Monthly Archives: October 2017

141. Beersheba 31 Oct, 1917: R H Morley, A Wilson & A S Tregilgas

Beersheba, October 31, 1917

There was far more to the capture of Beersheba on 31/10/17 than the assault by 2 mounted regiments – 4 and 12 – of the Australian Light Horse on the evening of the battle. However it was this charge by the Australian horsemen, with drawn bayonets, overrunning the Turkish entrenchments that created the most vivid image of the day’s fighting, both for those there and, in turn, all those who came to read about the battle, both in the media at the time and the many histories that followed.

For those at the time, here was a military victory from another time – a throwback to the past glories of the Empire – one that was so different from the industrial slaughter on the Western Front. The casualties were negligible. The men, as both horsemen and fighters – were superb. The charge itself was reckless, daring and unstoppable. For those who saw it that day – and perhaps also those who could imagine it – it was also such an over-powering spectacle.

Beersheba proved that highly mobile, lightly-armed cavalry was still very effective, at least in that particular theatre of the War. In the euphoria, other factors tended to be downplayed or overlooked: the accurate artillery support provided, the lack of barbed wire in front of the Turkish trenches and, of course, the strategic victories won on the same day by the infantry, and also dismounted horsemen from other (Australian and New Zealand) light horse regiments.

The following short extracts from Bean’s account of the charge in the Official History begin to explain how and why Beersheba – or more correctly the charge of the light horse at dusk in the battle for Beersheba – came to play such a revered role in the Anzac story:

The fine exploit of the 4th and 12th Regiments, although it occupied less than an hour, and although only 400 or 500 light horsemen actually made touch with the enemy, had a far-reaching effect on the whole campaign. (p403)

This dazzling success of galloping horsemen against an enemy in entrenchments was of vital significance to an army commander who had at his disposal a great force of three mounted divisions. It was a shining precedent to every divisional, brigade and regimental leader. (p 403)

A German staff officer captured in Beersheba said that, when the 4th Brigade was seen to move, its advance had been taken for a mere demonstration. “We did not believe,” he said, “that the charge would be pushed home. That seemed an impossible intention. I have heard a great deal of the fighting quality of Australian soldiers. They are not soldiers at all; they are madmen.” From then to the end of the war the Turks never forgot Beersheba; their cavalry, always shy of the light horsemen, from that hour practically faded out of the war, so afraid were they of a blow from these reckless men who had ridden their big horses over strongly armed entrenchments; and the enemy infantry, when galloped, as after Beersheba they frequently were, invariably shot wildly and surrendered early in the conflict.
The charge had dealt a heavy wound to the enemy morale, from the High Command down to the men in the ranks. (p 404)

References

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume VII – The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914 – 1918, 10th Edition 1941
Chapter XXIII – The Battle of Beersheba

For a general background on Beersheba see,
Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p363ff]

See also the article in the most recent edition of Wartime-Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 80 Spring 2017:
‘Beersheba and its Myths’, J Bou

 

Robert Herbert MORLEY (1501)
4LHR KiA 31/10/17

Robert Morley was the third of the Morley brothers from Gormandale to be killed. George Thomas Morley (Post 79) had been killed on 5/8/16 and Ernest Edward Morley (Post 119) on 14/5/17. They were the sons of Mrs Sarah Morley. It was Mrs Morley who unveiled the honor roll for the state school at Gormandale in December 1918. As noted in the earlier posts, while the family was from Gormandale, none of the 3 brothers appears on the memorials in the Shire of Alberton, apart from that for the Gormandale school.

The circumstances of the Morley family of Gormandale have become clearer since the last 2 posts, referred to above. The additional detail comes from an application for leave to return to Australia made by Charles Victor Clyde Morley (1494, 4 LHR) in January 1918. Charles VC Morley had enlisted in the 4 LHR with his brother, Robert H Morley. The application for leave makes it clear that, in all, 5 brothers had enlisted. It also states that by January 1918, three brothers – George Thomas Morley (4479), Ernest Edward Morley (5662) and Robert Herbert Morley (1501) – had been killed, and another brother – Archie Cortnage Morley (5883) – had been discharged as ‘permanently disabled’. The application was for the fifth brother, the youngest, – Charles V C Morley – to return home. This brother had written on his request for the leave:

Ill health of my family at home. Widowed mother, invalided sister and brother. Mother being well aged and failing in health. Brother requires to undergo operation otherwise he will probably lose his eyesight, which would mean my mother and sister being left at home alone, therefore I think they urgently need me.

The request for the special leave was approved, but the paper work was not completed until May 1918. The son returned to Australia at the end of July and was finally discharged in early September 1918. The case is a striking example of the impact of the War on one family.

Robert Morley enlisted 28/6/15. He was 24 yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘farmer’ but it is more likely that he worked as a farm labourer. His religion was given as Methodist. His father was dead and his mother was listed as the next-of-kin.

As indicated, he enlisted as reinforcements for 4 Light Horse Regiment and his younger brother – Charles Morley – enlisted with him. Both had been members of the 13 Gippsland Light Horse based at Traralgon. The brothers embarked for Egypt on 29/10/15.

Trooper Robert Morley was taken on strength with A Squadron, 4 LHR at Heliopolis on 2/1/16. There are few details of his service but he was hospitalised with mumps in late January 1916.
He was killed in action at the Battle of Beersheba on 31/10/17 and buried in the Beersheba War Cemetery.

The cable advising the family back In Gippsland of his death was dated 8/11/17. News of the death appeared in the Traralgon Record on 13/11/17:

Our Gormandale correspondent writes, Word came through on Friday last [9/11/17] that another of the local soldier lads had been killed in action in Palestine in the recent fighting. This was Private Rob. Morley, who with his brother Charles, left Australia for the front in October 1915. Both lads were in the Australian Light Horse, and had been in action several times. This makes the third of the Morley boys who have forfeited their lives in the fight for right and honor. The relatives, especially the aged mother, have the respectful sympathy of their neighbours and the former comrades of the fallen one.

The family placed a bereavement notice in the same paper on 4/12/17:

Mrs Morley and Family desire to convey their sincere Thanks to their many kind friends and relations for visits, letters and cards of sympathy in their recent sad bereavement, the loss of their loved son and brother, Trooper Robert Herbert Morley, killed in action in Palestine, October 31st, 1917.

Personal belongings were returned in May 1918: 1 Money belt containing 22 coins & badges, 1 aluminium cap, 1 testament, 1 towel, 2 Handk’fs, 1 Muffler, 2 Prs. Socks, 2 Housewives, 1 bundle P’cards, 2 Negatives (in Testament).

There is correspondence in the service file that sheds some light on the memorial plate (below) to those of the light horse killed in the Beersheba charge. It appears that the plate, described as ‘a metal inscription plate’, which was fashioned at the time to commemorate those killed, was returned to Australia in 1924. Base Records wrote to the families of those men whose names appeared on the memorial:

The plate has been detached from a temporary cross erected in the Beersheba Military Cemetery which was doubtless removed following the provision of individual headstones, and with a view to its future preservation it is suggested that same be handed over to the custody of the Director of the Australian War Museum. Before proceeding to dispose of it in this manner however, I should be glad to learn whether you concur with the above proposal as it is not desired to take any action in the matter that might not commend itself to the relatives of the soldiers concerned.

Mrs Morley wrote back indicating that was ‘quite willing’ for the plate to be entrusted to the War Museum. Presumably the other relatives also agreed.

There is no Red Cross report for Trooper Morley and the war diary for 4 LHR is sparse. For 31/10/17 it simply notes:

The Regiment reached Iswaiwin where it rested till 1600. Headed by A Squadron, followed by B Sqdn with C in close support, the Regiment charged at the gallop the Turkish trenches E of Beersheba, which were carried and Beersheba was taken by 1800.

The other light horse regiment involved in the mounted attack was 12 LHR. According to Bean, the total casualties for 4 LHR were 2 officers and 9 other ranks killed – Morley would have been one of the latter – and 4 officers and 15 other ranks wounded.

References

Traralgon Record

National Archives file for MORLEY Robert Herbert 1501
Roll of Honour: Robert Herbert Morley
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Robert Herbert Morley

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

R H Morley, courtesy Gippsland Memorial Park

4 LHR Beersheba Memorial, Courtesy Australian War Memorial

 

Alexander WILSON (209)
4LHR KiA 31/10/17

Alexander Wilson, also of 4 Light Horse Regiment, was also killed in the mounted assault at Beersheba on 31/10/17. There was no Red Cross file completed for him so the only details of his death are that he was one of the 9 other ranks killed in the mounted charge at on that day. His name is also on the memorial plate referred to above. He is also buried in the Beersheba War Cemetery.

There was a brother – Adam Wilson – who also enlisted. He survived the War. Both brothers were included on the roll of honor for Blackwarry. Beyond this single connection, the link to the Shire of Alberton was tenuous and the location both men most closely identified with was Traralgon, where they were both born and where their parents were living at the time they enlisted.

When he enlisted very early in the War on 19/8/14 at Broadmeadows, Alexander Wilson was 21yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘labourer’. When his mother – Alice Wilson – completed the information for the (National ) Roll of Honour she described his ‘calling’ as ‘assistant bacon curer’. She also noted that he had attended the state school at Traralgon.

He was another local who had also served in the 13 (Gippsland) Light Horse based in Traralgon. He joined the 4 Light Horse Regiment.

Alex Wilson gave his religion as Methodist and his mother, after the War, gave as a referee for the (National) Roll of Honour the Methodist minister – W H Scurr – who had known her son in Traralgon. In fact, tributes written after his death focused on the young man’s commitment to his religion. For example, the following appeared in the Traralgon Record on 13/11/17, just after his death became known in the community:

We regret to announce the death of Warrant-Officer Alex Wilson, oldest son of Mr and Mrs R.A. Wilson of Traralgon, who was killed in action in Palestine on 31st October. ‘Alex” as he was popularly called, was one of the first to volunteer for active service when the war broke out, and the call came to Australia’s sons. We well remember when he entered the ranks of the Methodist Young People’s Union, and became a helper in the church, and prior to leaving Traralgon for the front occupied the pulpit. Deceased was a young man of great promise, and what is more, and perhaps the highest tribute that can be paid to his memory, is the fact that he lived up to his profession. Amidst all the horrors, temptations and hardships of the campaign, in Egypt, where he was stationed for some time, Alex Wilson’s life was an example to others, and many of our brave soldier lads will mourn the loss of a good officer and a faithful friend, who was always ready to do what he could to lead them in the right way. Warrant-Officer Wilson was a man amongst men, respected and honoured by all with whom he came in contact. The sympathy of all will be extended to Mr and Mrs Wilson and family.

The same paper announced on 23/11/17 that a special memorial service was to be held for Warrant Officer Wilson:

A memorial service for the late Warrant-Officer Alex Wilson will be conducted by the Rev. W. H. Chapman in the Methodist Church on Sunday evening next at 7 p.m. Specially appropriate hymns and selections will be given by the choir and orchestra.

The family’s death notice published in the paper on 16/11/17 also featured a strong religious emphasis:

WILSON. – Officially reported killed in action at Palestine on October 31st. 1917, No. 209 Warrant-Officer Alexander Wilson, loved eldest son of R. A and A. Wilson, of Traralgon, and loving brother of May, Bob (munition worker), Adam (on active service), Jim and Bosie. Aged 24 years and 5 months.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Trooper Wilson rose through the ranks. By June 1915 he was corporal. He was promoted to sergeant in September the same year. By May 1916 he was squadron sergeant-major and then regimental sergeant-major by March 1917. The actual warrant for this final appointment was returned to the family in May 1918.

The cable advising of his death was dated 8/11/17. Personal belongings were returned to the family in June 1918:

1 suit Pyjamas, 7 Prs Socks, 6 Handk’fs, 2 Knee warmers, 1 Pr Mittens, 2 Towels, 1 face cloth, 2 combs, 1 Muffler, 1 Balaclava Cap, 1 Tin ointment, Envelopes, 2 Testaments, 9 Devotional books, 1 Tin containing Note paper & pencils, 1 Diary, 1 Mirror (broken), 1 Electric torch, Writing paper, 1 pipe, 1 key chain, Cotton, Australian badges, 1 note book, 14 Military training books.

In June 1918, the mother – Alice Wilson – wrote to Base Records in Melbourne to inquire if she were eligible for any sort of ‘pension’ or ‘allowance’. In the letter she made it clear that at the time her son was killed she did not apply for any pension … as I was not dependent on my late son at the time of his death. However, since then family circumstances had changed dramatically and she was keen to know if she was entitled to any support. At the same time, she stressed that she was not prepared to claim that, at the time of her son’s death, she had been dependent on him. As she stated in the letter:

I have been told that I could get a pension by virtue of my son being killed in action but if I had to make a declaration that he (my son) was my support I will never do that, for truth above all things is what I have taught my sons & is what has been my comfort in my bereavement to know that my late son was loved & trusted by all in the Regt. for his truthfulness and clean life.

