Wliiam Dewell was another English immigrant farm worker. He enlisted on 8 October 1914. He had been born in London (Hackney). He was single, described himself as ‘labourer’ and gave his age as 20 years and 10 months. He had completed some military training in England –Territorial Forces – before coming to Australia.
It is possible that his parents were both dead because he gave his next-of-kin as an aunt, Miss Jane Scoones of London. She also completed the (National) Roll of Honour form – she gave his occupation as ‘clerk’ – and all his military decorations went to her, as did his personal kit – Brass Bowl, Hair & Clothes Brushes, New Testament, Military Books, Shaving Brush, Photos, Letters. She also applied for a pension after his death but this was rejected. Unfortunately, there is no family correspondence in his service file so it is not possible to uncover his personal circumstances or the impact of his death on those back in England. Like many of the young, immigrant English farm workers, he was very definitely on his own in his newly adopted country.
He was first reported ‘missing’ on 21 August 1915 and then, after a court of enquiry held at Serapeum (Egypt) on 28 April 1916, his status was changed to ‘killed in action’. The cable to his aunt officially notifying her of his death was dated 10 May 1915.
The action in which Private Dewell lost his life was part of the last major campaign on Gallipoli. Both Australian and British units were involved. The war diary for the 14 Battalion describes how 3 lines of men from both 13 B and 14 B attempted to move on Hill 60 immediately after a heavy artillery bombardment, mid afternoon of 21 August. All the lines suffered heavy casualties from Turkish machine gun fire and the third line was not able to make any movement at all. The troops had to dig trenches and fortify their positions that night, but they were well short of their objective. The men from 14 B who were out in the advanced position under heavy fire from the Turks, were relieved by 16 B very early in the morning of 23 August. Presumably, Private Dewell was killed on 21 August but his body was not recovered when his unit withdrew. The casualties just for 14 B were given as 103. There was a Red Cross report completed for Private Dewell. One witness – Pte A Stuckey 129, A Co., 14th Btn. – described Dewell’s fate:
Witness said Dewell was killed on Aug 21, on the left toward Suvla. Pte W. Hartigan, 1472, A Co., 14th Btn., was wounded at the same time. Hartigan told witness soon after the charge that as he was lying wounded he saw Dewell drop, shot dead near him. Dewell was running down the hill in the charge at the time. He was a young fellow of 20, with fair hair.
Hartigan’s service record indicates that he was wounded the same day – ‘abdominal wound’. He also was first listed as missing on 21 August, but at some point he must have been able to get back to the Australian lines.
Prior (2009, pp 206-207) is highly critical of these last actions of the Suvla campaign:
A common feature of these operations was their poverty of purpose. All of them were designed only to improve the local tactical situation on various parts of the line. None were attempts to seize the Anafarta Ridge and so could have made no substantial difference to the overall position of the IX Corps. What they did was add to the casualty bill.
When his aunt completed the (National) Roll of Honour form, she indicated that her nephew, William Scoones Dewell, came to Australia as a 20yo. This suggests that he had only been in Australia for a short period – only months – before he enlisted. Obviously, his time in Australia – before enlisting, going overseas and dying on Gallipoli – was very short. In such circumstances, his chances of ever becoming a ‘local’ in some specific location were very limited. Certainly his service file gives no indication that he had an association with any location, and his aunt just listed Melbourne as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Similarly, she merely gave the ‘Dardanelles’ as the place where he was killed.
But there is one specific piece of evidence that ties William Scoones Dewell to the Shire of Alberton. In the correspondence files of the Secretary of the Shire of Alberton – G W Black – is a letter from William S Dewell, dated 18 November. He had tried to enlist at Yarram but was told by Black to go to Melbourne.
I applied to you for enlistment but as you were not enlisting at that particular time you advised me to apply to the A.A.G. Victoria Barracks.
Presumably, after the large group of volunteers enlisted in late September 1914, there was something of a hiatus, and in this interval extra volunteers were told to report to Melbourne.
Prior to enlisting Dewell had been working at Wonyip. As indicated, he could not have been working in the district as a farm labourer for long, but he definitely was working in the Shire before he enlisted.
100 years on, it is hard to understand the motivation behind the letter. There was certainly no requirement to advise the Shire Secretary that he had enlisted. Presumably, this young man wanted someone, from the district where he had been working and living, to know, officially, that he had enlisted. Perhaps, away from his own family, he was simply after some acknowledgement: his patriotic action counted and someone needed to know.
However, as things turned out, the letter did not do much good. His name is not recorded on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, nor the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. There was no Shire Medallion. Without the evidence of the letter, there would be no association whatsoever with the Shire.
As indicated, Private Dewell’s body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial. He passed with hardly a trace, first in Australia and then on Gallipoli.
Correspondence, Shire Secretary.
Shire of Alberton Archives, Archive One, File Number 703B, Recruiting & Enlisted Men (Box 398)
Prior, R 2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney
First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Scoones Dewell [surname is, incorrectly, DOWELL on this record]