Category Archives: Extent and nature of casualties

224. Those who survived (2) – the sick

This post continues the work of the previous post in analysing the physical and mental condition of the men returning home, having ‘survived’ the War. The focus in the last post was the extent of wounds and it revealed that half of the cohort of 585 were hospitalised, at least once, as the direct result of being wounded in battle.

The focus of this post is the extent of disease, sickness and non-conflict injury across the same cohort. For a start, 478 men or 82% of the cohort were hospitalised at least once as a result of disease, sickness or injury. With men being hospitalised more than once, the total number of hospitalisations for the group was close to 1,000 (960). As with those wounded, some of these conditions were so severe that the soldier was repatriated to Australia and discharged as medically unfit. Equally, many of those discharged as TPE at the end of the War had extensive records of hospitalisation, serious health issues and debility; and their poor health was obviously going to be a negative factor in their future lives.

Injury, sickness and disease are not unique to military service and it can be argued that many of the cases of hospitalisation covered in this analysis would have occurred, in Australia, in normal, everyday life. However, there are two critical points. First, several of the conditions were definitely unique to the experience of war. For example, ‘trench feet’ and ‘trench fever’ can be classified as conditions that soldiers experienced directly because of their military service. Equally, the cases of malaria and other infectious disease such as enteric fever that soldiers suffered were also directly related to war service in a particular geographic location, principally in the Middle East. Second, while many of the sicknesses and diseases were, as it were, ‘universal’ and not defined by either location or military service, the actual conditions of military service intensified both the spread and severity of these conditions. Because the men lived in such close proximity, often in highly compromised conditions of basic comfort, cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation, and because their daily experiences were often so physically and mentally demanding and fraught, diseases and sickness were more likely to occur, more likely to spread both further and faster and more likely to have more significant health effects.

The other critical point is that ‘sickness’ as such was only half the story. We have already seen in the previous post that 50% of the survivors suffered ‘wounds’ of some kind. Now we have more than 80% of the same group of survivors hospitalised, at least once, with some form of sickness. Obviously, many men fell within both categories; and it is reasonable to argue that it was the cumulative impact of these experiences that most affected men’s health, both at the time and into the future.

The range of sickness, disease and injury

What was immediately apparent in the analysis was the extraordinary range of medical conditions described. They ranged from a horse bite to the right ear and concussion of the brain (from a non-combat fall) through every common disease, infectious and non-infectious, to more one-off medical conditions including: (a) enlarged spleen, (b) abdominal swelling/tumour and (c) alcoholic insanity.

Again, it is important to acknowledge the type or records being analysed. As discussed in the previous post, the records here are essentially records that track the soldier’s service – to the day – and both the amount and form of medical information that appear are limited. In some service files there are more detailed medical records such as medical assessments conducted in relation to a medical discharge. However, the primary record employed in the following analysis is the entry in the service file that detailed when an individual was hospitalised and for how long and where.

Categorising the data

To begin, there were cases where the only entry was generic. Specifically, there were 49 cases of hospitalisation where the only detail recorded was sick. Obviously, there would have been a more prescriptive diagnosis later in the period of hospitalisation, but in terms of the record-keeping the only reference is sick. There was a similar situation where for 28 cases the only entry was NYD or Not Yet Determined. Again, presumably, there would have been a determination of the condition at some point; and In some instances you can actually see that the NYD was changed to a definite diagnosis; but NYD is the only record in the file for 28 cases. Lastly, there were 41 cases where the only reference given was PUO (Pyrexia of Unknown Origin). Most likely these cases would have been eventually diagnosed as conditions such as trench fever but, like the previous two generic cases, there is only the acronym PUO in the file. Overall, there were 118 cases of hospitalisation where no specific medical description was given.

At the same time, certain conditions appeared constantly. The following breakdown records those conditions that appeared at least 10 times. The total figure comes to 644 cases of hospitalisation.

Appendicitis: 10
Bronchitis: 24
Diarrhoea: 28
Dysentery: 23
Enteric Fever: 19
Gastro-enteritis: 11
Influenza: 142
Jaundice: 14
Malaria: 16
Measles: 16
Mumps: 54
Pleurisy: 21
Pneumonia: 14
Rheumatism: 18
Scabies: 41
Synovitis: 10
Tonsilitis: 20
Trench Feet: 21
Trench Fever: 22 (Many cases designated PUO (41) would have been Trench Fever)
VD: 120

In addition to these cases, there was a very diverse range of less common diseases and sicknesses. The number of hospitalisations involved came to 92.

Adentitis: 4
Chicken Pox: 3
Colic: 4
‘Debility’: 6
Diphtheria: 4
Enteritis: 6
Gastritis: 2
Hernia: 7
Impetigo: 4
Laryngitis: 8
Lymphangitis: 2
Myalgia: 9
Nephritis: 2
Orchitis: 3
Osteomyelitis: 2
Typhoid: 3
Rheumatic Fever: 2
Scarlet Fever: 2
Small Pox: 2
Tachycardia: 6
Tuberculosis: 2
Urinary: 3
VDH ( Valvular Disease of the Heart): 5

There was another set of hospitalisations from one-off conditions: varicose veins, asthma, anaemia, heat stroke, sun stroke, neuralgia, myositis, quinsy, hepatitis, rubella, sciatica, neuritis, catarrh, osteoporosis arthritis, fibrositis, fibrosis of lung, colitis, rhinitis, balanitis, thrombosis, neuralgia, intestinal colic, abdominal colic, real colic …

There were 50 hospitalisations stemming from what can be described as general (non combat) injuries, where the the most common injury was sprained ankle (10). Others included fractures, lacerations, burns and scalds, concussion from falls and knocks, and a range of horse-related injuries: kicked, bitten etc.

There were also several hospitalisations that clearly related to mental health issues. For example, there were men hospitalised where the following type of descriptors were used: alcoholic insanity; mentally deficient; mental; premature senility and rheumatism. These cases were separate from the shellshock/neurasthenia cases considered as ‘wounds’ in the previous post.

Clusters of sickness and disease

When considering the extensive range of medical conditions described in the AIF service records, it is helpful to pull the various medical descriptions together and focus on key areas for this particular cohort of 585 men. For example, you can identify a relatively small group (6) suffering from various dental problems. Similarly, there was a slightly larger group (10) suffering from hearing issues and another group (12) with eyesight issues. If you bring together all descriptions relating to the heart – valvular disease of the heart (5), tachycardia (6), angina, heart palpitations, cardiac irritability and heart attack – you also end up with a cluster of about 15. There was a larger cluster of cases (30+) associated with rheumatic disorders, including rheumatism, arthritis, synovitis, rheumatic fever and poliomyelitis.

There were 2 areas where the effect of clustering was very significant. The first related to skin complaints and the second to respiratory system issues.


Scabies, with 41 hospitalisations, was the dominant skin complaint and one of the most common reasons for hospitalisation. However, when you add other skin complaints – impetigo, a range of septic sores (hands, feet and legs), boils and cysts, neuralgia, unspecified skin diseases, plus a series of related ICT (Inflammation of Connective Tissue) conditions in hands and feet – the size of the cluster increases significantly, to approximately 60 hospitalisations. In a sense, the skin acted as a front line defence for the overall health of the body and it was under constant pressure because of the unhygienic conditions and the prevalence of mites, parasites and viruses. Even the simplest cut or laceration could result in infection. Treatment in hospital for scabies was exacting and could even promote more forms of dermatitis. There was also the debilitating effect of re-infection.

Respiratory system

For the cohort of 478 men there were at least 200 hospitalisations as a result of respiratory system conditions. The major diseases were Bronchitis (24), Pneumonia (14), Pleurisy (21), and, of course, Influenza (142). There were also cases of tuberculosis, asthma, laryngitis and tonsillitis.

Clearly, influenza stands out as the most common reason for hospitalisation. In terms of influenza, the following is a breakdown of hospitalisations by year. It shows the peak of cases in 1918, principally in the second half of the year. The 1919 cases tend to be concentrated in the first half of the year. The 1919 numbers have to be considered incomplete because by that point men were being returned, or had already been, returned to Australia. There were cases where the men contacted the influenza on the voyage home and were hospitalised in the ship’s hospital.

1915: 12
1916: 34
1917: 26
1918: 52
1919: 18
total: 142

The incidence of Mumps across the cohort

What might appear as surprising in the breakdown of hospitalisations, was the incidence of mumps (54). In fact, it transpires that in WW1 after influenza and VD, mumps was the most common cause of hospitalisation.

It is worth noting that adults contracting mumps could experience more adverse effects than those experienced by children. Orchitis – testicular swelling and tenderness and even testicular atrophy – was the most common complication for adult males. Obviously, the confined and unhygienic conditions the soldiers experienced increased the transmission of the virus. Typically, mumps involved a 3 week period of hospitalisation.

The incidence of VD across the cohort

There were 120 hospitalisations for VD and the number of individual men involved was 93, or 15% of the cohort of survivors. In general, the records in relation to episodes of VD are highly accurate, principally because pay had to be deducted for every day spent in hospital. Because of the very precise record keeping in relation to VD it is possible to calculate the total number of days involved in hospitalisation. For this cohort of survivors the figure was 6,182 days. It is an extraordinary amount of lost service time. In terms of the 93 individual soldiers involved, the average hospitalisation works out to be 66 days or more than 2 months of military service. Also, the average period of hospitalisation for the 120 cases comes to 51 days.

In a small number of VD cases, where treatment occurred at Langwarrin, the records appear to be incomplete. For example. in one case the person contracted VD before embarkation and was admitted to Langwarrin in November 1916 but it is not clear how long he was kept there. He eventually embarked for overseas on 19/2/17. In another case someone had enlisted in 1914 and contracted VD in Egypt in September 1915. As for many others, he was sent back to Australia and reached Melbourne on 17/10/15. It appears he was then treated in Langwarrin, presumably until early February 1916, before re-embarking for overseas service in early March 1916. A third example also involved someone – he had also enlisted in 1914 – being sent back from Egypt in August 1915. Again he appeared to spend up to 4 months there before being ordered to return to duty on 23/12/15; but at that point he deserted.

Some men experienced very high levels of hospitalisation from VD, both in terms of the number of hospitalisations and their duration. In terms of these ‘repeat’ cases, it is not clear from the records available if it was a case of the same infection flaring up again – medically, this was a definite possibility – or a new, additional infection, possibly following a period of leave. The following are examples of extensive cases:

(a) 25 yo when he enlisted in early 1916. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 63 days from May 1918; 84 days from January 1919; 50 days from October 1919. Total number of days: 197

(b) 20 yo when he enlisted in 1914. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 178 days from April 1916; 9 days from early May 1917; 46 days from late May 1917. Total number of days: 233

(c) 24 yo when he enlisted in the second half of 1915. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 100 days from September 1916; 145 days from June 1917; 17 days from December 1918. Total number of days: 262

(d) 25 yo when he enlisted in 1914. Three periods of hospitalisation with VD: 40 days from October 1915; 48 days from October 1916; 30 days from December 1916. Total number of days: 118

The longest single period of hospitalisation for VD was 253 days from very early December 1918. The soldier involved had enlisted in the second half of 1916 as a 33 yo.

