This post looks in details at the 166 men associated with Shire of Alberton who made the ‘supreme sacrifice’. As noted previously, the full number of dead was 168, but for two of the men, apart from knowing that they were either killed or died, there are no other details at hand. The 2 men were Dove, Albert Ernest who enlisted in the New Zealand forces and whose date of death was given as 29/8/18; and Ellis, Robert G who served in a Canadian unit – Yukon Machine Gun Brigade – and whose date of death was given as 14/11/16. Dove was originally from Gormandale and Ellis’s family look to have been from Port Albert/Welshpool.
A quick breakdown of the cause of death has 118 men ‘killed in action’ (KiA), another 35 who ‘died of wounds’ (DoW) and a third group of 12 men who ‘died of disease’ (DoD). Additionally, A J Godfrey committed suicide. [See Post 107].
Typically, the pattern of the deaths matched the cycle of the War. Twelve men died in the first half of 1915 with a concentration at the time of the Gallipoli landing itself. In the second half of 1915 there were 15 deaths, with additional concentrations for the fighting at Lone Pine and The Neck. There were only 3 deaths for the first half of 1916 when the AIF was in the process of re-organisation and re-deployment. However, the second half of 1916, beginning with Fromelles and going through to Pozieres, was the darkest time and there were 43 deaths recorded. In the first six months of 1917 the figure for the number of deaths was 20; but, again, it rose sharply over the next six months when 35 deaths were recorded, with the greatest concentration in October (Passchendaele). The first 6 months of 1918, with the German Spring Offensive, saw 15 deaths; and then in the last 6 months of the War another 23 men lost their lives. In the last 6 months, the greatest concentration came in July (Hammel). On the Western Front, the AIF was withdrawn from the fighting in early October. In the Middle East, the last AIF action involved the capture of Aleppo in mid October.
Additionally, there were three deaths that occurred after the cessation of hostilities. As we will see, all three were the result of disease. One of the men – O’Neill, John Albert – died on 25/11/19 in a military hospital in England. His case is a reminder that even two full years after the War, Australians were still serving in the UK.
What needs to be kept in mind with this breakdown of the sequence of deaths is that the reality at the time was less definite. As has been noted throughout, there were very many occasions when men ‘disappeared’ on the battlefield. They were then listed as ‘missing’ and it could take up to a year for some official determination of their fate. Consequently, the time when parents or wives were notified, officially, of their loved one’s death was often well past the time of the death itself. Often, those back home were better informed of the real situation by letters from mates and family friends in the relevant unit. But irrespective of when notification of the death did come, this particular sample of men strongly suggests that over the course of the War, with the single exception of the first 6 months of 1916, there was no let up in the dreadful news from overseas, with the constant flow of deaths continuing right though to the point the AIF was withdrawn from the fighting.
The question of how long an individual soldier survived on the battle field was tied to a number of variables, with the two most significant being the number of battles, or the amount of fighting, they experienced, and the ferocity of the specific engagements they faced. For this particular group, an analysis of the time between enlistment and death highlights both how quickly death could come and, equally, the length of time – three or more years – others survived on active service before being killed. A simple breakdown for the cohort shows that five (5) men only survived to six months. Another fifty (50) of the group were either killed or died in the period between six months and one year. Another fifty eight (58) survived for between one and two years. Thirty four (34) survived for between two and three years. Thirteen (13) survived more than three years but less than four. Lastly, there were three (3) men who survived more than four years. All three of this last group died of disease.
It is important to note here that the period of ‘survival’ is taken from the time the men enlisted. This is significant because when you allow for training before embarkation, the length of time taken by transports to reach either the Middle East or Europe, and then the amount to time required for deployment to the battle field, it is apparent that men were killed within a very short period of time after reaching the front. In this sense, it is worth looking more closely at the five (5) men who died within six months. Chester, Charles Edward was the only one of the five men not to die in action. He died of disease – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – in the UK on 31/1/17. He had been a state school teacher in the local area and he was, arguably, another example of someone who should never have been accepted for enlistment. He first enlisted in early January 1915 but was discharged as medically unfit – ‘severe varicocele’ – the next month. He re-enlisted on 23/8/16, embarked for overseas on 21/10/16 and reached the UK on 28/12/16. Within a matter of days, he was admitted to hospital (30/1/17) as ‘dangerously ill’ and died the next day. The other four men who only survived to 6 months were killed in action. Unsurprisingly, they were all killed in the Gallipoli campaign. The following indicates the relative speed with which a man could enlist, embark for the Middle East and then be killed. Ellefsen, Thomas Elevious enlisted on 1/10/14, embarked 2/2/15 and was killed in action, at the Gallipoli landing on 25/4/15. Sutton, David George enlisted on 31/12/14, embarked 13/2/15 and was killed in action on 29/5/15. Atkinson, Bertram enlisted 24/3/15, embarked 8/5/15 and was killed in action on 27/9/15. Tyler, George Thomas enlisted 16/4/15, embarked 17/6/15 and was killed in action at Lone Pine on 8/8/15. Incredibly, Tyler survived less than 4 months.
