176. W H Sutton & H B Murray

SUTTON William Henry (1559)
49 B KIA 11/8/18

William Henry Sutton was the older brother – by 6 years – of David George Sutton who was killed on Gallipoli in May 1915 (Post 36) . The 2 brothers appear on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honour and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

There was a third Sutton brother – Thomas Sutton 1228 – who survived the War. Thomas was evacuated from Gallipoli in late 1915, suffering from enteric fever and pneumonia. He was repatriated to Australia and discharged.

Both William and David enlisted, within a month of each other, in Queensland. As noted, David was killed at Quinn’s Post on 29/5/15. William was involved in the same fighting and he wrote home with details of his brother’s death. The letter was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11/8/15.

It [his brother’s death] happened on the morning of the 29th May. We made a bayonet charge to re-take part of our trench from the Turks. They had mined it and blown it up, with the Australians in it at the time, killing some, and then rushed the trench with bombs which drove out the remaining Australians, and got in the trench themselves. We soon pulled them out with the bayonet – not one escaped. It was just after we had charged the trench that George was hit with two bombs. His right leg was broken above the knee, and left leg blown off above the ankle almost half way to the knee. He died from loss of blood three hours afterwards. I did not see him at all, and did not know it had happened (and he was only 50 yards from me) until next afternoon, 30th …

Even though the brothers enlisted in Queensland, and had been there working for some time, they were certainly regarded as ‘locals’ from the Shire of Alberton and both were given the Shire Medallion. Their parents – Thomas James and Marie Louisa Sutton – had a dairy farm at Devon North and had been in the district since the mid 1880s. The boys were born at Devon North and had attended a range of local state schools: North Devon, Lower Whitelaw, Tarra Valley, Balook and Lower Bulga. Their names are also on the honour roll for the local Methodist Circuit, even though, on their enlistment forms all 3 brothers gave their religion as Church of England. On their enlistment forms the 2 brothers in Queensland described themselves as labourers. At the time, both were single.

William Sutton enlisted in Brisbane on 28/1/15, one month after his younger brother. He was 28 yo. Both brothers joined as reinforcements for 15 Battalion and left Australia for the Middle East on 13/2/15.

Just over 2 weeks after the death of his brother, William was hospitalised for a week with ‘skin eruption/phlebitis’ [inflammation of a vein – blood clot]. He referred to this episode in a letter home in June 1915 which was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11/8/15. The content is somewhat ironic given what was to come.

Just a few lines to let you see that I am still alive and kicking, although I am in hospital on the Island of Lemnos with a bad arm, but it is just about right now. It was the outcome of a few slight wounds on the hand on 29th May, which I did not get fixed up for some days afterwards; my own fault if it had been a bit more serious.

In late July 1915, he was taken off the Gallipoli Peninsula with a ’sprained back’. Initially he was hospitalised in Malta but then transferred to a hospital in the UK. He rejoined his unit in Egypt in January 1916. Then in March he was transferred to the newly formed 47 Battalion and in June 1916 proceeded to France. At this point he appears to have been appointed to the position of driver.

In September 1916, there was another week of hospitalisation with ‘nitral regurgitation’ [nitral valve not closing properly]. Then, one year later, on 26/9/17 he was wounded – GSW face – and admitted to hospital in the UK on 2/10/17 where he remained for 2 months. A medical case sheet describes the wound as ‘Shell Wound Left Cheek. Severe’ and ‘Large jagged wound left cheek’. The wound subsequently became septic and he was given ‘anti-tetanus serum’. The wound did eventually heal, with, no doubt, a distinctive scar.

After discharge from hospital (7/12/17) he remained in England until May 1918. In this period – probably, December 1917 – he married an English girl – Florence Emily Sutton – from South Kensington, London.

At the end of May 1918, 47 Battalion was disbanded to reinforce the other 3 battalions of 12 Brigade and Driver Sutton was transferred to 49 Battalion. He was deemed to be fit for overseas service and eventually rejoined his new unit in France in late May. However, on 14/5/18, not long before returning to France, he was charged with being AWL for 4 days and was given ’12 days F.P. No 2’ and lost 16 days pay.

Driver Sutton joined his new unit (49B) in France on 26/5/18. But 2 days later he reported as injured and it was at this point that he was charged with wounding himself. The injury was listed as ‘cellulitis back of left fore-arm’ and the claim, by medical staff, was that the injury had been ‘wilfully self-inflicted’. A court martial was held just 10 days later (8/6/18), presided over by Major W.J.R. Scott DSO, 20 Battalion. Sutton pleaded not guilty but the charge was upheld and he was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour. The sentence was confirmed by G.O.C. Australian Corps (Monash) on 11/6/18.