These examples demonstrate the significant impact VD could have on soldiers’ service. They also indicate that VD hardly ended with the Armistice and that cases continued through 1919. In fact, it is possible – but it would be hard to establish – that rates of VD increased after the fighting ended. Certainly, in Australia at the time there was concern over the potential number of men returning with VD who posed significant risk to future partners, wives and children.

One other detail that emerges when you look at the complete picture of men’s health is that VD was only part of the story. It was very rare that VD was the only disease or sickness men suffered. In fact, the general health of men who contracted VD was often very problematic. It would be difficult to establish the connection, if any, between VD and other illnesses; but when you look at the full picture of the individual soldier’s health you are struck by an overall sense of poor health. Some examples will help:

(a) 26 yo when he enlisted in 1914. In August 1915 he was hospitalised – and repatriated to the UK – with dysentery and enteric fever. The hospitalisation lasted 5 months. In July 1917 he was hospitalised again – this time for 3 weeks – with disability/pyrexia. Then in March 1919 he was hospitalised with VD for 28 days.

(b) 21 yo when he enlisted in 1914. In April 1915 he was hospitalised with influenza. In November 1915 he was hospitalised for 5+ weeks with diphtheria. In January 1916 he was hospitalised for 3 weeks with mumps. There was another week in July 1917 with debility. In August 1917 he spent 1 month in hospital with sick contusion leg. There was another month long hospitalisation in May 1918, again with debility. Then in August 1918 there was another 6 weeks with malaria. Finally, at the very end of the War, there was a period of 6 weeks, from 23/10/18, with VD.

(c) 24 yo when he enlisted in the second half of 1915. Hospitalised for 3+ weeks with trench fever in May 1917. Hospitalised for 146 days with VD from February 1918. In February 1919 hospitalised with pleurisy for 2 weeks. On the return journey to Australia he was hospitalised – ship’s hospital – with influenza. Additionally, in July 1916 he had been hospitalised in the UK for 6 weeks with a gsw neck.

Interestingly, none of these men was discharged as medically unfit. All three were discharged as TPE. Yet, from a purely medical perspective, it is clear that at the very least their physical health had been severely compromised by their experience of war.

While VD was treated, medically, as a disease, there was this complex set of perspectives that shaped the authorities’ attitude towards it. Principally, VD was generally seen as the consequences of a moral lapse. It came from behaviour that was ‘licentious’, where, as it were, the individual soldier had not been able to resist the temptation of the ‘sins of the flesh’. As noted earlier, religious authorities referred to VD as an issue of ‘Purity’: the pure soldier, the ‘Soldier of Christ’ would never fall so low. So there was this sense of the individual having to accept personal responsibility for their medical fate. Indeed, in the early days of the War the AIF set out to shame the troops in Egypt who came down with the disease and returned large numbers of them home – to Langwarrin – in disgrace. Equally, those who became infected and had to be hospitalised for treatment deserved to lose their pay. However, over the course of the War, the significant limits of the purely punitive approach became obvious as VD rates stayed high. Social and medical reformers argued that changing people’s behaviour via moral lessons was not effective and that more proactive strategies employing an educative approach to prevent infection in the first place had to be adopted.

There were other major concerns at the time. For example, there was the fear that the disease had the potential to break out of what people perceived to be its own unique social setting – the weak man, overcome by alcohol, frequenting the brothel – and seep into mainstream society, and into the family home, directly affecting the health of both wife and children. There were even claims that VD, unchecked, was a form of ‘race suicide’.

Certainly, at the personal level, cases of VD tended to remain ‘unspoken’ and ‘hidden’. An example will help explain how this played out. This particular soldier enlisted early in 1915 as a 20 yo and he served until he returned to Australia in September 1919 and was discharged as TPE. In May 1920 the the Melbourne Headquarters of the Independent Order of Rechabites (Victoria) – a friendly society committed to the temperance movement – requested from the AIF a ‘certificate showing duration of illness’ of the soldier. Presumably he was making some sort of claim for sickness or disability. In due course a detailed record was provided and it covered hospitalisations for mumps, scabies, dental caries, a serious hernia condition and a gunshot wound to the left thigh. However, what the formal AIF record released to the IOR did not include was 88 days of hospitalisation from February 1919 for VD, s a direct result of contact with a prostitute in London.

Final notes of the extent of sickness

The preceding analysis makes it clear that many of the War’s survivors had their general health compromised by the sickness, disease and (non combat) injuries they experienced over the period of their service. Further, the negative consequences for the men would have continued post their discharge from the AIF. This was true not just for those discharged as ‘medically unfit’ but for the entire cohort generally.

One area that is not adequately covered in this analysis is that of mental health. Admittedly, we have seen that there was some medical sense of ‘psychological trauma’ . For example, in an extreme case, a soldier who was, literally, buried by an artillery barrage and then dug out, suffering from concussion and/or other wounds was likely to be described as suffering from shell shock. Equally, a man could be repatriated to Australia for medical discharge suffering from ‘premature senility’ or even ‘alcoholic insanity’. And, once returned home and discharged, a returned soldier could be described in the local media as someone who had ‘lost their wits’ or someone who had had a ‘breakdown’, so much so that at their welcome home someone else from the local community had had to speak on their behalf. So, such extreme cases of psychological trauma were apparent and noted. But that, of course, was but a part of the true picture. The problem was that the medical science of ‘mental health’ was very much in its infancy and there was no comprehensive mapping of the extent of psychological trauma across the cohort of all those returning. However, the fact that there was no ‘measurement’ at the time hardly denies the reality of such ‘sickness’. Everything about war service – the fear of death, the sight of death and wounds, the trauma of conflict and killing, the wretchedness of living conditions, the sense of powerlessness and blind fate, the tedium of military life and the impact of military discipline, the actual experience of being wounded or suffering serious illness, the loss of those close to you … – inevitably compromised the individual soldier’s mental health. Today, the most common description we would use would be PTSD. One hundred years ago the term was not used and there was no medical science to describe and record the condition; but it did exist and it would continue to have a significant impact on the men’s lives well after discharge.

Final notes on both being wounded and falling sick

The last two posts have focused on, first, the wounds experienced by the cohort of survivors and, second, the pattern of sickness, disease and (non combat) injuries experienced by the same cohort. While this separation is helpful in ordering the material, it is, in another sense, misleading as it can intimate that there was some sort of either/or arrangement. The reality, of course, was that the two conditions overlapped and interacted wth each other. If 50% of our cohort of survivors experienced at least once episode of being wounded and more than 80% of the same cohort were hospitalised at least once with some form of sickness, disease or (non compact) injury, then most men were affected by both possibilities. To understand the cumulative medical impact of war experience, the interaction between these two conditions is a critical consideration. It is only when you start to consider the combined or total medical experiences of the men that a true picture of the impact of the War on the mens’ health – physical and mental – both at the time and into the future begins to emerge.

The analyses in both this and the previous post have pointed to the very high levels of hospitalisation that characterised military service. It was not just the number of hospitalisations – for this particular cohort of 585 survivors the overall number of hospitalisations is in the order of 1,000 – but the length of such hospitalisations, which could easily extend to 2 or more months at a time. Inevitably, there would have been a very significant ‘churn’ effect in the various units in which the men served. Historians tend to assume that there was a strong sense of esprit de corps across the AIF and men identified strongly with their particular unit. However, the overall extent of hospitalisation tends, to some extent at least, challenge this perspective. The reality would have been that men returned to their original unit – sometimes months later – to find mates from their past either dead or now in hospital themselves, and new members added to the unit. There would have been a constant sense of flux. Moreover, significant battles might have taken place in their time in hospital and that sense of ‘shared battle experience’ compromised. The effect of such churn would have been negative for both unit morale and the mental health of the individual soldier.

The last comment relates to the overall health of the AIF. Admittedly, the focus throughout the blog has been on one particular regional area. However, over a number of posts the following points have been made:

1. The large number of men rejected on medical grounds, often with multiple rejections, where the rejections by local doctors began in the very first days of recruiting

2. The number of men still being rejected on medical grounds even in the last months of the war; and the sense that there were virtually no ‘medically fit’ recruits left

3. The ongoing lowering of the medical standards for recruitment

4. The number of men who did enlist but who were then discharged as medically unfit before they could even embark for overseas service

5. The number of men who died ( 22% of the cohort of men who saw overseas service)
the extent of wounds across the cohort of survivors (50%)

6. The extent of sickness, disease and (non combat) injury across the cohort (82%)

7. The number of men discharged, after service overseas, as medically unfit (48%), accepting that many of those discharged as TPE were, in fact, also ‘medically unfit’

The various indicators obviously highlight the immediate and ongoing medical consequences of war service. But there is also the suggestion that the overall quality of mens’ health in Australia at the outbreak of WW1 was more compromised than various myths of the Anzac story have assumed. The narrative about the best and fittest rushing to enlist at the start of the War might have substance; but only if you accept the level of rejection on medical grounds even at that point. Moreover, as the War progressed, there was a significant decline in the medical condition of the men enlisting in the AIF. Over the course of the fighting, the level of hospitalisation associated with both wounds and sickness was remarkably high. Finally, at War’s end the overall health – both physical and mental – of the men leaving the AIF was obviously severely compromised. Against this background, it seems sad to cling to notions of the Digger as some sort of stoic, super-fit and super-human archetype.


As indicated, the principal resource is the individual service file for each soldier.

222. A closer look at the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of those who died on active service

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

221. Analysing the ‘sacrifice’ of the cohort of men who enlisted, embarked and served overseas.

It is time to draw the blog to a finish. But before I do, I want to devote a couple of final posts to a description of the experiences of the men who enlisted, went overseas and took part in the fighting.

At the time, much was made of the core ideal of ’sacrifice’. So it seems proper to try to give some picture of exactly what sacrifices were made by the men. In particular, I want to have a close look at the impact of the fighting on the men’s health and wellbeing both during the War and in the years after.