The advice she received from Base Records was to contact the relevant authorities: Deputy Commissioner of Pensions (pension) and District Paymaster, Victoria Barracks (separation allowance). The contents of the service file do not give any further details as to any outcome.

The letter also detailed the changed circumstances the family faced and revealed just how dependent families were on the labour and support of their sons. In this particular family, the War took the labour of 3 sons – 2 enlisted and 1 went overseas as a munition worker – and, in effect, the family farm was lost. Admittedly, the mother gives a range of contributing factors – floods, injuries to both herself and her husband which limited their ability to work on the dairy farm – but the key factor was the lack of support from the sons. The ‘heavy payments in wages for hired labor’ forced them to give up the farm. This was another variation on the ‘sacrifice’ that families made to support the War effort.

On 14/12/17, about one week before voting for the second referendum on conscription, the Traralgon Record published a poem entitled The Anzac Call which was … written by the late Warrant-Officer A. Wilson. There is no indication when it was written – and how it came to be supplied to the paper – but the sentiment and intentions are clearly evident from the first of its 4 verses:

Why don’t they come when we call them?
Why do they linger a day?
They promised us all sorts of things on the wharf,
On the day we sailed away.
Old pals farewelled us with handshakes and cheers
And told us never to fret
They said they’d be with us to help us soon
But thousands have not come yet.

Additional information

Linda Barraclough pointed to a letter in the Trarlagon Record 15/1/18 which offered more information on the details of RSM Wilson’s death. According to the writer – H F Bolding – Wilson was killed after the charge had taken place. He was escorting 2 Turkish prisoners when one of them shot and killed him.

References

Traralgon Record

National Archives file for WILSON Alexander 209
Roll of Honour: Alexander Wilson
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander Wilson

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

A. Wilson, courtesy Old Gippstown, Moe

 

Archibald Sturt TREGILGAS (1762)
3LHR DoW 1/11/17

Archibald Sturt Tregilgas is another person with only a limited connection to the Shire of Alberton. On the honor board for the district of Devon North there is an A S Tregilgas. Similarly, on the honor roll for the state school at Devon North there is an entry for A Tregilgas. The name Tregilgas is not common in the National Archives AIF data base. There are only 13 entries. And there is only 1 entry for A Tregilgas and that is (Trooper) Archibald Sturt Tregilgas (1762, 3 LHR).

Apart from this obvious Devon North link, there is nothing else to tie him to the Shire of Alberton at the time of the War and when he enlisted he did so in Adelaide. Further, his place of birth was also given as Adelaide (Sturt) and the location was even used in his name. Also, on the (National) Roll of Honour, his school was given as Strathalbyn, in country SA.

At the same time, there were Tregilgas in the Shire of Alberton – at both Yarram and Devon – in the 1880s and 1890s and it appears that there were links with the Tregilgas family in South Australia. It is possible that as a child/youth he spent time at Devon North with another branch of the family. Also, his occupation – ‘stockman’ and ‘drover’ – suggests a highly itinerant life and he could well have worked with relatives in Gippsland.

As indicated, he enlisted in Adelaide on 20/9/15. At the time he was 31 yo and single. His parents were living in Prospect, a suburb of Adelaide. He gave his religion as Church of England.
Trooper Tregilgas enlisted as reinforcements for 3 Light Horse Regiment. His group of reinforcements left Adelaide on 18/11/15. Initially in Egypt he was attached to 1 LHR but then he was taken on strength in 3 LHR in June 1916. In March 1917 he qualified as ‘1st class gunner’ (Lewis Gun). A more detailed account of his service was provided by his brother on the (National) Roll of Honour:

Took part in every engagement from Romani across the Sinai Desert including Romani, Katia, Bir-el-Abd, El Arish, Magdhaba, Rafa, and the second battle at Gaza Palestine.

The younger brother – Thomas Ernest Tregilgas – who completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour also enlisted and also served in 3 LHR. It appears that he too had links to the Shire of Alberton because there is a T Tregilgas on both the Devon North District Honor Board and the honor roll for the school at Devon North; and there was only one T Tregilgas who enlisted in the AIF.

Archibald Tregilgas died of wounds – ‘G.S.W left thigh’ – on 1/11/17. He had been wounded in the assault on Beersheba the day before. There is a brief note that suggests that he was ‘dead on admission’ when he reached the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance. He was buried at Beersheba on 5/11/17. The cable advising of his death was dated 3/11/17.

There is no Red Cross report of his death. At Beersheba on 31/10/17, 3 LHR had been involved in the ground assault on Tel El Saba, not the mounted assault on the Turkish trenches outside Beersheba. The casualties for the day were light: 1 officer and 4 other ranks killed, 24 other ranks wounded and 1 missing; and 12 horses killed and 11 wounded. However, there was a single incident which was very costly. At 1715 that day an enemy aircraft bombed the regiment’s lines. This action was responsible for the greater part of the casualties – to both the troops and horses – that day. It is ironic that on a day when a cavalry charge proved successful, the threat of aerial bombing was so real. Bean wrote:

All day the German airmen were bold and effective in their bombing. (p 406)

Personal kit reached the family in May 1918:
2 Watches in case, 1 Shaving tidy, 1 Tobacco-pouch, 5 Handk’fs, 2 House wives, 1 Cigarette holder, 1 Jack knife, 1 Pr Scissors, 1 bell, 2 Tins of insect powder, Writing paper, Australian badges, 1 piece Aluminium, 1 spoon, 1 shaving brush, 1 brush, 2 combs, 1 toothbrush, 4 Prs Socks, 1 Pr Mittens, 1 Muffler, 2 Balaclava caps, 1 body belt, 1 Pr braces, 1 wallet, Post cards, a bottle of tabloids, 1 canvas holdall containing powder, bandage pins etc.

It appears that for those killed in Egypt, the packages of personal items returned from the front were greater than the equivalent ones being returned from France.

After the War, in October 1922, the AIF had to write and apologise to the family for entering ‘Archibald Stuart Tregilgas’ on the Memorial Plaque. They wanted to make sure that the second name was indeed Sturt, and not Stuart; and they also asked the family … in the event of the Plaque being incorrectly embossed, if you are prepared to accept same in its present form. Otherwise it will be necessary to arrange for the provision of a fresh Plaque, and I am afraid some considerable time must elapse before this can be obtained.

The mother replied:

With reference to the late No 1762 Driver A. S. Tregilgas his second christian name was Sturt, not Stuart, but if the plaque is made out in that way we are prepared to accept it in its present form.

References

National Archives file for TREGILGAS Archibald Sturt 1762
Roll of Honour: Archibald Sturt Tregilgas
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Archibald Sturt Tregilgas

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

140. A E Rust

RUST Albert Ernest (1277)
38B KiA 15/10/17

Albert Rust was born in Clifton Hill, Melbourne. His family must have moved to Gippsland when he was young because he was a student at the state school at Traralgon, and his name is recorded on the honor roll for this school. His name also appears on the war memorial in Traralgon. Additionally, when his father – George Rust – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour he gave Traralgon as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’. On the enlistment papers, Albert Rust’s address was given as Traralgon and his father’s address, as next-of-kin, was also Traralgon. Lastly, Albert had served at least 2 years in the senior cadets at Traralgon. He had held the rank of sergeant.

At the same time, for all the obvious links to Traralgon, there must have been a strong connection with the Shire of Alberton because Albert Rust’s name appears on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldier’s Memorial. On his enlistment papers, Albert gave his occupation as ‘draper’ and on the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour his calling was described as ’salesman (softgoods)’. His occupation appears to provide the explanation for the link to the Shire of Alberton. It appears that for some period, presumably just before his enlistment, he was in the employ of G F Sauer, draper of Yarram. Sauer was very prominent in groups that worked for the welfare of men who enlisted from the Shire, and it seems natural that his former employee would be acknowledged on the relevant shire memorials

Albert E Rust enlisted in Melbourne on 15/2/16. He was 21 yo and single. His religion was Church of England and he gave his father as next-of-kin.

Private Rust enlisted as reinforcements for 38 Battalion. His group of reinforcements left Melbourne on 20/6/16 and reached England in mid August 1916. Presumably because of his previous military experience – even if he was relatively young – he quickly gained promotion. He was made corporal either on enlistment or very soon after. In January 1917 he was promoted sergeant. Then in June 1917 he became company sergeant major and a few months alter, in September 1917, he was promoted regimental sergeant major. He was still only 22 yo at this point.

He was killed at Ypres on 15/10/17 and buried in the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery.

There is a very short Red Cross report. The only statement in the report is from an officer of 38 Battalion in March 1919:

I cannot give an accurate description of Casualty but I was detailed to find out full particulars of Casualty. He was killed at St Pierre’s Church, Ypres by a H.E. shell. Wounds were multiple. Dead on admission to Ypres Dressing Station. He was buried at Ypres Prison Cemetery [Ypres Reservoir Cemetery].

The cable advising of his death was dated 27/10/17. On 4/12/17 the following bereavement notice appeared in the Traralgon Record:

Mr and Mrs Geo. Rust and Family desire to tender their sincere Thanks to their many kind friends for their visits, letters and verbal expressions of sympathy in the loss of their dear son and brother, Reg. Sgt.-Major A. E. Rust, killed in France, October 15th, 1917.

There had been earlier advice in the same paper – on 23/11/17 – of his death. The short note told how the flag at the state school had been flown at half-mast after news that … Sergt. Bert Rust was reported as having made the supreme sacrifice in France.

Personal effects – Letters 3, Photos 2, Pocket book, Photo wallet, Religious Book, Scapula, Religious medallion – were returned to the family in February 1918. The family also received the various warrants associated with his appointment as regimental sergeant major.

By any standard RSM Rust was very unlucky. 38 Battalion had been involved in both actions at Passchendaele: Poelcappelle on 4/10 and Passchendaele on 12/10. In the first action there had been 184 casualties and in the second the figure had doubled to 382. Over little more than one week the battalion had lost 45 killed, 413 wounded and 108 missing, with many, if not most, of the missing dead. Those in the battalion who survived would have counted themselves very lucky when they were relieved on the night of 13/14 October. On that night, the remnants of the battalion moved back, about 10 Km, to the outskirts of Ypres. It appears that they remained there (Potyze) on 14 October and then the next day they took motor buses to Senlecques, well away from the front. It was on the march to the point where the buses were waiting that RSM Rust was killed, when a high explosive shell exploded nearby.

There is no reference to his death in the war diary of 38 Battalion. However, as indicated above, there was a very brief Red Cross report. The ‘St. Pierre’s Church’ – or ‘Pieterskerk’ – referred to in the report was a Romanesque church built in the 12-13 C. It was a visible landmark in Ypres and was shelled heavily, with only its arches surviving.

A more personal account of RSM Rust’s death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 25/12/17. The same account had previously been published in the Traralgon Record. It featured a letter written to the father by Thomas Stewart Milligan, 5133 (23 Battalion). Milligan, before enlisting, had been a storekeeper at Traralgon and knew the father.

Dear Mr Rust – I feel I must write to you at once, and give you what particulars I can concerning Bert’s death, news of which you will doubtless have officially received. I am with a working party quartered amongst the ruins of the town [Ypres], and each morning we go up near the front line and get our job finished, getting back about 10.30 a.m. As we were coming back this morning we noticed that the Germans were putting a few in the vicinity of our quarters, and on coming into the town found he had been putting the shells right amongst them, and that some of the 38th Battalion boys, who were passing on their way out to the front line (sic), had been killed, and others wounded. We gathered the personal effects of the killed, and on seeing the name Sergeant A. E Rust, I thought possible it was Bert, and to my sorrow, on looking in his pay book, found it to be only too true. I was able to identify him. Poor Bert, he was probably congratulating himself on getting out of a rather tough engagement, and then to get killed here. We forwarded his personal effects to the battalion, who will, no doubt, forward them on to you. He was buried this afternoon in a military cemetery about 1 1/2 miles from where he met his death. I noticed in his pay-book that he had been promoted to first-class Warrant-Officer. At a time like this, one feels that it is difficult to express one’s feelings, but I would like you to know that you have my deepest sympathy in this your sad loss. I did not know Bert in military life, but his promotion is significant of the fact that he has been doing his duty well, and his death will be a severe loss to his Battalion and his country.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Traralgon Record

National Archives file for RUST Albert Ernest 1277
Roll of Honour: Albert Ernest Rust
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Albert Ernest Rust
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Albert Ernest Rust

139. Passchendaele 2 – Oct 12, 1917: F G Allin, W Moulden & D Grinlington

The AIF casualties for Passchendaele 2 (12/10/17) were approximately 4,000. New Zealand casualties were 3,000. The British lost 13,000. The military objectives were not achieved. It was, in fact, a military disaster. Incredibly, Haig still would not give up his dreadful quest to take the village and it was left to the Canadians, at great cost, to capture it, finally, on 12/11/17. It was a hollow victory.