As indicated, at the other end of the scale there were men who survived the conflict for three or more years before being killed. Remarkably, one or two of this group survived with no illness or wounds or injuries of any kind until they were killed in action. For example, Sexton, Patrick John enlisted in September 1914 and survived both the Middle East and the Western Front until he was killed in action in the German Spring Offensive on 16/4/18. For more than three and a half years Sexton survived the conflict without, as it were, ‘a scratch’. There is no question that he saw action. In fact, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. At the same time, as we will see shortly, the longer a soldier served, and the more conflict he experienced, the greater the chance not just of death but of being wounded, injured in some way and/or contracting disease. Thus, the experience of men from this group tended to be closer to that of people like Sherlock, Albert and Singleton, James. Sherlock enlisted 16/7/15 and survived until he was killed in action on 20/8/18; but over that period of 3 years and 1 month he had been hospitalised on at least three occasions, each of at least one month’s duration. The diseases had been mumps, nephritis and, lastly, epilepsy. The second of the men, Singleton, had enlisted 16/9/14 and survived until he was killed in action 9/8/18, which amounted to just under four years of service. He was wounded – gunshot wound, (right) leg and back – on 25/4/15 at Gallipoli and hospitalised for 2 months. The wound flared up again in September 1915 and he was repatriated to the UK for an extended period of treatment. He eventually made it to France at the end of 1916. In 1917, there was another two-month period of hospitalisation with more (right) knee problems. In January 1918 he suffered fractured ribs in an accidental injury and there was another month spent in hospital in the UK. He eventually rejoined his unit in France in June 1918 and was killed in action about 6 weeks later. To make an obvious point, had Singleton been returned to Australia and discharged as medically unfit he would not have been killed.
The cause of death
It is work looking in more detail at the nature of the men’s deaths. As already noted, the majority (118) were designated as ‘killed in action’ (KiA), often after an extended period in which they had been reported as ‘missing’. Thirty five (35) men ‘died of wounds’ (DoW) and the third group of twelve (12) ‘died of disease’ (DoD).
Died of Disease
The following summarises the essential details of the group who died of disease. The conditions that stand out include enteric fever, malaria and cholera in the Middle East, influenza and respiratory disease generally and outbreaks of meningitis.
Brain, Edward George: admitted to a hospital ship with Enteric Fever/Dysentery on 18/10/15 and DoD 24/10/15. He was buried at sea.
Chester, Charles Edward: admitted as ‘dangerously ill’ on 30/1/17 with ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ and DoD 31/1/17. Notes in his file indicate that three others died from same disease, in the same UK hospital at same time.
Farthing, Arthur Vincent: had a history of pneumonia and, in fact, had been previously discharged in January 1916 as medically unfit. He managed to re-enlist and embark. In the UK he was again hospitalised on 26/8/16 with pneumonia. He was transferred to another hospital on 8/11/16 but died the next day of pneumonia and ‘cerebral abscess’.
Gay, Edward Thomas: had a history of influenza from his time on the troopship (9/6/16) and from when he reached the UK. He was hospitalised in July 1916, then re-admitted in August 1916. His family was advised in November 1916 that he was ‘dangerously ill’ . He died of ’tubercle of lung’ on 2/1/17.
Glanfield, William Donovan: contracted cholera in the Middle East and was admitted to hospital on 8/10/18. He died on 15/10/18.
Hofen, Robert Henry: hospitalised on 20/2/18 when on leave in the UK with ‘cyst of liver’ and died the following month (18/3/18) of ‘abscess of liver’.
