Category Archives: The dead

169. W R Nuttall

NUTTALL William Richard 1999
59 B   DoW 17/6/18

William Nuttall was born in Heidelberg in 1891. Unfortunately the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed and so there are no details of his early life and schooling.

Private Nuttall enlisted in January 1915 (11/1/15). The enlistment – including the medical – was at Traralgon. At the time he was 23 yo and single. He gave his occupation as ‘printer’. His religion was listed as Church of England. He gave his father – William Henry Nuttall – as next-of-kin. Over the time of his son’s service, the father changed address several times: from Collingwood to Lock (Gippsland) and then to Packenham. The mother – Jane Nuttall – appeared to reside in Fitzroy.

It appears that William Nuttall worked at the local paper in Traralgon, the Traralgon Record. There are numerous references in this local paper to his enlistment, his service both on Gallipoli and the Western Front and his death. For example, the edition of 15/1/15 referred to his enlistment and the fact that he had been on the staff of the “Record”. The edition of 16/7/18 referred to his death:

In the list of casualties published in the dailies last week, we notice the name of W R Nuttall. The initials are the same as those of Mr Nuttall who was formerly on the staff of this paper, and we very much regret to hear of his death from wounds. He was a fine, manly young fellow who did not hesitate to step into the ranks of the brave men who have fought and died for their country’s honor. He was wounded several times, and showed such conspicuous bravery on one occasion that he was awarded the military medal [see below]. Mr Nuttall was very popular with the young people, and his death will be much regretted by a large circle of friends.

William Nuttall’s name appears on both the soldiers’ memorial in Traralgon and also on the town’s honour roll. Traralgon was also given as his ‘place of association’. Clearly, he was strongly linked to Traralgon. However, there was also a link to Yarram, approximately 70Km from Traralgon. For example, his death was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 12/7/18, earlier than it was in the Traralgon Record (16/7/18):

Yesterday’s dailies report that Private W. Nuttall has been killed. He was highly respected in Yarram, and played football with the Yarram team.

As well as playing football, it also appears that he played cricket for Yarram. He was listed in the Yarram team in a report on a match published in the local paper on 4/3/14. However, the fact that his name appears on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial suggests that his link to Yarram went beyond just sport. Then again, his name does not appear on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Nor does his name appear on the electoral roll for Yarram. Another complication is that while the name Nuttall was not common in the local area, there was a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 18/1/18 about the experiences of an A B Nuttall – probably Alfred Barker Nuttall – who had gone to the UK as a ‘munition-worker’. Most likely, he was some relative but it is not possible to establish this link. Overall, while there was clearly a link to the Shire of Alberton it is not possible to describe exactly what it was; and contemporaneously, there was another, stronger link to Traralgon.

On enlistment, Private Nuttall joined 7 Battalion and his group of reinforcements left Melbourne for Egypt in April 1915 (17/4/15). He joined his unit on the Gallipoli Peninsula in early August, and within 3 days he had been wounded at Lone Pine. It was described as ‘Shock & Wnd Head’. He was taken by hospital ship to Heliopolis and discharged to ‘light duty’ in late September. Early the following month (6/10/15) he was again hospitalised, this time with dysentery, and did not rejoin the battalion until January 1916.

In late February 1916 he was transferred from 7 Battalion to the newly formed 59 Battalion. He was promoted to lance corporal in March. The battalion reached Marseilles at the end of June 1916. It was involved in the fighting at Fromelles in July 1916.

In late October 1916, L/Cpl Nuttall was admitted to hospital with a ‘septic thumb’ from barbed wire and was repatriated to England, to Clacton-on-Sea Hospital. He was discharged 2 months later (19/12/16) and at this point was given some leave. He took another 7 days without permission and was charged as AWL from 21/12/16 to 27/12/16. He was reprimanded and lost 7 days pay. He rejoined 59 Battalion in France in January 1917. There was another lengthy period of hospitalisation (unknown cause) in France from 21/3/17 to 22/5/17 and he eventually rejoined the battalion in August 1917 (2/8/17). At this point, he reverted to the rank of private ‘at own request’.

On 26/9/17 he was again admitted to hospital. This time the official cause was given as ‘shell shock’. It was the second occasion he had been wounded. In the file there is a copy of Army Form W3438. The heading of this particular report reads,

Report to be rendered in the case of officers and other ranks who, without any visible wounds, become non-effective from physical conditions claimed or presumed to have originated from effects of British or enemy weapons in action.

The form was dated 22/10/17 and on it Private Nuttall’s condition is described, explicitly, as ‘shell shock’. The report stated that Private Nuttall was … blown up and buried by a shell in a bunker at Polygon Wood. His condition on admission was described as ‘Tremulous, complains of headache’. The form features a formal declaration:

I certify that the above named was subjected in the course of his duty to exceptional exposure of the following nature: heavy shell fire whilst at Polygon Wood.

The advice sent home (19/12/17) to inform the next-of-kin also explicitly referred to ‘shell shock’.

Private Nuttall did not rejoin the battalion until the end of the year (23/12/17). Then in early 1918 he had leave in the UK from 4/2/18 to 20/2/18.

He was wounded on 16/6/18 – gunshot wound to chest – and although he received emergency attention he died the next day. He was buried at Querrieu British Cemetery, about 20 Km from Albert where he had been wounded. Rev H J G Matthews officiated at the funeral.

Even though there was only one day between the time he was wounded and the time he died from wounds, the family in Australia received two telegrams: the first (28/6/18) advising that he had been wounded and the second (1/7/18) that he had died. The first telegram also noted that this was the third occasion he had been wounded.

The war diary for 59 Battalion for 16/6/18 reveals that the battalion had just moved into the line in the Albert-Morlancourt sector. The overall entry for the day highlighted the relatively quiet nature of activity:

Shelling was light during the previous 24 hours … A few pineapples were thrown on right Company and a Machine Gun was active against the same sector, but apart from these the enemy attitude was relatively quiet – practically no movement was observed.

The official casualty report for the day had 1 killed and 3 wounded. All casualties were other ranks. One of the 3 wounded would have been Private Nuttall.

Two packages of personal items were returned to Australia, in February and March 1919:

1 YMCA Wallet, Cards, 1 Notebook, 1 Metal Wrist Watch & Guard, 1 Letter

and

1 Disc, 1 Whistle & lanyard, 1 Protractor, 1 Badge, 2 metal souvenirs, 1 Button, 1 Razor, 1 Testament, 1 Diary, 1 Wallet, Photos, 1 pipe Lighter, 1 Certificate, Stamp, Belt.

There are 2 pieces of correspondence in the file worth noting. One is from a Miss Doris Kinna of Traralgon dated 30/11/17. She writes seeking information about the condition of Private Nuttall,

Reports of various kinds have reached us and we are very anxious to receive something definite. Trusting to receive a reply as soon as possible & thanking you in anticipation.

This was just after L/Cpl Nuttall had been hospitalised with shell shock. The reply from Base Records (5/12/17) was very general:

In reply to your letter of the 30th ult. I have to inform you that Lance-Corporal William Richard Nuttall, was in October last, reported to be suffering from an illness, the nature of which had not been diagnosed.

The other item of correspondence is an earlier letter written by a Mrs Maria Lear of James Street, Yarram in November 1916. It suggests a connection between Private Nuttall and Yarram.

Could you let me have the present address of Private W. Nuttall when left Melbourne was in 7th Batt. 5th Reinforcements. But I believe was transferred to 59 Battalion D Company 15 Brigade Signaller Sect.
I want his number as he knows of my son 4130 I J Lear which (sic) was missing on 19th saw him wounded.
I cannot communicate as I have not got the last address..Hoping you will oblige me at your earliest…

Base Records replied on 8/11/16 with the address details.

Private Isaac James Lear 4130, who was also in 59 Battalion, went missing at Fromelles on 19/7/16. [See Post 74] He was determined to have been killed in action on the same day by a court of enquiry, but this was not until August 1917. Obviously, the mother at the time she wrote this letter (November 1916) was trying to establish her son’s fate. There is a presumption that Mrs Lear recognised Private Nuttall as a local (Yarram) boy who would have known her son. Further evidence of this connection comes from the earlier reference to Nuttall having played cricket for Yarram, because it appears that at that time – 1914 – he played against at least one Lear cousin – William John Lear who enlisted in June 1915. It is not known if Mrs Lear ever managed to contact Private Nuttall over the fate of her son.

There is a suggestion in one of the reports in the Traralgon Record (3/11/16) that L/Cpl Nuttall was recommended for the Military Medal. Further, as noted above, the same local paper claimed (16/7/18) that he had, in fact, been awarded this honour. While there is no official record of this having been the case, recommendations for such awards were often something of a lottery. Further, there is no doubt that Nuttall’s overall service record saw him involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the War, including Gallipoli, Fromelles, Polygon Wood and Villers-Bretonneux.

References

Traralgon Record
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for NUTTALL William Richard
Roll of Honour: William Richard Nuttall
First World War Embarkation Roll: William Richard Nuttall

168. H S Davis & T A Wilson

DAVIS Herbert Stanley (13491 – 2/Lt.)
5 B KIA 16/6/18

Herbert Davis was from Tasmania. His parents lived at Battery Point, Hobart and his enlistment papers showed that he was born in Sandy Bay, Hobart. Unfortunately the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed so there is no indication of where he went to school or of his early life. The enlistment papers do however indicate that he spent one year in the senior cadets in Tasmania so, presumably, he left Tasmania and went to the Shire of Alberton in his later teens or early twenties

Private Davis was nearly 22 yo when he enlisted in July 1915 (6/7/15) and at the time he gave his occupation as farmer. Interestingly, the occupation listed on his embarkation papers is ‘engineer’. His religion was given as Church of England.

On enlistment Herbert Davis was married. He married in 1915 and there was a daughter – Phyllis – born the same year. His wife – Myrtle Lily McKenzie – was the daughter of Thomas George McKenzie, a successful local farmer. On enlistment, his wife was shown as living with her mother, Elizabeth Lily Ann McKenzie of Devon. At the time, it appears that the Davis family in Tasmania did not know that the son was married and that there was a child.

Private Davis enlisted in Melbourne and, like many others, he had had his first medical in Yarram, with Dr Pern. There was a report in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire (3/11/15) on his formal farewell from Yarram:

Private H. S Davis was met at the shire hall on Friday morning by a few townsmen, and presented with the usual card and medallion by Mr. V. S. Lalor. Private Davis is attached to the Army Medical Corps.

Vivian Sherry Lalor was the local chemist and member of the committee responsible for soldiers’ farewells.

Private Davis joined the Army Medical Corps but did not move overseas until April 1916 (1/4/16). It looks as though there was a short period in Alexandria because he did not reach England until 16/7/16. Once in England he moved quickly to France where he was taken on strength of 1 Field Ambulance (31/7/16).

One year later (22/7/17) Davis was selected for officer training and sent to England (Cambridge University). In February 1918, he was appointed 2/Lieutenant and posted to 5 Battalion. He joined his unit, in the field, on 21/4/18. There was a brief period of hospitalisation with German Measles in May 1918.

On 16 June he was reported ‘wounded and missing’ and then at the end of 1918 (27/12/18) there was a Court of Enquiry held at Bouffioulx, Belgium which found he had been ‘killed in action’ on the day he was originally reported as wounded and missing. It appears that his wife was advised in February 1919 (24/2/19).

The war diary of 5 Battalion shows that the battalion relieved 7 Battalion in the line in the Strazeele Station – Mont de Merris area very early in the morning of 13 June 1918. Over the next few days patrols were sent out. The Germans were described as ‘alert’ but they were said to have adopted ‘a strictly defensive attitude.’ It was against this background that 2/Lt Davis took out a patrol (himself and 3 other ranks) on 16 June. The diary tells how the patrol found a machine gun post in a house and another post in a shell hole. The patrol engaged the enemy and killed three of them but 2/Lt Davis was wounded. It then says that 2/Lt Davis was not able to get back to the lines but that one of the men stayed with him while the others returned. It concludes the report of the incident with,

Later 16 men crawled out to try and get Lt Davis but were unsuccessful. Enemy more alert than usual. 2nd Lieut Davis wounded & missing. 1 OR missing. 1 OR wounded.

There is a very detailed Red Cross report that throws more light on the incident; and it appears that some of the statements were provided to the Court of Enquiry at the end of 1918.

Essentially all the witness statements present a common scenario: early on 16/6/18 2/Lt Davis led a small patrol to reconnoitre the German lines. The patrol came into contact with the enemy very close to their (German) lines and in the fighting 2/Lt Davis was seriously wounded. He was left behind, very close to the German lines, as close as a few yards. Subsequent attempts to reach him failed and there was no trace of him from that day on. Most of the witness statements concluded that he had been taken prisoner, on the grounds that he was lying so close to the German lines and there was no trace of him when relief patrols were sent out. The Court of Enquiry at the end of the War determined that he had not been taken prisoner and that he had therefore been killed in action on the day, with the body never recovered.

The following witness statement essentially matches the account from the war diary,

At 05.30 on the 16.6.18 Lt Davis and a party of 3 O.R. left our lines to reconnoitre an enemy Machine Gun post. On approaching it the enemy opened fire on it and Lt Davis was hit. The remainder of the party reported back and another party left our lines at 0800 to try to locate Lt. Davis, and reached within 20 yards of the enemy post and the enemy opened fire on us and we had to withdraw without seeing any signs of Lt. Davis and he has not been seen since.

This statement, undated, was made by Private H Trevenna (6364) who was batman to 2/Lt Davis. In fact, Trevenna provided four witness statements. He gave another, more detailed statement in September 1918 (5/9/18),

He was of A. Coy. 3rd Pltn. On or about 16th June at Strazeele he took 5 men out in the morning about 5-30 to try and locate an enemy M.G. post. One of the men who returned reported to us, that one of them drew a waterproof sheet off one of the Germans in the post, and fired at him. Enemy started then to fire their M.G., and another who came up from behind the post started throwing bombs. It was reported that Lt. Davis had been hit by M.G. bullets in the groin. I was on a volunteer party that went out at 8-30 a.m. to try and find Lt. Davis. He was nowhere to be seen. Pte. L.G. Bursill, 540A was lying dead about 10 yds. from post, killed by bomb. Lt. Davis had German decorations in his pockets when he went out on patrol. If alive he is a prisoner. I was his batman. Four men got back out of the patrol.

The Private L. G. Bursill (540A) referred to in this statement by Pte. Travenna appears to have been the ‘other rank’ referred to in the Battalion’s war dairy as ‘missing’. He is officially listed as killed in action on 16/6/18 and there is also no known grave. He was a bugler in 5 Battalion and in the previous month (May), he had been recommended for – but was subsequently not awarded – the Military Medal.

Private Trevenna’s account has Bursill ‘lying dead about 10 yds. from post, killed by bomb’. However this was not supported by other witness statements. For example, in the statement by Pte C. A. Shepherd (6577) the view is that both 2/Lt Davis and Private Bursill were alive when last seen,

He [2/Lt. Davis] was in A. Coy. On this date at Strazeele he led a small party out on patrol, at about 5030 a.m. They ran into a German post. Lt. Davis and Pte. L. G. Bursill, 540A were both wounded by bomb. They were left in a shell in “No Man’s Land”, the other two in the party, names forgotten, got away. They were 5 to 6 yds. in front of enemy’s post at the time. Lt. Davis and Pte. Bursill were both reported alive by the two men who came in. We were relieved that night by 10th Battn. If alive he [2/Lt Davis] is a prisoner.

There is a critical issue here. If in fact both men were only wounded and then captured by the Germans in the outpost directly in front of their lines, it is at least possible that, rather than being taken prisoner, they were killed on the spot. Private Trevenna, the batman to Lt. Davis, made a point of stating that Davis had ‘German decorations in his pockets’. Moreover, the following witness statement in relation to Bursill’s fate that day suggests that the German troops could well have decided to apply some sort of summary ‘justice’. The statement was made by Private. Kilbey (7037) on 15/8/18,

This was at Strazeele in front of Merris. He [Bursill] went over the top on a raid on the Boche lines with Lt Davis and Cpl MacKay. They got their post and gained objective but two of the party were missing. I saw the Boche bombing them and open up machine gun fire. This was about daybreak, and I saw everything from my watching post. I saw Lt Davis hit but Bursill took cover in a shell hole. Bursill may have been taken prisoner but he was dressed up from all sorts of things taken from German prisoners, German boots, German waistcoat and Fritz revolver and I therefore think he was killed. We went out afterwards but could not get closer because of the machine guns.

Back in the Shire of Alberton, news of Lieutenant Davis was reported in early July 1918. In the editorial section of 5/7/18, the following appeared:

Mrs. Davis of Womerah, received word on Wednesday that her husband, Lieutenant H. Davis, was wounded on 16th June, and was missing. This soldier, who may be a prisoner, was formerly in the employ of Mr. D. Wright, Carrajung, and played with the Yarram Football Club.

And on 10/7/18 there was further confirmation:

We learn from yesterday’s dailies that H. S Davis, North Devon is reported wounded and missing …

The question of Lieutenant Davis’s fate was not resolved until the end of the War. News that his status had been changed from ‘wounded and missing’ to ‘killed in action’ was reported in the paper on 28/1/19. The same report noted that his parents were in Hobart and that he left behind his wife (Myrtle) and daughter, Phyllis.

Earlier, it was only after Lieutenant Davis had been reported wounded and missing that his parents in Tasmania had learned that he was married and had a child. There was a younger brother – Lieutant James Davis – in 12 Battalion, who also rose through the ranks. In fact, he was also sent to Officers’ Training College in England, just one month before his brother disappeared at Strazeele. The younger brother survived the War and returned to Australia in December 1919.

James Davis heard about his wounded and missing brother and wrote to his parents back in Hobart. Not surprisingly, the father – (Ret) Captain James Davis – wrote to the AIF asking why he had not been informed. On 23 August he wrote,

Have received letter from my son Lieut. James Davis who states that his brother Lieut. Herbert S. Davis 5th Battalion was wounded and missing about June 12th. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we have not been notified from your Office and would be pleased if you will kindly give us all the information in reference to same.

On the face of it, the lack of communication was a major failing. However, Base Records replied on 29/8/18 that –

I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 23rd inst., and in reply to state your son, 2nd Lieutenant H. S. Davis, 5th Battn., is reported wounded and missing since 16/6/18.
Notification of the above report was on 2/7/18 conveyed to the Military Commandant, Melbourne, for transmission to next-of-kin, shown as Wife, Mrs M, Davis, c/o Mrs McKenzie, Whitelaws Track, Devon North, Victoria, who will receive advice of any further cable reports which may come to hand regarding your son.

There are, of course, many unknowns in the relationship between the young family in Gippsland and the in-laws in Hobart. However, it is worth pointing out 2/Lt Davis did make a will, in June 1917, and in it he nominated his father – Captain James Davis – as the sole beneficiary. He appears to have been caught between loyalty to his old and new families.

In the division of the military estate, the wife received the medals, memorial scroll and plaque and the actual ‘Commission for the late 2nd Lieutenant H. S. Davis, 5th Battalion’.  Through BP Johnson – Barrister and Solicitor, Yarram – she wrote (13/6/19) requesting the personal kit, only to be informed (17/6/19) that it was to be … forwarded to Captain J. Davis, Hobart, Tasmania, he being the sole legatee under deceased’s will. The kit comprised:

One brown valise (sealed) containing:- 1 wallet, Photos, 1 Small Diary, Postcards, Ties, 1 “Sam Browne” Belt, 1 Pr Puttees, Socks, Collars, 1 Handkerchief, 1 Safety Razor, 1 Razor Strop, 2 Prs boots, 1 Towel, 1 White Sweater, 1 Haversack, 1 S.D. Tunic, 1 Pr S.D. Slacks, 1 Pr Breeches.

There are two other pieces of correspondence in the file. The first was a letter written in April 1918 from a Miss Marjorie Oke (?) – possibly Gladys Marjorie Oke, born 1899 – of Flemington. The letter to Base Records asked for contact details for H S Davis. The two were obviously corresponding. Perhaps he had met her when he was in Melbourne in the period before embarkation.

Would you kindly oblige me with H. S. Davis’s (Tasmania) proper address, his previous was
No. 13941
Private H. S. Davis
1st Field Ambulance A.M.C.
But since then he has been in Cambridge College England, and obtained his commission.
I received a letter from him this mail, stating he has sent me, his new address, but unfortunately I have not received it, as the mail was on the boat that was sunk. Hoping you will let me know it at your earliest convenience.

Base Records replied, with the address, two days later.

The second letter was written much later – 1966 – and it suggests that relations between the young family 2/Lt Davis left behind in Gippsland and his own parents and siblings remained difficult, or at the very least there was little communication between them. At the time (1966), the child – Phyllis – of Herbert Davis and Myrtle McKenzie would have been 51 years old. The letter also suggests that the family in Hobart did, subsequently, send the personal kit to the wife in Gippsland. The writer was Mrs Elvera Cullinger, younger sister of Herbert Davis.

As a Trustee for some money left by my parents to be given to their grand-child Phyllis Davis, I would solicit your help in helping me to trace this young lady through the last address, or otherwise address, left by my brother who was later reported missing at Strazeele in the first world war.
My father died in 1933 & my mother in ’59.
I am getting on in years & feel this matter should be settled as soon as possible. …
My brothers name is Herbert Stanley Davis, son of Capt. James Davis Hobart (Mrs Violet Ella).
I understand he married a Myrtle MacKenzie (sic) of Yarram. We knew nothing of this wedding until after he was reported missing. Our informant was from military Headquarters as far as I know (I was a child at the time). She [the wife] received the personal effects.
My brother served first in the Ambulance Brigade later being transferred & when missing it was as a Lieutenant.
I will be very grateful for any help you can give me in this search

2/Lt HS Davis’s name appears on the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. His name also features on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It also appears on the memorial for the Carrajung Residents.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for DAVIS Herbert Stanley
Roll of Honour: Herbert Stanley Davis
First World War Embarkation Roll: Herbert Stanley Davis
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Herbert Stanley Davis

 

 

WILSON Thomas Anderton 3984
6 B DoW 16/6/18

Thomas Wilson was another of approximately 100 young men born in the United Kingdom who enlisted in the AIF from the Shire of Alberton in WW1. The majority of these were working as farm labourers in the district before their enlistment.

Thomas Wilson was born in Beetham, Westmoreland (Cumbria). His mother – Dora Agnes Varley – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour and on it she indicated that her son came to Australia aged 22. When he enlisted in July 1915 he was nearly 24 so it appears he came to Australia in late 1913 or early 1914. The mother recorded his school simply as ‘Beetham’ and she listed his occupation as ‘agricultural labourer’. There had been no previous military service. He was single and his religion was given as Church of England.

Thomas Wilson enlisted in Melbourne on 20/7/15. On his enlistment form he stated that he had not previously been ‘rejected’ but there is a MT 1486/1 for him suggesting that he had been rejected earlier in 1915. His occupation was listed as ‘farm hand’. He gave his mother’s address – Sedgwick, Kendal, Westmoreland – but on the embarkation roll there was an address from the local area: Miss E. Smithers, Mack Street, Yarram, Gippsland. In fact, this should have read: Mrs Emma Smithies, Mack’s Creek, Yarram. This must have been his boarding address.

There was a formal farewell for him from the district which was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 29/10/15, under the headline: Another Soldier

Yesterday [28/10/15] word was hurriedly sent round that another soldier was to be farewelled, and, soon after 10.30 a number of townsmen and visitors assembled at the shire hall.
Mr. Elder was asked to take command as chairman, and introduced Private T. A. Wilson as from the Old Country, who had enlisted to fight with the Australians. He presented him with a card and medallion, and hoped he would live long to enjoy the honor of victory.
Mr. B. P. Johnson stated Private Wilson had been in the employ of Mr. W. H. McKenzie, who would have come in to the farewell function but for indisposition. He wished him a successful career, and hoped to welcome him back to Australia with the other boys.
Mr. Lakin, as a fellow countryman, wished him Godspeed. Mr. Black stated that of the 230 recruits from this district a large proportion were immigrants from the Old Country. He trusted the young Englishman would return to the district.
After a rousing “Jolly Good Fellow” and cheers, Private Wilson thanked them for the farewell. He felt he was doing his duty …

William Hodgson McKenzie was a local farmer with over 300 acres at Lower Bulga/Mack’s Creek.

Private Wilson joined as a reinforcement for 6 Battalion. He embarked for overseas 4 months later (23/11/15). The record of his service in Egypt is sketchy but it looks as if there was one period of hospitalisation. He left Alexandria in late March 1916 (29/3/16) and reached Marseilles on 4/4/16. It appears he finally joined 6 Battalion in the field one month later on 5/5/16.

At the start of 1917 (23/1/17) he was admitted to hospital with quinsy but was discharged and rejoined his unit after about a fortnight (7/3/17). There were 2 periods of leave in the UK: one from 31/8/17 to 12/9/17 and the second from 11/2/18 to 2/3/18. Presumably he caught up with his family at these times. Then on 4/6/18 he was wounded – gunshot wound to the face – and admitted to hospital where he died from his wounds on 16/6/18. He was buried in the Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France. This particular cemetery only opened in June 1918. It served the many military hospitals in that part of France.

There are only limited details in 6 Battalion’s war diary for June 4 1918. At 8 p.m. on that day the battalion moved into the line in the Strazeele sector to relieve 11 Battalion; but the relief was not without incident –

Whilst our boys were moving up, the lines of communication were heavily barraged by the enemy, this made the relief very difficult; we suffered 20 casualties.

Presumably, Private Wilson was one of the 20 casualties.

It appears the family in England were advised of the death about one week after it occurred (27/6/18). On the enlistment form the mother – Mrs D Varley – had been given as next of kin and a will made in July 1917 named the mother – Mrs. Varley, Old Row, Sedgwick, Nr. Kendal, Westmorland, England. – as the sole beneficiary. All the medals, and memorial plaque and scroll, and details of the grave were sent to the mother. Personal kit was returned to the mother in July 1918 but there was no separate list of the items.

The mother wrote (August 1918) to the AIF in London stating that her son’s ‘pre-military effects’ had been left in the custody of a Mr W. H. Mackenzie (sic) , Tanna Valley (sic), Lower Bulga, South Gippsland’. Acting on her behalf, the AIF in London requested that the property be collected and then sent to them in London. There is a copy of correspondence, probably October 1918, from W. H. McKenzie of ‘Calrossie’, Yarram, indicating he had handed over all the belongings of T. A. Wilson to the Superintendent of police at Yarram. It appears that this property reached the mother in England in May 1919.

Lastly, there is another piece of correspondence in the file that indicates at least one person was sufficiently close enough to Thomas Wilson, from his time in Yarram, to be concerned about his fate. It was from Mrs Emma Smithies of Mack’s Creek, Yarram – as indicated it seems likely that he boarded with her before enlistment – and was written in July 1918. In part, the letter requested,

As this is the first I knew of No. 3984. Pte. T. A. Wilson being deceased would you, if you could, kindly let me know any particulars.

In the 10 years after the War there was still a strong enough collective memory of Private Wilson to ensure that his name was included on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It was also included on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor. Back in England, his family ensured that his name was included on the memorials in his original village (Beetham). His name, – as a member of 6 Battalion, 1 Australian Division – is included on the memorial at the entrance to the village and also in the local church (St. Michael and All Angels Church).

Private T A Wilson 3984, courtesy Yarram and District Historical Society

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for WILSON Thomas Anderson
Roll of Honour: Thomas Anderton Wilson
First World War Embarkation Roll: Thomas Anderton Wilson

165. F L Harrison

HARRISON Frank Lionel 760A
22 B   DoW 19/5/18

Frank Harrison was born in East Ham, London. His parents were George and Bessie Harrison of Upton Park, London. When his father – George Harrison – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he indicated that his son had attended a grammar school – Upton Manor? – in London. The father also indicated on the form that his son had gone to Australia when he was 17 yo. Possibly, he reached Melbourne in March 1915 as an ‘unassisted passenger’.

At the time of his enlistment (May 1917), Frank was working as a farm labourer for Henry Prescot Rendell (‘Cloverdale’) at North Devon. At the very most, Frank could only have been working and living in the Shire of Alberton for 2 years prior to enlistment.

Frank was 19 yo when he enlisted (16/5/17). There were other cases where underage British migrant workers were allowed to enlist without parental permission but in this case there was formal permission and it came in the form of a letter from the father which is included in the service file. The letter , dated 24/2/16, reads as if the son had written home requesting approval to join the AIF. The relevant part of the letter was underlined:

As for joining up, I [the father, George Harrison] leave that entirely to your own wish. Certainly everyone will have to do their bit before we come out victorious.

Even though the father effectively gave his permission in mid 1916, Frank did not enlist for another year. The enlistment, including the medical with Dr Rutter, took place at Yarram. The Shire Secretary issued him with a railway warrant on 19/5/17.

The occupation on enlistment was ‘farm labourer’ and his address was given as ‘care of H.P. Rendell, Devon North, Victoria’. Rendell farmed approximately 100 acres at Devon North. Private Harrison was single and his religion was listed as Church of England. At the same time, his name appears on the honour roll for the local Methodist congregation of North Devon. The Rendell family was Methodist, and the 2 sons of H P Rendell who also enlisted appear on the same roll.

Private Harrison joined as reinforcements for 1 Machine Gun Company. He left Australia in late October 1917 and reached England in late December. At this point he was transferred to 22 Battalion and then spent the next 4 months training. In early 1918 he was hospitalised with mumps. Finally, on 22 April 1918, he joined 22 Battalion in France.

Private Harrison was killed less than one month later (19/5/18) which, by cruel irony, was virtually the first anniversary of his enlistment.

The official record shows that Private Harrison died of wounds. However the following 2 witness statements indicate how fine the line between ‘died of wounds’ and ‘killed in action’ could be:

Pte Harrison was hit on the head near Ville-sur-Ancre. He was put in a shell hole, but started breathing again so they called the stretcher bearers, who took him to the D/S where he died.   Private Julius Snider (767A) 3/9/18

We were making a small advance at 2.30 a.m. May 19th and were just digging in having advanced 1000 yards – when Fritz got his [ ? ] going and one landed about 7 or 8 yards from Harrison. He was badly hit. The nose of the shell split his forehead open. He was unconscious. He lived for about ½ an hour. The stretcher bearers attended to him and he was taken to the Dressing Station.   L Scutcheon (768) 29/8/18

There is a detailed account (Appendix XII) in the war diary of 22 Battalion of the fighting in which Private Harrison died. The action was centred near Ville-Sur-Ancre about 30Km from Amiens and 7Km from Albert. As the diary notes, the action, which began at 2.00AM on 19/5/18, was intended to ‘straighten the line’. In effect, it involved the battalion moving forward some 1,000 yards on a front of 1,250 yards and capturing several critical German posts. There was thorough preparation for the attack and overall it was a success.

In the advance from 2.30 AM, some units met less resistance and moved ahead more quickly than others. However, these advancing troops came under the fire of their own artillery. The war diary makes it clear that it was ‘friendly fire’:

Reports of short shooting by our artillery were received from “B” Coy at 4 a.m., from “C” Coy at 4.55 a.m. and again at 7 a.m. Brigade were informed at once. The Casualties suffered from our own artillery fire were regrettable, and marred an otherwise very successful operation.

Another witness statement from the Red Cross report for Private Harrison specifically has his death as the result of ‘friendly fire’:

He was of A. Company. 1 Platoon. On May 19th in morning about 4 o’clock during our attack at Ville Sur Ancre – was hit by piece of shell from our own guns whilst digging in after attack. I was about 12 yards away at time. I helped to lift him out and place him in a shell hole. Was hit in head just above the right ear, was unconscious. Was taken to D/S by S/B – know nothing of burial. Had just joined up in the battalion and did not know him well.    Private J Robertson (4773) 28/8/18

For ‘an otherwise very successful operation’ there were still 192 casualties for the battalion, whose strength at that point – before the operation – was just 523. There were 20 killed, 3 who died of wounds – one of whom was Private Harrison – with another 165 wounded and, lastly, 4 who were classed as ‘missing’.

Private Harrison was buried initially at Heilly No. 2. Military Cemetery and then the body was re-interred at Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, approximately 2Km from where he was killed.

Following his death, all communication was with his father, as next of kin, who was living in London (10 Aintree Avenue, East Ham, London). The will listed the sister – Miss Livinia Blanche Harrison, also of London – as the sole beneficiary. Personal kit was returned very early – July 1918 – but, strangely, there is no record of the actual inventory in the service file.

Private Harrison’s name is recorded on the Alberton Shire Roll of Honor. However this record does not describe him as ‘killed’. More significantly, his name is not recorded on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Presumably, his memory was ‘lost’ because there no continuing link with the Shire. The fact that all medals and memorabilia, the photographs of the grave and the kit were returned to the family in London also helps explain why the memory disappeared.

However, there is some evidence that Private Harrison’s memory lasted at least a short time. In June 1918 (30/6/18) – just a few weeks after the death – H P Rendell, from North Devon, wrote to Base Records specifically to enquire about Private Harrison’s fate,

In one of the latest Casualty Lists Private F. L. Harrison, England, is reported to have died of wounds on the 19th May 1918. Pte F. L. Harrison, an English lad, enlisted from here, and I am very anxious to know if this is the same lad. Could you kindly give me his Regimental Number and any particulars you may have concerning his death, and I will be most grateful.

Base Records replied, providing the regimental number and indicating that the father in England as next of kin would receive further advice as it became available.

Rendell must have passed this information to the local paper because on 17/7/18 – 2 months after the death – the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported:

Word has reached Mr. H. P. Rendell, North Devon, of the death from wounds of Private Frank L. Harrison, 22nd Battalion, late 1st Machine Gun Company. This young soldier, who was highly respected, worked for Mr. Rendell, and enlisted from North Devon. The late soldier’s father visited both Clyde and Perce Rendell while lying in hospital wounded.

It appears that when Rendell’s 2 sons – Percy and Clyde – were recuperating in hospital in England in October 1917 they had been visited by Harrison’s father. Percy was in hospital with serious shrapnel wounds (right shoulder and head) and Clyde with trench feet/trench fever (second occasion). Percy would be repatriated to Australia and medically discharged – late May 1918 – because of his wounds. Clyde would return to the front and he too would be killed in action, on 6/7/18. As indicated, the date that this report appeared in the local paper was 17/7/18 and the date of the cable advising the Rendell family of the Clyde’s death was 16/7/18.

There was another reference to Private Harrison’s death in the local paper on 25/9/18. It was in a letter from the brother (Archie) of Mr Fraser Forbes of Yarram. The date of death was incorrect but it was clearly Private Harrison:

Rendell from North Devon is in the same company as myself. Frank Harrison, who worked for the Rendells was unlucky, and was killed on the 19th June in a stunt.

There was also an in memoriam for Private Harrison in the local paper on 16/5/19 for the first anniversary of his death.

However, by the time the names were added to the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in April 1929 – nearly 11 years later – , the memory of Private Harrison – a young, English farm worker, from an apparently middle-class background, who had worked in the Shire for 2 years before enlisting – had obviously been lost.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for HARRISON Frank Lionel
Roll of Honour: Frank Lionel Harrison
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frank Lionel Harrison
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frank Lionel Harrison

164. C B H Johnson

JOHNSON Cyril Ben Hamlyn 3333
6 B KIA 14/5/18

Cyril Johnson was the son of Ben Percival Johnson, local solicitor, and arguably the most high profile and outspoken Imperial Loyalist in the Shire. Previous posts have detailed the extent of his involvement – and more importantly, leadership – in all areas to do with support for the War, including recruiting and the drive for conscription. He was also closely identified with support for the men returning from the War.

The father also played a prominent role in many other areas of local life. In his younger years he had been heavily involved in local sport – football, cricket, tennis – and local drama and arts initiatives – Yarram Amateur Minstrels, Yarram Choral & Orchestral Society – and he was an active member of the local Church of England (Holy Trinity). He was also involved with the ANA and the local Masonic Lodge.

In addition, Cyril’s mother – Emily Kate Johnson (McKenzie) – was a daughter of Donald Thomson and Mary Ann McKenzie. D T McKenzie, of ‘Calrossie’, was one of the leading graziers in the district. The McKenzie family was very well known. Cyril’s grandmother – Mary Ann Mckenzie – died about 3 weeks after he was killed. A detailed in memoriam published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 12/6/18, noted that the news of her death … had the effect of casting a gloom over the whole district, as there is no family better known in this portion of the State.

Cyril grew up in the local area and attended both Devon North and Yarram state schools and his name is the honor rolls for both schools. He then attended Sale Agricultural High School and his name is also recorded there, in the school’s Honour Book. Lastly, he went to Wesley College in Melbourne. When he enlisted (July 1915) he was a student (Law) at Melbourne University. He was, presumably, intending to take up his father’s profession. Despite studying and living as a young man in Melbourne he maintained close contact with Yarram. In fact, he even attended the first meeting of the Yarram Recruiting Committee in June 1915. This was just before his own enlistment.

Private Johnson enlisted in Melbourne as reinforcements for 6 Battalion in July 1915 (5/7/15). At the time he was 20 yo which meant that he needed his parents’ permission. The permission, in his service file, is dated July 3, 1915 and typed on the official note paper of B. P. Johnson, Barrister and Solicitor, Yarram Yarram.

We the undersigned the parents of C. B. H. Johnson hereby consent to his enlisting in the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Forces.

His religion was given as Church of England. He was single and gave his ‘trade or calling’ as ‘student’.

Based on information from the (National) Roll of Honour and his enlistment papers, it appears that Cyril had served 4 years in the Senior Cadets and 2 years in the Melbourne University Rifles prior to enlistment. His father indicated that he had held the rank of corporal in the Melbourne University Rifles.

On his enlistment papers, Private Johnson had replied in the negative to the question, Have you ever been rejected as unfit for His Majesty’s Services? However, on the information form for the (National) Roll of Honour, his father stated, … enlisted June 1915 after having been twice rejected. Presumably Cyril had not drawn attention to previous rejections for fear of compromising the latest attempt. There is nothing in his medical notes that suggests any ground for rejection.

There was a formal farewell from Yarram on 24/9/15 which was reported in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 29/9/15. People there spoke of early memories of Sergeant Johnson. At the time, he was referred to as holding the rank of sergeant.

Mr. Lalor said he felt sorry it was necessary our boys should have to go to fight, but the was confident they would give a good account of themselves. His first recollection of Sergeant Johnson was, when a little fellow of about eight years of age, he had handed him a Bride rose. It seemed like yesterday, yet today we were farewelling him as soldier.

B P Johnson, as both the father and one of organisers of such functions, gave his usual line on duty:

Mr. Johnson … said Cyril expressed a wish to go, and his mother felt she was doing her duty not to stop him. (Applause.)

Sergeant Johnson gave a typical response:

Sergeant Johnson thanked them for the kind words uttered, and remarked that he felt he had the best wishes of all of Yarram and district. He was confident that all who were going away to fight would keep up the honour of Gippsland. (Applause.) The thoughts of the farewell behind them, and a welcome in front, would help them fight a jolly side better. (Applause.)

Private Johnson left Australia in October 1915. The details of his service in Egypt are sketchy. It appears that he left Alexandria in May 1916 and then, once in England, he was attached for a while to the Army Postal Corps where he was in the Finance Section. While he was in this position he received extra duty pay and also had the rank of corporal. This work came to an end in late 1916 and he was sent to France in January 1917. At this point he was again given administrative responsibility and again attracted extra duty pay and also the rank of acting corporal. A complication with this short-term appointment was that it appears he had the rank of sergeant but with the pay of corporal. He finally joined 6 Battalion in the field, as a private, in April 1917.

From April 1917, when he joined his unit, right through to January 1918 Private Johnson suffered from repeated scabies infections, and was hospitalised 5 times: in April for one week; in May for two weeks; in July for three weeks; in late December for one week; and in January 1918 for one week.

There was a two-week period of leave to London in February 1918 and, like many others in the AIF, Private Johnson was charged for 2 days absent without leave because he failed to report back on time. The punishment – again, fairly standard – handed down by the CO 6 Battalion was confinement to camp for 7 days and the forfeiture of 3 days pay.

Private Johnson was killed on 14 May 1918. The cable advising of his death was dated 27 May 1918. At the time 6 Battalion was in the front line near Strazeele about 5Km from Hazebrouck, and 30Km from Ypres. On 13 May they had relieved 10 Battalion. The war diary of the battalion has 14 May as a relatively quiet day and there is no mention of casualties.

Dull morning. Enemy remained very quiet during the day. During the night our men patrolled the front actively; the enemy were found to be very alert.

There is nothing in the diary about the shell that killed at least 3 men, one of them Private Johnson.

There were many witness statements included in the Red Cross report of Private Johnson’s death. They make it clear that he was killed by shell fire. One was by Private Alexander John Lewis (3842) who enlisted about the same time as Private Johnson and who came from Port Albert. He had been a motor driver. He survived the War and returned to Australia in December 1918.

I knew him well he came from Yarrim (sic) same place as myself. Private J. Miller, S/Bearer, C. Coy. told me he was killed by a shell in front of Merris. He was carried out & buried behind the lines. His father is a solicitor at Yarrim. (28/8/18) [Merris is about 5 Km south of Strazeele]

The statement from Private J. Miller (3406), referred to by Private Lewis, suggests that enemy shelling meant the bodies of those killed were not buried for several days.

C.B.H. Johnson was well known to me as he was of the same reinforcement as myself. He was a machine gunner. He was killed in the trenches outside Frazielle [Strazeele]. I helped to bury him and three others who had been dead about 4 days. We were under heavy shelling at the time, but a cross was put up later this was about 200 yards from the trenches.

Private Johnson was finally buried in Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension, Bailleul, about 2 Km from Merris.

One witness described Pte Johnson as ‘tall, dark, a fine fellow’ and another as ‘tall, well built and well educated. He was called ‘CBH”. The most personal statement came from Private M. J. Cahill (7471) from West Rochster near Echuca.

I knew him very well. He was a very good fellow, all round decent chap. Very helpful to his comrades, thorough gentleman. On night before his death he told me he had seen Brig. General. He was expected to go to England to take his commission, and the general promised him that he should go at once. He said “I expect this will be my last turn on the line for a few months. This was on or about May 14th in front of Strazeele Station, Flanders. We were in front line trenches and he was asleep at the time. A shell fell (one of two only) and dropped close to him and killed him and two others. I was about three yards away and buried by the explosion. It was a lovely death, as he knew nothing of it. We buried him near [?] The ground was held.

There is nothing in the service file to back up the story about officer training back in England. However, when the father gave information for the (National) Roll of Honour he also noted that his son, Had been strongly recommended for a commission and warned that he was to go to England to the O.T.C. immediately. There is no way of knowing the timing being referred to here. It is reasonable to believe that someone with Johnson’s background – his time in the Melbourne University Rifles as a corporal, the series of acting promotions in the UK and France, and also the social background – would have been keen to secure a commission.

There is some additional evidence that Private Johnson was pursuing a commission. In the son’s service file, there is an extensive collection of correspondence between the father – B P Johnson – and Base Records in Melbourne. The exchange began in June 1916 and went through to March 1917. At some point it also appears that Johnson even wrote to the secretary for Defence on the same topic. The basic issue was to do with pay. Essentially, Johnson’s version of the situation was that his son was not being paid at the proper rate for his particular duties. According to Johnson, his son left Australia as a sergeant. Then when he reached Egypt he undertook training for non commissioned officers at Leitoun and gained a first-class instructor’s certificate. He was later appointed acting sergeant major. Clearly, in Johnson’s mind, the son was moving quickly through the ranks. However, in a letter dated 27/6/16, he detailed how his son’s fortunes slipped:

Sometime in February [1916], his arm got bad and the Doctor said he would have to take a ‘soft job’ till he became well, and he was placed in the Army Pay Corps where he was, at least, in April. I have since heard that he has arrived in England but have no particulars as to how he is, and what he is doing. I shall be much obliged if you will inform me as to whether he is still in the Pay Office, or has rejoined his unit, and if you have any information as to how his arm is. I shall also be glad to know if he received his Sergeants pay, as I understand a man passing through above school retains his stripes, and that men in the Pay Office rank as Staff Sergeants. His allotment of Special Duty pay has been received up to February, and I have been wondering why more has not come to hand.