For the AIF, October 1917 became the costliest month of the entire War. The ‘sacrifice’ of so many – for so little – would play out in complex and bitter ways back in Australia.

References

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917, 11th Edition 1941
Chapter XXII – Passchendaele II – October 12th

For a general background on Poelcappelle see,

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p 357 ff]
Carlyon, L 2006, The Great War, Pan Macmillan, Sydney NSW
[Chapter 32] Carlyon’s chapter is aptly named, ‘The way of the cross’

 

Frederick George ALLIN (1206)
39B KIA 12/10/17

Frederick G Allin was born in Sydney. It is not known where he grew up but it appears that he completed 1½ years of an apprenticeship as a coach builder in Melbourne ( G F Pickle and Sons, Latrobe St. Melbourne). At the time he enlisted he was working with his brother – C J Allin – as a coach painter. Charles John Allin appears on the local electoral roll as a ‘coach builder’ of Yarram.

At the time he enlisted, both parents – John and Susannah Allin – were also living in Yarram. He gave his father as next-of-kin and his will left everything to his mother. In addition to his only brother – Charles John Allin – there were two married sisters. The brother was named as executor of the will and it was the brother who handled all correspondence with Base Records in Melbourne.

The circumstances surrounding the mother’s death were sad. She died on 26/11/17 after a lengthy illness. It appears that word of the death of her son, Frederick, reached the family in early November (8/11/17). However, the mother was never told. She died not knowing that her son had been killed. The situation was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 30/11/17, just after the mother’s death:

The death took place on Monday of Mrs. John Allin, at the age of 72 years. She had been ailing for some time, and was not informed, under doctors orders, that her son Fred had been killed whilst on active service.

The father died in 1919. This meant that all medals and memorabilia went to the older brother.

When the older brother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he indicated that Yarram was the town with which his brother was ‘chiefly connected’. Frederick G Allin’s name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

When he enlisted in Melbourne on 28/1/16 he was 26 yo and single. he gave his religion as Methodist and, according to the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (30/11/17), he had been … an active member of the local Oddfellows’ Lodge when living at Yarram.

Private Allin had had no previous military experience. He enlisted as reinforcements for 39 Battalion.

His group of reinforcements left Melbourne on 27/5/16. He reached the UK on 18/7/16, spent the next 4 months in training and then proceeded to France at the end of November 1916 (23/11/16). He was hospitalised with tonsillitis for about a week in March 1917 and the only other entry on his service record is his death – killed in action – 12/10/17.

There is a brief Red Cross report on his death. However there was no witness statement from anyone who directly observed his death. What is clear from the statements is the intensity of the fighting:

We had made our attack on the 12th Octr but failed to hold the ground and retired leaving all the dead and most of the wounded behind.
Re Pte. Allin. I know nothing of his burial, but I would say he was buried on the field and not in a soldiers’ cemetery as at that particular time there was not a chance of shifting the dead to any cemetery.

Incredibly, Private Allin’s body was recovered after the War. He is buried in the Poelcapelle British Cemetery, Belgium.

The war diary of 39 Battalion points out the difficulties the troops faced in even getting to the assembly point – shelling and the congested track which slowed movement down – and it is clear that once the attack was launched it fell apart quickly: there was no direction from officers – most were killed or wounded – order broke down and the men fell back.

About 8.a.m. on the 12th inst. I [Lieut-Col R. C. Henderson, C.O. 39 Battalion] received word that men were bunched together behind pill boxes and did not know what to do as they had no officer with them. I immediately sent forward Lieutenants Nicholes & Edwards to organise them and lead them forward; both these officers became casualties. It was then reported to me that the forward troops were held by snipers and machine gun fire which I reported to Brigade and was ordered by the Brigadier to send forward the reserves.

I sent Captain A. T. Paterson forward with what troops remained to me. About midday men began to filter back who on being questioned stated that they were told to get back. I ordered them to dig in on the present line …. After digging in the Brigade was re-organised.

Standing patrols were put out on the ridge in front of Consolidated Line but were ultimately withdrawn under instructions.

Relief of the Brigade by the 11th Brigade commenced at about 7. p.m on the 13th inst, and was completed about 8.30.p.m.

The return journey was made under great difficulties owing to the state of the track and took about 5 ½ hours to complete.

Through the operations the weather was very cold and wet and severely taxed the strength of the men.

The war dairy of 39 Battalion also reveals that on the day Private Allin’s company (D Coy) had been attached to 38 Battalion. The 2 battalions had merged in the lead up to the attack because of the appalling conditions on the approach track. The figure for those ‘missing’ after the battle is not available for 39 battalion but for 38 Battalion the figure given was 101, most of whom, presumably, had already been killed or wounded, and left behind, when the troops fell back.

In May 1918, a few items of personal kit were returned to the family in Yarram: 1 kit Bag Handle, 1 Lock & chain, 1 Drinking cup, 1 Clothes brush.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for ALLIN Frederick George 1206
Roll of Honour: Frederick George Allin
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frederick George Allin
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frederick George Allin

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

 

William MOULDEN (2711)
48B KiA 12/101/17

William Moulden enlisted in Bunbury, West Australia in March 1916. However he had been born in Yarram and had grown up at Binginwarri, attending the local state school. His father – William Moulden – had been killed in a bullock dray accident at West Alberton in 1890. The father left behind a widow and 8 children. At some point after 1901, one son, William, like others from the district, had left the Shire of Alberton and moved to work in the timber industry in Western Australia. The mother, and most of the children, remained in Gippsland. One older brother – James Moulden – lived at Binginwarri and the mother lived first at Yarram and then at Hedley, with one of her daughters.

While William’s name does not appear on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial, it does appear on the honor roll for the state school at Binginwarri. Also, the place of ‘association’ given on the (National) Roll of Honour is Alberton. As indicated, the larger family was still in the district, and even William himself was remembered as a ‘local’. When news of his ‘missing’ status was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 9/1/18 – several months after he was reported as ‘wounded and missing’ from 12/10/17 – he was referred to as ‘native of Binginwarri’.

When he enlisted (16/3/16) Private William Moulden was 38 yo and single. He recorded his occupation as ‘timber worker’. He had previously been rejected for the AIF on the grounds of ‘defective hearing’. He gave his mother – Sarah Ann Moulden – as his next-of-kin and her address was recorded as Yarram.

For his religion, Private Moulden recorded ‘Nil’. It appears that the family was Catholic.
Private Moulden’s service record is short. He enlisted as reinforcements for 48 Battalion and embarked from Fremantle at the end of October 1916. He joined 48 Battalion in France in early February 1917.

He was initially reported to be ‘wounded & missing’ from 12/10/17 and this status was not changed until a court of enquiry held in Belgium in early April 1918 found that he had been killed in action on 12/10/17. The family in Gippsland was advised of the outcome via a cable dated 24/4/18.

In the interim between October and April, the family wrote requesting information. The brother – James Moulden – even wrote to Senator Pearce as Minister for Defence. For its part, Base Records in Melbourne wrote to the family – using the standard form – to establish if in fact they had had any further communication from Private Moulden himself or if they had learned any details of his fate from others.

The body was never recovered and Private Moulden’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial. To add to the family’s distress, no personal belongings were ever recovered. The family wrote requesting information about personal belongings only to receive the standard reply:

As the late soldier was posted “missing” for some months before it was ascertained that he had been killed in action it is probable that anything he had on his person would have disappeared.

There is a detailed Red Cross report and while there are inconsistencies between the witness statements, the overall picture is clear. The description of him being both wounded and missing makes perfect, if not cruel, sense:

… I saw him on Passchendaele Ridge on the morning of 12th Oct. 1917 in “no mans land” badly wounded. He looked very bad, and was left behind when we retired the same evening. The enemy were shelling the ground heavily. Sergt. W. McKinley 2827

… I saw him hit by bullet in the leg and arm at Passchendaele Ridge on October 12th, 1917. I bandaged him and left him. He could not walk. We had to retire the same day, and our wounded were left behind. L.Cpl. F. W. Connolly 4775

… I saw him fall hit by several bullets. I was going over to get his paybook and got wounded myself. I was quite close to him and no doubt that he was dead. I was there for about an hour after he was hit and then walked out. In fact I was right alongside his body. Cpl. J. R. Jones

… On Oct 12th we advanced about 800 yds at Passchendaele and came to a stop, and there he was hit going from one shell hole to another. A sniper shot him through the hip. We hung on there for three hours and then had to fall back. Before we left we covered him with an oil sheet. He was alive then. He was near Curnow [?] who was more severely wounded than he was, and was also left behind. Pte. J. P. Woods 3244

… We were attacking at Passchendaele on the 12th Octr. at Dawn. We failed in our attack, and got back to our own line in the afternoon, which we held. We were taking cover about 500 yards from our objective. While there I was alongside of Moulden. I saw him hit in the leg and arm. I bound him up. When we retired he was left there. I don’t think he was very bad. The Germans were following us up and over this part of the ground. L/Cpl. F. T. Connolly 4775
Private Moulden was one of the many ‘left behind’ that day.

The war diary of 48 Battalion provides a graphic account of the battle. It starts with the weather – it was raining from 2 a.m. on the morning of the 12th October – and highlights the difficulty of movement to the jumping off point. The intensity of the barrage was poor and it moved too quickly for the heavy conditions the men faced. As well, there were many casualties as the shells fell up to 100 yards short.

The greatest problem, at least for 48 Battalion, was the fact that 9 Brigade (34-36 Battalions) on their left did not advance at the same rate – if they advanced at all – and therefore left their flank exposed. Essentially, 48 Battalion could not proceed much further than 300 yards because of its exposed flank. The men became pinned down by intense fire:

During the work of consolidation on the new line enemy sniping and machine gun fire became very precise and heavy and almost every man who showed himself became a casualty…
A smaller group were in advance of the consolidated line but these advance posts were wiped out when the enemy counterattacked in the afternoon. It noted … Very few, if any, of these men got back to our final position as they were caught by snipers…

Eventually, the line fell back to its original position, the jumping off trenches. The casualties were very high: 372 killed, wounded or missing. The issue of getting the wounded out was obviously significant:

The casualties sustained by the Battalion chiefly occurred after line in advance had been reached and while the work of consolidation was being carried out, and during the withdrawal, and the subsequent two days in the line [the battalion was not relieved until the night of 14 October]. It was found impossible to evacuate the stretcher cases from the forward area in advance of the original jumping off line, but all walking cases were brought out and as far as is known no wounded were in the area occupied after the withdrawal.

With so many missing – including Private Moulden – the last claim was more of a desperate hope than a statement of fact.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for MOULDEN William 2711
Roll of Honour: William Moulden
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Moulden [?]
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Moulden

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

William Moulden, courtesy Ann Longwood

Dudley GRINLINGTON (3386/Lt)
48B DoW 17/10/17

Lieutenant Dudley Grinlington was wounded on 12 October and died of his wounds on 17 October 1917.

It is difficult to uncover the connection between Dudley Grinlington and the Shire of Alberton. In fact, the evidence is generally circumstantial.

On the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor there are 2 names: Grimlington, J.V. and Grimlington, D. and the latter is marked as a war death. Equally, the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial records Grimlington D as one of those killed on active service. However there is no record in the National Archives of anyone with the name Grimlington having ever served in the AIF. But there were 2 brothers who do match: Dudley Grinlington – died of wounds 17/10/17 – and Joseph Vincent Grinlington; and given that both were born in Tarraville it is reasonable to argue that the Grimlington on the Shire of Alberton memorials is actually Grinlington. At the same time, I have not yet been able to locate any other direct evidence that ties these 2 brothers to the Shire of Alberton. Their father, at the time they both enlisted, was a postmaster so perhaps at a earlier period he had been the postmaster at Tarraville.

The family was Victorian. The 2 brothers, as indicated were born in Tarraville and the father was postmaster at a series of country post offices, including Chiltern – when the brothers enlisted – Rutherglen (1916) and Portland (1921). The father indicated on the information for the (National) Roll of Honour that his son, Dudley Grinlington had, prior to enlistment, served 2 years in the ‘Garrison Artillery, Melbourne’. The father also gave Williamstown as the location with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.

