Category Archives: July to December 1917

143. R Yon

YON Robert Henry 6410
21 B  KiA 11/11/17

Robert Henry Yon was born in Crystal Brook, South Australia. He grew up in the local area and attended the Crystal Brook State School. He came from a large family and three of his brothers also served in the AIF. Two of these – Charles Albert and Harry – enlisted nearly 2 years before Robert and the third – Percival Edward – much younger, did not enlist until near the end of the War (1/6/18). Unlike Robert, the 3 other brothers joined units in South Australia. They all survived the War. There was a fifth, older brother – Ernest – who did not enlist. He lived in Adelaide.

When he enlisted on 25/10/16 Robert was living and working in Yarram. His name appeared on the electoral roll (1915) as ‘labourer’ of Boodyarn. He gave Yarram as his address on the enlistment papers. He had his medical and enlisted in Warragul but he was definitely local to the Shire of Alberton. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – included his name in a short report on 15/11/16 detailing locals who had recently been presented with the shire medallion. He had been given it personally when he was back in Yarram on final leave. His name is featured on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. But for all the obvious links to the Shire of Alberton, when the oldest brother – Ernest – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he stated that the town or district with which his brother Robert was ‘chiefly connected’ was Crystal Brook.

Robert Yon’s enlistment papers show that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist at least once before. Possibly he had been rejected because of his height, which was given as 5’ 3”.
On enlistment Private Yon gave his religion as C of E. However 2 of his brothers gave their religion as Roman Catholic and the third as Methodist. Such variation between siblings was not common. He was single at the time of enlistment and he gave his father as his next-of-kin. A letter in his file, written by his older, married sister – Alice James – indicates that the father died not long after the enlistment and that the mother was already deceased.

Private Yon enlisted as reinforcements for 21 Battalion and left Australia on 23/11/16, one month after enlisting. His unit reached Plymouth at the end of January 1917. In England his group of reinforcements was attached to 6 Training Battalion and he did not leave for France until June. He finally joined 21 Battalion in France on 24/6/17. While in training in England he spent a month in hospital with ‘tracheitis’. In France there was another month’s hospitalisation (2/8/17-6/9/17) but there are no details on the illness.

Private Yon was killed in action on 11/11/17, two months after leaving hospital and rejoining the battalion. The family was advised by cable dated 3/12/17. The date of the completion of the formal report of death was 19/1/18. He was buried in the field, in an isolated grave South West of Zonnebeke & 3 ¾ miles E of Ypres. In 1920 the family was advised that his body had been exhumed and re-interred in Aeroplane British Cemetery. The cemetery is a few kilometres north-east of Ypres.

Correspondence in the file reveals that the notification of death was made to the older sister, Alice James of Crystal Brook, and the information was relayed to her by 4 Military District in Adelaide. As indicated, the father – given as next-of-kin on enlistment – was by this point dead.

The battalion diary for 21 Battalion reveals that it was moved to the front line on 7/11/17 in the Westhoek Ridge area near Zonnebeke to relieve 18 Battalion (AIF). It remained in the line until 11/11/17 when it in turn was relieved by 6 Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. In the 5 days at the front, the battalion served in various working and carrying parties. The diary specifically records the men making “Pill Boxes” gasproof. These were the German defensive concrete strongholds captured in the recent fighting.

There are no casualties recorded in the dairy on the specific day that Private Yon was killed and in fact for the period the battalion was in the line (7/11 – 11/11) the diary records only 1dead (not Private Yon) and 8 wounded. Unfortunately, there is no Red Cross report, so the circumstances surrounding the death are unknown, accepting that the family might have received information from others in his battalion.

Private Yon had a will, drawn up exactly 5 months before his death (11/6/17), that left everything to his older brother, Ernist (sic) Yon of 2 Queen Street, Adelaide. However, as already indicated, notice of his death was made to his married sister, Mrs Alice James of Crystal Brook. On the attestation papers the first entry for next-of-kin recorded the father. Then after his death the name of the married sister had been added. However even later (mid 1921) her name had been crossed out and replaced by that of Ernest Yon, ‘eldest brother’. For this family the issue of next-of-kin was contentious.

Essentially, the oldest sibling in the family was the daughter Alice (James) and the oldest son was Ernest (Yon). As indicated, initially correspondence was directed to Alice as the next-of-kin. However the the issue of the distribution of medals – under the ‘Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act, 1918’ – was a separate matter and precedence had to be given to Ernest as the ‘oldest surviving brother’. When faced with this situation, Alice was indignant. In July 1921, when she was informed that the medals had to go to her younger brother – as the oldest surviving brother – she wrote,

In reply to your letter of witch (sic) I received last week [I want to state] that my Brother Private R. H. Yon 21st Battalion No 6410 [h]as nobody older than myself living. he [h]as a brother next to me none older. he [h]as no father or mother living [.] I am the Eldest and his Next to Kin[.] the Brother that is younger than me lives in Adelaide at No 2 Queen Street. I cannot make out why my Brother witch is younger than me should get the Medal or anything concerning the late Pt R H Yon 21st Battalion No 6410[.] I trust you will carefully read this and kindly oblige.

Base Records determined that the ‘war medals etc ‘were to go to the brother.

It is obviously not possible to uncover the family dynamics involved here but the case does point to the potential for family conflict over the estate and memorabilia of the deceased son or sibling. In this particular case the oldest brother – Ernest Yon – received the Memorial Scroll, the Memorial Plaque and medals. He also received, in September 1918, his brother’s identity disc, the only piece of personal kit that was returned.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for YON Robert Henry 6410
Roll of Honour: Robert Henry Yon
First World War Embarkation Roll: Robert Henry Yon

142. C Hibbs / A Goodwin

HIBBS Clifton (Clifford) / GOODWIN Arthur 2867
23 B KiA 10/11/17

Private Arthur Goodwin was killed in action on 10/11/17. At the time he was with 23 Battalion in the front line near Passchendaele. The war diary for 23 Battalion reveals that the battalion moved to the front line late evening on 7/11/17. It was relieved on 12/11/17. On the first day, there were 6 men killed as positions were taken up but the next 2 days were relatively quiet, even though patrols were sent out each night. However on the morning of 10/11/17 there were 4 men killed – one of them Private Goodwin – by enemy shelling. The diary explains that the men were killed when the Germans retaliated to a British barrage that had been fired at 6 a.m.

There is a detailed Red Cross report covering his death. There are the usual inconsistencies but, overall, the account was that Private Goodwin and 4 others were killed when a high-explosive shell hit the shell hole they were in. It was a direct hit and the other 4 were killed instantly. Goodwin, badly wounded, lived for about an hour. The fighting was too intense to remove the body and he was buried where he died. Those who made the statements spoke highly of him. He was described as ‘very popular’ with a ‘nice disposition’ and a ‘fine cheerful lad’.

Even though Private Goodwin was buried on the battlefield his body was recovered and he was buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele. No personal kit was returned.

The cable advising of his death was dated 1/12/17. It was sent, presumably, to the next-of-kin identified on his enlistment papers, his father – William Goodwin, 30 Regent Street, North Richmond. Private Goodwin had given the same address as his own when he enlisted. At the time he enlisted he was 21 yo and single. He gave his occupation as labourer. He had not had any previous military experience.