In the file there is a copy of Army Form W.3428 Report on Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries with the following declaration by Major J. Malcolm A.A.M.C. –

Cellulitis back of left forearm, due in my opinion to injection of foreign substance, self-administered.

However there is another statement on the same form by Sutton’s commanding officer at the time – D. Campbell, Capt, 4th. Aust. Div. Rft. Wing – that has a very different account:

Pte. Sutton was carrying a mess tin full of tea in his right hand when he tripped and fell. In trying to save himself he fell on his left arm which doubled up under him. I am of opinion that the fall as stated … was accidental and no one was to blame.

There is nothing in the CO’s statement that rules out the possibility that Driver Sutton, after the fall, aggravated his injury in some deliberate way. However, it is significant that the CO was offering a defence on the part of one of his men. It would appear that he at least did not want the issue pursued.

But this officer’s opinion was in turn overruled by his superior – Lt. Col H Clayton – who wrote:

I am emphatically of opinion that this is a self-inflicted wound and have arranged that this man be tried by F.C.C.M.

The family back in Australia was informed in mid July 1918 of the action taken by the AIF against their son. The advice they received indicated that he had been injured but that this injury had been ‘wilfully, self inflicted’. It appears that they involved a local lawyer – B P Johnson – who communicated with the Federal Minister seeking further information. The response received was essentially on the lines of the formal process needing to run its course. Overall, the family back in Gippsland would have known of the charge of self-inflicted wounding and the formal conviction and sentence.

However, on 26/6/18, just over 2 weeks after the court martial, the sentence was suspended and Driver Sutton remained serving with 49 Battalion. One explanation for the decision to suspend the sentence and allow Driver Sutton to continue to serve with the battalion could appear to relate to the actions of the family back in Gippsland taking up the issue with the Federal Minister. In the file there is correspondence suggesting that the Minister’s office was keen to learn the ‘full particulars’ of the case. Given the family background – 3 sons had enlisted, one (David) had been killed, one (Thomas) repatriated to Australia sick, and this particular soldier (William) had already been wounded and suffered significant health issues – the Minister would have been sensitive to claims of what effectively amounted to cowardice. However, the problem with this theory is that the date on the relevant correspondence (23/7/18) indicates that the Minister became involved after the sentence had already been suspended. Presumably, the real reason was that the sentence having been imposed, and the example made, it made more sense, particularly given the acute shortage of men, to suspend the sentence and have the soldier continue to fight with his unit.

Driver Sutton was killed in action on 11/8/18, 2 months after his conviction. By this point of the Battle of Amiens, 49 Battalion was fighting in the area near Etinehem, still held by the Germans. The war diary for the battalion does not provide much information. In fact for 11/8/18 there are no casualties reported. It simply notes that the … general consolidation of positions gained, proceeded. The only casualties appear to have occurred the day before (10/8/18) when supported by tanks, and with American troops on one of their flanks, 12 Brigade had made a successful advance. However, even for that action, the diary records only 3 casualties.

There is a Red Cross report of the death with 2 witness statements. Both witness statements agree that Driver Sutton was killed on the morning of 11th August by machine-gun fire. Presumably, the following statement by Private T Dobe (2158) of Cooyar, Queensland, is the more credible because of the claim that he was with Sutton at the time he died.

At Bray about 9. a.m. while engaged as stretcher bearers. We were going back for more wounded when he was shot through the left breast by a machine gun bullet. He lived about half an hour and I stayed with him till he died. I do not know where he was buried.

Driver Sutton was buried in Beacon Cemetery, Sailly-Laurette, Bray-sur-Somme, Picardie.
The cable advising of the death was dated 22/8/18. It would have gone to the wife in London, as well as the father in Gippsland.

A death notice appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/9/18:

Sutton. – Killed in action on the 11th August. William Henry Sutton, beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sutton, dearly beloved husband of Florence (England), brother of Mrs. W. Ryan, Thomas (returned after 3 1/2 yrs. service), Charlotte, George (killed in action), Minnie, and Jane. Age 31 years.