While the 2 boys were born at Tarraville, there is no record of either of them attending any local school in the Shire of Alberton. Possibly the family had left the Shire before they were of school age. However if their association with the Shire was so brief it is hard to believe that their names would have been included on the local memorials. The other possibility is that while the family resided at Tarraville, the boys attended school outside the Shire. There is some suggestion that this is what happened, in as much as the father on the (National) Roll of Honour recorded ‘grammar school’ as the school Dudley had attended

For all the links to Victoria, Dudley Grinlington was working as a bank officer in the National Bank in Perth when he enlisted.

He enlisted on 1/8/15. He was 26 yo and single. He gave his father – Joseph Arthur Grinlington – as next-of-kin. The father’s address was Chiltern. The religion was given as Church of England.
Private Dudley Grinlington had previously tried to enlist – in Perth – but had been rejected because of ‘varicocele’.

He enlisted as reinforcements for 16 Battalion and his unit left Fremantle on 1/11/15. He became a member of 48 Battalion in early March 1916 when it was set up in Egypt.

Private Grinlington rose through the ranks quickly, presumably because of his previous service history. He rose from corporal to sergeant and then in March 1916 he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant.

48 Battalion reached France in June 1916. Two months later, in early August, 2 Lt. Grinlington was wounded at Pozieres. He was repatriated to England and underwent extensive surgery and did not rejoin his unit until the end of September the following year – 25/9/17 – less than one month before he died.

While he was in England recovering from his wounds he was promoted to lieutenant (1/10/16). He also married – Florence Annie Grinlington – an English girl from Middlesex.

Lt. Grinlington actually provided a detailed, persoanl account of the time he was wounded at Pozieres. It came from a letter he sent home which was then published in several local papers, including the Williamstown Advertiser on 4/11/16. It reads a little like a Boys’ Own adventure:

“When I was first hit I thought I was done for, on account of my bleeding so much, as three of my arteries were open, and I lay down waiting for death to come. After a quarter of an hour I found that I still lived and retained consciousness; also on top of this came the gas alarm.

The Germans were gassing us on one of our flanks, and you can imagine my plight having to push a gas helmet over my head with my jaw all broken and bleeding, and then I could not grip the tube because of my smashed jaw. Thank God the gas never came our way or I would have surely died of suffocation. Strange to say that although I got the full contents of the grenade, it killed the men on both sides of me and wounded a lot of others.

When I saw that I still had life left in me I thought I would make a bolt for liberty and life; but I would never have got there had it not been for my batman and Vincent (my brother) – brave lads. They put my first field dressing on, and then I took my puttee off and wound it under my chin and over my head to keep my broken jaw up. They then took me across about 400 yards of ground, nothing but shell holes made by our artillery when pounding the Germans up, and this was literally swept with shrapnel, high explosives and bombs bursting. The shells were falling at the rate of about 20 a minute. Thank God neither of the brave lads were hurt whilst taking me across this open country; but, oh horror, for when taking refuge from the bursting shells I jumped into a shell crater and it was full of dead Germans and Australians. They had been there some time and the smell was awful. I very quickly got out of that hole.

At last they got me to the field dressing station; I was then safe. I had lost a lot of blood. I think it was at Albert where my arteries were tied up, by electric torch, on account of the Germans bombarding the ambulance station. I got my wound at Pozieres, where there has been such heavy fighting, and I am proud to be an Australian after the magnificent fighting of our boys; they are absolutely fearless and frightened of nothing.

In my company every officer went out to it. The O.C. some days afterwards was carried away with nerves completely given way; the same night as I was hit the second in command had his two legs blown off and the other subalterns were killed; so that will give you some idea of hot fighting that took place. Our casualties were very heavy amongst the men also, but they are mostly wounded.”

The brother – Joseph Vincent Grinlington 3112 – had enlisted in July 1915 and joined 48 Battalion in April 1916. He reached the rank of sergeant. He was wounded – GSW arm – in April 1917 (Bullecourt) and repatriated to Australia in January 1918, and then discharged as medically unfit (wounded).

Another letter home – published in the Rutherglen Sun and Chiltern Valley Advertiser, 1/12/16 – gave some account of Lt. Grinlington’s time in the UK when he was recuperating from his wound. It is clear that the Grinlington family still had close relatives in the UK and that those ties were distinctly upper class. It is a example of how close the connections between families in Australia and the UK still were.

Did I tell you [the letter was to his father] that I went out and visited Mrs Peggie Grinlington, the wife of Major Grinlington (who has just got his D.S.O.); she lives with her mother and father, Lieut-Gen. Sir Arthur Browne and Lady Browne and her two sisters, the Honorables Misses Browne. I also met Mr. F. H. Grinlington there; he is the son of Sir John, and has invited me to stay down at his place in Devonshire. They were all very nice to me, and seemed rather pleased to know that there were sons of the family out in Australia, and it pleases them rather my being an “Anzac” officer. Anzacs are thought a great deal of over here.

The letter concludes with an account of his meeting with the King at Aldershot, on the occasion of some military sports event when a small group of wounded officers were introduced to the King.

Behind all this bonhomie, Lt.Grinlington had to come to terms with a debilitating injury. The details of his recovery from the wound from Pozieres are extensive. There were no less than 5 medical boards to review his ongoing condition. He was one of the early patients to experience plastic surgery.

The first medical board (12/12/16) found that it was going to take some seven months from the time of the injury before 2Lt Grinlington would be fit for military duty. It also noted that the effects of the injury were ‘likely to be permanent’. A brief description of the injury was given,

He is suffering from a grenade wound of left face. Left lower jaw was fractured: has lost 12 teeth & wounds all quite healed. Can only eat soft solids as opening of mouth is impaired.

At the second board (16/2/17) a more detailed account of what had happened was given,

At Pozieres on 4-8-16 a rifle grenade burst in close proximity to him, a portion of which tore the left side of the face open from below the eye to the neck; at the same time fracturing, with considerable loss of bone & teeth, the lower jaw in front of the left angle. He has had two plastic operations & three operations on his teeth in Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot. He has lost altogether twelve teeth. He has got bone union of jaw. There is slight facial paralysis on L. side.

At its next session (19/2/17) the board observed that 2Lt Grinlington was waiting for ‘dental applications’ and that he was ‘unable to masticate solid food’. In April (2/4/17) he was still having ‘some difficulty in masticating solid food’. Finally, at the end of April (30/4/17) the board found that ‘he can’t eat any biscuits – otherwise he is well.’

In April he joined 12 Training Battalion and then the Pioneer Training Battalion and then, as indicated proceeded overseas in September to rejoin his battalion.

There is an obvious question as to why, given so serious an injury and such an ongoing debility with eating, Lt. Grinlington was not repatriated back to Australia and given a medical discharge. His personal appearance, given the severity of the wounds, must also have been an issue.

A little over 2 weeks after rejoining his battalion (25/9/17), he was wounded at Passchendaele (12/10/17) – gunshot wound knee – and then died of wounds 5 days later (17/10/17). He was buried at Nine Elms British Cemetery near Poperinghe.

The war diary of the 48 Battalion for Passchendaele (12/10/17) has already been covered (see Private Moulden above). It highlighted the extreme difficulty in evacuating the wounded, many of whom were left behind. Lt. Grinlington was wounded either when the line went forward or when it consolidated. Either way, it appears that he did not make it to a casualty clearing station until the next day, 13/10/17. The time taken to receive medical attention no doubt contributed to the death. Nor does it appear that he was transferred to a field hospital before his death. Presumably, his death was, at least in part, the result of the great difficulties faced by the medical staff treating and moving the large number of casualties in the appalling conditions.

The cable advising of his death was dated 20/10/17.

As indicated, Lt. Grinlington had married while in England recovering from his wound. His wife was now his next of kin and all communication went to her. It appears that she also received the personal belongings of her late husband but there is no itemised record of these in the service file.

It appears that the wife came to Australia after the War. The date is not clear but it was probably not until after February 1919. Tragically, she died of ‘pneumonic influenza’ in Sydney on 9/5/19. It is likely that the the death occurred almost as soon as she arrived in Australia. Perhaps she contracted the influenza on the voyage. The death notice referred to her as ‘loving daughter-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Grinlington, Williamstown.’ There were no children. After her death, all medals and other memorabilia went to the father.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Williamstown Advertiser
Rutherglen Sun and ChilternValley Advertiser

National Archives file for GRINLINGTON Dudley 3386/Lt.
Roll of Honour: Dudley Grinlington
First World War Embarkation Roll: Dudley Grinlington

138. Passchendaele 1 – Oct 9, 1917: W Hickey, B Nicholas & H S Ray

The tone of historians who write about Passchendaele (Poelcappelle on 9/10/17 and Passchendaele on 12/10/17) always touches on the sense of despair. Despair because the attacks could never succeed, and those there at the time recognised this reality; despair because the attacks went ahead anyway; and despair because the level of casualties served no military purpose. Possibly there is also the realisation that the overall disaster that Passchendaele represented was driven by the failures of a small number of key individuals – both political and military – who, ultimately, were never held to account. Much of the writing focuses on who could and should have acted to avoid the tragedy in the first place, or at least bring it to a quicker end.

The essential story is well-known. After 4/10/17 the weather changed and rain turned the battlefield into a quagmire. The change in weather meant that the previous ‘successful’ strategy could no longer be employed. Most significantly, the essential artillery support was, effectively, no longer available. As importantly, the actual physical movement of the troops on the battlefield – this covered everything from putting in an attack to evacuating wounded and bringing up essential supplies – was utterly compromised. It was hardly possible to fight in the conditions – it was also pointless – and it proved impossible to ‘win’. The morale of the German troops did not collapse. Rather, British and Dominion troops lost faith in their commanders and wondered aloud at their blind stupidity and indifference to their fate.

As far as Poelcappelle – the first act of the disaster – was concerned, by the end of the day (9/10/17) the AIF had fallen back to its original positions and there were over 1,000 casualties. It was but a sign of far worse to come.

References

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917, 11th Edition 1941
Chapter XXI – The Plan Breaks Down. Passchendaele I – October 9th

For a general background on Poelcappelle see:

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p 353 ff]

Carlyon, L 2006, The Great War, Pan Macmillan, Sydney NSW
[Chapter 32]
Chapter 32 is aptly named, ‘The way of the cross’

See also 2 articles in the most recent edition of Wartime-Official Magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 80 Spring 2017:
‘The Most Dangerous Battle’, R Prior
‘The Tragedy of Passchendaele’, A Ekins

 

William HICKEY (5369)
23B KiA 9/10/17

William Hickey was nearly 41 yo when he enlisted in March 1916. He was a widower with 3 children. One of the children, the boy ( Lawrence/Laurence) was 9 yo at the time his father enlisted. There is no indication as to who cared for the children when the father enlisted. Hickey’s parents were dead and he gave his older sister – Joannah Harrap of West Alberton – as his next-of-kin. She had a large family so perhaps the children stayed with her. There was another sister who also had a large family. However, whatever arrangements were made for the care of the children at the time he enlisted, when the issue of medal distribution came up in 1922, the son, then 15 yo, was living at an orphanage (St Augustine) in Geelong.

William Hickey was born at Yarram. Unfortunately, no family member completed the (National) Roll of Honour form so there is only limited detail on his life. There does not appear to be any record of him attending any local school. However it appears that for at least 3 years – to 1899 – he ran a mail contract at Gelliondale. His name appears in the 1915 Electoral Roll as a labourer of Alberton West.

He had his initial medical at Yarram and completed the enlistment in Melbourne on 28/3/16. There was no indication that he had tried to enlist previously. News of his enlistment was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 5/4/16. Incredibly, he was described as ‘young man’:

We hear that three young men of West Alberton, Messrs. W. Hickey, R. Appleyard and Geo. James have enlisted, and go into camp early this month.

On the enlistment forms he gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’. His religion was Roman Catholic.

Private Hickey enlisted as reinforcements for 23 Battalion. His unit left Melbourne on 1/8/16 and disembarked at Plymouth on 25/9/16. There were 2 months training in the UK and then he was taken on strength in France in early December 1917. He was hospitalised wth Trench feet in early January 1917 and repatriated to England (Brook War Hospital) where he stayed until 10/3/17. He did not rejoin 23 Battalion in France until 3/7/17.

Initially he was reported ‘wounded in action’ 9/10/17. His sister, as next-of-kin, was notified on 14/11/17 that he was wounded, but there were no other details. In January 1918 this status was changed to ‘wounded and missing’. Finally, on 7/5/18 a court of enquiry determined that he had been ‘killed in action’ on 9/10/17. His sister was advised by cable dated 16/5/18. Two months earlier in February, she had been sent the standard letter asking if she had received any word from her missing brother or any relevant information from anyone else. She replied (5/3/18):

I am very sorry to say that I have not had any letters from my Brother since he has been missing. Thanking you kindly if you could only let me know what has happened to him as he is the only brother I have got. I think it must be a serious case. Thanking you very much.