Smith, William: hospitalised on 8/10/18 in the Middle East (Damascus) with ‘malignant malaria’ and died on 17/10/18.
Spargo, Clifton James: like Smith, also hospitalised (Damascus) in early October (4/10/18) and also died (15/10/18) from ‘malignant malaria’.
Walker, Moore: hospitalised in France on 5/10/16 and died from ‘cerebro-spinal fever’ four days later (9/10/16).
As indicated, there were also three deaths from disease after the war:
Lowther, Frank William: hospitalised in France on 17/11/18 with ‘influenza/bronchial pneumonia’ and died one week later (24/11/18).
O’Neill, John Albert: hospitalised in UK (Brighton) on 3/11/19 with acute bronchitis and reported as ‘dangerously ill’. Died on 25/11/19: ‘morbus cordis, mitral regurgitation’ ‘heart failure’/ ‘ valvular disease of the heart’ (VDH).
Perkins, Harold Claude: hospitalised in France on 19/2/19 with, initially, ‘pyrexia’ then ‘influenza’. Reported ‘dangerously ill’ on 24/2/19 and died on 26/2/19 from ‘broncho pneumonia and influenza’.
Killed in action or died of wounds?
There is not a great deal of information in relation to the men killed in action. Typically, in terms of the men’s individual service files, there will just be an entry that records their death as killed in action on a specific date. As we have seen throughout, it is possible to access additional information in relation to individual deaths from Red Cross files and other sources such as unit diaries. However, there are significant gaps, and little consistency, in terms of the availability, scope and nature of such additional information. On the other hand, for those who died of wounds, a limited, but significant, amount of extra detail is contained in the men’s service files. Consistently, details of the wounds, the periods and places of hospitalisation and, obviously, the date of death were all routinely recorded. All of this information can be used to build up a more comprehensive picture of what ‘sacrifice’ entailed.
It is also important to recognise that often there was not much difference between the designation of KiA or DoW to describe a soldier’s death. In some cases men were killed instantly, but in other cases they lived, sometimes still conscious, until they bled to death, or otherwise died from their trauma, on the battlefield. All this means that, strictly speaking, many men who were designated as ‘KiA’ technically died of their wounds. An example will help. Whitford, Roy Victor [Post 137] disappeared on a raiding party on German lines in October 1917. He was designated as ‘missing’ and then 7 months later this was changed to ‘killed in action’. So, officially, his death is recorded as KiA. However, witness statements from those with him on the raiding party indicate that, in fact, he died of wounds. Essentially, his left leg was ‘blown off’, and he died a few minutes later. His body was left behind.
To some extent, it is splitting hairs to question this distinction between KiA and DoW; but it is important to understand that the DoW classification involved the wounded man receiving medical assistance, even if it was only at the very rudimentary – or earliest – stage where, typically, he was collected by stretcher bearers and taken to a first aid post or casualty clearing station. At the other end of the continuum, the same term was used in the case where the soldier died several months later, after he had been moved well back from the line, through a series of medical facilities, to be hospitalised in the UK.
However, as pedantic as the discussion on the use of the terms can be, the critical point from our perspective is that where soldiers’ deaths were described as DoW there is additional detail in their file; and this detail gives us a better appreciation of how men were killed in battle and how long they survived after being wounded. With this in mind, I have detailed here the thirty five (35) men who, officially, died of wounds. It is important to note that the wounds described here are, exclusively, the wounds that killed the individual soldiers. Wounds or injuries that the men suffered prior to this will be discussed later.
Soldiers designated as ‘died of wounds’ (DoW)
The brackets indicate the length of time the soldier survived after being wounded.
Appleyard, Gordon: wounded 20/8/16 with shrapnel wound to spine and DoW 24/8/16. (4 days)
Appleyard, Courtney: wounded 10/11/16 with shrapnel wound to right shoulder and DoW 15/11/16. [brother of Gordon] (5 days)
Appleyard, Edgar John: wounded 19/4/17 with gun shot wound to the spine and DoW 3/8/17. (3+ months).