Earlier, on 30/8/18, the paper had reported the father’s response to his son’s death. It is tempting to see the father’s comment as heavy in irony:

Whatever the feelings were of Mr. Thos. Sutton, Mack’s Creek, on Wednesday morning, when he informed us of the death of his second soldier son at the front, he betrayed not the slightest emotion. Like a worthy sire, he remarked, “It’s a glorious death to die for one’s country.” But for such a man is felt the deepest sympathy. All his three sons went to the war. The first to fall was Private D. G. Sutton, in mid 1915, one was returned wounded, and the third, Private W. H. Sutton, was killed in action on 11th inst. The latter was married only last December to an English lass. How terribly glad we shall all be when this terrible conflict is over.

In October 1918, the wife in England received the items – unspecified – of personal kit belonging to her husband, Driver Sutton. She was the sole beneficiary of his new will and she would also have received a pension from Australia. Sometime after the War, probably 1920, she moved to Australia, presumably to be with her in-laws. Perhaps there was a child born in England. There is correspondence in the file that indicates that in August 1921 her address was Tarra Valley, locked bag via Traralgon and then in November 1922 she was living in Yarram.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for SUTTON William Henry
Roll of Honour: William Henry Sutton
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Henry Sutton
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: William Henry Sutton

 

 

 

MURRAY John Bridge 3192
8B KIA 11/8/18

John Murray was another immigrant from the UK – Scotland in this instance – who enlisted in the AIF. He was born in Caithness in the north of Scotland and came to Australia as a twenty-five-year-old around 1908. He had been to school at a public school, presumably in Caithness. His parents were recorded as Thomas and Hellin Georgeson Murray. At the time of enlistment, he was married – Esther Murray – and living in Yarram. His wife appears to have been Esther Coghill. The Coghill name was known in the local district but it is difficult to link Esther to the various branches. The Murray couple had 3 children, the oldest of whom was 5 years. John Murray gave his age as 32 yo and his occupation was recorded as ‘labourer’. His religion was Presbyterian.

John Murray took his first medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks on 7/8/15 and was re-examined in Melbourne where he formally enlisted on 20/8/15. He joined as reinforcements for 24 Battalion and left Melbourne 3 months later (26/11/15). It appears that while in Egypt (Serapeum) and immediately before moving to France he was transferred to 8 Battalion (24/2/16). Private Murray’s unit reached Marseilles at the end of March.

Just over one year later in early May 1917 (8/5/17) Private Murray was wounded in action – gunshot wound, right leg – and repatriated to England for treatment. He was discharged in late June (25/6/17) and after a furlough he was sent to the Overseas Training Brigade at Perham Downs.

He eventually made it back to his battalion in France in early September (9/9/17) but within a few weeks he had been wounded again – either shrapnel or gunshot wound to right eye – and was hospitalised in 25 General Hospital at Camiers on the French Coast. After further convalescence, he rejoined 8 Battalion at the start of January 1918 (6/1/18).

At the end of that month (31/1/18) he was promoted to the rank of lance corporal and then in March he spent a month in the Brigade Infantry School. In late June (27/6/18), he was again hospitalised, this time with influenza.

Lance Corporal Murray rejoined the battalion on 7/7/18 and was killed in action just over one month later (11/8/18). While there was a map reference to where he was buried on the battlefield, his body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. The cable advising of his death was dated 24/8/18.

Back in Gippsland, Private Murray’s death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 4/9/18:

Word was received at Devon North on Monday last that Lance-Corporal John Murray had been killed in action, after nearly two years’ active service in France. He leaves a widow and three young children to mourn their loss. Sympathy for the bereaved family is expressed on all sides. A native of Scotland, and of a family of four brothers, all are or have been at the front since the outbreak of the war. Two have paid the supreme sacrifice. The other two, Robert, of the Seaforth Highlanders, and Daniel of the Black Watch, have been wounded several times. The sisters of these brave men are all enthusiastic war workers.

The death notice had appeared on 28/8/18:

Murray – Killed in action on 11th. Aug., 1918, after three years’ active service, Lance-Corp. John B. Murray, the dearly loved husband of Mrs. Murray, North Devon. Aged 34 years. Loving father of Willie, Nellie and Nancy.
His sacrifice what he has gained
Mine what I have lost
-Inserted by his loving wife – E. Murray

His wife received his few personal belongings – 1 Cigarette Case, 1 Wallet, Cards – in July 1919.

