John Henry Adams enlisted in Queensland – Enoggera – on 3 November 1914. However, like many others, he was from Victoria. He was born at Ballarat but the family must have moved to Gippsland soon after. On the (National) Roll of Honour form, his parents noted that he had attended the state school at Longwarry South and, in fact, they gave Longwarry as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.
By the time John Henry Adams enlisted, his family had shifted closer to Yarram. On his enlistment papers, he gave his address – his father’s address – as Yarram. On the electoral roll, both parents appear. The father, also John Henry Adams, is listed as a farmer of Jack River; and the mother, Bridget Adams, appears as domestic duties of Jack River.
The family was well known in the district. In the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 6 December 1916, there was a detailed article on the farewell provided to Mr. J H Adams and his wife who were leaving the district to go and live at Warragul. Their property was referred to as ‘Calrossie’ and the whole event was organised by the locals from Calrossie, not far from Yarram and one of the early farming areas in the Shire of Alberton. Judging by the nature of the event and the presentations made – … to Mr. Adams of a gold Albert chain and locket, and to Mrs. Adams silver teapot and silver cruet – the family was well regarded in the local community. Overall, John Henry Adams came from a well-known, local family. As a young man he had helped on his father’s farm – the parents refer specifically to this work on the (National) Roll of Honour form – but then, probably aged in his late teens, he went to Queensland. Whereas other lads in the same situation did have their names included on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the Shire War Memorial, his name was omitted. Most likely, this was because the family moved out of the district in late 1916.
On his enlistment papers, John Henry Adams gave his occupation as ‘stockman’. In fact, he was serving in the (Australian) Army Service Corps, Remounts Section in Queensland. He had signed on for 5 years and, at the time he enlisted, had served 4 years. He was discharged at his own request so that he could join the infantry in the AIF.
On enlistment he was 22yo, single and he gave his religion as Roman Catholic.
He left Australia 22 December 1914. In action at Gallipoli on 23 May 1915 he was wounded – bomb wound back – and then hospitalised. He was discharged from hospital on 29 July and rejoined his battalion (15 B) on 2 August. Less than one week later, he was listed as ‘missing’ on 8 August. He held the rank of corporal.
In a letter home, dated 7 June Egypt, which was published in the local paper on 23 July 1915, Corporal J. H. Adams described the action in late May 1915 that saw him wounded:
… we got into the action quite soon enough. I lasted only two days, having got a bomb in the back, and so am in the hospital at present, but hope to be out of it inside three weeks. We have had a pretty warm time of it, but I think the hottest of it is over, and personally speaking I’m not sorry. It makes one think a little when when he sees all his pals going down, but the the experience gained makes up for it in one way.
The same article also featured an extract from another of his letters dated 11 June, 4 days later:
One can thank his lucky stars he is not like a lot of the poor fellows, crippled for life. There is a lot leaving here for Australia crippled. One never knows his luck. I might be wiped out next time. It is simply hell. The trenches where I got hit are only eight to 10 yards off the Turks trenches, and they don’t forget to use the bomb either night and day. It is one continual roar, night and day, of rifle and shell fire, shrapnel falling like peas. Then a charge and a hand to hand fight with the cold steel. But that is where our boys shine; the Turks don’t like the bayonets. They call us the “White Ghurkas,” and I think the boys have earned the name.
He even finished the letter with a call for volunteers:
We want every man who is able to carry a rifle. If he hasn’t got nerve enough to face the Turks he can take up ambulance work.
Incredibly, the formal death report for Corporal Adams was not completed until 21 June 1917, nearly 2 years after his death. This followed a court of enquiry in France on 18 April 1917. On 15 January 1917, the parents had written, respectfully, to Base Records in Melbourne:
Dear sirs just to inquire if there has been anything further heard of our son Corporal J H Adams 15th Battalion who was reported missing between 7th and 8th August 1915…
In normal circumstances they would have received the standard letter stating that nothing further had been received and so the status of ‘missing’ still applied. However, in this particular instance, presumably because of the extreme length of time that had elapsed, there was a far more considered response:
19th January 1917.
With reference to your communication… on the subject of the report regarding your son, Corporal John Henry Adams, 15th Battalion, I am directed to inform you that there is no definite official report of this soldier’s death.
(1) To the length of time which has elapsed since this soldier was officially reported “Missing”, viz:- 8th August 1915;
(2) To the fact that Corporal Adams’ name has not appeared in any list of prisoners of war received to date;
the Military Board is regretfully constrained to conclude that this soldier is dead, and that death occurred on or about the 8th August 1915.
As indicated, the official report finally came in June 1917. There was no personal kit returned to the family. Almost certainly, the parents would have concluded that their son was dead once the letters stopped, but a probable complication in this case was that because he had enlisted in Queensland, the parents might have had only limited, if any, contact with men from his unit.
The parents seemed convinced that their son had been killed at Lone Pine. They specifically identified Lone Pine on the (National) Roll of Honour form as the place of death, and a lawyer acting on their behalf referred to Corporal Adams being killed at Lone Pine. In fact, at the time of his death, Corporal Adam’s battalion – 15 B – was fighting well north of Lone Pine. As part of the 4 Brigade it was involved in the action north at Sari Bair, supposedly pushing to Hill 971. The effort was a failure, with very high casualties. Prior (2009, p. 178) sums it up:
The story of the Australian effort on 8 August is soon told. In the dark they lost their way once again and made off in the direction of Hill 60, yet further away from Hill 971. More misfortune was in store. Essad had placed two regiments in this area, one from reserve and the other from Helles. (23) The concentrated machine-gun fire from these units decimated Monash’s leading battalions (14 and 15), which were also having trouble cooperating with each other. The 14th complained that when the Turks opened fire, support from the 15th simply ‘withered away’.(24) The 15th claimed that their call for support from the 14th went unanswered.(25) In the circumstances this ill-will hardly mattered. In a matter of minutes 600 casualties had been inflicted on the units. Monash had no choice but to disregard Cox’s instruction to advance on Hill 971 and return to the start line. There would be no further action by 4 Brigade that day.
The war diary for 15 Battalion for 8 August gives the following casualties: 100 killed, 188 wounded and 102 missing. Corporal Adams was one of the ‘missing’, either dead or wounded at that point.
Corporal Adam’s name is featured on the Lone Pine Memorial.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Prior, R 2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney