86. J CARTER

James CARTER (1527)

According to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (23/9/14), James Carter was one of the large group who enlisted at Yarram on Wednesday 16/9/14 and then left by train for Melbourne the following Monday (21/9/14). However, there are records in his service file which suggest that he actually enlisted in Melbourne, one month earlier, on the 15 August, not long after the formal declaration of war. Further, the date of enlistment on the Embarkation Roll is given as 15/8/14. Perhaps he enlisted in Melbourne but then returned home to Port Albert and effectively re-enlisted with the rest of the local men. Whatever the exact situation, his name was definitely included on the list of those who enlisted in Yarram on 16/9/14.

At the time, James Carter was 21 yo and single. His religion was given as Church of England. He was a local boy who had been born at Port Albert, went to school at the Port Albert SS and grew up in the district. His occupation was described as  both labourer and ‘hospital assistant’. The papers also suggest that he was another recruit who was enlisted for the ‘Light Horse South Gippsland’ but ended up in the infantry. Two of James Carter’s brothers enlisted and both were fortunate enough to survive the War.

Private Carter was initially attached to 8 Battalion and he left Melbourne for Egypt on 19/2/15. He saw action at Gallipoli until he was taken off the Peninsula in late August (27/8/15) suffering from ‘diarrhoea’. The war diary for the 8 Battalion from the time shows that there was a crisis in the troops’ health, with a steady stream of men being hospitalised. In the 10 days leading up to Private Carter’s evacuation, the diary recorded 134 men from 8 Battalion being hospitalised. Many others remained ‘sick in the lines’. The main problem appeared to be diarrhoea and there is an entry on 18/8/15 that has 419 men with ‘diarrhoea’ and 118 with ‘Barcoo rot’.*

Private Carter was evacuated to Mudros and then to Malta. His condition was then described as ‘dysentery’. Then in late October he was sent by hospital ship to England and was admitted to hospital in London. He recovered and was sent back to Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 13/1/16. By that point, the Gallipoli campaign had finished.

When he returned to Alexandria, Private Carter, together with half the strength of 8 Battalion, was reassigned to the newly formed 60 Battalion. The new battalion left Alexandria on 18/6/16 and disembarked at Marseilles on 29/6/16.

60 Battalion was involved at Fromelles in July. Private Carter survived Fromelles but was wounded 2 months later (17/9/16). At the time, 60 Battalion was  about 10km from Fromelles in the region between Le Doulieu and Estaires. The war diary refers to the specific location as Rue de Bois. Private Carter was evacuated to hospital – 7 General Hospital, St. Omer – but died about one month later (13/10/16) and was buried at the St. Omer Souvenir Cemetery.

The circumstances surrounding the wounding of Private Carter are unclear. There is very little detail in the war dairy for 60 Battalion for that day and no report of any major action. But there were were reports that both sides were involved in sporadic shelling. Most likely, he was wounded by shrapnel and it appears that he was hit in both the left leg and back. The wounds were described as ‘serious’ and ‘dangerous’.

As indicated, Private Carter died in hospital on 13/10/16. At the time, there was a major breakdown in communication between the AIF in France and Base Records in Melbourne. It is unclear what caused the breakdown but the effect was that on 13/10/16 – the exact day that Private Crater died in hospital in France –  Base Records in Melbourne wrote to Private Carter’s father at Port Albert informing him that … advice has been received to the effect that No 1438(1527) Private J. Carter, 60th Battalion, is pronounced out of danger. It went on to reassure the father … that in the event of any further reports being received concerning the above soldier you will be promptly notified.

This was the first the family knew that there was a problem. But then just 2 days later (15/10/16) – presumably after another communication from France –  Base Records sent a telegram to the father advising,

Now Reported Son Private James Carter Suffering Gunshot [sic] Wound Leg And Back Will Promptly Advise If Anything Further Received.

It would have been difficult for the family to reconcile the timing of the 2 communications. Clearly, their son had been wounded but, presumably, they would have reasoned that the order of the 2 communications had been reversed somehow or other and they could be confident that, although badly wounded, he was at least out of danger.

It is not clear exactly when the family found out that far from being out of danger their boy was dead. However, a letter written by the father on 31/10/16 indicates that it was sometime over the next 2 weeks. The last sentence in the father’s letter must stand as a classic expression of understated dismay:

Re my son James Carter reported died of wounds on 13th Oct. Will you kindly inform me when he was wounded. The Hospital he died in and if he left any will or any other details you may have knowledge of. I have been taken by surprise after receiving report from you that he was pronounced out of danger
Yours obediently

The Official Report of Death of a Soldier was duly completed on 22/11/16.

While the AIF clearly botched the reporting of Private Carter’s death and thereby caused unnecessary grief for the family, on several earlier occasions Base Records in Melbourne had helped maintain communication between the family and their son serving overseas. Private Carter was not very diligent at writing letters home, nor even responding to letters the family wrote to him. This was the case even when he was recovering in hospital in England at the start of 1916. On 3 occasions, the father had written to Base Records requesting information on his son. On each occasion, there was a detailed and helpful reply from Base Records.

In July 1917, a  small amount of personal kit – Book, Wallet, Note Wallet, Discs 2, (1 on Chain); Letters, Card, Post Card, Photo Case, Photo. – reached the family in Port Albert.

The family did not complete the information for the (National) Roll of Honour. Private Carter’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Soldiers’ Memorial.

  • Barcoo rot – named after Barcoo in Western Queensland – was a relatively common skin disease in the Outback. One cause was dietary deficiency in fruit and vegetables. It was also known as ‘desert sore’.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for Carter James 1527
First World War Embarkation Rolls: James Carter

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