The data that I am drawing on comes primarily from the individual service histories of the men. These records detail a significant amount of information on any wounds, injuries, sicknesses and diseases experienced. They also cover matters such as length of time spent in hospital and other related institutions. Importantly, they indicate whether the individual soldier was discharged as ‘medically unfit’ (MU) or at the ‘termination of the period of enlistment’ (TPE). The same records give an indication of the longer term disabilities and suffering the returning men had to carry with them after discharge from the AIF.

After having considered the medical profile, I also intend to look at the men’s service histories in terms of their (military) behaviour in the AIF. I will also look at the military honours and awards received.

The cohort under review

To this point, the blog has identified all those men (814) with a link to the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in the AIF at some point over 1914-1918. However, I now want to reduce this cohort to focus on those enlisted men who embarked for overseas service and who took part in the fighting in the Middle East and Europe. To do this, I need to remove the following groups from the full cohort:

  1. men who were discharged from the AIF on medical grounds shortly after enlistment and before their units embarked for overseas
  2. men who deserted form the AIF before embarkation
  3. men who enlisted late in 1918 and were either discharged before embarking or who were on troopships that were recalled after the Armistice and then discharged
  4. men who for other reasons either never embarked or never reached overseas

Taken together, all these groups cover 61 men, which reduces the cohort to 753. That is, for these last few posts the focus will be on the service histories of the 753 men, linked to the Shire of Alberton, who enlisted in the AIF, embarked for overseas and saw service in either or both the Middle East and Europe.

This particular post examines the several groups men excluded for the above reasons. It provides an indication of just how complex individual enlistments in the AIF could be.

Some background on the general health of recruits

We know that, overwhelmingly, our particular cohort of men who enlisted were young – late teens and early twenties – and that they came from a rural work background, employed as either agricultural labourers or assisting on the ‘family farm’. You would probably expect then that the overall level of health and fitness amongst this group of recruits would have been high. Certainly, this was the impression created right at the start of the War when the first group of approximately 50 local young men rushed to enlist and were promptly screened by the local doctors in Yarram. There was a clear sense that the fittest and best of the local community – and this was true for the nation as a whole – had volunteered for service.

Men rejected on medical grounds

At the same time, we know that many recruits were rejected on medical grounds. Previous posts have looked at this issue of rejection. See Post 199. The rejected and Post 200.’Recruits Rejected by Local Doctors’. It is a complicated issue, made more complicated by the fact that medical standards for enlistment changed over the course of the year; and men who were initially rejected were later deemed to meet the new standard. The issue of rejection on medical grounds is important because it offers another perspective on the general health of those of who enlisted. Possibly, the general health of those who enlisted in the AIF in WW1 was more compromised than we have presumed.

One important point to keep in mind is that the data I have on this issue of medical rejection only relates to enlistments in Yarram. Essentially, it covers the medical assessments carried out by the local doctors when men from the shire fronted to enlist. As noted, when local men presented themselves for enlistment they had a medical with the local doctor and if successful were then given a railway warrant to travel to Melbourne. The data I have suggests that there were approximately 150 cases where local men were ‘rejected’ or ‘failed’ the medical. But, as usual, there are significant qualifications to note. The most obvious one is that, as discussed, many of those initially rejected on medical grounds were subsequently accepted. In fact, of the 136 men individually listed by local doctors as having failed the medical, it appears that at least 35 were subsequently accepted.

Another key qualification was the conviction of AIF medical staff that local doctors were not rigorous enough in enforcing the medical standards that had been prescribed. They believed that local doctors were unduly influenced by the ideal of patriotism and that they passed men whom, from a purely medical or physical standard, they should have failed. As a consequence, over time, the AIF significantly qualified the worth of the assessment by the local doctor by requiring a second medical screening in Melbourne; and the enlistment would only proceed on the basis of this second medical assessment. So, it is possible that the number of rejections by local doctors represents an understatement of the problematic level of the general health and fitness of those who came forward to enlist.

Moreover, the number of medical rejections recorded in Yarram is only part of the full picture. Roughly half the men in the full cohort of 814 enlisted in Melbourne or some other large centre such as Warragul, Sale or Foster. Commonly, this was because by the time they came to enlist they had left the Shire of Alberton or, while they were still living and working in the shire, they travelled directly to Melbourne or some other location to enlist. Because these recruits were never examined by the local doctors in Yarram, we have no equivalent record of medical rejections at the local level. At the same time, when you look at the individual service files of the men it is clear that many of them, just like those who enlisted in Yarram, were initially rejected on medical grounds. So it seems safe to assume that the number of rejections for this group would have been comparable to that for the Yarram group and that, overall, for the complete cohort of just over 800 men, the total number of rejections could have been in the order of 300 or more. But, again, many of this group did in fact end up being passed medically and enlisted in the AIF.

You have to start to wonder if the overall health of this particular demographic – young, single, male, rural workers – was not as ‘positive’ as was presented at the time, where the prevailing view was that rural or ‘bush’ life was the natural and highly desired environment for the physical, social and even moral development of the archetypal Australian male. For example, we can reflect on all the stirring farewell speeches that lavished praise on the new recruits from the shire, not just as the heirs of the original, physically tough and mentally resilient pioneer stock of Gippsland, but as the embodiment of all that was best of the young Australian male.

At the same time, the general issue of the men’s background health is complicated. For example, take the single issue of teeth. A problem with a potential recruit’s teeth – the lack of teeth or the condition of the teeth – appears to have been the most common reason for failing the medical. At least this was the case with this Yarram cohort. There are two possible responses to this situation. One is that the AIF and the local doctors were too preoccupied with the condition and number of men’s teeth; and that teeth generally should have been of a lower order of importance. What did it matter, so to speak, if a recruit was missing a few teeth but as fit as the proverbial ‘mallee bull’? Indeed, it is clear that many men initially rejected because of their teeth were ultimately passed as fit. So was too much made of this single criterion? At the same time, if the issue of teeth was critical in terms of being able to eat army food and rations then it was obviously a major consideration. Moreover, arguably a recruit’s general dental condition and his standard of oral hygiene would then – as now – have been taken as critical indicators of overall health.

There is also other evidence to suggest that the general level of health and fitness of the cohort of men presenting themselves for enlistment in the AIF was more problematic than all the contemporary and historic imagery of the WW1 digger suggests. Specifically, of the cohort of 814, thirty-two (30) newly enlisted men were discharged on medical grounds not long after enlisting. None of this group embarked for overseas service. Further, in many of these cases, there was clearly a pre-existing medical condition which, in theory at least, should have meant they were never passed as medically fit in the first place. Basically, it was not just the large number of men who failed the medical screening for enlistment that pointed to poor health and fitness across the demographic but also the cases of men who were accepted only to be discharged on medical grounds within a short time after their enlistment. It is worth looking at these latter cases because they indicate not just the medical conditions but also the apparent failings in the screening system. They also point to the determination – if not, desperation – of some men to enlist.

Men discharged on medical grounds after enlistment and before embarking for overseas (30):

Bourke, George Manning: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne March 1917: 25 years old, single, bank clerk; extensive sickness and hospitalisation from April 1917 – influenza, tonsilitis, rheumatic myalgia, neurasthenia – and discharged 3/10/17, as medically unfit – rheumatism.

Coulthard, Robert Lyn: enlisted Yarram late 1915; single, 23 years old, farmer; discharged February 1916 because of pre-existing tumour on thigh.

Cox, George: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne November 1915; 44 years old, married, clergyman; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged in early 1916 because of long-term effects of rheumatic fever (1913); continued in home service until early 1919.

Crisp, John: enlisted Warragul October 1916; 26 years old, single, labourer; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged April 1917 with ‘tubercular disease of lung’ and long standing pleurisy.

Cummings, Albert James: enlisted Melbourne May 1918; 18 years old, single, labourer; this was in fact the second enlistment as he had been in AIF for a fortnight in March 1917 before medical discharge; again medically discharged after 2 months when he was described as ‘pale anaemic youth’, with ‘bad physique’. He also suffered chronic bronchitis; an operation to remove adenoid obstruction was recommended but he refused.

Dessent, William Allan: enlisted Warragul late 1916; 25 years old, married, farm labourer; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged after 4 months with complications from appendix operation several years earlier.

Dicker, Percy Hensby: enlisted Melbourne November 1917: 26 years old, single, university student; discharged as medically unfit after 2 months but no details given.

Fisher, George William: complicated case – enlisted 3 times; first in 1914 when he was 21 years old, single and labourer and the last in early 1917; enlisted under 2 names and discharged as medically unfit on each occasion; initial problem was ‘deformed feet’ but later included fainting attacks, palpitations, sweating, headaches and ‘neurasthenia’ and there was also ‘debility following pneumonia’.

Fisher, Percy Charles: enlisted Melbourne February 1916; 34 years old, married, labourer; had been rejected earlier by doctors in Yarram but did not acknowledge this on enlistment in Melbourne; discharged after several months as medically unfit with ‘chronic synovitis of right knee’ from past football injury.

Fitz, Francis: enlisted Foster/Melbourne August 1916: 24 years old, married, fisherman; discharged after one month with defective eyesight.

Godfrey, Reuben Curtis: enlisted Geraldton July 1917; 34 years old, single, farmer: had been previously rejected – eyesight- and on enlistment form a note that ‘extensive dental treatment’ required; discharged in October 1917 as permanently unfit: ’tendency to hernia’.

Goodwin, Walter Lewis: enlisted twice – Maffra January 1915 and Yarram/Melbourne July 1915 – first enlistment discharged because he was underage, on second enlistment there were medical issues with tonsillitis; he as recommended for operation but he refused and was granted a discharge.

Handley, Frank: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1915; 25 years old, single, labourer; medical board discharged him in January 1916 for ‘chronic appendicitis, dating back 5 years; refused operation

Light, Thomas Rueben: enlisted Leongatha March 1916; 27 years old, single, farmer; discharged in July 1916 as medically unfit but no further details.

Lucas, Richard Albert: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne August 1915; 26 years old, single, labourer; discharged after 2+ months because of ‘post operative trouble after appendicitis’ aggravated by military exercises, also -‘has also had measles and influenza since enlistment and is at present suffering from depression’.

Matthews, Oliver George Ewen: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne October 1916; 35 years old, single, saw mill hand; had been previously rejected – ‘teeth’ – at least once; discharged February 1917 with emphysemia.

McKean, Alfred: enlisted Melbourne July 1918; 19 years old, single, farm hand; a very late enlistment and discharged as medically unfit in early November: ‘poor physique’, ’neurosis’ and ‘unlikely to be efficient’.

Mitchell, Walter Laurence: first enlisted Yarram, August 1915 – 33 years old, single, contractor – but then rejected in camp with ‘ill health’; subsequently enlisted again at Warragul in October 1916 – acknowledged earlier rejection – but only lasted 3 months before discharge with ‘chronic asthma’.

