding. While out resting at Locre at the end of January, Jack was promoted to Temporary Sergeant, then Sergeant 2 weeks later. This was again followed by leave, but this time Jack was off to Paris for a couple of weeks. The timing proved fortuitous, because 2 days after his return to his battalion, all Paris leave was cancelled until further notice.


By the 12th April the 8th Bn had been rushed to Hazebrouck, to help in the defence of the Channel Ports, and after their success, were moved into the line at Strazeele. On the 19th May they were again relieved from the line, and the following day Jack was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.

The next 2 months were spent in and out of the line, and then after being relieved on the night of the 2nd August, the battalion began the move to the Aubigny area, where they arrived on the 8th August, Ludendorff’s ‘black day of the German army’. The next morning they moved off through Villers-Bretonneux towards the village of Rosieres, to take their part in the Allied offensive that had begun the day before.

The War Diary states: “The weather was bright and warm, and the country to be covered flat and open. In front at a distance of about 8000 yards was a ridge held by the enemy, which on account of good visibility gave him a clear view of the whole of our advance.” The battalion “first encountered strong opposition on the outskirts of Rosieres, though MG Fire opened almost as soon as the advance began.”

Lt Col Mitchell, CO of 8th Bn wrote: “2nd Lt J.V. Larkin was wounded during the advance of the battalion North of Rosieres on 9/8/18 by a machine gun bullet through the body. He was carried back about half a mile on a stretcher but died before reaching the dressing station. He was buried by Chaplain Hayden 12th Bn, 2,400 yards south south west of cross roads in Vauvillers and a cross was erected over the grave.”


After the war Jack’s body was exhumed and re-interred at the Rosieres Communal Cemetery Extension, where he lies amongst 65 of his countrymen, most of whom where killed in the same battle.

A short time before Jack had embarked for overseas, his younger brother William had joined the Permanent Forces as a Military Staff Clerk, at the age of 17. In March 1917 he’d enlisted for overseas service, sailing in the June. Unlike Jack, William returned home in 1920, and went on to become a Lieut-Col in WW2.

Their mother, Elizabeth lived to the age of 92, dying in Kew in 1949, never having remarried. Fifty-nine years later her grave has been temporarily rescued from the pine needles, and the cold stone once more dances with the rays of the warming sun. I can’t help wondering if in years to come, when nature has again obscured her resting place, whether her spirit will reach out once more and snag yet another curious history buff. I can only hope so.


Remembering Jack – John Vernon Larkin – Lest We Forget.


AWM Photo of Jack 1915: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/DA12701/

Heather (Frev) Ford, 2008

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