As for the action on 9 August when Private Singleton (Post 175), also of 8 Battalion, was killed, there is an equally detailed account in the war diary of 8 Battalion of the operation over 10 – 11 August. At 4.00 AM on the morning of 11 August, 8 Battalion was involved in a whole brigade attack towards the village of Lihons. The objective was to advance some 3,000 yards on a front of 2,000 yards. Six tanks were to support the operation and there would be an artillery barrage to hold down the enemy in Lihons until the infantry were close enough to take it. Despite the fact that the tanks did not materialise, the assault began well and there was such a rapid advance that pockets of German snipers and machine guns were left in the rear. Command was compromised by a heavy ground mist across the battlefield that cut communication and made it very difficult for commanders to establish if positions had been reached. Yet, by 8.00 AM commanders were confident that the ‘blue line’ had been reached and Lihons had been occupied. At this point the battalion’s line was some 600 yards in front of the Lihons-Chilly road. However, the pockets of Germans in the rear, which had effectively been bypassed by the advancing AIF, were still a problem and, as well, over the rest of the day there was a series of German counter-attacks against the newly consolidated line. The diary notes that German snipers were very active. It also notes that casualties in the battalion had been ‘remarkably light’ up to the time the blue line had been taken … but during the counterattacks that were made later the numbers increased considerably. The figures given were 19 dead and 49 wounded. The battalion was relieved on the night of the 11-12 and was out of the line by 7.00AM on 12 August.

The war diary emphasises the physical hardship faced by the men on 11/8/18:

For several days prior to the commencement of the operations herein described, the men had had very little and broken sleep. Two days previously they had engaged in a steady and determined fight over 3,500 yards of ground, and that immediately after a hasty march of 11 miles. During the whole of the 10th they were standing to in readiness to reinforce the 5th and 6th Battalions. The morning of the 11th therefore found them in anything but a fit condition for an attack, but under the excitement they rallied wonderfully and made a fine spirited fight which lasted practically until the moment of relief. When seen in the front line a little after noon during a lull in the fighting at a time when the heat of the sun was greatest, a reaction had set in and signs of intense drowsiness and fatigue were very apparent. The poor lads dozed as they stood at their posts.

The same commentary features a very revealing insight on the number of German prisoners not taken by the Australians:

It is impossible to estimate the number of prisoners taken during the day, but judging by the temper of our men and in view of the fact that numerous prisoners would have been not only an encumbrance but also a menace it is believed that the number taken was not great. At Lihons however a German medical officer and his staff were captured.

There is a Red Cross report for Lance Corporal Murray. The following account by an officer – Lieutenant A J Rice, on 4/7/19 – was supported, at least in all the key details, by the other witnesses. Several insisted that the shot that killed Murray was fired by a sniper. Others also pointed out that he was in fact in charge of a machine gun and, as such, he would have been a target for snipers.

I knew casualty, he was a well built man, about 5’5” in height, fair complexion, about 30 yrs of age, known as Jock. Casualty was in the front line at the right of Lihons. Just after the advance the enemy counter-attacked and while helping to repel the attack, casualty was shot in the head by a bullet at close range, which killed him instantly. I was alongside him at the time of his death and he did not speak but fell back dead. He was buried near where he fell. A cross was erected over the grave, with his name, number and unit on it.

Lance Corporal Murray is remembered on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His name also appears on the local honor roll for the Presbyterian Charge.

Murray enlisted as a married man with children. The challenges facing the wife left behind with young children would have been considerable, particularly if she herself did not have family support behind her. This appears to have been the case with Esther Murray and a future post will look at this situation in more detail. For present purposes, even before the death of her husband, Esther Murray was appealing for financial support. In 1917, she applied for financial assistance from an agency set up to support returned soldiers. In turn, the (Victorian) State War Council wrote to the Local War Service Committee in Yarram – effectively this was the local recruiting committee – seeking a confidential report on her situation. In her claim, Esther Murray had indicated that she was supporting 4 children – not 3 – and that she had no cash or property assets and that she needed £12 to cover rent. As significant as the obvious issue of the support required for such families was, the practice of using local committees of various kinds to assess the eligibility and deservedness of the families was as important. In this case, the local committee was advised to seek the opinion of the local police as well as other local societies. Moreover, the level of any support to be offered had to be set against the following stricture laid down by the State War Council:

It is obvious that in view of the numerous demands which must arise before and after the declaration of peace, the amount of aid in each case must be kept within reasonable limit.

This model of having local committees judge the need and suitability of individuals and families in their applications for support was to be reproduced after the War in the soldier settlement scheme. Overall, the approach ensured that the power and influence of the established group of civic leaders – essentially the local Imperial Loyalists of WW1 – continued after the War. It also ensured continuing conflict and division in the community.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for MURRAY John Bridge
Roll of Honour: John Bridge Murray
First World War Embarkation Roll: John Bridge Murray
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Bridge Murray

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