Moser, Leonard: first enlisted Wangaratta March 1916; 32 years old, married, engine driver; discharged as medically unfit after 2 months; subsequently enlisted Yarram/Melbourne May 1917 but again discharged as medically unfit after 2+ months.

Parrott, Oliver Joseph: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1917; 21 years old, single, labourer; limited details and no date for discharge but it appears he was in hospital at time of unit’s embarkation and there is no record of overseas service.

Peel, Ernest: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne September 1915; 30 years old, married, farmer; had been previously rejected on medical grounds and was discharged as medically unfit after 2 months with poor eyesight: there was loss of sight in right eye and vision in left eye was defective.

Ratcliffe, Robert James: enlisted Goulburn September 1916; 34 years old, single labourer; discharged after 6 months: ‘acute rheumatism’.

Roberts, Charles Essex: enlisted Toora/Melbourne September 1915; 36 years old, married, farmer/‘bush carpenter’; discharged after 2 months: eye problems

Rooney, John Joseph: enlisted Melbourne February 1916; 44 years old, single, labourer; discharged after 5 months – pre-existing foot injury made worse by army service; but record also noted he was ‘over 45 years of age’; appears he tried again to enlist, unsuccessfully, in 1918 when his age was given as 47 years old.

Rowley, John David: enlisted Melbourne September 1914; 27 years old, single, horse-breaker; only lasted 1 month – ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’; tried again in May 1916 to enlist, at Yarram, but must have failed medical – appears on list of those rejected by local doctors.

Sims, William Gordon: complex case but, critically, no overseas service; first enlisted Yarram in October 1914; 20 years old, single, butter packer; discharged as medically unfit January 1915, appears to have been ‘goitre’; re-enlisted for home service in April 1916 and served 7 months then discharged, but not on medical grounds; re-enlisted in May 1917 for permanent guard and then discharged at own request in July 1918; then in July 1918 enlists in AIF under alias (Law) not divulging previous service history; admitted to situation in late August 1918 and finally discharged ‘at own request ‘ in December 1918.

Skinner, Evelyn Bruce: enlisted Melbourne January 1917; 35 years old, married, solicitor; discharged by medical board September 1917: ‘chronic otitis media’ – hearing problems for many years previously and had had ‘private treatment for deafness before enlisting.’

Trusler, Ernest George: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne June 1917; 20 years old, single, motor driver; had been previously rejected on medical grounds; discharged as medically unfit April 1918 – ‘r.sided inguinal hernia’ for which he refused operation and was then discharged.

Wilson, James Dennis: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne February 1916; 27 years old, single, labourer; discharged after 5 months – asthma

Wykes, William Alexander: enlisted Melbourne October 1915; 21 years old, single, baker; discharged after 7 months: ‘palpitations on slight exercise’; file indicates there was a significant pre-existing heart condition.

Another group of men I need to remove from the full cohort takes in those who deserted some time after enlistment and prior to embarkation for overseas service. The major qualification here is that possibly some of these men did subsequently enlist but under an alias. What tended to happen with these men is that they did not return from a period of leave, or they just left camp, and after a significant period of being absent without leave there was a committee of enquiry appointed which found that they had been illegally absent. They were then declared to have deserted and a warrant issued for their arrest. At the same time, their service files at least do not give any indication that they ever were apprehended. All these men were of course ‘volunteers’; and, presumably, some of them simply changed their minds and believed they had the right to do so.

Men who deserted (11):

Appleyard, R T: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne February 1916; 34 years old, married, farmer; charged with desertion and struck off strength December 1916.

Claydon, R: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne May 1916; 26 years old, single, labourer; committee of enquiry found him a deserter and struck off strength November 1916.

Fogarty, W H: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne November 1915; 31 years old, single, labourer; absent without leave from February 1916 and in March 1916 declared to have deserted.

Heriot, J: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne September 1915; 26 years old, single, labourer; ‘deserter’ marked on file and warrant issued for arrest November 1915.

Hibbs, A: enlisted Warragul/Melbourne October 1916; 25 years old, single, fisherman; had previously been rejected – chest measurement and bad teeth; absent without leave from early February 1917 and then marked as deserter mid February 1917.

Kennedy, J J: enlisted Melbourne September 1916; 28 years old, single, labourer; absent without leave from mid November 1916 and then declared deserter. Possibly re-enlisted under name of Byrne.

Kenney/Kenny, L A: enlisted Melbourne September 1915; 19 years old, single, jockey; he had previously (September 1914) been rejected on medical grounds by doctors in Yarram; enlistment in September 1915 only lasted 1 month then discharged on medical grounds – ‘chest measurement’; re-enlisted at Sale in February 1916 but was in trouble – absent without leave (numerous) and insubordination – from April 1916 and eventually declared a deserter in mid May 1917. It appears he misrepresented his age and could have been as young as 16 years old when he first enlisted.

Northan, A: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne November 1915; 25 years old, single, farm labourer; absent without leave from early December 1915 and declared a deserter in January 1916. Name also appeared as ‘Northern’.

Rice, C L: enlisted Melbourne June 1916; 18 years old, single, labourer; had previously been rejected by doctors in Yarram; marked absent without leave at time off embarkation (October 1916); oddly, he appeared as awl again – in a different unit – in June 1918 and a court of enquiry in July 1918 determined that he be struck off the strength and declared a deserter.

Rowland, J V: enlisted Korumburra/Melbourne March 1917; 35 years old, single, labourer; limited detail but ‘illegally absent’ from at least 21/11/17 and a court of enquiry on 11/12/17 had him struck off strength as a deserter.

Tolhurst, H W: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne December 1915; 21 years old, single, farm worker; absent without leave from March 1916 and a court of enquiry found him ‘guilty of desertion from 10/4/16’; [see Post 70]

So far we have covered (1) the group of men whose enlistments lasted only a short time before they were discharged as ‘medically unfit’ and (2) the group who deserted in Australia before embarkation. But there are still others we need to remove from the overall cohort if we want to focus exclusively on those men who enlisted in the AIF, embarked for overseas and saw service in either – or both – the Middle East and Europe.

Men who enlisted late in 1918 who were discharged before they embarked for overseas (9):

Berry, William Gordon: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne, September 1918; 35 years old, married, farm labourer; no embarkation and discharged at end of 1918.

Clark, George (Jim): enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1918; 20 years old, single, saw mill hand; no embarkation and discharged at end of 1918

Cottrell, James Robert: enlisted Melbourne May 1918; 19 years old, single, dairyman; Influenza (6 weeks) August 1918 and did not embark; discharged at end of 1918.

Curtis, George Albert: enlisted Sale/Melbourne September 1918; 20 years old, single, labourer; no embarkation and discharged at end of 1918.

Harris, Edward Evan: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne September 1918; 20 years old, single, farm labourer; had been previously rejected (knee); did not embark; discharged at end of 1918

Johnson, Larry Gordon: enlisted Melbourne October 1918; 20 years old, single, labourer; did not embark and discharged at end of 1918.

Jones, Gilbert: enlisted Hobart August 1918; 18 years old, single, labourer; had been previously rejected in Yarram – chest measurement; did not embark and discharged at end of 1918.

McAinch, Peter James: enlisted Melbourne November 1918; 18 years old, single, family farm; had been previously rejected at Yarram; did not embark and discharged mid December 1918.

O’Connor, Arthur Mortimer: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne October 1918; 19 years old, single, family farm; did not embark and discharged end of December 1918.

Men on troopships that were recalled (5):

English, James: enlisted Melbourne June 1918; 39 years old, widower, engineer; embarked but troopship recalled and arrived back In Australia January 1919 and discharged February 1919.

Gasson, Silas Randolph: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne August 1918; 22 years old, single, farm labourer; embarked but troopship recalled and discharged end of 1918.

Greenaway, Albert Joseph: enlisted Melbourne August 1918; 38 years old, single, family farm; embarked but troopship recalled and discharged at end of 1918.

Summerfield, James William: enlisted Melbourne May 1918; 20 years old, single, farm labourer; embarked but ship quarantined in Adelaide and then discharged early February 1919.

Turnbull, Roy William: enlisted Yarram/Melbourne July 1918; 19 years old, single, bank clerk; troopship recalled mid December and discharged late January 1919.

Lastly, there are two smaller groups of men who did not see any service overseas:

Men discharged in Australia before embarkation for other reasons (3):

Appleyard, Ernest: enlisted Melbourne March1916; 31 years old, single, farmer; discharged for ‘family reasons’ in October 1916.

Bateman, Harry: enlisted Melbourne March 1915; 35 years old, single, labourer; lasted only 1 month but no medical details recorded.

Connor, Ernest: Lieutenant with commission from December 1914; 42 years old, single, land agent; appointment terminated April 1915; no further details but it is possible there was some form of ‘home service’ later in War.

Men who died of disease in Australia (3):

Mcleod, Leslie John: enlisted Melbourne July 1915; 18 years old, single, clerk; died of disease 29/8/15 – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – on troopship off Fremantle, WA.

Nicholson, James Vernall: enlisted Melbourne July 1915; 22 years old, single, labourer; died of disease 22/9/15 – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – at Alfred Hospital.

Willis, David Geoffrey: enlisted Rosedale/Melbourne July 1915; 26 years old, married, labourer; died of disease 26/8/15 – ‘cerebrospinal meningitis’ – at Alfred Hospital.

The final cohort and a first note on the degree of sacrifice

As indicated, once all these various groups have been removed from the full cohort, the final figure for local men who enlisted in the AIF and embarked for and served overseas is reduced to 753. It is this cohort that will be the focus for the next few posts.

As a quick preview of the picture that will emerge from a statistical survey of the data, the following points are worth noting:

  • 168 men of the cohort of 753 were killed in action, died of wounds or died of disease (22% or 1 in 5)
  • of the 585 men who ‘survived’ the War, roughly 50% (280) or 1 in 2 were discharged from the AIF on medical grounds (‘Medically Unfit”), as the result of either wounds, injury, disease or some other physical or mental disability

A more detailed breakdown will follow in the next couple of posts but, clearly, the experiences of the local men who served overseas came to define the very meaning of ‘sacrifice’.


The data and personal details come from the individual service files of the men.

National Archives of Australia

63. Enlistments in the second half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post continues the analysis of Post 23 and Post 57. It is part of the ongoing work to describe and interpret the essential character of all those associated with the Shire of Alberton who enlisted in WW1.


The table below shows, in six-monthly intervals, the religious affiliation of enlistments over the period July 1914 to December 1915. The data is set against the religious profile – for males – for the county of Buln Buln in the Commonwealth Census of 1911.

