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Australia's Boys - Hector Deslandes and mates

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frev

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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."

HECTOR DESLANDES.

 

 

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.

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/blogs/entry/1634-the-southland-the-first-australian-troopship-to-be-torpedoed/

 

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

 

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