Because of the length of time in hospital the medical record is more extensive. Medical notes show that he was ‘wounded 19/4/17 by rifle bullet which penetrated the tissues of the back… ‘Paralysis followed immediately’. Further, ‘while lying paralysed patient was again hit in the neck’. He was evacuated and eventually reached hospital in Cairo on 24/4/17. The very next day he was reported as ‘dangerously ill’. As from 5/5/17 his family was advised that he was ‘out of danger’ but then he was dangerously ill again from 10/5/17 and he remained on the list until his death. There was a post-mortem which gave the cause of death as ‘ 1. GS wound of spinal cord- myelitis 2. septic cystitis & extensive bed sores’. The notes also indicate that because of the paralysis there was great difficulty in curbing infections, in at least the bowel and urinary tract. There are also references to the use of a water bed and from June it appears that morphine was being administered. It was clearly a harrowing and drawn-out death. It is also clear that some of the new medical technology was of limited value. There were notes that the patient was too sick for X-rays to be taken and then when they were taken, the assessment was that they were ‘worthless’.
Bird, Frederick Arthur: wounded on 6/8/15 with shrapnel wound to the head and DoW the same day. (same day)
Carter, James: wounded on 17/9/16 with gun shot wound to left thigh and back and DoW 13/10/16. It is possible that his condition was compromised by the length of time before he reached hospital. (3+ weeks)
Chenhall, Harold Beecher: wounded on 9/8/18 but no details and DoW on 12/8/18. (3 days)
Dunne, James Richard: wounded on 7/4/18 with shrapnel wound to neck and penetrating wound to chest. DoW the same day. (same day)
Garland, Eugene: wounded on 6/7/18 with shrapnel wound to the abdomen and DoW the same day. (same day)
Gilfoy, Herbert: wounded on 19/7/16 with gun shot wound to head, severe and DoW 26/7/16. (5 days)
Grinlington, Dudley: wounded on 12/10/17 with gunshot wound to left knee and DoW 17/10/17. (5 days)
Harrison, Frank Lionel: wounded on 19/5/18 with shrapnel wound to head – possibly ‘friendly fire’ – and DoW the same day. (same day).
Kennedy, Arthur Charles: limited details but wounded just before withdrawal from Gallipoli and DoW 27/11/15.
Laing, Alexander: wounded on 17/11/16 with shrapnel wound to both legs and DoW the same day. Medical notes indicate that at least one leg amputated. (same day)
Lear, Eric Nightingale: wounded on 23/7/17 with gun shot wound to thigh, buttocks and arm and DoW next day on 24/7/17. (1 day)
Martin, Reginald Henry: wounded on 8/8/18 with shrapnel wound to chest, penetrating and DoW same day. (same day)
Mason, James Oliver: wounded on 10/2/17 with shrapnel wound to chest, penetrating and died the next day. (1 day)
McCarthy, Edgar James: wounded on 16/4/17with shrapnel wound to head and fractured back and DoW 6 days later on 22/4/17. (6 days)
McLeod, John: wounded on 18/4/18 with shrapnel wound to right thigh and leg and DoW same day. (same day)
Mills, Patrick Joseph: wounded on 18/8/16 with shrapnel wound to abdomen and thigh and DoW 29/8/16. (11 days)
Morley, Ernest Edward: wounded on 3/5/17 with gun shot wound to left thigh and DoW 14/5/17. (11 days)
Morris, Brian Percy: wounded on 17/3/18 when he was ‘gassed/gas shell poison’ and DoW (‘Died of Gas Poisoning’) on19/3/18. (2 days)
Nuttall, William Richard: wounded on 16/6/18 with shrapnel wound to chest and DoW next day. (1 day)
O’Day, James Robert: wounded on 29/9/17 with ‘bomb wound’, right leg amputated but DoW same day. (same day)
Ormsby, Philip Michael: wounded on 29/10/16 with gun shot wound chest, penetrating and DoW on 2/11/16. (3 days)
Owens, Charles Attwell: wounded on 29/9/18 with shrapnel wound to left thigh and DoW next day. (1 day)
Peel, Walter George: wounded on 5/9/15 with ‘gunshot wounds leg, eye, nose and neck/dangerous’ and DoW the same day. (same day).