By the end of 1915, the striking predominance of the Church of England had been well established and the rate, from 1914, had been noticeably consistent. Equally, the rate for Presbyterians – the second largest group in the 1911 census – was also consistent; and it closely matched their ranking in the 1911 census.

The picture for the other 2 major religious groupings – Methodists and Roman Catholics – is less clear. However, in this particular analysis, the level of Roman Catholics enlisting in the second half of 1915 – and this was a time of an enlistment ‘surge’ – appeared to be decreasing. This was before the trouble in Ireland and well before the conscription debate. For the Methodists on the other hand, the second half of 1915 appeared to represent a revival in enlistments.

It was virtually unknown for a man enlisting to not give a religion on his enlistment papers. Equally, it was as uncommon for someone to stray from the conventional faiths (Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Roman Catholic … ). Albert McKenzie Boswell who described himself as a ‘free thinker’ was definitely atypical.


As for the previous cohort – first half of 1915 – the majority of enlistments were to serve as reinforcements for existing or newly-created infantry battalions. The greatest single number (43) joined 6 Brigade (Battalions 21, 22, 23, 24) which had been formed at Broadmeadows between February and May 1915. The next largest group (41) were taken as reinforcements for 2 Brigade (Battalions 5, 6, 7, 8), another Victorian unit formed in 1914. And 16 men joined the newly formed 8 Brigade (Battalions 29, 30, 31, 32) which  was created in August 1915, with the battalions coming from 4 different states.

Service History

The table below shows that for this cohort of enlistments the rates for death and medical discharge remained very high. As for the previous cohorts, 25 % were either killed or died in service. Several died of meningitis even before they reached the front. 41% of the complete cohort (200) were given a medical discharge; but this figure rises to 55% when the calculation is restricted to the number of men who survived the War (149).

The complete picture of the casualty rate for this cohort was not apparent until the very end of the War – in fact, the table shows that a large number of deaths (10) occurred in 1918 – but certainly by the end of 1915 the extent of the casualty rates appearing in the media must have removed any simple notions of a short, contained war with limited casualties. The high casualty rates meant that the AIF struggled to maintain itself as a viable fighting unit. There was always the need for reinforcements.

As with the earlier cohorts, the rates of death and medical discharge are only part of the story because the table shows that they were many men who were wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. Virtually no one survived the full period of the fighting without, at the very least, being hospitalised with disease or injury.


The point has been made that by the end of 1915 there was an increasing awareness of the impact of enlistment on the size of the available local labour pool. Equally, the death and disability rates highlight the fact that the impact on the labour pool was not a temporary phenomenon. War service was reducing, both significantly and on a permanent basis, the size – and quality – of the labour force. This grim fact was not lost on the workers themselves. For example, as will be shown in future posts on conscription, one of the strongest claims against conscription, made by the enlisted men serving on the Western Front, was that the level of casualties was so high that after the War there would need to be a massive migration program to cover the loss of Australian workers. The men sacrificed on the front line would be replaced by immigrant workers. Within the cynicism and anger there were flash backs to past struggles between labour and capital and even conspiracies to compromise the White Australia Policy by the exploitation of Asian labour.

By the end of 1915, the casualty rates also pointed to the extraordinarily high costs that would be involved in repatriation. The War had proved to be long-term and the number of men who were going to require on-going, specific medical – and financial –  support and general rehabilitation threatened to overwhelm the resources of the Commonwealth. In the mind of PM Hughes, this great cost would have to be covered by German reparations.


2 men in the table above – the brothers Alexander and George McLennan – both have the enlistment date of 28/5/15 which is just outside the dates for this cohort. They should have been included in the previous cohort (first half of 1915). However, as a simple accommodation, I have included them with this cohort. When all the enlistment data is combined in a single data base to cover the full period 1914-18, ‘errors’ such as this will be automatically corrected.

Similarly, the ongoing research continues to uncover men associated with the Shire but who belong to cohorts that have already been covered. Rather than go back and incorporate them in the (statistical) analysis for that particular cohort, I have simply added them at the end of the relevant tables. Realistically, this form of adjustment – as for the 2 McLennan brothers above – does not have any significant impact on the overall analysis. At the same time, it highlights the ongoing nature of the research underpinning the blog. As indicated, there will in time be a single, comprehensive data base that will bring all the data on the men together.





57. Enlistments in the first half of 1915: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history

This post concludes the overview of the group of 102 men who enlisted in the first half of 1915. It matches the scope of Post 23. Enlistments to the end of 1914: background characteristics Part 2 – religion, units and service history.


Post 23 gave a breakdown of religion in the general community. The relevant data was taken from the Commonwealth Census of 1911 –Table 38. Male Population Of The Counties Of Victoria At the Census of 3rd April, 1911 Classified according to Religion (Exclusive of Full-blooded Aboriginals). – for the county of Buln Buln, Victoria. The data identified 4 key religions for the Gippsland community: Church of England (39%), Presbyterian (23%), Roman Catholic (19%) and Methodist (12.5%). The remaining 6.5% covered relatively small groups of men who identified as: Baptist, Congregationalist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Salvation Army, 7 Day Adventist, Unitarian, Undefined Protestant, Greek Catholic, Undefined Catholic and Other Christian.

The table below shows – in percentage form – the breakdown in religious affiliation between the census of 1911 and the 2 enlistment cohorts of 1914 and the first half of 1915. Clearly the pattern of over-representation from men who gave the Church of England as their religion had been established by the end of the first half of 1915. Arguably, this group identified most closely with the cause of Imperial War. At this point – the end of the first half of 1915 – the numbers involved with the other religious groupings are probably too small to draw definite conclusions. The drop in Methodist enlistments could easily prove to be a one-off aberration. Significantly, the figures continue to show that Roman Catholic enlistments were in proportion to their numbers in the local community.


The unit that appears against each man is taken for the Embarkation Roll.

Once again it is apparent that most men enlisted in infantry battalions. The actual number from this cohort of 102 who left Australia in the Light Horse was only 14. By far the largest group of men (38) enlisted in the 4 battalions ( 21-24) of the new 6 Brigade which were formed at Broadmeadows from February to May 1915.

Service history

Post 23 revealed the very high casualty levels that characterised the first cohort of volunteers to the end of 1914. Basically, 29.5% died on active service and another 38% were repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit’.

The extent of casualties for this second cohort – from January to June 1915 – was only marginally better:  28% died on active service and 31% were repatriated to Australia and discharged as ‘medically unfit.’

Again, this is only part of the story because the table below shows the large number of men who were either wounded or hospitalised with disease or injury but who were not discharged as ‘medically unfit’. After their time in hospital they were returned to their units and they served out the war, typically returning to Australia in 1919. Moreover, some of those men who died on active service had been wounded and/or hospitalised with disease or injury before death. In fact, there is only a handful of men in this cohort – 4 to be precise – who managed to survive the War without being wounded or admitted to hospital with either disease or injury.

The table also shows that most of those killed from this cohort were to die later in the War, many as late as 1918. While casualty figures of alarming proportions were appearing in Australia by the end of June 1915, the extreme levels reflected in the table were not to occur until the AIF moved to the Western Front in early 1916.

As for the first cohort, the most common diseases that saw men hospitalised included: enteric fever, dysentery, pleurisy, pneumonia, tonsillitis, mumps, influenza, rheumatic fever, malaria, scabies, neurasthenia and VD.

The special ‘Anzac Leave’ that PM Hughes instituted in September 1918 did not apply for this group of volunteers who enlisted in the first half of 1915. Those who survived the War, and who were not discharged early on medical grounds, were typically discharged as TPE (‘Termination of Period of Enlistment’) in the second half of 1919.  A small number of men ( 2 ) were discharged in the UK. They had been immigrants to Australia prior to the War.

There was one case of a compassionate discharge. It involved Private G Keillerup. His father had just died and it was believed at the time that 3 of his brothers in the AIF had been killed. Pte. Keillerup was only 18 yo at the time and he had already been wounded.

There was also one case of apparent desertion. Private William Henry Cutts went absent without leave in the UK in early 1916 and then enlisted under an alias in a English unit that was sent to India. The AIF tracked him down and wrote him off their list in June 1916. His record was marked ‘ service no longer required’ and he was marked as not eligible for Australian war medals. Presumably he reasoned that the odds of survival were far better in India than on the Western Front.

Two characteristics not shown in the table are the number of men from this cohort who ‘rose through the ranks’ and became commissioned officers and, second, the extent of awards won by the men generally. Both characteristics were also a feature of the first (1914) cohort of volunteers. Both characteristics will be analysed in detail later.


There do not appear to be significant difference between the 2 cohorts of volunteers reviewed thus far.

The cohort from the Shire of Alberton was young – typically between 18 and 25 – single, and drawn predominately from the rural working class. The mobility of this group was a striking feature. There was only a relatively small group of sons from local farming families.

Enlistment levels generally reflected the distribution of religious affiliation in the community. The apparent over-representation of those of the Church of England faith will need to be further investigated.

While much was made at the time of the creation of a special light horse unit from South Gippsland, most of the men enlisted in the new infantry battalions of the AIF.

The odds of enlisting in the period from August 1914 through to the end of June 1915, and surviving – alive, unwounded and in good health – to the end of the War, were particularly poor.

Note: in working through enlistment dates with this cohort, there were several cases of inconsistency between what was recorded in the individual service file and the embarkation roll. While I have tried to employ the date shown on the embarkation roll, in a limited number of cases – noted on the above table – I have chosen to use the date recorded on the individual service file. One of the consequences of this work has been that 3 men – Ray Robert Hudson, William Jacobson and Leslie Mcleod – who were originally included in this cohort have been shifted to other cohorts: Hudson and McLeod to the second half of 1915; and Jacobson to the first half of 1916.  The tables in both Post 55 and Post 56, and the related commentary, have been adjusted accordingly . This fine tuning is inevitable in this sort of research.

54. Arthur Charles Valentine KENNEDY 146

Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy, who was born in Yarram, was another of the many young men from the Shire of Alberton who had moved to Queensland before the outbreak of WW1. He enlisted at Oakey – near Toowoomba – on 30 January 1915. At the time of enlistment he gave his address as Jondaryan, about 20K north-west of Oakey, and his occupation as ‘contractor’. He was 25 yo and single. He gave his religion as Roman Catholic.

Arthur Kennedy recorded his brother, Patrick Christopher Albert Kennedy, as his next-of-kin. This brother, who was married, was living and working at Barcaldine, suggesting that the 2 brothers had moved to Queensland together. Both parents were dead, but there were several siblings back in Gippsland. The eldest brother of the family, Alexander Kennedy, lived at Morwell. There were 2 sisters, one of whom – Mrs Felix Donnolly – also lived at Morwell. The other sister, Mrs Maria Baxter, lived at Mack’s Creek via Yarram. It also appears that there was another sister living in Melbourne.