There is a Red Cross report but it is very limited. The only witness who claimed to have seen him killed was E A Millard (1746) who was in same company (B Coy). Private Millard claimed that Hickey was killed by shell fire in the reserve lines and that ‘he was not badly knocked about’. Millard did not know if he had been buried. Emmanuel Alexander Millard was a station hand from Portland who was half Hickey’s age. He wrote the witness statement when he was in hospital in April 1918 suffering from recurring trench feet. He survived the war and returned to Australia in May 1919.

The war dairy for 23 Battalion presents an understated account of the fighting on 9 October and essentially represents the attack as a success. It gives total casualties for the attack as ‘about’ 67: 2 officers and 65 other ranks.

Incredibly, Private Hickey’s body was recovered at the end of the War. His sister was advised in December 1920 that her brother was buried in the ‘Tyne Cot British Cemetery, 5 ½ miles east north east of Ypres.’ (Plot 22 Row E Grave 16). It appears that identification was made by the cover of the pay book found on the body: ‘Hickey, 23rd Bn.’ As for several others in this group of men killed in October 1917, there was no personal kit returned to the family.

There was a will made by Private Hickey, dated 1/8/17, that left his personal estate to his 3 children. Their address was given as Bennison, about 50 km from Yarram. It is not known with whom the children were staying at Bennison. Their two aunts were both living at Alberton West so it does not appear that the childen were staying with them.

As indicated, when it came to the distribution of medals, there was the usual communication to ascertain if there was a male recipient. When the sister gave the details for the only son – Laurence Hickey – she indicated that he was in an orphanage at Geelong (St Augustine). This was in 1922 and the boy was 15 yo. The aunt, as the child’s guardian, was entrusted with the medals.

William Hickey’s name appears on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His name also appears on the honor roll for Stacey’s Bridge. Oddly, his name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for HICKEY William 5369
Roll of Honour: William Hickey
First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Hickey
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Hickey

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

 

Bryon Fitzgerald NICHOLAS MC (370/Lt)
24B KiA 9/10/17

Bryon F Nicholas was the younger brother of George Matson Nicholas – Post 95 – who was also killed. The connection that both brothers had to the Shire of Alberton was through education. Both were teachers at local schools some time prior to enlisting. Bryon Nicholas had been the head teacher at Gormandale East in 1912 and in 1913 he was in charge of the part-time schools at Carrajung South and Willing South.

Bryon Nicholas was born at Ballarat in 1893. He attended St Patrick’s College. Ballarat. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour was not submitted for either of the Nicholas brothers.

He enlisted on 12/3/15 in Melbourne. At the time he was 21 yo and single. His occupation was given as ‘State School Teacher’. The next-of-kin was his father – John Pern Nicholas – who was living at Trafalgar. He gave his religion as Roman Catholic, whereas his brother had given his as Church Of England.

Bryon Nicholas had had no prior military service before enlistment. He joined as a trooper in the Light Horse (13LHR) and left Melbourne on 28/5/15. He served on Gallipoli from September 1915 to the the evacuation. His first promotion – to lance corporal – came in November 1915.

By the time Nicholas reached Marseilles in March 1916 he was corporal. Initially in France he served with the 1st Australian and New Zealand Mounted Regiment but in late August 1916 he transferred to 21 Battalion. In September 1916 he was sent to the UK to undertake officer training at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 21/11/16 and in January 1917 he returned to France and was taken on strength in 24 Battalion. In April 1917 he was promoted lieutenant and also in April he was awarded the Military Cross. The award was for an action on the night of 17/3/17. In part, the citation read:

On the 17th March during operations against the enemy position on the Bapaume Ridge, Lieut. Nicholas was in command of a forward post, under M.G. and rifle fire. At considerable personal risk, he pushed out and dug in 2 standing patrols.

The award was gazetted in London on 11/5/17 and Base Records in Melbourne sent a copy to the father in Trafalgar on 5/9/17, 5 days before Lt Nicholas was killed.

HIS MAJESTY THE KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Military Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of his gallantry and devotion to duty in the field:-
Second Lieutenant BRYON FITZGERALD NICHOLAS
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a forward post. At great personal risk he went out and dug in two standing patrols. Later, he rendered valuable assistance in repelling an enemy counter-attack.

In June 1917 Lt. Nicholas was sent to the UK for further staff training. He rejoined 24 Battalion in late July. He was killed in action on 9/10/17.

There is no Red Cross report. The war dairy for 24 Battalion indicates that the battalion was taking casualties in the support lines and then at the ‘jumping of tapes’. The covering artillery support was described as ‘weak and irregular’. The advance was slow and the troops were pinned down by strong resistance from Daisy Wood. It notes that Lt. Nicholas was killed some time before 7.30 a.m. Casualties for the single day were 36 killed and 77 wounded.

In addition, there is an account – unsigned, but presumably by Captain E V Smythe, 24 Battalion – that states,

Lt. Nicholas was sniped through the head and chest on the 9th Oct. 1917 in the attack on DAISY WOOD forward of Broodseinde Ridge. Lt. Nicholas was buried on the day of his death by a party organised by Capt. E. V. Smythe (M.C) of this Battalion. Approx. location of grave Sheet 28 N.E. D. 23.a.8.2. Approx. 500 yards N.E. of BROODSEINDE.

Bean, in the Official History (p897) states that Lt. Nicholas was killed by machine gun fire.

The cable advising the parents of the death was dated 16/10/17. Despite the efforts made by Capt. Symthe, the body never recovered and Lt. Nicholas is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

An extensive amount of personal effects were returned in September 1918. Once again the relative difference between the scope and amount of the officer’s personal belongings and those of the enlisted men was very apparent. There was a valise which contained: 1 Trench Coat, 1 Cap, 1 Shirt, 1 Suit Pyjamas, 1 Kit Bag, 1 “Sam Browne” Belt, 3 Pr. Socks, 1 Collar, 1 Hair Brush, 4 Boot Brushes, 2 Razor Strops, 3 Razors, 2 Shaving Brushes, 1 Cigarette Case, 1 Pocket Knife, 1 Badge, 1 Drinking Cup, 1 German Book, 1 Soap Dish. There was also a suit case with: 3 Photos, Letters, 1 Hair Brush, 1 Coat Hanger, 1 Pr. Gloves, 2 Towels, 1 Cap, 7 Collars, 1 Tie, 5 Pr. Socks, 2 Handkerchiefs, 1 Pr. Puttees, 1 Pr. Stocking Puttees, 2 Mufflers, 1 Pr. Underpants, 1 Pr. Slacks, 1 Pr. Breeches, 1 S.D Tunic. There was also a kitbag: 1 Rug, 1 Pr. Ankle Boots, 2 Prs. Socks, 1 Balaclava Cap, 1 Muffler, 1 Small Book of Poems, Post Card Views, Letters. Lastly, there was a separate parcel, probably with the few articles on him when he was killed: Letters, Cards, Photos, Spray Wattle & Fern, Badges, Red Armlet & Red Tabs, Wallet, Rosary.

References

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917, 11th Edition 1941

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for NICHOLAS Bryon Fitzgerald 370/Lt
Roll of Honour: Bryon Fitzgerald Nicholas
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Bryon Fitzgerald Nicholas

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

Harold Seymour RAY (1526)
24B KiA 9/10/17

Harold Seymour Ray was born at Seymour and went to school at the local state school there. It is not known when the family moved to the Shire of Alberton but certainly by the time Harold enlisted in March 1915 they were well established there. Also by this time, the father – William Ray – had died. Harold gave his mother – Eleanor Ray – as his next-of-kin and her address was Alberton. Harold himself appeared on the 1915 electoral roll as a ‘labourer’ of Alberton West.

There was another brother – Robert Hudson Ray – who also enlisted from the Shire of Alberton. There was a third brother – Sydney Neville Ray – who also enlisted but he was in Sydney and had no contact with the Shire of Alberton. The 2 other brothers – Robert and Sydney – survived the War.

There was a fourth brother – Percy W Ray – but he did not enlist. It appears that this brother also moved to the Shire of Alberton but probably not until after the War. In 1922 his address was c/o South Gippsland Butter Factory, Yarram. As the oldest brother – both parents were dead by this point – Percy received Harold’s medals .

When the mother completed the (National) Roll of Honour, she gave Alberton as the location with which her son (Harold) was ‘chiefly connected’. Yet for all the obvious links to the Shire of Alberton, Harold Ray’s name is not included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honour. Yet his brother – Robert Hudson Ray – is included. And to show how inconsistent the recording of names on memorials could be, while Harold’s name is not on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, it is recorded on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

When he enlisted in Melbourne on 6/3/15, Harold Ray was 33 yo and single. He gave his occupation as farmer but, as noted, his occupation on the local electoral roll was labourer. Moreover, as none of the Ray brothers featured in the relevant rate book it is most likely that Harold worked as a farm labour in the district. He identified that he had served 2 years in the senior cadets. He gave his religion as Church of England. He enlisted as reinforcements for 24 Battalion.

Private Ray embarked from Melbourne on 8/5/15 and served on Gallipoli. He was evacuated from the Peninsula on 8/11/15 and taken to hospital at Mudros suffering from eczema. He was back in Alexandria by mid January 1916 and then transferred to France at the end of March. He was wounded – shrapnel wound right arm – on 5/8/16 and hospitalised in France. He rejoined his unit on 21/9/16. In March 1917 he was hospitalised with scabies and septic sores and there was more hospitalisation with scabies over March and May. He was killed in action on 9/10/17.

The cable advising of the death was dated 24/10/17. The mother by this point must have left Alberton as she was living with her oldest son – Percy W Ray – in Caulfield, Melbourne. The mother died in June 1919. It is possible that at that point, after his mother’s death, Percy Ray moved (back) to the Shire of Alberton.

On the first anniversary of the death, the following in memoriam was placed in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative. It was placed by the brother – Robert Hudson Ray – who had been repatriated to Australia in April 1918 and discharged on medical grounds. He had been severely wounded in August 1916 and hospitalised for a long time in the UK.

RAY – In loving memory of my dear brother, Private Harold S. Ray, late 24th Battalion, who was killed in action near Ypres on 8th Oct., (sic) 1917.
Inserted by his loving brother Bob, late 24th Battalion.

A small amount of personal kit was returned to the family in June 1918: 4 Books, Belt, 3 Brushes, Housewife, Pair Scissors, 2 Pipes, Cigarette Lighter, Camera.

There is a Red Cross Report of the death. At the time he was killed, Pte. Ray was working as a batman for 2 Lt. Leonard A Bacon. Lt. Bacon gave the following witness statement:

I state that Pte. Ray was killed by a bursting shell at the entrance to a pill-box on Broodseinde Ridge and he was buried just near the entrance. I saw him afterwards, hit by several pieces. He was my batman and his friend Harold Gallagher wrote and gave particulars to his people.

The statement was dated 7/3/18 and at the time Lt. Bacon was in 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth. He had been seriously wounded on the same day. After extensive hospitalisation in France and England Bacon was repatriated to Australia and discharged as medically unfit (27/11/18).

The more extensive account of the death was provided by the Private Gallagher mentioned in Bacon’s account. It was written on 6/4/18.

I might say that he was a pal of mine ever since we enlisted … and we were always together right up to the time he was killed in action on the 8.8.17 (sic). At the time he was killed we were in supports together both of us in a pill box. We were then Batmen. Harold Ray was making up a dinner for the Officers just at the mouth of the pill box. I was about 6 yards away from him when a shell landed right in the mouth of the pill box killing Harold Ray. He died about ten minutes after he was hit. We carried him out of the pill box. I then took all his belongings out of his tunic and sent them down to Battn. H.Q. telling them to please forward them on to his people. He was buried by his comrades about 300 yards from Zonnebeke lane near Kay Farm, at the time of his burial things were so hot here that every bit of ground was under shell fire so it was impossible to erect a cross over his grave. If at any time we are in that part of the line again, I will make it my business to visit his grave and erect some sort of cross.

While the date is obviously wrong, Pte. Gallagher’s account confirms the essential details. Once again, despite the extreme circumstances of the fighting on the day there was some attempt to identify the grave. However, the grave was never recovered and Private Ray’s name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial.

There is an intriguing twist to this particular case of the lost grave. The oldest brother – Percy W Ray – wrote to Base Records in early September 1922 asking if there was any more information on the recovery of his brother’s grave. He received the standard reply,

….regret to inform you that no burial report has been received in respect of your brother, the late No. 1526 Private H.S. Ray, 24th Battalion. For some considerable time past an exhaustive search has been made over the various battle areas with a view to recovering the remains of the fallen and in the circumstances it must reluctantly be concluded that the Graves Services have failed to locate your brother’s last resting place.