He had enlisted in Melbourne on 3/7/16 as reinforcements for 2 Pioneer Battalion and he embarked from Melbourne on 20/10/16. When he finally reached France in August 1917, after further training in England, he was attached to 23 Battalion. He was taken on strength on 1/9/17 and was killed just over 2 months later.

On the information given so far, there is nothing to tie Private Goodwin to the Shire of Alberton.
However, in May 1918 Mrs Thomas Hibbs of Tarraville wrote to Base Records asking if there was any information regarding her ‘grandson’, Private A Goodwin 2867, 23 Battalion who had been killed in action on 10/11/17. She wanted to know if there was a will and what the situation was with his deferred pay.

Base Records replied that there was no further information – other than that he had been killed on 10/11/17 – and gave her the contact for issues to do with pay. But it was to be another year before the full story of Private Goodwin began to emerge.

It is not entirely clear what happened next but it appears that round September 1919 a Mrs Edith Campbell, also of Tarraville, wrote to Base Records asking if any ‘personal property’ of Private Goodwin had been recovered. As indicated, no personal belongings were returned and Base Records replied (5/9/19) stating that it was unlikely any property would be recovered.

Inevitably, Base Records had to make contact with the next-of-kin – given as the father – in order to issue war medals and the memorial plaque. However, communications that were sent to 30 Regent Street, North Richmond – the father’s address given by Private Goodwin – were returned. At this point Base Records wrote to the Mrs Edith Campbell who had written to them in May 1918. It appears that in addition to her previous correspondence on the return of personal belongings, Base Records had also identified her from what was taken as Private Goodwin’s will: an extract from a letter to her (‘Dearest Edith’) from him (‘Arthur’) dated 6/8/17, in which he had stated:

I had to make my will today and I made it out in favour of you so if I get killed over here you will get all my Deferred Pay.

On 7/1/21, Base Records wrote to Mrs. E. Campbell, Tarraville:

If you are aware of the present address of next-of-kin of the late No. 2867 Private A. Goodwin, 23 Battalion, shown as – Father, Mr. William Goodwin – kindly furnish same, as a communication forwarded to him at – 30 Regent Street, North Richmond, Victoria, has been returned unclaimed.

The reply from Mrs Campbell was dated 12/1/21:

Having received a communication from you regarding the whereabouts of Mr William Goodwin shown as next of kin of No 2867 23 Battalion Private Arthur Goodwin, I must inform you that he is deceased about 18 mts. ago. I would also like to state that Mr William Goodwin was not his next of kin, but he is his brother in law, as Private Arthur Goodwin enlisted under the name of Goodwin. His rightful name being Clifford Hibbs. His father & mother is (sic) still living at Tarraville. His father’s name is Thomas Hibbs, & mother’s name, Mary Ann Hibbs. Hoping this information may be some use to you.

In the letter Mrs Campbell did not reveal that she was the youngest sister of Clifford Hibbs (Arthur Goodwin) but she did disclose his ‘true’ identity and the real next-of-kin.

On 17/1/21, Base Records wrote to Thomas Hibbs in an obvious attempt to settle the true identity of Private Arthur Goodwin:

I understand you are the father of the late No. 2867 Private A. Goodwin, (correct name stated to be Clifford Hibbs), 23rd Battalion, and shall be much obliged if you will favour me confirmation of this in the form of a Statutory Declaration, in order that I may be in a position to properly dispose of deceased’s war medals, etc.

The father replied immediately (20/1/21):

In replying to your communication of the 17th Re. (2867) Pte A Goodwin, I wish to state that I am his father & that his correct name is Clifford Hibbs, & I consider myself entitled to any articles which the deceased may have left or any army medals or colours due to said soldier.

However, Base Records (7/2/21) was not prepared to accept the father’s claims so readily, particularly given earlier correspondence from his wife (May 1918). They definitely wanted a statutory declaration:

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 20th January concerning the affairs of the late No. 2867 Private A Goodwin (correct name stated to be Hibbs), 23rd Battalion, and to state that it is noted from the file that Mrs. Thomas Hibbs wrote to this office in 1918 claiming the soldier as her GRANDSON, so that unless you are prepared to make a Statutory Declaration, setting forth the full facts, I am afraid I am unable to reconcile the two statements. In any case such a document would be necessary before I could make any amendments to the records, and, as the disposal of deceased’s war medals, etc., hinges on this matter, I shall be glad if you will let me have the desired declaration at the earliest possible moment.

But the father did not provide the required statutory declaration. Instead he wrote the following, dated 11/2/21:

Having received your communication regarding the late No 2867 Private Clifford Hibbs, 23 Battalion I wish to state that my son enlisted for Active Service in Melbourne without our knowledge and took his sister’s name (Goodwin). I also wish to state once again that I am the father of deceased and his mother’s name is Mary Ann Hibbs. My son was born at Tarraville, on 5th November in the year 1894 so if this statement is not sufficient I think it should be.

As a post script he added:
P.S Will not carry on any further with this business.

The father never supplied the requested statutory declaration but it appears that this letter put an end to the question of Clifford Hibbs’ identity. The matter does not appear to have been pursued further and the war medals were sent to the father.

There is no way of knowing if people in the local community knew that Clifford Hibbs had enlisted as Arthur Goodwin. However, the family made sure that death notices and in memoriams appeared only in the name of Clifford Hibbs. For example, the following death notice appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (12/12/17), about 10 days after the ‘bogus’ next-of-kin (of Arthur Goodwin) had been advised of the death:

Hibbs – Killed in action on 10th Nov., Private Clifford Hibbs, son of Mr. and Mrs. Thos. Gibbs, Tarraville.
Killed in action said the cable.
That was all that it could tell
Of a life so nobly given,
Of a son we loved so well.
Though our hearts are full of sorrow,
And our eyes are dimmed with tears,
There is something we are proud of,
He went as a volunteer.
Midst the roaring of the battle,
Midst the rain of shot and shell,
Fighting for God, King and loved ones
Poor Cliff like a hero fell.
– Inserted by his sorrowing parents and brothers and sister.

On the face of it, there appeared to be a strange double-standard at work at the time. As far as the AIF was concerned, the family appeared to be reluctant to come forward and correct the issue of their son’s identity and it was only when confronted with the issue, several years after the War, that they admitted the alias. The family then explained it in terms of the son having enlisted without telling the parents. However, in the local community, immediately after news reached them, the family was forthright in informing everyone that their son – Clifford Hibbs – had been killed in action in France.

There was another twist in this story that might explain the double standard. On 27/7/15 a young man named Clifton Hibbs enlisted. He had his initial medical at Yarram and then completed the enlistment process in Melbourne. He gave his father – Thomas Hibbs of Tarraville – as his next-of-kin. He gave his age as 21 years 7 months and he was single. His occupation was given as ‘farm labourer’. This enlistment was written up in the local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – at the time (21/7/15) and the young man concerned was identified by his full name: Clifton Hibbs.

Clifton Hibbs did not last in the AIF. He was reported to be a deserter from 1/9/15. He left from the Training Depot at Ascot Vale. The report written on his desertion noted simply that he had been in service for less than six months. Interestingly it gave the address of his father – Thomas Hibbs – as Yarraville. It was in fact Tarraville. The confusion between Tarraville and Yarraville was very common.

It seems reasonable to suggest that Clifford Hibbs was Clifton Hibbs. Clifton was the eighth of the 11 children of Thomas and Mary Ann Hibbs of Tarraville.

The reason(s) behind Clifton’s desertion are unknown. If the father’s statement about this son’s date-of-birth is correct then he was just under 21 yo when he enlisted and, in theory, he should have had his parents’ written permission; but there is no trace of this in his file. However, it does not appear that there was any problem with the initial enlistment. As indicated, he had his first medical in Yarram and the enlistment was written up in the local paper.

Interestingly, when an article on the unveiling of the honor roll for Tarraville State School appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 11/7/17 – two years after Clifton Hibbs had enlisted (17/7/15) and one year after Arthur Goodwin had enlisted (3/7/16) – the name was given as Clifford Hibbs. The roll was updated later to show that he had been killed. This suggests, that as far as the family was concerned, Clifton became Clifford not long after Arthur Goodwin enlisted. Presumably, if he had been known as ‘Cliff’, the shift in name would have hardly been noticed.

The full story will probably never be known but what is beyond dispute is that a local from Tarraville – Clifton Hibbs/ Arthur Goodwin/ Clifford Hibbs – was killed in action on 10/11/17. His sacrifice was as great as any other local who was killed but his name is not featured on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. He is buried under two of his names – Clifford Hibbs and Arthur Goodwin – in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for GOODWIN Arthur 2867
National Archives file for HIBBS Clifton Depot
Roll of Honour: Arthur Goodwin/Clifford Hibbs
First World War Embarkation Roll: Arthur Goodwin/Clifford Hibbs
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Arthur Goodwin/Clifford Hibbs

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

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

Beersheba, October 31, 1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Traralgon Record

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

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

R H Morley, courtesy Gippsland Memorial Park

4 LHR Beersheba Memorial, Courtesy Australian War Memorial

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional information

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

References

Traralgon Record

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

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

A. Wilson, courtesy Old Gippstown, Moe

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mother replied:

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

References

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

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

140. A E Rust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative
Traralgon Record

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

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

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

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

References

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

For a general background on Poelcappelle see,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

William Moulden, courtesy Ann Longwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

For a general background on Poelcappelle see:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

Driver D A Hanrahan 3762, courtesy AWM

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

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

Broodseinde 4/10/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Chapter XX – Third Step – Broodseinde Ridge

For a general background on Broodseinde see,

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for POWER Robert Ernest 512

Roll of Honour: Robert Ernest Power

First World War Embarkation Rolls: Robert Ernest Power

Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Robert Ernest Power

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

CSM R E Power, courtesy Yarram & District Historical Society

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

133. Menin Road, Sept. 1917: G E Withinshaw, F W Butler, J Kennedy, C Saal & J D McLennan

Menin Road

The battle of Menin Road – the road itself ran between Menin and Gheluvelt, just outside of Ypres – was launched at 5.40 on the morning of 20 September 1917 and ran through to the following day. There were 11 divisions involved – 9 British and 2 Australian. The 2 Australian divisions – 1 and 2 – were positioned near Westhoek. It was the first time 2 Australian divisions had attacked side by side.

The military rated the operation a success. The planning was detailed, highly technical and strategic, and the men well prepared. All objectives were achieved.

The British politicians were far less impressed: the objectives themselves were limited and the casualty levels were unacceptable. Overall there were 21,000 casualties – including 4,000 for the AIF – and the ground gained was just over 5 square miles.  Success on these terms was unsustainable, particularly for the AIF.

The allied troops were not sent to attack the conventional line of trenches but rather a system of apparently haphazard outposts, reinforced pill boxes and machine gun emplacements which became denser and more effective the further the attacking troops penetrated. The German plan was that such a defensive system would first slow and then absorb the attack, at which point they could counter-attack.

The British counter strategy was to use artillery to protect and support the attacking infantry. This was to be done in the most direct and scientific way. The men would attack, in a closely orchestrated progression, behind the protective cover or ‘curtain’ of a barrage that gradually moved across the entire width of the chosen battlefield – to 1,000 yards and further – and was then sustained after the objectives had been achieved to break up any German counter attack.

Menin Road was rated as a triumph of allied artillery. It was the use of artillery that defined the success of the battle. Bean wrote about the success of the artillery in such ‘step-by-step tactics’:

The battle of September 20th (Menin Road), like those that succeeded it, is easily described inasmuch as it went almost precisely in accordance with plan. The advancing barrage won the ground; the infantry merely occupied it, pouncing on any points at which resistance survived. Whereas the artillery was generally spoken of as supporting the infantry, in this battle the infantry were little more than a necessary adjunct to the artillery’s effort. The barrage was the densest that had ever yet covered Australian troops. “Excellent-the best ever put up,” “as near to perfect as possible,” “magnificent in accuracy and volume,” were descriptions applied to it afterwards by Australian officers. Nevertheless it may fairly be claimed that infantry such as the Australian gave the artillery the best prospect of success. Provided the going was good, the difficulty was, never, to keep Australians up to the barrage, but, almost always, to keep them out of it. With guns so concentrated, a fair proportion of shells inevitably burst short of the rest, making a fringe to the barrage, and in this fringe the Australian infantry worked. (p 761)

However there were problems. Bean himself alludes to one: keeping the troops out of the barrage. For a whole range of reasons the attacking troops could be hit by their own artillery. Sometimes, not surprisingly, the close coordination required between the movement of the barrage and the troops on the battlefield broke down. Also, artillery shells could fall short and, given the closeness of the fighting, these ‘shorts’ often fell among the British and Australian troops.

That such ‘friendly fire’ was a real problem at Menin Road is revealed in the war diary of 5 Battalion. On the one hand the diary noted how effective, overall, the barrage had been. It stated that The barrage put down by our artillery was excellent. But it then went on to note how the … inevitable “shorts” fell amongst our men and made casualties. It also lamented that the men were too eager to move forward and some of them …  got into the barrage. Summing up, it noted:

Perhaps as many as 100 casualties were caused by our own barrage and “shorts”.

The significance of the figure of 100 is that total casualties for 5 Battalion at Menin Road were 70 killed, 189 wounded and 12 missing. Overall, potentially nearly 40% of the total casualties were caused by friendly fire.

It also important to note that in the final stages before the attack, as the men were assembling in the jumping off areas, German artillery put down a heavy barrage that claimed many casualties. In some cases, this barrage was so heavy, concentrated and deadly in its effect that the men, to escape it, launched the attack several minutes in advance of the scheduled start time.

Again, to give some indication of the intensity of the artillery used at Menin Road, 3.5 million shells were used over the period that covered the week leading up to the attack and the first day of the attack.  Many German troops surrendered, shell-shocked and demoralised.

In his account, Bean also described how some German troops who thought they had surrendered or who tried to surrender were killed. Most of these deaths appear to have occurred when the troops were overpowering the German pill boxes. In at least one case, it took the intervention of officers to stop the killing (p 772). In another case Bean described how German troops tried to surrender … but the excited troops “filled the place with bombs” until, growing tired of killing, they allowed a remnant – an officer and 40 men – to go to the rear as prisoners. (p. 764)

After the ‘success’ of Menin Road, planning for Polygon Wood continued with new enthusiasm.

It is worth noting that of the 5 men linked to the Shire of Alberton who died at Menin Road, and whose accounts appear below, not one of them has a known grave. All are simply remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial. Arguably, the lack of graves also points to the way the artillery of both sides churned up and obliterated the battlefield.

References

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

Chapter XVIII Step By Step. (1) The Menin Road

For a general background on Menin Road see,

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [p 335 ff]

Carlyon, L 2006, The Great War, Pan Macmillan, Sydney NSW
[Chapter 29]

 

George Edgar WITHINSHAW (3456)
23 B KiA 19/9/17

The name of George Edgar Withinshaw is not included on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial, but he was definitely a local of the Shire of Alberton. He was yet another another young English immigrant. He was born in Burslem, Staffordshire. When he enlisted in November 1916, he was 22 yo – nearly 23 yo – and the information supplied by his father – Harry Withinshaw – for the (National) Roll of Honour indicates that, at the time, he would have been in Australia for between 12 and 18 months. He must have arrived sometime in 1915, as a 21 yo.

On his enlistment forms he gave his occupation as ‘butcher’ and it appears he had completed several years apprenticeship in England before he came to Australia. However, in the local area it is most likely that he was working as a farm labourer. He gave his address as c/o C J Stockwell, Yarram. Charles John Stockwell was a prominent local grazier with at least 240 acres near Yarram. The father listed the same Charles J Stockwell Esq. on the (National) Roll of Honour form as someone … to whom reference could be made… for further information. The father also gave Yarram as the place with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.

While he had not been in the local area for long before he enlisted, there is no doubt that George Edgar Withinshaw was a local. Indeed, there is even a record of him being fined for being on the premises of the Yarram Hotel ‘during prohibited hours’. The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 6/10/16, just a months before he enlisted, reported on the prosecution of 4 locals – James Mitchell, George Withinshaw, Joseph Mills and Edgar Mitchell – who had been apprehended by Constable Herkes at 11.55 PM in the ‘bar parlour’ of the Yarram Hotel on the night of Saturday, 26 August. All 4 were found guilty and fined between 10/- and 15/- with costs (another 6/- to 10/-). Interestingly, on his enlistment papers, George Withinshaw wrote that he ‘had not been convicted’. Further, he enlisted at Warragul. Perhaps he chose to enlist outside the local area so as not to draw attention to his recent brush with the law.

Private Withinshaw was single and he gave his religion as Church of England when he enlisted on 10/11/16. He was taken on as reinforcements for 2 Pioneer Battalion and he embarked from Melbourne on 16/12/16, which was just over one month after he had enlisted.

In training in the UK in March 1917 he was hospitalised for 2 weeks with influenza and then in September he spent another week in hospital with a serious ear infection.

He transferred from 2 Pioneer Battalion to 23 Battalion in July 1917 and he proceeded overseas to join 23 Battalion in late August 1917. He was killed in action on 19/9/17 which meant that his service lasted just 10 months and, in fact, he survived less than one month at the front.

There is no Red Cross file and the details on the death of private Withinshaw are sparse. In fact, while the official date of his death is given as 19/9/17, records in his file suggest that, initially, the date was given as 22/9/17. Significantly, the date of 22/9/17 is more credible. There is nothing in the war diary of 23 Battalion that suggests any casualties for 19/9/17 but 22/9/17, on the other hand, was one of the 2 days over which 23 Battalion was involved in the battle of Menin Road. For 23 Battalion, the casualties for 21-23 September were 13 killed, 77 wounded and 6 missing. The body of Private Withinshaw was never recovered – another reason to support 22/9/17 as the date of death – and his name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.

The father in England was advised by cable dated 8/10/17. It appears that personal kit was returned to the father, then at Tottenham in London, at the end of December 1917 but there is no list of the actual items.

There is no personal or family correspondence in the file. However, presumably, George Withinshaw would have reunited with his family when he was in training in the UK.

Private George Ernest Withinshaw would have been another of the young English immigrant workers who were pressed by the locals to enlist and return to fight for the mother country. There is now little, if any, memory of his time in the AIF and his death in service.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WITHINSHAW George Edgar 3456
Roll of Honour: George Edgar Withinshaw
First World War Embarkation Rolls: George Edgar Withinshaw

 

Frederick William BUTLER (814)
5B KiA 20/09/17

Frederick Butler was born in South Melbourne. The family must have moved into the local area not long after because he attended Womerah SS. His father – William Butler – was dead by the time he enlisted so, presumably, the family moved to the Shire of Alberton when the mother – Maria Butler – remarried. She married Charles Ethelbert Retford, a contractor of Jack River.

The mother was listed as next-of-kin on his enlistment papers and her address was Jack River via Yarram. When she completed the particulars for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave Yarram as the place with which her son was ‘chiefly connected’. His name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial.

Prior to enlistment Frederick Butler had served two years in the fledgling Royal Australian Navy. His date of enlistment in the AIF was very early – 24 August 1914 – nearly a month before the first large group from Yarram. He enlisted at South Melbourne. He was 23 yo at the time and he gave his occupation as labourer. He was Church of England.

He joined the newly formed 5 Battalion and left for the Middle East in October 1914. He was wounded – gunshot, right thigh – at the start of the Gallipoli campaign and hospitalised.

At this point he was recommended to be discharged from the AIF on medical grounds and was in fact returned to Australia. The report of the medical board from the time (27/5/15) reveals that he had previously suffered a serious knee injury in the RAN and there had been more injury to the same knee when he was serving with 5 Battalion in Egypt, prior to Gallipoli. Then when he had been shot in the thigh, the knee injury had been further exacerbated. The report made it clear that the injury had been sustained on active service. There was a definite recommendation that he be discharged as permanently unfit. He arrived back in Australia in July 1915.

However, on his return to Australia he was not medically discharged. Instead, after spending 3 weeks in hospital he was attached to a unit involved in recruiting and it looks like he continued in this role until another medical board (14/3/16) determined that he was again medically fit for active service. The board found that he was … quite free from any pain or inconvenience; although it did also note that Private Butler himself complained of … weakness in R knee. Ironically, recruitment levels were falling by this point and there was growing pressure to toughen the standards for soldiers being found to be medically unfit.

When Private Butler returned to Australia he was given a welcome home at Yaram as a ‘returned soldier’. Earlier – 12/5/15 – the local paper had reported when he had been wounded at Gallipoli as one of ‘Our Gallant Gippslanders’.

Private Butler returned to duty in June 1916 and reached France in September (2/9/16). He finally rejoined 5 Battalion in the field at the start of October 1916, nearly 18 months after being taken off the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Then in late October he was hospitalised with some injury to his spine. He rejoined his unit in the middle of November 1916. There was a further period of hospitalisation in February-March 1917.

Six months later he was killed on the first day of the fighting at Menin Road (20/9/17). There is no Red Cross report and so there are no witness accounts of his death. There is a handwritten note in his file that records a location for his grave – …100 yards east of Glencorse Wood – but presumably this was a battlefield burial and the grave was subsequently lost. There is no official grave and his name is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

The battalion war diary reveals that over the two days of fighting – the battalion was relieved very late the next day (21/9/17) – there were 273 casualties, with private Butler one of the 70 killed. The war diary specifically referred to the number of deaths casue by artillery ‘shorts’.

The mother as next-of-kin was notified of her son’s death by cable dated 15/10/17, 3 weeks later. She received a pension of 20/- per fortnight from 17/12/17. The official report of death was dated 19/1/18.

The following in memoriam appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/9/18, the first anniversary of his death:

BUTLER – Sacred to the memory of my darling boy, Fred. W. Butler, 5th Battalion. Killed in the Battle of Menin Road on September 20th, 1917, aged 23 years and 9 months.
The midnight stars are shining
O’er the grave I cannot see;
Where sleeping without dreaming
Lies my boy so dear to me.
A hero and a man.
Inserted by his mother, step father, sisters and brothers – Lizzie, Lily and Ivy, and Charlie and Jack.

In December 1917, BP Johnson – solicitor, Yarram –  wrote on behalf of Private Butler’s mother asking for details of deferred pay and also for his personal effects. Nearly two years later (28/7/19) Mrs Retford herself, now living at Tara Valley via Traralgon, wrote requesting again her son’s personal effects. She also wanted to know why she had not received the formal badge made available to mothers who had lost sons in the War. There is a sense of frustration – if not outright anger – evident in the letter:

I am writing to know what has become of my boys property. He has been dead nearly two years now and I have never received one thing back. My boy done as much as any other boy over there and I think it is not right that I am to be left out altogether.
Would you kindly see to this. His address was No 834 Pte F. W. Butler 5th Batn.
I have also written 3 times about a broach I am entitled to. I see everyone about here with one, but I have none. Is there no way I can get anything.

The reply that came from Base Records on 1/8/19 was rather terse. The detail could also have come as a shock to the mother:

In reply to your communication of 28th ultimo, I have to state two packages of personal effects of your son, the late No. 814 (not 834 as quoted by you) Private F. W. Butler, 5th Battalion, were returned to this office and forwarded to Miss Ada Thomson, 119 Miller Street, North Fitzroy, who is shown as the sole legatee under his will.
That portion of your letter with reference to badge has been referred to the Assistant Adjutant general, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, for attention and reply direct to you.
Your change of address has been noted.

The issue of the personal kit was complicated. In fact, it appears that one lot – 2 religious Books, 2 post cards, 2 Photos – was returned to Miss Ada Thompson of North Firzroy and a second lot – Post cards, Photos, Gift tin, Cigarette case, Note book, New Testament, 3 Brushes, Bag handle. – was returned to the mother, Mrs C Retford, Jack River P.O. via Yarram.

There is a copy of Private Butler’s will, dated 9/1/17, and taken from his pay book that describes Miss Ada Thomson of North Fitzroy as his sole beneficiary. She is described as his fiancée. Presumably, he met her when he working in the recruitment unit after his return to Australia. Whether his mother knew of her son’s engagement before she received this letter from Base Records is not known. However if she did there was obviously not much in the way of communication between the two women.

The mother did receive all her son’s war medals and the memorial scroll and plaque.

More than 2 years after the War, the local paper (14/5/20), reporting on the welcome home to another Womerah local – Private H Lawson – made special mention of Priave Butler and his mother:

Later in the evening a presentation of a gold medal was also made to Mrs Redford in memory of her son, Pte. Fred Butler, who fell in France. Pte. Butler was wounded at the landing in Gallipoli, was invalided home. Recovering, he went again to the front, where he was killed by a shell in an attack on the enemy lines.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for BUTLER Frederick William 814
Roll of Honour: Frederick William Butler
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Frederick William Butler

Private F W Butler, courtesy of Australian War Memorial

 

John Kennedy (309B)
5B KiA 20/9/17

John Kennedy’s name is not recorded on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ memorial. Yet there was a connection to the local area. His name is recorded on the honor roll for Darriman SS and also on the roll for the local Presbyterian Charge.

On his enlistment papers he gave Woodside as the place where he was born. He was the second of 4 children of Robert and Catherine (nee Regan) Kennedy. His parents had lived in the district and in fact there is a record of his father enlisting for the war in South Africa in 1900 as a rifleman from Darriman. The previous generation had also lived in the district and it appears that, for some period at least, John’s grandfather – Farquhar Kennedy – had held land at Darriman. Both John’s parents were dead at the time he enlisted. The father had died at Yarram in 1905 and had been buried at Sale, and the mother had died in 1907.

John had 3 sisters and the oldest – Kathleen – was given as his next-of-kin. Presumably, she also gave permission for him to enlist as he was only 18 yo at the time. This oldest sister – Mrs Kathleen Jean Hobson – lived at Rosedale. Another sister lived near Sale. At the time he enlisted John gave his address as Mossiface, near Bairnsdale, and he enlisted at Sale. He gave his occupation as labourer. It would appear that at the time he enlisted he was not living and working in the Shire of Alberton but certainly the family did have strong links to the shire. Also, the fact that his name appears on the local Presbyterian Charge – he gave his religion as Presbyterian – suggests that the links to the Shire of Alberton had lasted till very recently.

Private Kennedy enlisted as reinforcements for 5 Battalion on 5/2/16. He left Melbourne on 3/6/16 and eventually joined 5 Battalion in France in early October 1916. He was hospitalised with mumps for 3 weeks in March 1917. There was also a minor charge for AWL in May 1917.

It appears that Private kennedy was killed in action early in the morning of 20/9/17. The following witness statement – Pte A. J. O’Connor 65561 – in his Red Cross file is very definite:

Knew [him] very well, he was in same platoon as myself. … On Sept 20th about 7 a.m. in front of Dickebusch I was walking with him after we had gone over when he was hit at the back of the head with a shrapnel pellet- it was no bigger than a marble and I noticed then hole in his tin helmet. He dropped down beside me and never uttered a sound and I feel positive was killed. I had to continue but we gained our objective and held the ground. At the time he was hit he was talking to me and we were trying to locate some of our fellows. At the moment he appeared to be in very good spirits.

Similarly, the second one from W. J Canning 2127 describes the death and its random nature. It literally did come down to where you were standing at any point.

I knew casualty. … I was in the same advance. He was in my section. An H. E. shell exploded near casualty killing him instantly. I was 3 yards away at the time the shell exploded, and I saw his body immediately afterwards. He was about 200 yards from our objective at the time he was killed. He was most severely wounded in the head. I do not know if he was buried.

Private Kennedy’s body was never recovered and his name is included with the others on the Menin Gate Memorial. In his file, there is in fact a reference to where he was buried – Verbick Farm 100 yds of Glencorse Wood E of Ypres – but if this was accurate the grave must have been subsequently lost. As part of this general confusion, he was initially reported as wounded. The sister at Rosedale was in fact advised on 13/10/17 that he had been wounded, but no details were given. Then 12 days later, on 25/10/17, she received word that he had been killed.

A very small amount of personal kit – 2 Note Books, Tobacco Pouch, 2 Pipes – was returned to the sister in May 1918.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for KENNEDY John 309B
Roll of Honour: John Kennedy
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Kennedy
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Kennedy

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

 

Christopher SAAL (6151)
26B KiA 20/9/17

Christopher Saal’s link to the Shire of Alberton was that he attended Binginwarri SS and his name – C Saal – is recorded on the school’s honor roll. Beyond this one definite link, the background story of this young man is unclear.

The surname is most unusual and in fact it appears that there only ever 3 with the Saal family name who served. In addition to Christopher, it appears there were 2 cousins – 2 brothers – who came from Clifton, near Toowoomba, in Queensland: Henry Nelson Saal and Sidney Lane Saal. Christopher himself was born in Toowoomba and he enlisted from there. It appears that his 3 sisters and parents were also living in Toowoomba, or nearby, at the point he enlisted.

Overall, there was only ever one C Saal in the AIF and he was killed on active service. At the time he enlisted he was obviously living in Queensland; but this C Saal has to be the person on the Binginwarri roll of honor.

There is a slight complication in relation to the honor roll because C Saal on the Binginwarri roll is not marked as ‘killed’. However, the explanation appears to be that after it was unveiled on 24/8/17, the honor roll at Binginwarri SS was not updated – or at least not fully or correctly updated – and so the status of C Saal, who was still alive at the time the roll was unveiled, was never adjusted. Ironically, C Staal was killed just one month after the unveiling.

Fortunately, there is one additional piece of evidence that ties Christopher Saal to the Shire of Alberton. He was killed on 20/9/17. Exactly one year later, in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/9/18, the following in memoriam appeared:

SAAL. – In loving memory of my dear friend, Chris Saal, who was killed in action in France on Sept. 20th, 1917.
“His duty nobly done.”
– Inserted by his true friend, Victoria Hiho, Hedley.

Exactly what the connection between these 2 people was is unknown. Perhaps it was nothing more than that the 2 of them had been to school together. The Hiho family, incidentally, was a very prominent one in the local area. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that the Christopher Saal killed at Menin Road on 20/9/17 had at the very least attended Binginwarri SS as a child and that there were still some locals who remembered him.

Private Saal enlisted in Toowoomba on 12/7/16.He was single and 19 yo. He gave his occupation as turner. His religion was Church of England and he gave his sister – Miss Eva Saal – as his next-of-kin.

He joined as reinforcements for 26 Battalion and embarked for overseas on 27/10/16. After further training in the United Kingdom he proceeded to France in June and finally joined 26 Battalion in early July 1917. In the UK he had been hospitalised with mumps for nearly 3 weeks in February 1917.

Unfortunately, the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed by the family. Nor was there a Red Cross report. Consequently, there is little detail on Private Saal’s service and death. The cable advising of his death was dated 29/9/17. There was no grave and, instead, his name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial.

The war diary for 26 Battalion suggests that the battalion was in a support role over 20-21 September. The casualties were not as high as other battalions: 18 killed, 102 wounded and 8 missing.

The personal kit – 2 Wallets, Photos, Enamel bangle, Metal wrist watch guard and strap, cards, 2 Coins. – reached the family in May 1918.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for SAAL Christopher 6151
Roll of Honour: Christopher Saal
First World War Embarkation Rolls: Christopher Saal

 

John Donald McLENNAN (6811)
6B KiA 21/9/17

John Donald McLennan was born at Lyonville in 1886. Two younger brothers were born at Welshpool. By the outbreak of war in 1914 the family was living at Hedley. When the father – Alexander C McLennan – came to complete the particulars for the (National) Roll of Honour, he listed Hedley as the town with which his son was ‘chiefly connected’.

John McLennan grew up in the local district. His name is included on the honor rolls for both the state school at Alberton and the one at Welshpool. Similarly, his name is included on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial as well as the equivalent memorials in Welshpool.

Hedley, while not within the boundary of the Shire of Alberton, and closer to Welshpool than Alberton, was still regarded as sufficiently ‘local’ at the time. Moreover, the McLennan farm – approx. 300 acres – was at Alberton West. Overall, at least to the point that John McLennan enlisted – he was the third and last of the 3 sons to enlist – the McLennan family was closely associated with the local area. After he enlisted it appears that the parents moved to Avenel, near Seymour.

On the enlistment papers John McLennan gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’ but he must have been helping his father on the family farm. His father described his son’s work as ‘farming and dairying pursuits’. More than one year earlier, on 27/5/15, his two younger brothers had enlisted together in 13 light Horse Regiment. Alexander Christopher McLennan was not quite 21 yo and needed his parents’ consent and the other brother, George Trail McLennan was 23 yo. The 2 younger brothers survived the War and both were decorated, with, respectively, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal.

Most likely, all 3 brothers were helping their father with the family farm at the outbreak of war. possibly there was tension over who was to enlist and when. It appears that John, as the eldest brother, held land in his own right, and, possibly, he was persuaded by his parents to hold off enlisting when his two younger brothers joined.  But in the end he too enlisted. There is some sense of this scenario in the comments written by his father on the form for recording information for the (National) Roll of Honour:

His conduct was always exemplary – and as soon as circumstances would permit he determined to do his duty by enlisting and would not be restrained, although his two (only) brothers had enlisted and were abroad for nearly a year.

Similarly, the report of his death in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative of 24/10/17 noted how the younger brothers were the first to enlist:

It will be remembered that George and Alex McLennan enlisted from Hedley shortly after the war began, leaving Jack, the only other son at home. The brothers fought through Gallipoli, and are so far safe. About 18 months ago Jack enlisted, and after training at Salisbury Plains, went to France. Last Friday word came that he had been killed in the service of his country, and to the family we extend our sincere sympathy.

When John (Jack) McLennan enlisted in September 1916 (8/9/16) in Melbourne, he was 30 yo and single. He gave his religion as Presbyterian. He joined as reinforcements for 6 Battalion.

Private McLennan left Melbourne in October 1916 (25/10/16) and reached England at the very end of 1916 (28/12/16). He spent another 3 months with 2 Training Brigade in England before being taken on the strength of 6 Battalion in France at the start of April 1917. He was killed in action 6 months later on the second day of the Battle of Menin Road (21/9/17).

According to its war diary, casualties for 6 Battalion for the 20-21 September were approximately 260 (10 officers and 247 other ranks) although there is no breakdown given for deaths, wounded etc. Again, as for 5 Battalion, the diary makes it clear that at least some of the casualties were from ‘friendly fire’,

At zero 0540 our barrage fell and the whole Bn moved forward. Almost immediately a few casualties were caused by our own shells falling short which they did throughout the whole advance, a few batteries for about an hour firing about 500 yards short of the barrage.

Specific details of Private McLennan’s death are not included in his file. There is no reference to any grave and his name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial. The cable informing the father, as next-of-kin, of the death was dated 13/10/17 and the formal report on the death was completed on 21/12/17.

Personal kit – Wallet, Diary, Bible, Photos, Letter and Tie, 2 testaments, Military Book – were returned to the parents in May 1918.

A letter to Base Records written by Private McLennan’s father in May 1918 suggests that he knew little of the circumstances of his son’s death and that he was desperate for any information.

Can you supply any more details of the passing of my Son? I have been patiently awaiting for months for more particulars from your Dept but as yet none have been given. If you can supply anything further I will be grateful.

The reply merely reiterated that he was killed in action in Belgium on 21/9/17; although the letter did promise to provide more particulars if they became available.

What is interesting in this particular case is that there was an offer from the Red Cross to follow up the death of Private McLennan but this was turned down, by one of his brothers.

In November 1917 (23/11/17) the Red Cross wrote to Private McLennan’s two brothers – both were then serving in France – extending sympathy on their loss and also offering to conduct the usual enquiry. The Red Cross offered to … do our best to get full particulars [on the brother’s death] which we shall at once send to you.

However, in a reply to the Red Cross written some 6 months before the father’s plea for additional information, one of the brothers (AC McLennan) revealed that he had already made his own enquiries to 6 Battalion and had …learned all there is to be known. Basically, he thanked the Red Cross for the expression of sympathy and the offer of help but indicated that his brother’s name did not need to go on the enquiry list. Obviously, whatever this brother had been able to find out about the death was not relayed back to the father in Australia, or at least had not been relayed by the time the father wrote to Base Records requesting information on his son’s death. Presumably, at the very least, the family learned of the circumstances surrounding the death when the two surviving brothers returned to Australia in 1919.

An in memoriam was placed in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 20/9/18, one year after the death :

McLENNAN – In loving memory of our dear son and brother, Private J. D McLennan (Jack), killed in action at “Polygon Wood” (sic) in France on the 20th of September, 1917
Fondly remembered.
-Inserted by parents and sister.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for McLENNAN John Donald 6811
Roll of Honour: John Donald McLennan
First World War Embarkation Rolls: John Donald McLennan
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: John Donald McLennan

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

 

 

 

132. The Great Strike, August 1917

Throughout August 1917, a series of strikes spread along the eastern seaboard. The initial strike involved railway workshop employees in Sydney who went out over attempts to introduce a US style card system, based on Taylorism, intended to speed up work. This first action was on 2 August. However, virtually from the very next day, strike action began to spread to an ever increasing range of industries. In NSW, the strike spread across the railways, collieries and then the wharves. Initially, it took in the full range of workers in the railways, and then miners, wharf labourers and seamen. By mid August, strike action spread to Victoria where the key workers involved were the wharf labourers and seamen. On a lesser scale, other industries and specific enterprises became involved and the unrest spread to other centres including Broken Hill. All the various actions are usually described, collectively, as the ‘Great Strike’ of 1917.

The end to the NSW railway strike on 9 September is taken as the end of the Great Strike, even though some workers continued their action for some time after. For example, the Melbourne wharf workers did not vote to return until 4 December.

The Great Strike of 1917 was a conflict that went beyond industrial action, as large scale as this was. It is possible to see it more as a wider working-class revolt than a series of strikes. Certainly by 1917 there was considerable disaffection in the working class. There was ‘war weariness’ but the War had also eroded real wages. Price rises had been extreme. There was also war profiteering. Above all, there was widespread concern that hard-won, pre-War industrial conditions were being eroded under the cover of patriotism. Opposition to the Yes vote in the recent conscription referendum had been strengthened by the fear that conscription was to be used to weaken organised labour. As pointed out in Post 105 even soldiers on the front line shared this concern that conscription would be used to undermine the working conditions and job security of Australian workers. The sense that the hard-won industrial conditions of the (white) working class were under attack was very strong.

Another interesting feature of the Great Strike was the degree to which the traditional power brokers in organised labor – the union hierarchy and the ALP itself, as the political wing of the movement – were by-passed by more rank-and-file leadership and agitation. The organisation was entrusted to an ad hoc ‘Defence Committee’. Also, in many instances the traditional power brokers were opposed to the specifics of the industrial action. In several key instances, unions voted to strike, against the advice of the union leadership.

Importantly, the industrial unrest was not restricted to just the act of striking. There were very large public demonstrations and marches – portrayed as unruly, mob-like and dangerous by the popular press – in Melbourne and Sydney. The role of women in these highly visible activities was striking. In Melbourne through August there were almost daily demonstrations in locations such as Treasury Gardens, Exhibition Gardens and Yarra Bank. Extra police were brought in from rural areas to maintain public order. To some extent, the month long strife was more an expression of the ‘direct action’ promoted by radical worker groups like the IWW than the conventional strike. Not surprisingly, the press was keen to push the claim that this radicalisation of the workers was the handiwork of the IWW and other extremist labor or socialist groups. There was speculation that the massive social dislocation in Russia could even play out in some form in Australia.

Another important feature of the action was the so-called ‘black doctrine’. According to this doctrine, no unionist could work alongside a ’scab’ worker or handle or have anything to do with goods or services provided by scab labour. The speed with which this doctrine prompted other unions to strike and the way it acted as a rallying call – often against the direct advice of the union hierarchy – suggests that the ever-expanding wave of strikes represented not just specific industrial grievances but also a declaration about the fundamental beliefs of the union movement. Specifically, the focus was on the very definition of the union notion of ‘mateship’. This ties in with the argument that after 3 years of War, and ongoing attacks on the union movement, the working class itself pushed back with the equivalent of a public manifesto of what it stood for and what it would never tolerate.

Ironically, the ‘black doctrine’ was arguably the main reason for the failure of the Great Strike. Essentially it meant that the strikes went too wide, too quick and too shallow. While many industries across state boundaries became involved very quickly there were important segments in these industries, and other whole sectors of the economy, where production and business continued unaffected. From the beginning, union organisers had sensed the inherent weakness of the campaign but, it appears, workers generally were not in the mood to listen to their leadership. Indeed, even when the various strikes collapsed and the workers were forced back under very punitive conditions, many workers believed, unrealistically, that they had been on the point of victory and saw the return to work as a ‘sell-out’. This sense of betrayal was heightened by the severity of the conditions surrounding their return to work; and in many cases they were never taken back.

In a real sense the Hughes Government was always going to win. To begin with, after the split over conscription, the ALP was in a weak position. Further, it was clear that the union movement itself was divided over the strikes. Also, the popular press lined up behind the government. The government also had the very powerful War Precautions legislation to employ as required. Finally, Hughes set up the National Service Bureau which in effect recruited volunteers to act as strike breakers. The large number of such volunteers and the efficient organisation of the scheme were enough to break the strike.

When the strikes collapsed, the workers, if they were re-employed at all, had to accept reduced conditions. In many cases their positions were taken by those who had volunteered for Hughes’ scheme of ‘national service’. The strikers were defeated and a brief period of working-class solidarity and direct action, built round idealistic notions of ‘industrial mateship’, came to a bitter end. At the same time, the victory against the strikers virtually made it inevitable that any second vote on conscription would fail. Arguments that conscription was by its very nature an attack on the working class designed to break the unions and reduce wages and working conditions – as well as open the country to cheap non-White labour – were obviously set to have more appeal. Equally, those who argued that the War was nothing but a sordid trade war were going to attract considerably more attention. For many, the War was turning into a war on the Australian working class.