When Patrick Kennedy – the brother nominated as next-of-kin – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he identified Yarram as the ‘town or district’ with which his brother had been ‘chiefly connected’. There is other evidence to indicate that Arthur Kennedy was still regarded as a local in the district. Most significantly, his name appears on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll. However the entry on this roll does not indicate that he was killed. His name also appears on the honour rolls of 2 local primary schools, Yarram SS and Balook SS. On the Yarram SS roll A C Kennedy is recorded as having been killed, and at the ceremony to unveil the roll at Balook SS, Arthur Kennedy was  acknowledged as one of those who had made the ‘supreme sacrifice’. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative noted in its edition of 15/11/16 that the Shire Medallion for Arthur Kennedy had been given to his ‘nearest relative’, presumably the sister living at Mack’s Creek. Overall, Arthur Kennedy was definitely regarded as a ‘local’ and his name featured on numerous memorials. However, his death on active service was not universally noted and, as a consequence, his name is not recorded on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial.

The fact that the names of those killed were not added to the Shire of Alberton War Memorial until some 10 years after the War suggests, at least in part, why Arthur Kennedy’s name was omitted. In fact, by the time the names were added to the memorial some 13 years had passed since his death on the Gallipoli Peninsula in November 1915.  However, there may have been other factors at work. Obviously his memory could only be represented in the local district by family or friends who were keen to advocate on his behalf; and there is evidence to suggest that, after his death, communication between his siblings, only one of whom was actually living in the immediate district, was poor. It is possible that his memory was compromised not just by time and distance but also by family dynamics. For example, Arthur Kennedy had nominated as his next-of-kin, his brother who was living in Queensland, and so his few personal belongings – Photos, Purse, Religious book – were duly returned to him (Patrick Kennedy of Barcaldine). However when it came to the distribution of the medals there was a problem. The relevant legislation – Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act 1918 – required that in this case – the parents were deceased – the medals went to the eldest brother. Consequently, Base Records in Melbourne wrote on 2 March 1921 to the eldest brother, Alexander Kennedy at Morwell, asking if the younger brother, as next-of-kin, should receive the medals or whether they should go to him.

Will you kindly favour me with advice as to whether you would care to have the late soldier’s war medals etc., as the person entitled to receive them, in keeping with the instructions under the Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act of 1918, or whether you have any objections to these items being handed over to your brother, Mr. Patrick Kennedy, who was nominated as next-of-kin.

The file indicates that, remarkably, Base Records received no response to this explicit request. Consequently, in line with the legislation, the medals were in fact despatched to the eldest brother.

Similarly, in July 1916, nearly 2 years after the death of her brother, the sister in Yarram, Mrs Maria Baxter, wrote to Base Records in Melbourne asking for any personal belongings of her brother. Additionally, claiming that he had told her that he had made a will in her favour, she sought advice on … what course I should take to secure his assets. She was also keen to learn details of his burial. In reply, Base Records noted that ‘certain personal effects’ had already been returned to the next-of-kin – the brother living in Queensland – and that there was no record of any ‘will’. In relation to her brother’s financial affairs she was told to communicate with the Military Paymaster, Victoria Barracks, Brisbane.

It is difficult to interpret this very limited range of written evidence from 100 years ago, but it does at least suggest that there was not much communication between this particular set of siblings and that this could have been a factor that compromised the memory of Arthur Kennedy in the local community.

The official record states that Private Arthur Kennedy ‘died of wounds’ on 27 November 1915. However, the actual details recorded in his service file are, on the face of it, confusing.  The file states that Private Arthur Kennedy rejoined his battalion from the 7th Field Ambulance on 3 November 1915 and the next, and only other, entry states that he ‘died of wounds’ on 27 November 1915. Without any additional evidence, interpreting these two details would be fraught. For example, did he die of wounds received sometime before 3 November?  Or was there no causal relationship between the two details? Fortunately, the war diary for the 25 Battalion over this period featured a detailed list of those men who were killed or wounded. This list indicates that Private Arthur Kennedy did not die of wounds but was in fact ‘killed in action’ on 27 November.

The 25th  Battalion did not reach the Gallipoli Peninsula until early September 1915. In early November it was in the front line at Gallipoli, engaged in reinforcing trenches and mining the Turkish lines. There was a steady flow of casualties and, as indicated, these were recorded in detail in the war diary. There is no record in the war diary of Arthur Kennedy being wounded at this time. This suggests that his stint in the 7th Field Ambulance in early November was not related to any wound received in battle. It was more likely to have been a common field sickness such as diarrhoea.

On 10 November 25 Battalion was withdrawn to the relative safety of Reserve Gulley and started work constructing bomb proof dugouts and quarters for Winter. This work continued until 25 November when the battalion was told to prepare to embark immediately for Mudros. In the end, it did not leave the Peninsula until the complete evacuation of all Anzac forces in mid December.

On the 26 November the weather broke and there was a major storm. Its impact was recorded in the battalion war diary:

Weather broke and storm lasted about 24 hours – first rain – afterwards snow during night 26/27. Snow on ground – mens bivouacs bad – much discomfort experienced by Bn. The first time many men of the Bn. saw snow. [ 25 Battalion had been formed in Queensland]

Despite the atrocious weather – Prior (2009, p.226) claims that in the storm as many as 8,000 Allied troops suffered frostbite and perhaps 500 drowned in their trenches and dugouts – there was little let up in the fighting. An appendix in the war diary of 25 Battalion – List of men killed in action for November – records that on 27 November Private Arthur Kennedy was killed in action. It appears he was the only battle casualty in the battalion that day. The records states: S.W. in dig-out Reserve Gulley. Presumably he was hit by a shell and died from his wounds soon after, before they could get him to a casualty clearing station. It is academic whether his death should have been reported as ‘killed in action’ or ‘died of wounds’ (within a very short time of being hit by shrapnel). He was buried the next day by Chaplain Canon H S Reid at New Zealand Point Cemetery.

Arthur Kennedy died a very long way from Yarram where he was born. He was clearly identified as a ‘local’ but the actual memory the local community had of him was destined to be imperfect.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

National Archives file for KENNEDY Arthur Charles Valentine

Roll of Honour: Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Arthur Charles Valentine Kennedy

War Diary 25 Battalion




51. Walter George PEEL 962

Walter George Peel was born at Stratford.  He grew up in the Blackwarry district in the Shire of Alberton and attended the state school at Blackwarry. His parents – Ernest William and Maria Peel – operated a family farm in the district and before he enlisted in the AIF, Walter worked on the farm. On his enlistment papers, he gave his occupation as ‘farmer’. The family was well known in the local area. On the (National) Roll of Honour form, Blackwarry was given as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’.

He completed his medical and enlisted at Yarram on 27 November 1914. His age on enlistment was 19 years and 10 months and so parental permission was required. It was dated 25 November 1914: I hereby give my consent to my Son Walter Peel enlisting in the expeditionary force.

He was single and his religion was given as Church of England. He was issued with a railway warrant (64) for travel to Melbourne on 30 November and he joined the 4 Light Horse Regiment reinforcements.

Prior to leaving for overseas, he was given a community farewell at Blackwarry. On 10 March 1915 the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative detailed a farewell for a young local patriot, Walter Peel which had been held at the Blackwarry hall the previous week.

A subscription list was taken round the district, and all showed their gratitude and patriotism by liberally responding to the call. The local hall, though large, was taxed for space with friends and relations, who had a merry time. Mr Cooke presided, and ably addressed the gathering in a neat speech in favour of the chocolate soldier. Mr. Peel responded thanking everyone for their kindness. He did not expect anything, but thought it everybody’s duty, who was young, able and free, to help the British Empire.

The reference in the article to ‘chocolate soldier’ is odd. Presumably, it is an idle reference to the German operetta The Chocolate Soldier (1908) which was based on Shaw’s Arms and the Man. At some point, and certainly in WW2, the term took on the uncomplimentary meaning of ‘not a real soldier’.

Trooper Peel embarked from Melbourne for overseas on 7 May 1915 and joined 4 LHR on Gallipoli on 5 August 1915. Within less than a month – 2 September – he was badly wounded at Lone Pine – Gunshot [probably shrapnel] wounds leg, eye, nose and neck. Dangerous. He was evacuated from the Peninsula but died of wounds – carotid aneurysm r. side of neck –  in hospital at Alexandria on 5 September. He was buried the next day (6/9/15) at Chatby War Memorial Cemetery, Alexandria, with the Rev. C.P. Triplett officiating. On the (national) Roll of Honour form, his mother gave his age at the time of his death as 20 years and 8 months.

At the time he was injured, the war diary for 4 LHR indicates that the 2 Light Horse Brigade was drawing men from each of the light horse regiments to garrison Lone Pine. It was done on a rotation basis and each group of men went in for 48 hours before being replaced. Approximately 20 men from 4LHR were on duty at Lone Pine on 2 September 1915. The diary indicates that 2 September was quiet with ‘nothing to report’. However there were 2 casualties and one of these must have been Trooper Walter Peel. He was probably hit by a Turkish ‘bomb’ or hand grenade. The detailed history of 4 LHR (Holloway 2011, p.90) notes that Trooper Walter Peel died from wounds on 5 September. He had been with the regiment less than a month when severely wounded by shrapnel in the leg, eye, nose and neck. Given that Trooper Peel joined the regiment on 5 August this account matches him being wounded on 2 September at Lone Pine. On the (National) Honour Roll the mother also recorded Lone Pine as the place where her son was ‘killled or wounded’.

A certificate of death, with the date of death as 5 September 1915, was issued by the civil authorities in Alexandria on 6 September. The official AIF report of death, with the same date of death, was not issued until 6 October, but the cable advising of the death appears to be dated 12 September 1915 and the parents appear to have been informed round 16 September. Personal effects were sent to the parents in April – Disc, Handkerchief. – and May 1916: Testament, Note-Book, Cards, H’chief.

The family placed a death notice in the local paper on 24 September 1915:

On Active Service
PEEL- On the 5th September, died of wounds, at the Dardanelles, Private Walker [sic] George, 5th Reinforcements, 4th Light Horse Regiment, dearly loved son of Maria and Ernest William Peel of Blackwarry. Aged 20 years 8 months.

You answered to your country’s call,
But the voice of the cable tells
That a dauntless boy in khakee clad
Died at the Dardanelles.

On the first anniversary of his death there were 2 in memoriams for him in the local paper. They were obviously from close personal friends, and there is again the strong sense of the young life lost.