However, while the family probably never knew about it, over the next two years (1923-24) there was correspondence – preserved in the service file – suggesting that the grave had in fact been located.

The correspondence is incomplete but this is the likely account of events. In the first half of 1923, one of the teams searching for grave sites found a body wrapped in a groundsheet that was traced to Pte. Gallagher (1524) – the Private Gallagher above who had helped bury Private Ray– and on the body they found some religious ‘emblems’, recognisably Roman Catholic. The AIF in London therefore wrote to Base Records in Melbourne and asked them to follow up with Gallagher to ascertain what he knew of the groundsheet and religious items. Gallagher replied, and although his original letter is missing from the file, his version of events is known because it featured in the letter sent as a reply from Base Records to London. It is clear from Gallagher’s account that he believed the body to be that of Private Ray,

Your letter of the 20th July to hand in reference to the late Pte. Harold RAY, 1526, of 24th Batt. I might state that he was my pal, we went right through together until the 8th (sic) of Oct. 1917. In reference to the ground sheet I can safely say that it was mine as I was attached to the headquarters Lewis Gun Section in 1916 and a part of 1917. I did have my name on it. [presumably the ground sheet identified him by name, regimental number and some unit details] Well Pte. RAY was killed on the afternoon of the 8th of Oct (sic). Both he and I with several others went into a pill box to cook some dinner when a shell burst right in the doorway killing Pte. RAY and wounding two others. This happened while we were in close supports ready to go over the top at Daisy Wood in the morning. I carried Pte. RAY out of the pill box and covered him with my groundsheet. He was buried the next day by Cpl. Davis of the 24 Batt. At Zonnebeke about 300 yards from lane near Kay Farm.

I might state that Pte. RAY was not of the Roman Catholic faith. I can account for those religious emblems found on him. While we were in Egypt we went out to see Mary’s Well, also the fig tree alongside the well. Just before you get to them there is a little church, we went inside and while inside they sold us some religious emblems of the Roman church. I remember Pte. RAY saying to me that he would keep them for good luck. I might state that there were three of us bought these emblems, the other being L/Cpl Greenwell of the 24th Batt. He could also account for those emblems being on the late Pte. RAY.

In the letter to London it s clear that Base Records supports Gallagher’s version of events and believes the body to be that of Private Ray. The problem however was that the body had been recovered at Courcelette, 100+Km from Zonnebeke. Not surprisingly, Base Records believed that the War Graves Commission made an error in identifying where the body was recovered –

… the only explanation that can be adduced in light of present advice is that the War Graves Commission were in error in referring to the actual place of casualty as Courcelette.

Surprisingly – but, admittedly, there could be vital correspondence missing from the file – the final position taken was that the remains were not those of Pte. Ray. The two key pieces of evidence that led to this conclusion were that the body …was believed to have been buried about the Autumn of 1916 [nearly one year before] and, of course, the location – Courcelette rather than Zonnebeke.

However, if the body was not that of Pte. Ray then it is difficult to explain the groundsheet. It was clearly Gallagher’s groundsheet and Gallagher remembered using it to cover his friend’s body.

In the end – and this is where the correspondence finishes- the only possible explanation the authorities adopted was that there must have been two groundsheets; and so Base Records wrote to Gallagher (17/1/24) thanking him for his assistance, explaining that the body was not that of his comrade and asking him about a second groundsheet,

…the question is raised as to whether you were in possession of another ground sheet similarly marked, and if so, I should be very much obliged if you were to also enlighten me regarding the circumstances of its disposal.
… I should be glad to learn of any details you may be able to call to mind regarding the possession of an additional ground sheet bearing what appears to be at least a part of your regimental description.

There is no evidence of any response from Gallagher in the service file.

The case highlights the difficult work of identifying the bodies of soldiers buried in makeshift graves in the heat of battle. There also appears to be every possibility that Private Ray lies in an unmarked grave because of some clerical error.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for RAY Harold Seymour 1526
Roll of Honour: Harold Seymour Ray
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Harold Seymour Ray
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Seymour Ray

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

137. Oct 6, 1917: D A Hanrahan & R V Whitford

Denis Ambrose HANRAHAN 3762
5 Div. Ammunition Column KiA 6/10/17

Denis Ambrose Hanrahan was born at Welshpool in 1897. There were at least 6 children in the family and one brother – John Hanrahan 3167, 59B – also enlisted. John survived the War. He was wounded and repatriated to Australia in January 1918.

At the time Denis enlisted, his father – John Hanrahan – was dead. The father had had property – 315 acres – at Welshpool in the mid 1880s and Denis gave his occupation as farmer but it is not clear if any family farm still operated.

Denis was only 18 yo when he enlisted and he gave his address as that of his married sister – Nora Florence Butler – of Alberton West/ Binginwarri. When this sister completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she identified Hedley as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Presumably he was living and working in the area that straddled the boundary between the Shire of Alberton and the Shire of South Gippsland. His name appears on the war memorial at Welshpool. It does not appear on any equivalent memorial for the Shire of Alberton. However, as will become apparent, he was certainly known in the local area. Also, his family was well known in the area and, dating back to his father, there were strong links with the Shire of Alberton.

Private Hanrahan enlisted in Melbourne on 12/7/15 and, as indicated, was only 18 yo. He was single and his religion was Roman Catholic. As he was a minor, his mother had provided a note stating that, My son Denis has my consent to serve in the Expeditionary Force.

He enlisted as reinforcements for 7 Battalion and embarked from Melbourne on 23/11/15. In Egypt he transferred to 59 Battalion but then about one month later he transferred again, to the artillery, and was taken on strength of the 5 Divisional Ammunition Column. His unit reached Marseilles in June 1916. He was hospitalised for a short period in January 1917 with dental problems. He was killed in action on 6/10/17.

The cable advising of his death was dated 26/10/17. Strangely, when his death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 31/10/17 the wrong date (16/10/17) was given for his death. The death notice was placed by ‘his loving sisters and brothers’. It appears that by this point the mother had also died.

HANRAHAN – A tribute of love to the memory of our dear brother, Driver Denis Ambrose Hanrahan (Field Artillery), 3rd son of late John and Kate Hanrahan, Hedley. Officially reported killed in action in France on 16th October, 1917.
Greater love hath no man than this, that he laid down his life for his friends. Aged 20 years 7 months.

In the accompanying article in the paper the same day the wrong date was again given:

We regret to have to record the death of Private Denis Hanrahan, killed in action on the 16th last. This young fellow enlisted in the A.I.F. early in 1915 from Welshpool, being a native of Hedley, and only 18 years of age at the time. He served 12 months in Egypt, and volunteered for service in France, where he has been in the firing line for 12 months. His brother John is also serving in France. Denis was a smart pupil in the Hedley school, securing several prizes there under his teacher Mr. J. H. Wood. He leaves many friends and relatives to mourn his loss.

There was another reference to the family’s loss on 12/12/17 when the paper reported that the brother (John Hanrahan) had been wounded:

Mrs. Butler [married sister] received word last week from the Defence Department that her brother, Private John Hanrahan, was reported wounded. He was engaged in the fighting in France. We hope that John will soon recover from his wounds, as it is only a few weeks ago since his brother Denis was killed at the Ypres front.

The older brother John was wounded on 15/1017, 9 days after his brother was killed. As indicated, he was subsequently discharged on medical grounds.

There is a Red Cross report for Driver Denis Hanrahan. He was killed at Hellfire Corner, not far from the Menin Gate at Ypres. At the time, he was driving a team of horses transporting a load of shells to the front line. As indicated earlier, the work of transporting shells was particularly hazardous. The following witness statement from A. Lay, Casterton was completed back in Australia in July 1919:

I knew casualty, he was a well built man, 5’ 10” in height, fair complexion, about 24 years of age, known as Dinny. Casualty was driving along Menin Road with lumber, carrying ammunition to the guns when a high explosive shell landed alongside, he was killed instantly. I was in the lumber behind, about 30 yards away and drove up, dismounted and had a look at his body but he was quite dead. He was buried on the side of the road near C.C.S. There was a cross erected over the grave with his name, number and unit on it. He had volunteered to take a sick man’s place for the trip.

Driver Hanrahan was buried at Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, not far from Hellfire Corner, Ypres.

The personal effects returned to the sister at West Alberton were minimal: 2 Discs, Religious Medallions 3.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for HARRAHAN Denis Ambrose 3762
Roll of Honour: Denis Ambrose Hanrahan
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Denis Ambrose Hanrahan
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Denis Ambrose Hanrahan

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

Driver D A Hanrahan 3762, courtesy AWM

 

Roy Victor WHITFORD 3449
10B KiA 6/10/17

Roy Whitford was born at Won Wron in 1885 and grew up in the Shire of Alberton, attending the state school at Won Wron. However the father who had been a selector and contractor at Won Wron shifted to Western Australia at some point in the late 1890s.

Both Roy and his younger brother – Lewis Edmund Whitford – enlisted in Western Australia. The names of the brothers are included on the honor roll for Won Wron State School, but that is the only memorial in the Shire of Alberton where their names are recorded. The names on the Won Wron roll were read out at the ceremony to unveil the roll held in August 1918. It was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 7/8/18. Even though they were living in Western Australia, there were still strong family links back to Gippsland and the memory of the Whitford family was still strong at the time of the War. There is a picture of the brother included in the set of memorial photographs held by the Yarram & District Historical Society. The brother rose to the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Military Cross.

Private Roy Whitford enlisted in Perth on 6/10/16. He was 31 yo and single at that time and he gave his occupation as farmer. He gave his address as that of his father – Narrogin – and his father was listed as his next-of-kin. Presumably he was working on the family farm. His religion was Church of England.

Private Whitford enlisted as reinforcements for 5 Pioneer Battalion. He reached the UK in February 1917 and after several months in the 3rd Training Battalion he transferred to 10 Battalion and reached France on 22/8/17. Less than 2 months later he was dead.

Initially Private Whitford was reported as ‘missing’ from 6/10/17 and then ‘wounded and missing’. Surprisingly, it was not until 16/5/18 that he was confirmed as killed in action on 6/10/17. Correspondence in the service file indicates that, as late as March 1918, the brother – Lieut. L E Whitford – was trying to uncover his brother’s fate. The family had not received any communication from their missing son and would most likely have assumed the worst. There is a witness statement dated 26/3/18 which indicates that at least one of his mates wrote to the family advising them that he had been killed. But it is not clear when this happened. The cable confirming his death was dated 20/5/18. The official date of his death – 6/10/17 – was exactly one year after he enlisted in Perth. However, as will become clear, the official date is probably not accurate.

No personal kit was ever returned, and the body was never recovered. Private Whitford’s name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial.

Piecing together details from the war diary of 10 Battalion and witness statements from the Red Cross report it appears that Private Whitford was a member of a raiding party when he was killed. It appears that the raid took place on the early morning of 9/10/17 and that in fact he was killed on 9/10/17 not 6/10/17. The raid itself was a failure. Lack of artillery support was cited as the main cause of the failure. The report of the raid in the battalion war diary states that the raiding party consisted of 5 officers and 80 other ranks. The following summary from the report gives an indication of the extent of the failure and it shows how men could go ‘missing’. The fighting in the raid came down to a desperate hand-to-hand struggle. The report is also an example of how the worst failure could still be glossed as some sort of success.

6. In this operation I regret to say that Lieut. Scott, and 2/Lt. Rae were killed, Lieut. James and 2/Lt. Laurie were wounded, and 2/Lt. Wilson missing [the 5 officers leading the raiding party] ; also the greater part of the other ranks concerned were either killed or wounded.
A few wounded have passed through dressing stations but up to the present I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party [of a strength of 85].
7. It is quite possible that a certain number of the missing are wounded and prisoners of war, and others may yet come in or be accounted for definitely.
8. Some of the wounded crawled back into shell holes on the Western edge of the wood [Celtic Wood]. Every effort was made to get these men. Stretcher bearers with white flags were attempted, but the bearers were shot. After nightfall those that could be found were brought in.
9. Results. Heavy casualties were undoubtedly inflicted on the enemy. The Trench Mortar personnel successfully threw Stokes Mortar Bombs into two or three dugouts. Heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire was drawn into the Divisional Sector, which could have been employed elsewhere, as there is no doubt from his constant barrages the enemy thought an attack on that sector was intended.
10. The demonstration would have produced extremely good results and probably many prisoners had our artillery preparation been even moderately good – with far less casualties to our men.
11. The episode has in no way lowered the morale of our men, but has if anything, brightened it, owing to the fact that it is the first hand to hand struggle against great odds with no great artillery preparation in which they had taken part. The survivors are each now satisfied that he is the equal to any number of Germans.
Also the remainder of the Battalion were able to see, as lookers on during the early stages of the fight, what pluck and good leadership can do.