It is interesting to consider the attention that the strikes over August attracted in the local media in the Shire of Alberton. Overall, the ongoing, daily accounts of the strikes were left to the metropolitan dailies. At the same time, the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative did highlight how serious the national situation was. The following appeared on 17/8/17:

Industrial Australia is now engaged in the greatest upheaval known in the nation. Emanating from the strike of the railway men in New South Wales it has extended in the past few days to numerous industries in which labor is concerned, and present indications are that serious trouble will ensue before a settlement is effected. The Federal Government is taking a firm stand in the matter, and appears determined to fight the Unions and those who have attempted to disturb and upset railway and shipping facilities. Gradually the strike mania is being extended by the originators to centres of industry which, prior to the outbreak, had no cause for complaint, but are drawn into the trouble by the influence of their fellow workers.

As usual, the local paper lined up behind the Hughes Government. It was keen to support the call for volunteers to break the strikes. There was not as much call in Victoria for volunteers from the country as there was in NSW. In Melbourne there were ample volunteers from the metropolitan area, including students from the University of Melbourne and private boys’ colleges. The following appeared in the Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative on 24/8/17:

The Government is now receiving offers from country volunteers, and many have taken up the work in Sydney. An individual, a former sailor, walked into our offices [Yarram] yesterday and offered to go and help the Government wherever his services might be of any assistance. We believe a number of others have volunteered from this district.

The paper also reported on the Shire Council’s resolve to support the Government. The following resolution appeared on 31/8/17:

That this Council grant all possible assistance to the Government in the matter of providing labor during present strikes and that the [Shire] secretary be instructed to accept applications from volunteers.

And on 29/8/17 it noted the strong support from at least one local branch of the Victorian Farmers’ Union:

Alberton branch of Victorian Farmers’ Union … resolved that, in the event of it [strikes] becoming more serious, the Alberton branch pledged itself to endeavor to obtain volunteer workers to assist the Government.

The paper also reported (24/8/17) when the local police constable was called to Melbourne … to do duty should trouble arise.

The following article appeared on 29/8/17:

Serious Extension of the Strike Trouble to Womerah. Ferns Declared “Black” – “Trouble never comes alone” was demonstrated at the office of a leading grazier in this district last week. The overseer was waited upon by a deputation of three at “Smoko” requesting a substantial increase in wages, or ferns would be declared “black.” The increase was at once acceded to, pending official confirmation. The official presented the objects of the deputation under threat of dismissal. The strike was of short duration, extending from forenoon “Smoko” on Friday, 17th and terminating on Saturday, 18th when at 5 p.m. the spokesman was dismissed, and one of his senior colleagues resenting such treatment left in sympathy. The dismissed agitator when last seen, was making his way toward Morwell Shire seeking ”White Ferns” and “Pastures New.” We are pleased to state that the strike is ended, as it was causing much concern amongst local employers. The call for volunteer labor was quickly answered by one recruit, who has accepted the agitator’s place without the right of spokesman.

Presumably the article is meant to be a parody – albeit a very clumsy one – of the situation in Melbourne and Sydney. Country employers know how to handle unionists. There does not have to be any workplace bargaining, the boss just gets rid of those who cause ‘trouble’. And there are plenty of other workers who will take up the positions of those dismissed.

The article does at least serve to remind that organised labour was very weak in country areas. This was particularly so in areas like the Shire of Alberton, where the nature of settlement and ongoing development had meant that there was little, if any, history of organised labor. With the exception of the timber industry and state-wide industries like the railways, there was no large concentration of workers in the one economic activity or location. Instead, the stronger history of labour in the Shire was that of the struggling selector and the family-based farm.

The history of selection was one characterised by the lack of capital, equipment, technology, and services, including transport. There were major environmental challenges – drought, flood, fire – and the endless struggle to ‘clear the land’. In this  world, the sense of ‘labour’ was the diametric opposite to that which had grown up in the late 19C in the large urban centres of Melbourne and Sydney. In the rural setting, the focus took in, on the one hand, self-help and rugged individualism, with the family as the basic economic unit, and on the other hand a commitment to a form of agrarian communalism. Only by coming together at this second level were ‘settlers’ able to establish schools, community halls and services such as the bush nurse. Their understanding of ‘mateship’ was one of looking out for their own interests and being self-reliant but at the same time supporting the neighbouring farms in times of crisis or against common threats. Local farming families had to rely on each other to establish the necessary social, economic and even political infrastructure for the community survive.

Not surprisingly, in this environment there was an inherent fear of and antagonism to the idea of ‘organised labour’ and the threat of the strike. Moreover, even when casual labour was taken on – for example, the large number of young, single, immigrant English farm workers – the nature of the work, the isolation of the workplace and the living arrangements of the workers – commonly they lived on the farmer’s property – meant that there was a completely different master-worker relationship to the one that existed in the metropolitan factory.

For a more detailed analysis of prevailing attitudes to the unionisation of rural workers in the local area see Post 10.

One industrial action that caused great angst in the rural community was the strike on the railways or at the ports that held up the transport and/or export of their primary produce. It was unconscionable that their livelihood could be threatened by secondary industrial action that had nothing to do with them. They saw their interests exploited by organised labour in an industrial conflict that was not of their making. The appeal in August 1917 to go tho the city and stand in as volunteer wharf labourers was a very powerful and natural call to arms in farming communities.

It is also important to acknowledge that the rural communities also viewed the Great Strike as a direct threat to the War effort. As they saw it, the union movement was undermining the nation’s ability to prosecute the War. At the very least, the series of strikes was a major distraction and drag on the Hughes’ Government’s ability to proceed with its singular focus on maintaining Australia’s commitment to the Empire. At their worst, according to the official narrative, the strikes were intended to cripple the Hughes’ Government and pull Australia out of the War. The strikes were overlaid with accusations of treachery, if not treason. The hand of the mythically powerful and omnipresent Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was said to be behind it all. For its part, the Government was keen to retaliate by employing the considerable force of the War Precautions Act to defeat the strikes.

Even though they have faded from the nation’s memory, the events of August 1917 in Australia were highly significant at the time. The speed with which the strikes spread and the number of industries affected caused considerable anxiety. With only limited support from the union hierarchy – and even less from the demoralised and broken ALP – the workers themselves fashioned the strikes into the radical defence of their hard-won conditions and the commitment to fundamental union principles and values. The strikes were symptomatic of deep and divisive concerns about the true cost of the War and the future of the working class. The strikes became an expression of class solidarity and class conflict. But the strikes were also destined to fail and the Hughes Government was keen to settle scores. For all these reasons the “Great Strike’ of August 1917 was a unique chapter in our history. And at the time, the events of August virtually guaranteed that any second referendum on conscription would be defeated. As the workers saw it, the impact of the War was now being carried disproportionately by the urban working class.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberon Shire Representative

For general background on the Great Strike see:

Beaumont, J 2013, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW. [pp 329-335]

Bollard, R 2013, In the Shadow of Gallipoli: The hidden history of Australia in World War I, New South Publishing, UNSW, Sydney NSW [Chapter 6]