The first was placed on 6 September 1916:

In Memoriam
On Active Service
Died of wounds at Gallipoli, 5th Sept., 1915. Private W. G. Peel
A hero he lived, a hero he died,
Though only a lad, he fought for his side:
He gave his young life for a cause that was true,
Fighting for his country – what more could he do.
A better pal never lived, not one so true and kind,
His equal in this world we very rarely find.
-Inserted by his dear friends, M.M. May, E. May, and Little Henry.

M. M. May was probably Margaret May of Mack’s Creek and E. May, Elizabeth May of Stacey’s Bridge

The second was placed on 8 September:

In Memoriam
PEEL – In fond and loving remembrance of my dear friend, Walter George Peel, who died of wounds at Gallipoli, Sept. 5th, 1915.
Dear is the grave where my friend is laid,
Sweet is the memory that will never fade;
Gone and forgotten by some you may be,
Others may have forgotten you, but never by me.
-Inserted by his loving friend. Clarice Warren, Tarwin Meadows.

Tarwin Meadows was near Inverloch.

As indicated the family was well known in the local district and the son’s name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and War Memorial. His name is also included on the Blackwarry Kjergaard Roll of Honor 1914-1918.

Another son – Allan Peel 2440 – enlisted in July 1915. This was before his younger brother had been wounded, or even seen action. Allan Peel was 23yo and single. He had his medical in Yarram and completed his enlistment in Melbourne. He joined 23 Battalion. He was wounded – severe – on the Western Front but survived the War and returned to Australia in January 1919.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Holloway, D 2011, Endure and Fight: A detailed history of the 4th Light Horse regiment, AIF, 1914-19, The 4th Light Horse Regiment Memorial Association.

National Archives file for PEEL Walter George

Roll of Honour: Walter George Peel

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Walter George Peel

War Diary of 4 Light Horse Regiment


50. David Jeffrey WILLIS 62nd Company

David Willis’ service in the AIF lasted only 6 weeks. He enlisted at Rosedale on 14 July and died in the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne on 26 August 1915. He was a victim of the 1915 outbreak of cerebro-spinal (meningococcal) meningitis and was in the Seymour training camp when he contracted the disease.

On enlistment he gave his age as 26yo. He was married – Edith Ann Willis – with 2 children. He had been born in Alberton but he gave his address as Rosedale. His occupation was labourer and his religion was recorded as Presbyterian. He was in 62nd Company at Seymour.

He was one of 4 siblings to enlist. Two brothers had already enlisted: Sydney Walter Willis on 18 January 1915 and Albert James Willis on 22 May 1915. Both were in their early twenties and single. The third brother, Henry Victor Willis, enlisted, at Yarram, the same day – 14 July 1915 – that his older brother, David, enlisted at Rosedale. Henry Victor Willis was also single and he was 20yo. He was killed at Fromelles on 21 July 1916.  All 4 brothers gave their occupation as either ‘labourer’ or ‘farm labourer’.

The 3 single brothers all gave their mother – Mrs Janet Willis of Alberton – as their next of kin. The mother also signed the necessary permission for her underage son – Henry Victor Ellis –  to enlist, and after his death all his medals went to her. There is no reference to the father in any of the service records of the sons.

All 4 Willis brothers appear on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the 2 who died – David and Henry – are included on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Additionally, all 4 appear on the honor roll for  the state school at Alberton and the honor roll for the local Presbyterian Charge. The brothers were obviously well known in the local community.

The meningitis epidemic that hit in August 1915 was particularly virulent. While the organism responsible for meningococcal meningitis had been identified by the late 19C, there was no vaccine available at the time.  The disease was especially alarming in the community because it had such a high mortality rate, and throughout August and September the names of those who had died from the disease were routinely published in the press. Invariably, the names of those who died were soldiers in the various training camps. David Willis’ name appeared in The Age (p.8) on Friday 27 August 1915.  The headlines were: Meningitis Outbreak. Five More Deaths. Fourteen Fresh Cases.

The improved weather has not brought with it the abatement of the meningitis outbreak that was expected to accompany it. Fourteen fresh cases were yesterday admitted to metropolitan hospitals, and five deaths were reported at these institutions. Of the new cases, nine were soldiers, one was a civilian, two were women and two were children. With one exception, the deaths were all of patients who had been not more than two days in hospital.

There are now at Alfred Hospital 65 patients under treatment. Ten were admitted yesterday – four from Seymour camp, five from Broadmeadows camp, and a civilian case from Glen Huntley.

The article gave the particulars for Private Willis, one of the 5 who had died the day before: Private DAVID WILLIS, aged 28, of Rosedale. Admitted on 13th inst. from Seymour camp. Interestingly, he was the single exception to the observation in the article that victims died within one or two days of being admitted to hospital. According to the article, he lasted for 2 weeks before he died. In fact, the official death certificate noted that he had had the disease – cerebro spinal meningitis – for 3 weeks before his death.

Day after day, more cases and more deaths were reported in the metropolitan papers. Medical authorities did know that the disease was spread by human contact – coughing, sneezing etc – and they also knew that it was prevalent in crowded conditions, which was exactly the environment created in the military camps that had sprung up. In fact, there were equivalent outbreaks of the disease in military camps in many other countries at the start of the War. One strategy applied in Melbourne was to reduce the size of the largest camps – the one at Seymour seemed to have a very high incidence of the disease – and send the men to smaller metropolitan and country centres. In some cases men were sent home on leave. Potential carriers were isolated. The Alfred Hospital had to be taken over as a military hospital and there was talk of it needing to accommodate 600 men. The outbreak meant major disruption to the AIF’s training program. The focus on personal hygiene – including on behaviours such as teeth cleaning – was intensified. Doctors advocated the therapeutic benefits of eucalyptus oil.

As already demonstrated – see Post 48 on the death of Private Leslie John McLeod on the troopship HMAT Kyarra – men also came down with the disease on troop transports as they sailed to the Middle East. It was even more difficult to separate and isolate men on these ships.

Private David Willis was buried at Coburg Cemetery.

News of his death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 1 September 1915:

One of the Alberton soldiers, Private David J. Willis, fifth son of Mrs. Janet Willis, succumbed to meningitis in the Alfred Hospital on Thursday last [26 August]. He leaves a widow and two young children.

One year later an in memoriam appeared in the same paper:

On Active Service.
Willis – In loving memory of our dear son and brother, Private David Jeffrey, who passed away at the Alfred Hospital on 27th August, 1915. Age, 26 years.
– Inserted by his loving mother, sisters and brothers.

Your picture hangs upon the wall,
The dear face we love to see;
And in the hearts of those you loved
It ever dear shall be.

Silence is no certain token
That no hidden grief is there;
Sorrow that is seldom spoken
Is the hardest grief to bear.

It is not clear why the family gave the date of death as 27 August because the death certificate and all AIF correspondence has the date as 26 August 1915. Another inconsistency in the records concerns the number of his children. While the attestation papers clearly state that he was married with 2 children, pensions were allocated to his wife – Edith Ann Willis – 2 daughters – Mavis Beatrice Jean Willis and Isabel Edith Willis – and a son, David J Willis. All were from Rosedale. Presumably, one of the children was born after his death. This would mean that the wife was left with 3 young children. At this point in the War it was very unusual for a married man with children to enlist. Possibly, David Willis was desperate to join his three brothers, and he simply discounted the fact that he was married with young children.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WILLIS, David

Roll of Honour: David Geoffrey Willis


For more information on the graves of those members of the AIF who died in the meningitis outbreak in 1915 and were buried in the Coburg Cemetery, see this following post from the blog:

Fighting the Kaiser: Coburg and the First World War

49. William Scoones DEWELL 1153

Wliiam Dewell was another English immigrant farm worker. He enlisted on 8 October 1914. He had been born in London (Hackney). He was single, described himself as ‘labourer’ and gave his age as 20 years and 10 months. He had completed some military training in England –Territorial Forces – before coming to Australia.

It is possible that his parents were both dead because he gave his next-of-kin as an aunt, Miss Jane Scoones of London. She also completed the (National) Roll of Honour form – she gave his occupation as ‘clerk’ – and all his military decorations went to her, as did his personal kit – Brass Bowl, Hair & Clothes Brushes, New Testament, Military Books, Shaving Brush, Photos, Letters. She also applied for a pension after his death but this was rejected. Unfortunately, there is no family correspondence in his service file so it is not possible to uncover his personal circumstances or the impact of his death on those back in England. Like many of the young, immigrant English farm workers, he was very definitely on his own in his newly adopted country.

He was first reported ‘missing’ on 21 August 1915 and then, after a court of enquiry held at Serapeum (Egypt) on 28 April 1916, his status was changed to ‘killed in action’. The cable to his aunt officially notifying her of his death was dated 10 May 1915.

The action in which Private Dewell lost his life was part of the last major campaign on Gallipoli. Both Australian and British units were involved. The war diary for the 14 Battalion describes how 3 lines of men from both 13 B and 14 B attempted to move on Hill 60 immediately after a heavy artillery bombardment, mid afternoon of 21 August. All the lines suffered heavy casualties from Turkish machine gun fire and the third line was not able to make any movement at all. The troops had to dig trenches and fortify their positions that night, but they were well short of their objective. The men from 14 B who were out in the advanced position under heavy fire from the Turks, were relieved by 16 B very early in the morning of 23 August. Presumably, Private Dewell was killed on 21 August but his body was not recovered when his unit withdrew. The casualties just for 14 B were given as 103.  There was a Red Cross report completed for Private Dewell. One witness – Pte A Stuckey 129, A Co., 14th Btn. – described Dewell’s fate:

Witness said Dewell was killed on Aug 21, on the left toward Suvla. Pte W. Hartigan, 1472, A Co., 14th Btn., was wounded at the same time. Hartigan told witness soon after the charge that as he was lying wounded he saw Dewell drop, shot dead near him. Dewell was running down the hill in the charge at the time. He was a young fellow of 20, with fair hair.

Hartigan’s service record indicates that he was wounded the same day – ‘abdominal wound’. He also was first listed as missing on 21 August, but at some point he must have been able to get back to the Australian lines.

Prior (2009, pp 206-207) is highly critical of these last actions of the Suvla campaign:

A common feature of these operations was their poverty of purpose. All of them were designed only to improve the local tactical situation on various parts of the line. None were attempts to seize the Anafarta Ridge and so could have made no substantial difference to the overall position of the IX Corps. What they did was add to the casualty bill.