The detailed correspondence continued. According to Johnson the extra pay for his son’s rank as sergeant had not been paid after 8 February 1916. He seemed particularly upset because … my son (who is well educated & has had office experience) has, since his injury, been doing work that is paid for [in Australia] at the rate of 10/- to 12/6 per day.

Base Records assured him that the matter was being investigated. As the time dragged on, Johnson’s tone became more critical. Then in January 1917 (17/1/17) he made a direct comparison between the shameful way his ‘patriotic’ son had been treated and the easy life of the ‘shirker’ back in Australia. The moral weakness of the ‘shirker’ was a favourite theme that Johnson used commonly in his public speaking in the Shire. Again, Johnson refers to the commission for which his son strives:

A little while ago I had a letter from my son saying that all the time he has been in the Pay Office he has been only getting 6/- a day. This seems to me an encouragement to shirk. A man enlists to fight – he is unable to do so & as a clerk (though of experience) gets 6/- a day while a man who will not fight gets 10/- to 12/6 a day & overtime. My son gave up his career to serve his country got to acting S. M. recommended for a commission & that is how he is treated. He is bitterly disappointed at being unfit to fight thro’ an old dislocated elbow troubling him & it does not ease matters that he has been underpaid.

Finally, in February (27/2/17) after receiving information from England, Base Records gave the formal reply to Johnson. It pointed out, in a rather abrupt manner, that Private Johnson had … never held any substantive rank higher then “Private”. It acknowledge that when he left Australia (11/10/15) until 18/2/16 he had held the temporary rank of sergeant and been paid ‘extra duty pay’; and then for 2 months between 1/9/16 and 1/11/16, when he was attached to 1 Australian Army Pay Corps, he was given the rank of ‘temporary 2nd corporal’ and the relevant higher pay. This version of the service record was less impressive than the father’s version. When he replied in March 1917 Johnson thanked Base Records for their ‘courtesy in the matter’ but he was not prepared to give up his criticism of the shirker or ‘stay at home’:

My objection chiefly was that an educated man who had really given up his career to go & fight for his country was only paid 6/- a day for work for which any stay at home gets a minimum of 10/- a day & extra for overtime.

Post 147 noted that at one of the welcome home meetings (July 1917) Johnson had had to defend himself from disparaging comments about his son having gained a safe appointment in the UK, away from the front. The claim was that Johnson had used his influence to take care of his son. Presumably, people like Johnson – the local solicitor – set themselves up for criticism because of the high moral tone they adopted.

There was further correspondence (14/1/19) after the son’s death. This time it involved the kit returned. The kit was returned in January 1919 and consisted of – 2 Discs, Photos, Letters, Wallet, Notecase, 2 Fountain Pens, Metal Cigarette Case, 2 Lodge Invitations, Ship’s Paper, Paper Cuttings. The problem was that a particular item– a Savage automatic pistol – was missing, one with which the father was very familiar and equally keen to recover:

I notice that my son’s automatic was not included in his parcel although one of his comrades wrote me that he had seen it taken from his dead body and wrapped up with his other effects by his O.C. I shall be much obliged if you will have enquiries made as this automatic was prized by my boy and if it does not come to hand we shall be forced to the conclusion that someone in the forces or the department has been guilty of the most contemptible act of robbing the dead. Such a rotter should be found out and dealt with promptly.

Base Records replied (20/1/19) with the usual slight hope that the missing item might turn up – In the event of your son’s revolver coming to hand later, it will be promptly forwarded to you – but it did not address the morality of the situation.

Later in the year, in November (15//11/20), the father wrote again seeking any further advice re the missing automatic and pointing out:

Someone must have robbed a dead man or else the parcel is amongst the unclaimed articles. May I ask that a search be made. We have lost our boy and do prize his belongings, they are all we have.

Base Records (23/11/20) replied that essentially there was nowhere to search because the items returned to the family matched the inventory of the effects forwarded from 6 Battalion two weeks after the death. The implication was that if something was missing it was taken back at the battalion. The reply concluded that – In view of the length of time that has elapsed since the soldier’s demise. It is considered improbable that any other articles will now be received in his name.

On 13/5/18, the day before his son was killed, Johnson as chair of the local recruiting committee, spoke at a formal welcome to an AIF unit, accompanied by a 16-member military band, which had arrived in Yarram as part of a state-wide recruiting drive. Johnson had organised a reception for them. The men arrived by train and were to tour Gippsland as part of the recruiting campaign.

In the account reported in the local paper on 15/5/18, Johnson cited the patriotic example of Port Albert and wished success for the campaign:

He [Johnson] had been informed that in Port Albert there was not one eligible man left. It was up to the rest of the district to do likewise. He hoped the soldiers would obtain a record number of recruits.

News of the death of Private Cyril Johnson was published in the local paper on 29/5/18. In the report, the date on which the cable reached the family was given as 25/5/18.

The very sad and regretful news was conveyed to Mr. B. P. Johnson, of Yarram, on Saturday last that his son, Cyril B. H. had been killed in action. Although a hero’s death, it came as a severe blow to Mr. Johnson and family. He was about 24 years of age, and sailed for Europe in October 1915, thus he has served his King and Country for two and a half years. We mourn the loss of men of his stamp, whose long-continued service marks them as men possessed of true British blood. The last letter received from Private Johnson, who was a Lewis machine gunner, was from Ypres. The death of the hero is further saddened by the fact that his mother is at present under treatment for illness in Melbourne.

Johnson withdrew, temporarily, from public life after his son’s death. He did not attend a welcome home held on 29/5/18, and in the report in the local paper (31/5/18) one of the other committee members of the group organising such welcomes extended the community’s sympathy:

Mr. G. F. Sauer said he regretted the circumstance that cause Mr. B. P. Johnson being absent, and he thought all would sympathise with Mr. Johnson in his sad bereavement. He mentioned the fact as Mr. Johnson was one of the leaders at the farewell and welcome functions and he thought the gathering was a fitting place to express the sympathy of the public.

The name of Cyril Johnson is probably the most commemorated in the Shire of Alberton. It appears on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. It appears on the honor rolls for both Yarram and Devon North state schools, as well as on the honor roll of Devon North District. Additionally, it appears on the honor rolls for the local Lodge (207), the Yarram Club and the local branch of the ANA. Lastly, there is a stained glass window in Holy Trinity Church (Yarram) to his memory.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for Johnson Cyril Ben Hamlyn
Roll of Honour: Cyril Ben Hamlyn Johnson
First World War Embarkation Roll: Cyril Ben Hamlyn Johnson
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Cyril Ben Hamlyn Johnson

 

163. F P Booker

BOOKER Frederick Peter 3126

51 B  KIA 24/4/18

Frederick Booker was one of 11 children of William and Emma (nee Bullett) Booker who were resident in the Shire of Alberton from the late 1870s. He was born at Yarram and attended the state school at Devon North. There were 2 other brothers – Robert James and Herbert Francis – who also served in the AIF. Both these brothers survived the War, although Robert was seriously wounded and repatriated to Australia for a medical discharge at the end of 1917. It is not clear when the father died but he was dead at the time the first son enlisted – Robert, in July 1915. Possibly the mother had remarried because on his enlistment papers Robert gave his mother as Mrs E Paterson of North Devon. However this was subsequently amended to to Mrs E Booker and her address then became Port Melbourne. When the second son enlisted — Herbert in June 1916 – the mother was given as Mrs E Booker at the same Port Melbourne address. Each of these brothers, on enlistment, gave his own address as in the Shire of Alberton, Robert at Devon North and Herbert at Alberton West and both appear to have been farm labourers.