Radburn, Edward: wounded on 30/6/15 with gun shot wound to thorax/chest, penetrating. Reported dangerously ill on 9/7/15 and DoW on 10/7/15. (3 days)
Reeves, Alfred: wounded on 25/8/16 with shrapnel wound to chest and buttock and DoW the same day. (same day)
Robinson, Edward: wounded on 9/8/18 with shrapnel wound to left knee. Hospitalised in UK and leg amputated but DoW on 11/9/18. Cause of death given as ‘septic pneumonia and septicaemia’. (4+ weeks)
Robinson Alexander: wounded on 18/11/16 with shrapnel wound to loin and buttock and DoW on 20/11/16, 2 days later. [brother of Edward] (2 days)
Tregilgas, Archibald Sturt: wounded on 1/11/17 with gun shot wound left thigh and was ‘dead on admission’. (same day)
Trigg, Robert John: wounded on 23/10/17 with gun shot wound to left knee (also ‘forearm’). Hospitalised in UK for 1 month but DoW 29/10/17. Cause of death was given as ‘gunshot wound left knee, septicaemia secondary haemorrhage’ and the same notes referred to ‘right (sic) leg amputated – upper third of femur’ . (2 months 1 week)
Wallace, Percy Allen: wounded on 14/4/16 with gun shot wound to right leg and left forearm and DoW the next day. (1 day)
Whitford, Albert Henry: wounded on 20/3/17 but no details and DoW the same day. (same day)
Wilson, Thomas Anderton: wounded on 4/6/18 with gun shot wound to face. Hospitalised in France but DoW 16/6/18. (12 days)
This is, of course, only one, small sample of all the men who died from wounds in WW1 but it does point to several observations which, in one sense, are hardly surprising. Men died within a short period of time after having been wounded. Presumably, this was the result not just of the wounds themselves – note the prevalence of men hit in the head, chest and back – but the length of time that passed before they received any medical attention and then the quality of the attention they received. Also, even though some men survived the initial traumatic period after being wounded, both the ever present risk of infection and the extreme nature of the wounds themselves – for example, paralysis – meant that the very idea of ‘survival’ was highly qualified, both in terms of time and the degree of suffering the men experienced over the period they ‘survived’.
The bigger picture – not just death, but the suffering beforehand
As has been pointed out several times, the focus above has been on the specific wounds that resulted in the deaths of the individual soldiers. However, in a real sense, this is only half the story. If we look at the total service history of the men in our sample – the 165 men who were killed in action, or who died of either wounds or disease – we can see that many were wounded earlier in their service and that they had faced significant levels of suffering and hardship well before they met death. The following overview reveals the number of men who, prior to being killed or dying on active service, had been wounded.
Adams, John Henry: survived ’ bomb wound back’ on 23/5/15 and eventually rejoined his unit 2+ months later on 2/8/15. He was KiA 6 days later on 8/8/15.
Alford, Edwin James: hospitalised for 3 weeks with ‘trench feet’ on 26/10/17. KiA 4/4/18.
Anquetil, Henry Stewart: wounded with shrapnel wound to temple on 27/7/16. He rejoined his unit on 4/8/16. KiA 4/10/17
Ashton, John Henry Parker: wounded on 27/5/18 but stayed on duty. Wound was described as ‘bruised by shell’. KiA 3/10/18.
Barlow, Albert Edward: hospitalised for 2+ months with ’trench feet’ on 15/12/16. KiA 19/4/18.
Bolger, Thomas Michael: wounded on 13/3/17 with gun shot wound to back and hospitalised in UK for10 weeks. Did not rejoin unit till 9/7/17 and KiA 1 month later on 4/10/17.
Booth, Norman Waterhouse: wounded on 3/8/16 with gun shot wound to head and neck, severe. Hospitalised in UK for 10 weeks and rejoined unit on 23/10/16 then KiA 2 weeks later on 7/11/16;
Bunston, Leslie William: wounded first time on 2/8/17 with gun shot wound to back and elbow, and hospitalised in UK for 2 months. Wounded second time – gassed – on 26/5/18 and hospitalised for 1 month. KiA 2 months later on 21/8/18.
Butler, Frederick William: wounded at Gallipoli with gun shot wound to right thigh and returned to Australia for medical discharge. In Australia he worked as a recruiting sergeant and on 14/3/16 was found ‘fit’ to return to active duty. In France he suffered an accidental injury to the back on 16/10/16 and did not rejoin his unit until 1/2/17. KiA 20/9/17.
Chenhall, Harold Beecher: hospitalised in UK on 21/12/17 with ’trench fever’ and did not rejoin his unit until 19/3/18. Wounded 9/8/18 and DoW 3 days later on 12/8/18.