When his aunt completed the (National) Roll of Honour form, she indicated that her nephew, William Scoones Dewell, came to Australia  as a 20yo. This suggests that he had only been in Australia for a short period – only months – before he enlisted. Obviously, his time in Australia – before enlisting, going overseas and dying on Gallipoli – was very short. In such circumstances, his chances of ever becoming a ‘local’ in some specific location were very limited. Certainly his service file gives no indication that he had an association with any location, and his aunt just listed Melbourne as the place with which he was ‘chiefly connected’. Similarly, she merely gave the ‘Dardanelles’ as the place where he was killed.

But there is one specific piece of evidence that ties William Scoones Dewell to the Shire of Alberton. In the correspondence files of the Secretary of the Shire of Alberton – G W Black – is a letter from William S Dewell, dated 18 November. He had tried to enlist at Yarram but was told by Black to go to Melbourne.

I applied to you for enlistment but as you were not enlisting at that particular time you advised me to apply to the A.A.G. Victoria Barracks.

Presumably, after the large group of volunteers enlisted in late September 1914, there was something of a hiatus, and in this interval extra volunteers were told to report to Melbourne.

Prior to enlisting Dewell had been working at Wonyip. As indicated, he could not have been working in the district as a farm labourer for long, but he definitely was working in the Shire before he enlisted.

100 years on, it is hard to understand the motivation behind the letter. There was certainly no requirement to advise the Shire Secretary that he had enlisted. Presumably, this young man wanted someone, from the district where he had been working and living, to know, officially, that he had enlisted. Perhaps, away from his own family, he was simply after some acknowledgement: his patriotic action counted and someone needed to know.

However, as things turned out, the letter did not do much good. His name is not recorded on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll, nor the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. There was no Shire Medallion. Without the evidence of the letter, there would be no association whatsoever with the Shire.

As indicated, Private Dewell’s body was never recovered. His name is recorded on the Lone Pine Memorial. He passed with hardly a trace, first in Australia and then on Gallipoli.


Correspondence, Shire Secretary.
Shire of Alberton Archives, Archive One, File Number 703B, Recruiting & Enlisted Men (Box 398)

Prior, R  2009, Gallipoli: The End of the Myth, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney

National Archives file for DEWELL William Scoones

Roll of Honour: William Scoones Dewell

First World War Embarkation Rolls: William Scoones Dewell [surname is, incorrectly, DOWELL on this record]

WW1 Red Cross files: William Scoones Dewell

War Diary of 14 Battalion

48. Alexander John McLEOD 1709 and Leslie John McLEOD 1077

Tragically, the 2 McLeod brothers died within 11 days of each other. Alexander John McLeod 1709 was killed in action at Lone Pine on 18 August 1915 and his younger brother, Leslie John McLeod died on 29 August 1915 of disease. He was on the transport ship HMAT Kyarra when he died of ‘cerebro spinal meningitis’ just before it reached Fremantle on the voyage to Egypt.

The 2 brothers were the sons of Senior Constable Alexander Mcleod who had been appointed to Yarram in September 1914. There was a brief note in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 25 September 1914 relating to his appointment.

The new “senior” made his first appearance in the court, and was greeted with words of welcome from the bench and clerk of courts. In returning thanks he expressed a determination to do his duty fearlessly, and to put down the use of obscene language in the town.

The issue of obscene language in the town will be taken up in a later post.

Obviously, Senior Constable McLeod was very well known in the local community. However, the extent to which his 2 sons were commemorated in the Shire was limited. Alexander John McLeod is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll or the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. His younger brother, Leslie John McLeod, is included on the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll but he is not noted as ‘killed’, and nor does his name appear on the Shire of Alberton War Memorial. Presumably there are 2 reasons for this situation. The first is that the family did not arrive in Yarram until September 1914 and it was as soon as January 1915 – just a few months later – when the older brother, Alexander, enlisted in Melbourne. It was perhaps too short a period of time for him to be regarded as ‘local’. Perhaps he never even lived in Yarram. He gave his occupation as clerk and, even though he was only 18yo at the time of enlistment, perhaps he was boarding with relatives in Melbourne and working there. However he certainly gave Yarram – his father’s address – as his address when he enlisted. Moreover the younger brother – Leslie – was definitely living in Yarram because he was given a railway warrant – number 117, dated 24 June 1915 – to travel to Melbourne to enlist. The second reason for the limited recognition of the 2 brothers was the fact that the family moved out of Yarram at the end of the War when the father was posted to Daylesford. There was no one there in the period after the War to represent the interests of the family in acknowledging their sons’ service..

Whilst the brothers might not have been well known in the Shire of Alberton, the picture below indicates that they were certainly remembered in Yarra Glen. Yarra Glen was, in fact, given by the parents on the (National) Roll of Honour form as the place with which both sons were ‘chiefly connected’. Presumably it was the place where the father had had a previous posting. The picture is of 3 stained glass windows in St Paul’s Anglican Church Yarra Glen. The windows commemorate the 2 sons – Alexander John and Leslie John – killed in WW1 and also a third son – Othel (Keith) McLeod – who was killed in WW2.

Alexander John McLeod

Alexander McLeod enlisted 5 January 1915. He was 18yo, single and, as indicated, he gave his occupation as clerk. He had spent 2 years in the senior cadets at South Melbourne. On the enlistment form his religious denomination was entered as ‘Pres’. The permission from the father for his under-age son to enlist simply stated: I hereby give my permission to my son joining the Expeditionary Force. 1/1/15

His unit – 7 Battalion reinforcements – left Melbourne 0n 13 April 1915 and he joined the battalion on Gallipoli on 26 May . At the same time, his appointment as lance corporal was cancelled and he reverted to private. There was no explanation for this reversion. His file does not indicate that it was at his request, which was a relatively common practice.

He was killed in action on 16 August and buried the same day at Beach Cemetery, Shrapnel Gully by Rev. W. E. Dexter. Walter Ernest Dexter was a Church of England chaplain in the AIF. He was from South Melbourne and was 41yo. He had served previously in South Africa.

At the time, 7 Battalion was involved in the ongoing fighting at Lone Pine . The action described in the war diary for 16 August is, by the standards of the time, rather low key.

During yesterday we sniped a good deal inflicting losses on the enemy. The enemy was evidently annoyed at out activity & replied with frequent bursts of Machine Gun fire which damaged our sand bags a good deal & about 4pm the enemy’s 75mm fired 6 rounds which however did no damage. During the night a few bombs were thrown by each side. We also secured some rifle grenades which we fired with good effect into the enemy’s trenches. Improved and deepened our trenches.

The only casualties recorded that day were: 1 killed, 2 slightly wounded. The one killed must have been Private Alexander John Mcleod.

It appears that the parents received advice about their son’s death on 11 September 1915. Even after 100 years, the following letter – dated 14 September 1915, Yarram – from the Rev George Cox, the local Church of England minister, reads as a desperate cry from the mother for it all to be wrong. It cannot be her son:

I am writing on behalf of Mrs McLeod of Yarram to ask if you think any mistake has been made in notifying her of the death of her son for the following reasons.

Notification gives death of Private A. J. McLeod, but her son left here as a corporal.

The mother always signed as “A.” McLeod, the notice came addressed Mrs “E” McLeod. [The son had in fact given his mother’s name on his enlistment papers as ‘Elizabeth McLeod’. Her full name was Elizabeth Margaret Loftus McLeod]

The lad enquired after was in 4th Reinforcements 7th Batt. 2nd. Aust. Inf. Brig.

He was a confirmed member of the Church of England, as also is his mother, yet the notification was sent to the Presbyterian minister. [as indicated, ‘Pres’ was entered as his religious denomination on the enlistment forms]

Intimation came to hand last Saturday, 11th. inst.

Thanking you in anticipation

The formal reply came on 24 September. It discounted each of the apparent anomalies, and concluded:

It is regretted that there does not appear to be any doubt about the accuracy of the report conveyed to Mrs. Mcleod.

Personal items – Testament, purse, coins 2, letters  – were returned to the family at the end of 1915. In fact, additional items were sent at the end of 1916, but the mother had what must have been the distressing task of returning them to Base Records. She wrote on the form that the items did not belong to her son, and that, instead, they needed to be sent to the family of the late James McLeod 1787 of the same Battalion.

Leslie John McLeod

The service record for the younger brother, Private Leslie John McLeod 1077, is very brief. He enlisted in Melbourne on 1 july 1915 in the 9 LHR. His group of reinforcements left Melbourne on HMAT Kyarra on 20 August, and he died at sea just before the transport reached Freemantle –  or possibly it was when the vessel was moored in Freemantle Harbour – on 29 August. He was given a military funeral and buried in the Freemantle Cemetery on 30 August. His entire service was just short of 2 months.

It appears that the family were notified of the death on 31 August. Two weeks later, the family was to learn that the other son had been killed earlier, on 16 August.

When he enlisted Leslie gave his age as 18 years and 3 months. He was single and he gave his occupation, like his brother, as clerk. His religion was recorded as Church of England. Both brothers had attended unnamed state schools.

The following article from the local paper on 1 September 1915 gives more detail on his age:

Yesterday morning Senior-Constable McLeod received a wire, per the Rev. Geo. Cox, announcing the death of his son Leslie John on the troopship off Freemantle, at the age of just 16 years. The cause was meningitis. This lad had joined in Melbourne some months ago, in his 15th year, but was persuaded by his parents to leave camp on account of his youth. He had passed the Bankers’ Institute examination, and it was hoped he would accept a position in a bank. He came to Yarram, but his heart was fixed on a soldier’s life, and having gained the consent of his parents, again enlisted. Unfortunately he never reached the fighting line. His remains were to have been buried with military honors at Freemantle yesterday.

When his mother completed the (National) Roll of Honour form, she gave his age at death as 17yo.

The news of the death of the second son was reported on 15 September:

Our readers will sympathise with Senior-Cons. and Mrs. McLeod, of Yarram, who received word last week of the death of their second son, at the front. Only recently Private Leslie John McLeod died on the troopship, when off Freemantle, of meningitis. Closely following on the sad news came the announcement of the death of Private Alexander John McLeod, who was killed in the big battle at the Dardanelles on 18th August. He was 19 years 3 months old. The Defence department wired expressing regret and sympathy of King and Queen and the Commonwealth.

As indicated, there was a third brother killed in war. Othel (Keith) McLeod (VX 122632)  was born in 1909. He died on 9 September 1943 when serving in New Guinea. A US bomber loaded with bombs crashed on take-off and he was badly injured (burns). He died from injuries 2 days later. In his peacetime work he had been a bank-teller. He was single.


Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

Alexander John McLeod
National Archives file for McLEOD Alexander John

Roll of Honour: Alexander John McLeod

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Alexander John McLeod

War Diary of 7 Battalion

Leslie John McLeod
National Archives file for McLEOD Leslie John

Roll of Honour: Leslie John McLeod

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Leslie John McLeod