The next few posts look at the men killed on the first day of the Gallipoli campaign. There were 4 men from the Shire of Alberton officially recorded as ‘killled in action’ on 25 April 1915: Ernest Ralph Pallot, Charles Samuel Tolley, Thomas Elevious Ellefsen and Walter Tibbs.
Only one of the 4 men – Ellefsen – is both recorded as ‘killed’ on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and listed on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Pallot is listed on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, but he is not marked as ‘killed’ on this record nor is his name included on the Shire War Memorial. Tolley is included on the Shire Honor Roll but he is not recorded as ‘killed’ on this record, even though he is listed on the Shire War Memorial. Tibbs does not appear on either the Shire War Memorial or Honor Roll. Taken together, the 4 names illustrate the inconsistencies associated with record-keeping at the time, and serve as a salutary reminder of the problematic nature of historical research. The situation also highlights the way in which not everyone’s sacrifice has been acknowledged equally, or not even acknowledged at all.
Ernest Ralph PALLOT (1169/2164)
Ernest Pallot was one of those who completed his medical and enlisted at Yarram on 16 September 1914. He was issued with railway warrant number 10 for the train trip from Alberton to Melbourne on 21 September 1914.
At the time he enlisted, Pallot was nearly twenty-four. His occupation was given as labourer. He had been born in Maldon. His father, as next-of-kin, was George Pallot who was living at Heyfield. Two of Ernest’s brothers also enlisted after him: George Alfred Pallot in July 1915 and Clarence Pallot in September 1916. Both brothers were born at Heyfield and one – George Alfred Pallot – enlisted at Heyfield. Ernest himself had also had a strong association with Heyfield. The information presented for the (National) Roll of Honour form indicated that he had attended the state school at Heyfield, and the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’ was given by his family as Heyfield. Lastly, his name is recorded on the war memorial at Heyfield. At the time he enlisted, Pallot must have working in the Yarram district. However, it is also possible that he specifically went to Yarram to enlist there because he had heard that the Shire was recruiting for a South Gippsland Light Horse and he was keen to join such a unit. Certainly his enlistment papers, completed at Yarram, recorded that he was joining the ‘Light Horse Gippsland’; however, 3 months later at Broadmeadows, he was attached to 6 Battalion.
The 6th Battalion was involved in the first day of fighting on the 25 April. It was in the second wave that went ashore sometime after 05:30. Private Pallot’s war did not last long. He was shot and killed round 10.00 AM. This detail comes from a Red Cross Wounded and Missing report dated 6 May 1916. The witness statement came from Cpl. A E Young (146 ) also 6 Battalion:
Witness states that he saw him [Pallot] killed on the second ridge at Gaba Tepe on the 25th April. Was shot in the head, killed instantaneously – never moved.
However, as succinct and final as this witness statement still reads one hundred years later, the details relayed back to his family in Gippsland were anything but clear and conclusive. It was to be more than a year (July 1916) before the family was to learn that the AIF had determined that Private Pallot had been killed in action on 25 April 1915, and another eight years after that (June 1923) before they received definite proof of his death.
The service record for Pte. Pallot is extensive and it is therefore possible to track through the correspondence and other files to establish how and why the processes to do with the recording and reporting of battlefield causalities were so prone to error at that time.
From our position, one hundred years on, we know that Pallot was killed within hours of the landing but, at the time, the first piece of formal news the family received was a telegram on 16 June 1915 advising that Private E R Pallot had been wounded, but not seriously, and that they would be contacted immediately when further advice was received. The father wrote back on the same day asking for details on the hospital where his son had been taken. His tone was appreciative and polite: I would be pleased to obtain from you any further particulars that may come to hand at your earliest convenience.
The reply to the father’s letter was written from the Base Records’ Office of the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force, Melbourne on 19 June. It was short and had no further advice. However the admission that … I regret that I am unable to inform you of the name of the hospital to which he has been taken … would, most likely, have alarmed the family.