The following extract from the witness statement by Private D [?] Rhodes (3882), dated 4/4/18, explains the fate of Private Whitford:

I was only a few yards from him when I saw him killed during a raid we made on Celtic Wood on the early morning of the 8th Oct (sic). He was killed by a shell which blew his left leg off and he died almost immediately.

Another statement by F Wilson (1841) dated 28/5/18 gives the date of his death as the 9th October:

I saw Pte. R. Whitford die on 9th Oct. He had his left leg blown off, and died a few minutes later.

Lastly, another earlier statement by the same Wilson, dated 26/3/18, indicates how the family back in Western Australia most likely learned the news.

Passchendaele – out in the open on a raid, he was killed by shell, left leg blown off. His body was left there. I saw him killed and brought his pay book back, gave it to Lieut. Ingles. I knew him well. Comes from W.A. I wrote and told his father about it.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WHITFORD Roy Victor 3449
Roll of Honour: Roy Victor Whitford
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Roy Victor Whitford
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Roy Victor Whitford

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

136. Broodseinde, Oct. 1917: T M Bolger, H J Missen, R E Power & J Francis

Broodseinde 4/10/17

Following Menin Road and Polygon Wood, Broodseinde was considered another ‘success’. The close and intense artillery support and the limited objectives of the ‘step by step’ or ‘bite and hold’ approach continued to prove effective. The large number of German prisoners again fed the conviction that the German forces were demoralised and on the verge of collapse, if only the pressure could be increased even more. But the battle was not without cost. The German artillery, in preparation for what was to be their own attack, fell on the allied troops in the assembly positions. The AIF casualties were 6,500. This figure, for a ‘victory’ of such limited objectives, was extreme. It was also unsustainable when set against the enlistment rate back in Australia. There were also ominous signs. The artillery cover was becoming less effective, the Germans were adjusting their own military tactics to counter the British attacks and, most concerning, the rain, limited as it was at that point, quickly turned the ground to a quagmire. The weather of October was now a critical consideration on the battle field.

The war diaries of the battalions involved in the fighting at that point – early October 1917 – reveal how the AIF itself saw the success of its operations. Despite the continuing high level of casualties, the dominant tone of the diaries is one of optimism and pride. The men are described as fit, well trained and highly disciplined. The tone of the writing itself is heroic and celebratory. The following short extract is from the diary of 37 Battalion. It describes the movement of men to the assembly points immediately before the attack:

The batteries were firing their usual vollies and the slow moving figures of men silhouetted against the sky from the flashes of the guns presented an awe inspiring spectacle. Not a sound could be heard of these heavily laden men as slowly but surely they wended their way along this unbeaten track. Every man knew his job, knew what was required of him and played the game. At a time like that men realise what they are up against.

…There were 4 Battalions roughly of 500 men each, laden with bombs, grenades, rifles, bayonets, sandbags, stretchers, picks, shovels and equipment, systematically forming up in attack formation right under the nose of the enemy without being seen or heard. ’Tis incredible but nevertheless a hard, solid fact – due to only thing – DISCIPLINE. The men were fast filling the shell holes in the Assembly area and by 1.20 a.m. the Battalion [37] was correctly formed in Battle formation patiently awaiting the zero hour of 6 a.m. when it should spring on the merciless Hun.

The implied difference between the larrikin fighters at Gallipoli and this new breed of highly professional and disciplined soldier is stark. However such descriptions were written by the officer class.

In large part, this blog focuses on the deaths of individual Australian soldiers. The men described in the posts were obviously victims of the War. They lost their lives in the fighting. The focus is on the circumstances of their deaths and the impact of the individual death on the family and community. And there are all manner of questions about the nature and meaning of the ‘sacrifice’ and how it was interpreted at the time. However, the same battalion war diaries remind us that the men of the AIF, generally young men, in a very short period of time had been trained as professional soldiers, and the business of war meant killing other men, in this instance the so-called ‘merciless Hun’. The following extract, again from 37 Battalion, highlights just how effective the men were in their new role. The account is set just after the battle of Broodseinde, when the troops have been relieved (early on 6/10/17):

Later in the day the Battalion moved further back about 1 1/2 miles south of Ypres to hutments where the men washed and threw off the shackles of the last 3 days fighting. Here was an opportunity of learning experiences and hearing tales of gallantry and bravery displayed by individuals in the attack of the 4th. Lieut. R. J. Smith of B Coy. had single handedly rushed a machine gun position shot the crew with his revolver and captured the gun, later he had again attacked a ‘Pill Box” & killed the occupants (6) with the bayonet; he also led attacks on 3 separate “dug-outs” & captured the occupants as prisoners. Lance Corporal Roy Newport Frazer of “C” Coy captured a German officer, rushed a machine gun position and killed the crew; Private C. J. McCoy “A” coy. rushed at an officer and 50 Huns with his bayonet; the officer fled and the men surrendered to him. Corporal Patrick McCarthy “C” Coy annihilated a machine gun crew with his bayonet. These are but a few of the heroic deeds that were done by individuals and mentioned quite casually in the after-battle talk. … ’Tis after the Battle that the sense of pride most strongly asserts itself and now was here this body of men – haughty in the extreme – needing no thanks, no special commendation from the world, but perfectly content to retain their self satisfaction as their only reward for the glorious deeds they had achieved.

Clearly, the fighting was very close, close enough to favour the use of the bayonet. The killing is described in terms of ‘feats’, ‘glorious deeds’ and ‘tales of gallantry and bravery’ but it is killing, of the most personal and visceral kind. It is also worth noting that the same young men were expected to return to Australia, leave the AIF, pick up their previous life, return to their civilian work, marry and have children. There was, of course, only limited understanding of what we now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even less in the way of diagnosis and treatment.

References

Bean, CEW 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917, 11th Edition 1941

Chapter XX – Third Step – Broodseinde Ridge

For a general background on Broodseinde see,

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p 350 ff]

Carlyon, L 2006, The Great War, Pan Macmillan, Sydney NSW
[Chapter 31]

 

Thomas Michael BOLGER (5798)
21B KiA 4/10/17

Thomas Bolger was born at Mount Hope in 1881. When his mother completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she did not give the name of any school he attended so there is no clear indication as to where he grew up. However, by the time the 2 Bolger brothers enlisted – Thomas enlisted in September 1915 and his older brother, John Patrick Bolger, enlisted in March 1916 – the family was well established in the Shire of Alberton. For the (National) Roll of Honour, the mother listed Yarram as the town with which Thomas was ‘chiefly connected’.

On his enlistment papers, Thomas Bolger gave his occupation as ‘farmer & grazier’. His mother also gave ‘farming’ as his ‘calling’. However, there is no entry for Thomas Bolger in the relevant rate book for the Shire of Alberton. His older brother had some land – 10 acres at Devon North – and his mother had earlier held 145 acres in the same area but there is no entry for Thomas Bolger. It is also surprising that there is no entry for Thomas Bolger on the relevant electoral roll, yet his brother does have an entry. Also relevant is the observation that the will left by Private Thomas Bolger was detailed, suggesting that there was an estate of at least some significance. Overall, it is likely that Thomas Bolger was a farmer in his own right, but not in the Shire of Alberton. At the same time, the family was recognised as local and he too was seen as a local. His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial; and, as indicated, his mother gave Yarram as the location with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

At the time Thomas Bolger enlisted his father was dead. He gave his mother – Catherine Bolger, nee Herrick – as his next-of-kin. He was 34 yo, single and he came from a large family of 10 children. His religion was Roman Catholic.

Private Bolger enlisted in Melbourne on 3/9/15. His medical record – the medical was also taken in Melbourne – indicated that he was very tall, 6’6”. There are various references to him being one of the tallest men in the AIF. After enlistment, he moved between several different units in Australia – at Albert Park and also Maribyrnong – for a full year before he left Australia on 2/10/16 as reinforcements for 21 Battalion.

Private Bolger arrived in England mid November 1916 (16/11/16). After another 4 months of training in England, he finally joined 21 Battalion in France on 25/2/17. Not much more than 2 weeks later he was wounded – near Bapaume – as the battalion was pursuing the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. The wound was a gunshot wound to the back and there is a note in his file that it became septic. He was transferred first to a hospital in France and then to the 3rd London General Hospital. He did not rejoin 21 Battalion for nearly another 4 months; and then 3 months later (4/10/17) he was killed in action on the first day of the fighting at Broodseinde.

There was no Red Cross report on his death. The cable advising of his death was dated 18/10/17 and the formal report of death 20/12/17. A report of his death was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 26/10/17:

Last evening Rev. Father Stirling received a wire briefly announcing the death of Private Thomas Bolger, who was killed in action on 4th last., with a request that he break the news to his mother. The sad news came as a shock to his aged mother and sisters, for whom the utmost sympathy [is] felt. Private Bolger was a man of [?] height, one of the tallest Australian soldiers. He enlisted about June 1915, and after a year in camp was sent to Salisbury Plains. He reached the firing line, and in March last was wounded. After three months’ absence in England he was returned to the front, about August, and met his death with a number of our brave men, who have made a name for valor. His brother, Private John Bolger, is in the Veterinary Corps. Our readers will extend to Mrs. and Misses Bolger their heartfelt sympathy in the loss of their son.

At the time the death was reported, there was no indication of any burial or grave of any kind. However there is a marked grave for Private Bolger – Plot 3, Row B, Grave 3, Dochy Farm New British Cemetery Langemark (Belgium). It appears that the body was identified, exhumed and reburied after the War, probably in 1921.

21 Battalion’s war diary tells how the enemy barrage came down on the troops at 5.25 a.m. on 4/10/17 as they were preparing to launch the attack. Not surprisingly, the barrage led to significant disorganisation as the troops surged forward trying to get clear of the ground where the German shells were falling. The diary does not make much of the level of casualties but they were very high. Of the 275 casualties on that single day, 45 were killed, 215 wounded and there were 15 missing.

There are two letters in the file written by the mother in February and July 1918 requesting the return any ‘personal belongings’ of her son. Base Records replied to the mother in July 1918 pointing out that the personal belongings that had been returned to Australia had already been passed on to the executors of her son’s will. Presumably there had been no communication on the issue of the personal belongings between the executors, one of whom was a brother, and the mother. The items that had in fact been returned were: Leather case, Religious book, Letters, Photos, Note book.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for BOLGER Thomas Michael 5798
Roll of Honour: Thomas Michael Bolger
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Thomas Michael Bolger

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 1, The Alberton Project

 

Harold Joseph MISSEN (7031)
37 B KIA 4/10/17

Harold Missen was born in Gormandale and grew up there. He attended the state school at Gormandale and when he enlisted he gave his address as Gormandale. When his mother completed the details for the (National) Roll of Honour, she also gave Gormandale as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

On enlistment he gave his occupation as ‘farmer’ and it appears that he was working on the family farm. In the 1915 rate book for the Shire of Alberton, the father – William Joseph Missen – is recorded as having 56 acres at Willung. There is no entry for the son.

Private Missen enlisted at Warragul on 18/10/16 and was taken on as reinforcements for 7 Battalion. He gave his mother as next-of-kin. He was 23 yo and his religion was given as Church of England. There was a formal farewell for Private Missen held in the hall at Gormandale on 11/11/16. A cousin, Joseph Missen, who had enlisted with him at Warragul on the same day was also farewelled that night.

Private Missen embarked for England on 23/11/16 one month after enlistment and reached there at the end of January 1917. There was further training in England – 2 Training Brigade – and a brief period of hospitalisation, but it is not clear what the problem was. In April 1917, still in England, he transferred to 67 Battalion. But then in August he moved to France as reinforcements for 37 Battalion and was finally taken on the strength of this battalion in France at the start of September. He was killed one month later (4/10/17). It was 2 weeks short of a year since he had enlisted in the AIF.

There is a detailed Red Cross report covering his death. One of the witness statements was from his cousin – Joseph Missen, 7034 – who was in the same company in the same battalion (37). The cousin survived the War. Joseph Missen’s account in the Red Cross report has him coming across the body of his cousin – Private Harold Joseph Missen – a few hours after he had been killed. He observed bullet wounds – left knee and shoulder – but he believed that death had been caused by ‘concussion’ from a shell. This explanation was supported by another witness – H. G [?], 3260 – who stated:

This [the death of Private Missen] was up at Ypres near Passchendaele. After we had gone over the top that day I passed him [Missen H. J. 7031] lying in a shell hole near our objective, wounded in the leg. We won our objective and some of us went beyond it. When we had come back and had dug ourselves in we started looking for souvenirs and then I found him lying dead in the same place. He must have been killed by concussion I think, because we had a good look over him and could not find a trace of any fresh wound. He was a Victorian man and a cousin of his was in the same Coy. B. 13/3/18

Most of the witnesses could not give details of any burial. They simply indicated that if he had been buried it would have been where he fell. However, there was one witness statement that did give specific details about a burial. It came from the Platoon Sergeant Joseph Patrick O’Carroll and was dated 28/2/18.

