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