On 23 August, almost 4 months to the day after Private Pallot’s death, and 2 months after the first official advice from the military authorities, Clarence Pallot, one of the brothers, wrote to the local member of the Victorian Parliament, James Weir McLachlan (MLA, Gippsland North, 1908 -1938) seeking his support. The letter also reveals that another brother had made a recent visit to the Defence Department in Melbourne to request, again, information about the location of the hospital, …but they could not tell him because they did not know where he was.
It is clear by this point that the family held grave fears for their son and brother:
We have been waiting anxiously for a letter from him but up to the present have not received any tidings of him. It is well over two months since he was reported wounded and we think that [it] is time we heard more about him. We are quite sure if he was in a position to write we would have received a letter before this as he was so deeply attached to his mother as to keep her in anxiety.
The reference to not receiving any letters is telling. As will be shown with many future cases, the lack of correspondence from the son serving in the AIF would be taken as a sign that he had been killed. It became accepted that even if the man had been wounded he would still manage to have someone correspond on his behalf; or even if a POW there would be some notification. Where a soldier had kept up regular correspondence back home, the sudden cessation of such letters was an ominous sign. The family also often found out about their son’s fate from letters sent by men in the same unit who came from the same location back in Australia and who knew the family.
Either from civility or desperation, Clarence Pallot had enclosed a stamp for a return letter.
McLachlan referred the letter to Base Records and marked it boldly as very urgent.
Nearly one month after his letter to McLachlan, Clarence Pallot received a reply from Base Records Office. It was dated 20 September. The letter began with the claim that since the first telegram sent to the father, as next of kin, on 16 June no further news had been received. However it then, somewhat perversely, attempted to turn this lack of information to good news:
He is not reported as having been seriously wounded, however, and in such cases the Egyptian authorities advise me to assume the absence of further particulars is indicative of satisfactory progress, but, at the same time, it is their invariable practice to notify me immediately should serious symptoms develop.
The letter then sought to calm the mother’s worries. The tone is condescending:
I do not think that, in the circumstances, there is any real need for undue anxiety on the part of your mother. Your brother has, since being taken to hospital, no doubt, received the most skilled and careful attention possible, with the object of again making him for for active service.
The letter concluded with detailed advice on how to address both cables and letters to Private Pallot. Again, there was no address for a particular hospital. The very detailed particulars on where to place the word ‘wounded’ on the envelope, as part of the address, is truly poignant, given that the addressee had by then been dead for some five months:
The word “wounded”, which should also be legibly endorsed on the top left-handed corner of the envelope, is necessary only during the period he is in hospital.
By this point, the family must have realised that the AIF knew very little about their son’s fate. They were being blocked or deflected at every turn. This probably explains why the next letter seeking information came from another party. On 16 October 1915, Mrs G Elton of Gould – some 70K from Heyfield – wrote to Base Records requesting … any information concerning the where abouts of Private E R Pallot of Heyfield reported wounded some time back & if still living would you forward his address to yours truly.... Possibly, this person was a family friend or relative. Again, the letter raises the distinct likelihood that Private Pallot has been killed.
There was a prompt reply written on 21 October; and for the first time, there was the acknowledgement that Private Pallot …is now reported as wounded and missing on 25th April. The critical point is that the charade about Pte. Pallot being in a un-named hospital has been dropped. Now he is ‘wounded and missing’, which must have seemed a strange combination to the family. This latest information was also cabled to the father on the same day, October 21.
The letter still recommended hope because there was now the strong suggestion that Private Pallot has been taken prisoner by the Turks; and the AIF was trying to gain a clearer picture of the Australian troops who could be involved. The hope was held out that … no complete list of members of the Australian Imperial Force, who were taken prisoner and are present interned in Turkey, is yet available. However, the Turkish authorities have established a War Information Bureau at Constantinople, and the American Ambassador is advising the Imperial authorities of all obtainable information concerning prisoners, etc. Any particulars relating to Australians, will be communicated to relatives immediately upon receipt.