Christensen, Allan Patrick: hospitalised in UK on 28/1/18 with ‘trench fever’ and did not rejoin his unit to 7/6/18. KiA 28/9/18.
Dietrich, Henry James: wounded on 30/7/16 with gun shot wound to the back and hospitalised in UK for 5 months. Wounded again – gun shot wound left ear – on 3/5/17 and hospitalised for 1 week. On 28/5/17 hospitalised again for 2 weeks with ’synovitis right knee’ and then again from 27/6/17 for 6 weeks with ‘hypertrophy of bone, contusion right knee’. Rejoined unit on 7/9/17 then KiA 1 month later on 9/10/17;
Dunne, James Richard: wounded on 28/4/16 with gun shot wound to both thighs and hospitalised in UK for 1 month. DoW 7/4/18.
Foote/ Vicars Foote, Ernest Rolleston: wounded on 30/11/15 with shrapnel wound to the face and shell shock and hospitalised for 2+ months. More hospitalisation in UK – 2+ months – from 10/11/16 for ‘blistered feet/trench feet’. KiA 10/4/18.
Forde, Ernest Leslie: wounded on 1/4/18 with shrapnel wound to head and hospitalised in UK for 3+ weeks. KiA 5/10/18;
Garland, Eugene Loftus: hospitalised for 10 weeks from 26/11/15 with ‘asthma/trench feet/frostbite’. DoW 6/7/18.
George, Herbert Illot: wounded on 25/4/15 with gun shot wound right leg and hospitalised 1 month. Wounded again on 10/8/15 with ‘blast wound right eye’ and hospitalised 4 months. KiA 25/7/16.
Grinlington Dudley: wounded on 6/8/16 with shrapnel wound to face, mouth and jaw. Hospitalised in UK for 6 months with extensive treatment and convalescence required. Several medical board reports gave graphic descriptions of the extent of the wound, and as late as 28/5/17 the degree of disability was still evident: ‘He is still unable to eat hard food, such as crusts or hard biscuits’. He finally returned to France on 21/9/17. Three weeks later he was wounded on 12/10/17 – gun shot wound left knee – and DoW 5 days later on 17/10/17.
Hickey, William: hospitalised for 4 months in UK with ‘trench feet’ from 31/1/17. KiA 9/10/17.
Hofen, Robert Henry: wounded on 3/5/17 with gun shot wound hospitalised for 1 month. DoD 18/3/18;
Jeffs, George Edward: wounded on 29/6/16 with gun shot wound ankle, legs and head and hospitalised in UK for 2+ months. He rejoined his unit on 3/9/16. KiA 12/12/16.
Jolly, Sydney: wounded on 27/2/17 ‘ with shrapnel wound right elbow’ and hospitalised in UK for 5+ weeks. KiA 25/9/17.
Jones, Alfred: wounded on 2/3/17 with gun shot wound to left elbow and hospitalised in UK for 6 weeks. KiA 26/9/17;
Liddelow, Aubrey: wounded on 25/4/15 with ‘bullet wound left ankle’ and hospitalised for 7 weeks. Wounded again on 12/7/15 – ‘wounded slightly eye, chest’ – and hospitalised for 2+ months. KiA 19/7/16;
Martin, John Herbert: wounded – no details – on 25/7/16 but remained on duty. Wounded on 6/11/16 with gun shot wound to left hand and hospitalised for 1+ month. KiA 2/3/17.
Murray, John Bridge: wounded on 8/5/17 with shrapnel wound to right leg and hospitalised in UK for 1.5 months. Wounded second time on 4/10/17 with shrapnel wound to right eye and hospitalised in UK for 11 weeks. KiA 11/8/18.
Nicholas, George Mason: wounded on 12/12/15 with shrapnel wound to right arm (‘severe’) and hospitalised 5+ weeks. KiA 14/11/16.
Noonan, Leonard: wounded on 8/5/15 with shrapnel wound to head; but no other details. Wounded again on 6/8/15 with gun shot wound thigh and hip and hospitalised 3+ weeks. KiA 25/7/16.