Re 7031 Pte. H. J. Missen, B. Coy, 37th Battn Killed 4.10.17. He was buried in the field at or near Judas House, Sheet 28, N.E. 1. D. 21. B. 80. 80. There is no distinguishing mark on the grave, all I can say is that he received a proper burial at the hands of Chaplain House, R.C. Padre 10th Bgde. I doubt if he could give any further information. I might add that although he was only in my platoon for a short while he was a general favourite, and died in the attack.

The grave was subsequently lost and Private Missen’s name was recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial. The reference to Chaplain House is not entirely correct. The chaplain was in fact William Howes. Father Howes, from Ballarat, had enlisted in March 1916 and was the Chaplain for 40 Battalion. He saw service in France and was hospitalised in England in July 1917 with ‘trench fever’. He returned to France and was the Chaplain for 10 Infantry Brigade at the time he conducted the burial of Private Missen. He survived the War and returned to Australia late in 1919.

The family was advised of the death by a visit from the local clergyman on 25/10/17. This was 2 days after the cable advising of the death (23/10/17) reached Australia. The death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 31/10/17. The same report also advised of the death of another local, Sergeant-Major R E Power. In customary tone, the report noted … the death of two more of our brave young men who have been fighting for King and Country. It finished … Both young men were highly esteemed by all who knew them, and great regret will be felt at their death, as well as much sympathy for their parents and relatives.

On receiving the news of her son’s death, the mother wrote (1/11/17) to Base Records requesting more information on the death and received the following reply (7/11/17),

In reply to your communication of 1st inst., I have to state the only information yet available at this office, concerning your son, No. 7031 Private H. J. Missen, 37th Battalion, is that contained in the brief cable message – killed in action, on 4/10/17. It is confidently anticipated however, that further particulars re death and burial, will come to hand by Mail, and these on receipt will be promptly transmitted to you.

In May 1918, the mother received from the Red Cross a copy of the statement made by Sergeant O’Carroll – referred to above – which gave details of the burial and grave site. She assumed, based on this information, that her son was buried in a marked grave. It was not until 1923 that she learnt finally that there was no grave.

… I have to inform you with regret that despite the most searching enquiry and investigation, the Imperial War Graves Commission have not been successful in recovering the remains of this soldier and his name has accordingly been inscribed on the Memorial Arch at Menin Gate, Ypres, in common with those of upwards of 6,000 other members of the Australian Imperial Force who fell in Belgium and have no known graves.

When the mother forwarded the Red Cross letter to Base Records she wrote on its margin My son was a member of the Church of England. She also made the same statement in the accompanying letter. The obvious point she was making was that while her son was Church of England he had in fact been buried by a Roman Catholic priest. Presumably, this was of some concern to her.

The mother received her son’s belongings – just a YMCA New Testament – in October 1918.

As indicated, the mother was given as next-of-kin. She was also the sole beneficiary of her son’s will – made in July 1917 and witnessed by his cousin, Joseph Missen, and another farmer from Carrajung, Arthur J Somers – and she was the one who corresponded exclusively with Base Records. However, when it came to the distribution of the war medals the ‘Deceased Soldiers Estates Act 1918’ applied. For this reason Base Records needed to know if the father was still alive. It wrote to her in 1921 (12/5/21), setting out the specific requirements:

It is noted that you are registered on the records of the late No. 7031 Private H. J. Missen, 37th Battalion, as next of kin, but, in order that the instructions under the “Deceased Soldiers Estates Act 1918” may be properly complied with when disposing of War Medals. &c., I shall be glad to learn whether there are any nearer blood relations than yourself to the above-named, for instance, is his father still alive, if so I shall be much obliged for his name and address at your earliest convenience.

The provisions of a Will have no bearing upon the distribution of Medals unless they are specifically mentioned therein, such mementos being handed over in the following order of relationship, unless good and sufficient reasons for varying the procedure are stated: –
Widow, eldest surviving son, eldest surviving daughter, father, mother, eldest surviving brother, eldest surviving sister, eldest surviving half-brother, eldest surviving half-sister.

The mother replied within the fortnight (26/5/21) that her husband – William Joseph Missen – was still alive and living with her. They were by this point living at Woodside. Subsequently all medals were distributed to the father, who signed for their receipt.

Harold Joseph Missen’s name is recorded on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. However his death is not marked on this record. At the same time, his name does appear on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for MISSEN Harold Joseph 7031
Roll of Honour: Harold Joseph Missen
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Harold Joseph Missen
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Harold Joseph Missen

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, The Alberton Project

 

Robert Ernest POWER (512)
37 B KIA 4/10/17

Like Harold Missen, Robert Power was born and grew up in Gormandale. He attended the state school there and was a member of the Gormandale Rifle Club. He was still living there at the time of enlistment. His father – Walter John Power – ran a large (239 acres) dairy farm at Willung. Most likely, Robert was working on the family dairy farm. He himself gave his occupation as farm labourer on his enlistment papers but his father, for the (national) Roll of Honour gave his son’s occupation as dairy farmer. He was single and nearly 29 yo at the time of enlistment. His religion was Church of England.

He enlisted in Melbourne in February 1916 (15/2/16); but his enlistment papers indicate that he had tried to enlist earlier only to be rejected for (bad) ‘teeth’. It appears that on enlistment he had a medical in Melbourne but was then re-examined a couple of days later at Seymour. He was taken on as reinforcements for 37 Battalion.

His group of reinforcements left Melbourne in early June (3/6/16) and by this stage Private Power had been promoted to the rank of corporal. The group reached England in late July and undertook further training there before shipping out to France.

Corporal Power was then promoted to the rank of sergeant, ‘in the field’ in April 1917. He was wounded – gunshot wound head – in early June 1917. The wound did not require hospitalisation or repatriation to England. He was treated at a field ambulance and rejoined his unit some 10 days later (19/6/17).

Sergeant Power was promoted again on 18/9/17. This time the rank was Company Sergeant Major. His rise through the ranks to such a significant position, in little more than one year of service, was very impressive.

CSM Power was killed in action on 4/10/17. There was a reference to a grave in a field north of Zonnebeke but the body was never recovered.

Interestingly, there was a charge of AWL against him in August 1917. He was AWL from midnight 27/8/17 to 9:00 AM 28/8/17. He was ‘admonished’ by the CO of 37 Battalion and lost one day’s pay. However, there is a note in his file, dated 10/10/17 – 6 days after his death – which instructs that the entry regarding the case of AWL be completely deleted.

The cable advising of the death was dated 23/10/17 and news of his death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 31/10/17. As indicated above, it was the same article that reported the death of Harold Joseph Missen.

There is a Red Cross report on his death. The witness statements do not indicate more than that he was killed, instantly, by a shell. The statement by a fellow sergeant – Sgt WJ Healey (510), B Coy 37 Btn – reveals how the family learned the particulars surrounding his death. It was dated 2/4/18. Sgt Healy himself had been wounded prior to Broodseinde, and he subsequently suffered poor health and many periods of hospitalisation. He was repatriated to Australia and discharged in August 1918.

He [Power] was C.S.M. of B. Coy. He was killed at Passchendaele (sic) on 4th Octr 1917. I wrote to his mother at Gormandale, Gippsland, Victoria, and gave her full particulars and she has answered my letter. It is possible Pte Hector Ronalds of the 37th Battn in the Cook House [?] may be able to give further particulars. He was a townsman of Powers and was with him when he was killed and was wounded by the same shell.

In fact, there is no witness statement by Private Hector Ronalds (741), who enlisted as a chaff cutter from Sale. However his service record does show that he too was wounded in action on 4/10/17.

One witness statement noted that CSM Power was called Charlie Chaplain on account of the likeness.

In 1920 the father received from the AIF the warrant that covered the appointment of CSM Power. It also appears that the family made representation through The Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia seeking information on the whereabouts of their son’s grave. This was in January 1922. The formal reply (26/1/22) to the League was predictable. It included the observation,

The surface of the whole battlefield area has been searched six times and some places twenty times since the Armistice, but it is possible that bodies will continue to be found for years as the work of re-construction progresses.

Failing the discovery and identification of the actual remains, it is the intention of the authorities to perpetuate the memory of these fallen by the erection of collective memorials upon which the full regimental description of the soldier and date of death will be inscribed.

As indicated, the grave was never found and, as for so many other thousands, CSM Power’s name and details are recorded on the Menin Gate. His name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for POWER Robert Ernest 512

Roll of Honour: Robert Ernest Power

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Robert Ernest Power

Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Robert Ernest Power

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

CSM R E Power, courtesy Yarram & District Historical Society

 

John FRANCIS (4498)
6B KiA 4/10/17

John Francis was born at Bulumwaal and grew up in that area, attending the local state school. However by the time he enlisted in early November 1915 he had been living and working in the Woodside area for 2 years. He was given a formal farewell from Woodside which was written up in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 17/11/15. At the farewell it was said that he had been actively involved ‘in all classes of sport’ in the local area and that he was a ‘first class rifle shot’. He was a member of the Woodside Rifle Club and had previously been in the Bulumwaal Rifle Club. It was also noted that he was a member of the Woodside ANA branch.

He had his initial medical at Yarram on 27/10/15 and then completed his enlistment at Melbourne on 3/11/15. He had previously been rejected for ’teeth’. At the time of enlistment he was 38 yo and single. His religion was given as Roman Catholic. He recorded his occupation as labourer and his name appears on the local electoral roll also as a labourer, of Mullundung. He enlisted as reinforcements for 6 Battalion. He gave his father – J Francis of Bulumwaal – as his next-of-kin.

His group of reinforcements reached France in April 1916. He was hospitalised with ‘mumps’ in May 1916, then with ‘boils’ and ‘German Measles’ in March 1917. He was killed in action on 4/10/17.

There is no Red Cross file and little in his personal file that throws any light on the circumstances of his death. Nor does it appear that any personal kit was ever returned. The war diary for 6 Battalion reveals that casualties for the attack were as follows: 35 killed, 7 died of wounds, 155 wounded and 48 missing. Notwithstanding the nearly 250 casualties, the tone of the war diary was generally positive, at least in terms of the military objectives realised. It noted that … practically all [the casualties] happened during the enemy barrage on forming up lines and during the advance. Our casualties while consolidating and up till relief were very light.

It is not obvious from the service file why, but the cable advising the parents of the death of their son was not sent until 14/11/17, 6 weeks after this death. Possibly he was one of those designated ‘missing’, but there is no indication of this in his file.

As stated already, there was no personal kit ever returned. There was no recorded grave and Private Francis’ name is entered on the Menin Gate Memorial. His name does not appear on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial, even though he was obviously a local. Yet his name does appear on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, but the entry does not acknowledge his death.

When his mother completed the information fore the (National) Roll of Honour she entered ‘I do not know’ in response to the question on the ‘place where Killed or Wounded’.

Tragically, Private John Francis was only one of 3 brothers killed in the War. Two brothers had died before him. Henry Frederick Francis (2893) had been killed in action on 27/11/16 and Reginald Francis (3989) had died of wounds on 20/9/17, less than one month before the third brother – John Francis – was killed.

The deaths of 3 sons from one family would obviously have a devastating impact on any family. Some indication of the complex pattern of grief on this particular family is suggested in a letter in the service file of Private John Francis. It was written by a sister, apparently on behalf of the mother, in 1922. The father, by this point, had died. Ostensibly, it concerned the appropriateness of the memorial plaques being sent to the mother. The daughter was keen to state that, from her position as the sole executor of her father’s estate, it was proper that the plaques went to the mother and that indeed that had been the case, with the full support of all the beneficiaries to the will.

However, the same letter also featured an apparently unnecessary and overtly hostile reference to another sister. The writer stated, categorically, that this sister – the oldest sister and the oldest surviving sibling – was not to receive any war ‘trophies’ – medals, plaques etc – … in respect of my Brothers who were killed in action on the ground that she and her family were hostile to any service to the country while we were faced with war and also on the ground that she had a son of her own of military age who did not enlist. Clearly, the anger and division within the family was set to last well beyond the War.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for FRANCIS John 4498
Roll of Honour: John Francis
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Francis