However, a letter from the father to the Base Records Office just a few days later on October 30 reveals that the family’s confidence in the AIF’s advice had pretty well been exhausted, as had their hope for their son and brother. What is also remarkable about the letter is its formally polite tone. Presumably, whatever they may have thought about the AIF’s competence and its commitment to discovering the fate of their boy, they still recognised that the final, formal word had to come from the military. Perhaps also, this whole wretched business was seen as some sort of burden that the family had to carry as part of its individual war effort. By this point – late 1915 – the idea of sacrifice, required from both the soldier and family, had become entrenched across the community.
I have this day received returned letter written to my son Private E R Pallot No 2164 A Company 6th Battalion 2nd Infantry Brigade Australian Division Abroad dated April 18th 1915. The envelope addressed as above is endorsed by your office “Killed in Action”. On 16th June we received intimation from the Defence Dept “Reported wounded not seriously” on October 21 we received a wire from the Defence Dept saying “Wounded & Missing” on April 25th 15 and now you report my son as “Killed in action” As you will no doubt realise these conflicting reports leave us in a very distressed state of mind as parents and would esteem it a favour if you will let us know at your earliest opportunity as to when your latest information came to hand and if the source of same is really such that we can rely upon it and thus be relieved from the terrible suspense endured ever since April last. Awaiting your kind attention to the foregoing.
It appears that the letter to Private Pallot had been returned by Lieutenant Stanley Berry, 6 Battalion. Stanley had been in the same company – A Company – as Pallot. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant at Gallipoli on 28/4/1915 and then Lieutenant on 15/7/1915. Given his close association with Private Pallot, Lieutenant Berry’s very direct endorsement on the letter deserved to be treated as credible; but the family was probably unaware, at the time, of this background. Even so it would have been a confirmation for the family of what they had long suspected.
However, if the father was expecting some closure to the matter he would have been bitterly disappointed by the response he received a few days later. It was written on November 3. It acknowledged receipt of the father’s letter but merely reiterated that …there is no later news of your son…. It went on, If you will forward me the envelope of the letter which has been returned to you endorsed “killed in action” I will cable the authorities in Egypt requesting them to investigate the matter.
The father immediately forwarded the returned mail endorsed ‘killed in action’ and hoped that …the result from the cable message you intend sending will be that we shall know definitely which of the conflicting reports is the true one.
On 9 November, Base Records advised the father that they had cabled the ‘Egyptian authorities’ to investigate the case. They followed up on 24 November to reassure him that they had been advised from Egypt that the matter was being investigated. Then on 11 January 1916, Base Records wrote to inform the father that the authorities in Egypt had been in touch with the 6 Battalion whose Commanding Officer had stated that he was not able … to confirm the report, killed. Incredibly, on that very same day, the father forwarded to Base Records another letter which had just been returned to the family in Heyfield endorsed, as before, with ‘KIA’. The father added that he was sending it …as it might possibly assist you in your search for definite information regarding my son. As before, he finished in an expression of thanks – Thanking you for your efforts already put forth. Presumably, the two letters, each with a very different view on Private Pallot’s fate, crossed in the post.
The response to the father, written on 14 January, represents a classic bureaucratic stone wall. The AIF acknowledged receipt of the letter but merely reiterated the advice that according to the CO of 6 Battalion… the report of his death cannot be confirmed. Of course, one interpretation the family could have made of this statement was that the AIF believed he was dead, but they could not yet confirm the death or had not yet confirmed the death. Faced with this official block, the family stopped writing.
Then 7 months later, on 27 July 1916, there was a very short but, at long last, definite letter to the father, advising that No. 2164 (1169) Private E. R. Pallot 6th Battalion had been killed. The copy of the formal report – Report of Death of a Soldier – concluded that Private Pallot had been killed in action on 25 April 1915. This report was itself the outcome of a Court of Enquiry held in France at Erquinghem on the Western Front – near Armentieres – on 24/4/16.
