175. J Singleton

SINGLETON James 1172/1138
8 B KIA 9/8/18

James Singleton was killed in action on 9/8/18. Even though he enlisted at Yarram, he is another young man whose name is missing from the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. At the same time, his name – Singleton, J – is included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, but it does not have the marking for ‘killed’.

James Singleton was one of the large group who enlisted at Yarram in mid September 1914. He enlisted on 17/9/14 and was issued with railway warrant number 26 on 21/9/14. The list of railway warrants also has ‘killed’ against his name, Jas Singleton. His name also appeared on the list of those examined by the local doctors – as part of the enlistment process – to 31/12/14. It also appeared in reports in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative at that time – 21/9/14 and 23/9/14 – which described the departure of the men from the railway station at Alberton. According to the local paper, he was one of those selected to join the light horse.

When he enlisted he was 31 yo and single. He gave his next-of-kin as his sister – Martha Singleton – who was living at Flinders. He himself had been born at Flinders, Mornington Peninsula, and had attended the local state school there. He had had no previous military experience and on his enlistment form he acknowledged that he had been ‘fined for common assault.’ His religion was Presbyterian. His occupation was simply stated as ‘laborer’ and it appears that he was working in the local area at the time War broke out. There was a family of Singleton – Thomas Henry Singleton and Alice Singleton – who were farmers at Binginwarri. Possibly they were relatives and he was working on their farm.

Private Singleton enlisted as reinforcements for 7 Battalion and embarked from Melbourne on 22/12/14. However, by the time of Gallipoli he was attached to 8 Battalion. At the Gallipoli Landing on 25/4/15 he was wounded in the leg and evacuated. One version of the episode was that he was wounded in the neck, back and leg. He rejoined his unit (8 Battalion) in mid June but then in late September the same year he was hospitalised again and it appears that this was related to the ‘old wound’. The medical record is hard to follow but it appears that after rejoining his unit, he was again hospitalised. This time it was enteric fever and he was transferred to a hospital in the UK (Oxford) in early November 1915. He remained in the UK until late May 1916 when he was sent back to Egypt. Once back in Egypt, there was yet more time in hospital with ongoing problems from the initial bullet wound. The file has him returning to duty at the end of June 1916.

Private Singleton’s service file has copies of formal medical reports from the time he spent in hospital in the UK. The first one, dated 29/1/16, described the ‘disability’ as ‘G.S. Wound Right Calf’ . It noted that the disability occurred on 25/4/15 at Anzac and described how … He was struck on the front of the right leg, the bullet entering about the middle third. The bullet emerged on the inner side just above the ankle. There was no discharge from the wound and no fracture. The ‘present condition’ was that … He is complaining of pain round the ankle and up the leg on walking any distance. But the report concluded that … There is no permanent disability to be detected. The recommendation was … Home Service for three months. Then in late February/ early March 1916, a medical board determined that he was … Fit for Home Service light duty (6 months) in Egypt, which explains why he was returned to Egypt from the UK. In the period when he was in the UK, Private Singleton was charged with ‘resisting arrest’ – it is not clear why he was to be arrested in the first place – and he was placed in detention for one week (‘168 hours’) and lost 1 week of pay.

Private Singleton did not get his full 6 months of light duty in Egypt because in July 1916 he was dispatched to France. He was still with 8 Battalion. Again, the old wound caused problems and there was more hospitalisation, first in France and then, from December 1916, in England. He was finally released from hospital in February 1917 but almost immediately, after presumably a period of leave in London, he was back in hospital – 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital – where he spent 119 days (13/3/17 to 7/7/17).  He then rejoined 8 Battalion in France on 18/8/17.

Private Singleton’s run of poor health continued. In January 1918, he was accidentally injured – fractured rib – and again hospitalised, first in France and then In England. He remained in England until early June 1918 and then proceeded to France. He rejoined 8 Battalion in the field on 13/6/18. Less than 2 months later he was killed in action on 9/8/18 in the Battle of Amiens. The cable advising the family of his death was dated 21/8/18. Private Singleton’s body was never recovered and his name is commemorated on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

8 Battalion became involved in the fighting on 9/8/18 after an 11 mile march from near Villers-Bretonneux. As part of 2 Brigade, it moved into ground captured the previous day by 15 Brigade. The basic objective was the Red Line just before Harbonnieres, with the villages of Rosieres-en-Santerre and Lihons beyond. Essentially, the battalion had to advance across 3,500 yards of open, flat ground against German artillery and machine guns sited on a ridge which provided the enemy with excellent observations of the attacking AIF forces. Their snipers were able to inflict heavy casualties on 8 Battalion’s officers. To make matters worse, there were only 14 tanks and none of these made it past the first 1,500 yards. Also, the artillery support was first poor and then non-existent. The war diary stated:

The whole advance had taken place over a long flat plain ending at the ‘Red Line’ [immediately in front of Harbonnieres] with a pronounced rise – ideal ground for defence and very difficult for attack since the movement of very individual could be observed. In addition to this there was no artillery support. The mobile 18 pounder brought to cope with battery on ridge was completely put out of action after firing three shots. Therefore the fight was purely an infantry one against big odds in the shape of well concealed machine guns and splendidly placed field guns.

The heavy fighting on the second day of the ongoing Battle of Amiens was reflected in casualty figures. The war diary for 8 Battalion indicates that in the 3 days of fighting from 9 -11 August there were 49 killed and 233 wounded but that for the very first day – 9 August – there were 30 killed, 184 wounded and 9 missing. After the success on the first day of the battle, the AIF had moved to a more open-ground form of fighting, but the casualty levels were still very high.

Private Singleton appears to have been killed in the early afternoon, not long after the advance began. The Red Cross Report suggests that he was killed by shellfire and buried in the trench/shell hole where he fell. A cross was erected but the grave site was subsequently lost. One of the witness statements – T McHenry 3337, 8B – described how Private Singleton had been hit by shell fire and killed instantly. He noted:

I knew him well, he had wandered around Victoria a good deal but I think he enlisted in Gippsland.

In 1920, following queries from the family, the AIF advised that there was no personal kit to return. Private Singleton’s will named his sister – Martha Singleton of Flinders – as the sole beneficiary. She had also been given as next-of-kin on enlistment. After the War, she also completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour which gave Flinders as the location with which her brother had been ‘chiefly connected’. As per normal, the military authorities questioned the sister – she was the oldest sister – if the parents were still living and if not if there were brothers. The sister replied (1920) that both parents were dead and that the oldest brother – George – was a patient at the Yarra Bend Asylum. She stated that she was the oldest sister and that she ‘would be glad’ to take care of the medals. In the end, it appears that the medals went to the next oldest brother – William – who also lived at Flinders. Obviously, there was a strong family link to Flinders and, in fact, Private Singleton’s name appears on the war memorial there (Singleton J). However, he was obviously living and working in the Yarram area at the time he enlisted and, as noted, there is a partial – or, more correctly, incomplete – record of his service and sacrifice in the Shire.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for SINGLETON James
Roll of Honour: James Singleton
First World War Embarkation Roll: James Singleton
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: James Singleton

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