Nuttall, William Richard: wounded on 9/8/15 with description reading, ‘shock and wnd head’ . Hospitalised for 5 weeks. Hospitalised again on 23/10/16 for 5 weeks with ‘septic thumb’ from barbed wire. Again wounded on 25/9/17 and this described as ‘blown up and buried by shell at Polygon Wood’ . His condition described as ‘shell shock’ and ’tremulans, complains of headaches’. Hospitalised for 2.5 months. For this situation the following form had to be completed: Report to be rendered in the case of Officers and other ranks who, without any visible wound, become non-effective from physical conditions claimed or presumed to have originated from effects of British or enemy weapons in action. DoW 17/6/18.
O’Neill. John Albert: wounded on 19/9/17 with shrapnel wound to left arm and hospitalised in UK for 1 month. DoD 25/11/18.
Owens, Charles Athwell: wounded – ‘gassed’ – on 7/7/18 and hospitalised for 5 weeks. Wounded less than 2 months later on 29/9/18 with shrapnel wound to left thigh and DoW the next day.
Power, Robert Ernest: wounded on 7/6/17 with gunshot wound to head and hospitalised but only for 12 days. KiA 4/10/17.
Ray, Harold Seymour: wounded on 5/8/16 with shrapnel wound to left arm and hospitalised in UK for 2 months. KiA 9/10/17.
Raymond, Harold McCheyne: hospitalised for 1 month with feet problems – no other details – from 13/7/16. KiA 9/4/17.
Rendell, Clyde: hospitalised in UK for 3 months from 13/1/17 with severe trench feet. Another 2+ months period of hospitalisation with trench feet from 6/10/17. More hospitalisation with trench fever for 1.5 months from 22/2/18: trench fever . Yet another period of hospitalisation with trench fever/influenza from 17/5/18 for 2 weeks. KiA 6/7/18.
Robinson, Edward: wounded (1) on 20/9/17 with gun shot wound to left leg and hospitalised for 1 month. Wounded (2) on 31/3/18 with gun shot wound to right shoulder and hospitalised for 1 month. Wounded (3) on 9/8/18 with shrapnel wound to left leg and DoW on 11/9/18.
Say, Leonard: wounded on 10/7/5 and hospitalised for 1+ week but no other details. KiA 7/11/17.
Singleton, James: wounded on 25/4/15 with gun shot wound to (right) leg and back and hospitalised for 2 months. Re-admitted to hospital with ‘old wound’ on 27/9/15; and then spent another 11 months convalescing before rejoining unit in France. More hospitalisation for 2 months from 18/12/16 with right knee complications. Another period of hospitalisation for 1 month from 18/1/18 as a result of fractured ribs from accidental injury. KiA 9/8/18.
Sommers, Arthur John: wounded on 27/2/17 with gunshot wound to right leg and hospitalised for 1 month. KiA 12/10/17.
Sutton, William Henry: wounded on 26/9/17 with gun shot wound to face and chest with ‘Large jagged wound left cheek- has not perforated into mouth’. Hospitalised in UK for 2+ months and eventually returned to unit in France in late May 1918. A court martial held on 8/6/18 found him guilty of ‘wilfully self-inflicting a wound’: ’cellulitis back of left fore-arm on 28/5/18’. Pleaded not guilty but found guilty and sentenced to 2 years hard labour. The sentence was suspended on 28/6/18. He rejoined his unit and was then KiA on 11/8/18. [Post 176]
Sweeney, Cornelius James: wounded on 28/8/16 with shrapnel wound to pelvis and the right hip was fractured (severe). Hospitalised in UK for 5 months. 11/4/17: reported missing on 11/4/17 and then KiA the same day
The above detail shows that a large number of those in the sample who either died or were killed on active service had endured considerable trauma and suffering before they met their death. On the face of it, there were individual cases above where repatriation to Australia and a medical discharge would have seemed the proper course. I will consider this issue in the next post when I look at the experiences of the whole cohort of men, not just this group that paid the supreme sacrifice.
But even the above analysis does not tell the full story of the men’s ‘sacrifice’. In addition to being wounded, many of this group also suffered from significant sickness and poor health. As noted, the next post will examine the men’s health in more detail and it will focus on the complete cohort, not just those who died. However, for present purposes the following brief account in relation to those who did die is worth noting.
Disease and chronic health conditions across the cohort of the dead
Looking first at the group of men just covered – those wounded at some point prior to their death – it is clear that there were additional sicknesses and injuries that would have had a negative effect on their overall wellbeing. Consider the following 4 examples:
Foote/ Vicars Foote, Ernest Rolleston: in addition to the more than 4 months of hospitalisation in relation to shrapnel wounds, shell shock and trench feet, there were two periods of hospitalisation – each of 2 weeks – for quinsy (peritonsillar abscess) and another extended period – 2 months – for cellulitis.