The family would have been advised by cable of the formal report of death, probably in late June or early July, but written confirmation obviously took longer to reach them. Finally, 15 months after he had been killed in action and 3 months after a court of enquiry had determined that he had been killed in action, the family in Heyfield had the official version of their son’s fate. At this point there was no indication where he was buried, if in fact he was buried. His few personal effects were returned to the family in February 1918.
At the end of the War there was an enormous effort by the Graves Services Unit to locate and then re-bury, in designated war cemeteries, the remains of Australian soldiers. Routinely, in the case of soldiers for whom there was no record of burial, the authorities wrote to the family requesting …if you will let me have on loan any letters or communications that contain any reference to the circumstances surrounding his death, particularly the exact locality at which it occurred or where he was last seen alive.
This standard form was sent to the Pallot family in June 1921, and the response it elicited (16/6/1921) makes it clear that following the official confirmation in July 1916 of Private Pallot’s death, the family continued to pursue the full story as to how he died and the circumstances of his burial. The father’s reply is revealing:
I am sending enclosed in this a letter we received from the Australian Red Cross Society. As you will see Corporal Young was the Informant. He also gave the same statement to my son Ex Corporal GC Pallot when they met in Egypt and also stated that he was the only one that could give the Information as these three mates were together, Corporal Young also said that the reason the Body was not found was that almost immediately after my Son was killed orders were given to retire & the Allies never got on that ground again & that it was quite probable that he was buried by the Turks. The death occurred about 10 a.m on the morning of the landing. It would be a great relief to us to know that [the last line is damaged, but it appears to read as] the body was decently buried.
The short witness statement by Corporal Young is featured at the start of the Post. As the statement was given in Cairo on 8 May, 1916 it would not have been available for the court of enquiry at Erquinghem held on 24 April 1916. It has not been possible to establish the identity of the third person there at the time Private Pallot was shot. The brother referred to was George Alfred Pallot (3121) who enlisted in July 1915 and served in Egypt.
The father’s hope about the decent burial is worth noting. While it is clear that Private Pallot was not given a proper burial by his own unit at the time, it is possible that he was buried by the Turkish soldiers. At the same time, there is the broader notoriety that Gallipoli attracted as a battlefield where many dead remained unburied. CEW Bean accompanied the Graves Registration Unit to Gallipoli in 1919. He estimated that the number of unburied Australian soldiers at the end of the War was in the order of 3,500. George Lambert, the Australian War Artist, was also there at Gallipoli with Bean and he was shocked by the sight of so many unburied soldiers and human remains scattered everywhere. Bean cautioned the Australian Government about letting soldiers’ families and visitors anywhere near Gallipoli until the work of the Graves Registration Unit had been finished.
In April 1923, 8 years after his death, Private Pallot’s family was informed that his remains had been buried in the Lone Pine Cemetery (Plot 1, Row C, Grave 4). Then on 2 June, the same year, the family received advice from Base Records, Melbourne that gave the final closure they had been after for so long:
With further reference to the recent report of burial of your son, the late No. 2164 Private E.R. Pallot, 6th Battalion, I am forwarding herewith an identity disc recovered from his person at the time of his re-interment in the Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli.
This memento while possibly impaired to some extent through long exposure will doubtless be highly prized by you on account of its former intimate association with the late Private Pallot.
In every way, Gallipoli was the first test of the new Australian army. The account above suggests that the scale of casualties at Gallipoli quickly overwhelmed the administrative capabilities of the AIF. It is a painful insight into how both the AIF and the families back home had to come to terms with death on a scale which, even if it had been theoretically entertained, was never anticipated. The men were killed on the very first day, within hours – possibly even minutes – of landing, but for the families this was just the beginning of drawn out false hopes, confusion and in some cases cruel obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. Throughout all this the families were expected to remain stoic and, of course, patriotic.
To some extent, the inability of the AIF even to ‘manage’ the deaths of its own soldiers pointed to its overall amateur status at the very beginning of the War. By the end of 1918 it could claim to be a highly professional, efficient military force, but its early efforts were well short of that mark.