Forde, Ernest Leslie: one year prior to being wounded with shrapnel wounds to the head, this soldier had been hospitalised for 3 weeks with scabies.
Ray, Harold Seymour: in addition to being wounded with a shrapnel wound to his arm, there were 3 periods of hospitalisation with scabies/septic sores.
Sutton, William Henry: in addition to being shot in the face and chest, this soldier endured a sprained back which saw him hospitalised for 3+ months. Additionally, there was a chronic skin problem – phlebitis – which saw him hospitalised for 3 weeks and a heart condition (mitral regurgitation).
When you shift the focus from just those soldiers who died of wounds and take in the full cohort of men who died – from any cause – the extent of sickness, disease and injury becomes more apparent. Again, the following is just a series of examples:
Appleyard, Gordon William: DoW on 24/8/16 but had suffered from dysentery (May 1915), rheumatic fever (September 1915) and rheumatism (October 1915).
Berryman, Lewis Richard: KiA on 25/6/17 but had been ‘dangerously ill’ with pyrexia over 6 week period September- November 1916.
Clayton, Charles John: KiA19/7/16 but had been ‘dangerously ill’ with pneumonia in Egypt in January 1916 before going to France.
Inseal/Ensil, Arthur George: KiA 5/8/16 but in December 1915 had had Enteric fever and returned to Australia for ‘change’. Then on 11/3/16 a medical board determined he was ‘fit for duty’ and he re-embarked on 29/3/16 and rejoined his unit in France on 7/7/16. He was killed one month later.
Johnson, Cyril Hamlin: KiA 14/5/18 but had been hospitalised 5 times with scabies. Each period of hospitalisation was between 1-2 weeks.
Sherlock, Albert: KiA 20/8/18 but had extensive history of disease covering mumps 1/2/16 (1+ month), nephritis 30/4/17 (1 month) h) and epilepsy 8/1/18 (1+ month).
Smith, William: DoD 17/10/18. He had been hospitalised with ‘septic sores’ on 20/7/17 (1 week).
A final word on those who made the ‘supreme sacrifice’
It is clear that when the focus is placed on those men who died on active service – 166 from our full cohort of 753 – a more complete picture of the extent and nature of the reality of ‘supreme sacrifice’ emerges.
Importantly, the very act of describing death as a form of ’supreme sacrifice’ had the effect of neutralising and ‘sanitising’ the dreadful effect of the death itself. The terminology implied some sort of high moral purpose to the death. It became a code for people to use, on the one hand, to provide comfort and a sense of righteousness for those mourning and, on the other, to distance everyone from the reality of the individual death and its specific circumstances.
There were other factors in WW1 that were fairly unique to Australian soldiers and which contributed to this ‘distancing’ effect. The great geographical distance separating Australia from the actual theatres of combat in the Middle East and Europe meant that troops did not return on leave and, consequently, as the years passed, the sense of physical and emotional separation grew, particularly if there was only ever limited correspondence between the front and home. Also, when men died they were buried – if, in fact, the body was recovered – in, literally, very distant ‘foreign fields’ and it would prove very difficult, if not impossible, for loved ones ever to visit the grave. It is also worth pointing out that in many cases loved ones never uncovered the details surrounding the death. Details provided by the AIF were limited in scope, general in detail and formal, if not abrupt, in tone. True, additional information could come, for example, from mates in the same unit and some families might have seen very explicit details in Red Cross reports, but overall there there was a natural inclination to spare the family shocking details and write and talk up the notion of sacrifice. So, overall, the notion of ’supreme sacrifice’ acted, 100 years ago, as a form of what we commonly now refer to as ‘closure’.
However, from the perspective of history there are obvious failings when the shocking carnage of WW1 – and any war for that matter – is papered over with notions of ’supreme sacrifice’. It denies and warps the suffering and grief of the loved ones left behind. It minimises the enormous social, economic and other impacts on the local area, state and nation. And, ironically – given the very terminology employed – it fails to give an honest picture of the nature and extent of the suffering the men endured.
This short analysis at least begins to uncover the true sacrifice made by the men who served and died.
All material taken from individual service files