Frederick was the last of the brothers to enlist and when he did it was in Western Australia and he was married. There is no indication of when he moved to WA. He was 25 yo and he gave his occupation as ‘motor-driver’. His wife – Gertrude Magdalene Booker – was living at Subiaco. All three brothers gave their religion as Roman Catholic.

He enlisted on 18/9/16 and joined as reinforcements for 51 Battalion. He left Perth just 3 months later on 23/12/16. He spent 1917 in the UK training. There was a brief period of hospitalisation with mumps in April 1917. It appears that during his training in the UK he transferred for a short time to 17 Field Ambulance but then he returned to his original unit and was finally taken on strength with 51 Battalion in France in early March 1918. He was killed in action in the assault on Villers-Bretonneux on 24/4/18, just over one month after joining the battalion.

The war diary for 51 Battalion records how the ‘counter attack to recover Villers Bretonneux and restore the line as held up to this morning’ was to commence at 10 pm on 24/4/18. Prior to the attack the village of Villers Bretonneuex was to be bombarded by artillery and, as well, the Royal Air Force was to bomb it. Events moved quickly, and the orders for the counter attack did not reach 51 Battalion until 7.30 pm on the day. The war diary describes the casualities caused by the enemy machine guns in the action and also describes the value of the British tanks in the assault. The tanks was by now a formidable and effective weapon.

At 7 a.m. on 25/4/18 3 tanks were sent into the Bois De Aquenne to clear enemy M.G. Posts there and also from valley on West of Villers Bretonneux. These tanks did splendid work and it was mainly due to their excellent work that the wood was finally cleared of the enemy. Enemy M.G. Posts in sunken road O.34.d. were mopped up by some of the tanks.

Casualty figures for 51 Battalion over the period of the attack and its subsequent time in the line (24-27 April) were very high: a total of 389 with 76 killed, 253 wounded and 60 missing.

The Red Cross report for Private Booker makes it clear that he was one of the many killed by machine gun fire in the first few hours of the action:

He was in C. Company. 10th Platoon. 5ft 11. medium to dark , and over 30 [He was 27 yo at the time]. At Villers Bretonneux on April 24th 1918 at about midnight we were attacking near a Sunken Road when Booker was killed instantly by machine gun fire. I saw him dead in the road way. I know nothing of his burial. The Headquarters Pioneers did that work. H. E. Link 7744. 51st Battn. 11/1/19

Came from Subiaco, Perth. W. Australia. At Villers Bretonneux on April 24/18 in the hop over just before midnight, Booker who was close beside me was killed instantly by machine gun fire. I saw him fall & later went to him but he was dead. I know nothing of his burial. [name and regimental number unclear] 21/2/19

The body was never recovered and Private Booker’s name appears on the memorial at Villers Bretonneux.

The cable advising Private Booker’s wife in Perth of his death was dated 9/5/18. When she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave Perth as the location with which her husband had been ‘chiefly connected’. She received his few personal belongings – 2 Discs, Metal Chain, Religious Medallions, Wallet, Photos, 2 Certificates, Cards, Gold ring. – in February 1919. At this stage she was still Mrs Booker but by 1923 she had remarried (Ritchie).

His name appeared on The Roll of Honor published in the (Perth) Sunday Times on 2/6/18 – F. P. Booker (Canning Bridge).

Back in the Shire of Alberton, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published news on his death on 29/5/18:

The information has reached us of another former resident of the district having made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country. We refer to Sergeant Frederick Peter Booker, whose name appears on the North Devon honor roll. The sad and regrettable feature of the brave young hero’s end is that he leaves a widow and three children, who are at present residing in Western Australia. He was a son of Mrs Booker, of Port Melbourne, and has been on active service for a very long time, and had attained the age of 28 years. The name of a brother, Pte. R. J. Booker, appears on the Yarram honor roll, and [sic] who recently returned from active service abroad. He intends visiting Yarram within the next fortnight.

In the same edition of the paper there was a death notice:

Booker. – On 26th April, 1918. Sergeant Frederick Peter Booker, aged 28 years, dearly loved son of Mrs. E. Booker, of Port Melbourne.
Oh, could I have raised his dying head,
Or heard his last farewell,
The blow would have not been so hard
To his wife and children he loved so well.
His resting place, a hero’s grave,
To know and to love, and then to part,
Is the saddest part of a human heart.
– Inserted by his loving mother and brother Bob.

The date of death is incorrect in the death notice and there does not appear to be any record of Private Frederick Booker ever having held the rank of sergeant. The brother – Robert James Booker – did not return to the district until mid September 1918 when he was given a welcome home at North Devon. This brother settled back in the local district after the War.

Private Frederick Booker’s name is recorded on both the honor roll for the state school at Devon North and also the equivalent roll for the Devon North district. His name is not recorded on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. As for the 2 other brothers, only Robert is listed on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, although both are listed on local schools’ honor rolls – Robert for Devon North and Herbert for Yarram.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for BOOKER Frederick Peter
Roll of Honour: Frederick Peter Booker
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frederick Peter Booker
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frederick Peter Booker

162. R V Fleming

FLEMING Robert Victor (3228)
29 B KIA 8/5/18

Robert Fleming was born at Brunswick. The information for the (National) Roll of Honour was not completed so there is no information on his early life. When he enlisted he gave his father – Robert Fleming – as his next of kin. At that time, the father’s address was given as Blackwarry – the same as for the son – but by the time the will was made (2/6/18), the father’s address was Carlton. The father had died by the time of the medal distribution in late 1922 early 1923 and it appears that the mother had predeceased him.

The enlistment forms had Robert living at Blackwarry. Robert Fleming – labourer of Bulga – also appeared on 1915 electoral roll. However this could have been the father as both were Robert Fleming. Robert, the son, was certainly known in the district and played football for Devon. He was a popular player and there is a somewhat cryptic article in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative (12/5/15) about his unsuccessful attempt to get a clearance from Devon to play for North Devon. He also played cricket locally and competed in wood chopping events.

When Robert Fleming enlisted he was 30 yo, single and he gave his occupation as farm labourer. His religion was Presbyterian.

He had his first medical in Yarram and then received a railway pass from the Shire Secretary – dated 2/3/16 – and completed the enlistment in Melbourne on 14/3/16.

Private Fleming joined as reinforcements for 29 Battalion. His unit left Melbourne on 4/7/16 and reached England in late August (23/8/16). After further training in England he was sent to France in December 1916. He was taken on strength in 29 Battalion on 13/3/17.

In April 1917, Private Fleming had a run in with authority and was charged with … conduct prejudicial to good order and Military Discipline, in that he ate his emergency ration without permission of an officer. He was given 2 days of field punishment number 2 (confined to barracks). The breach of military discipline did not seem to affect his chance of promotion. He was made lance corporal in June 1917 (12/6/17), corporal in October and then sergeant in November of the same year (10/11/17).

At the start of 1918 he had two weeks leave in England (9/2/18 – 24/2/18). He was killed in action, not much more than 2 months later, on 8/5/18. He was buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, about 7 Km from Sailly-Le-Sec. The cable advising of death was dated 30/5/18.

Back in the Shire of Alberton, Sergeant Fleming’s death was reported in the local paper on 5/6/18:

The sad information has been conveyed to us of the death of Sergt. R. Fleming, killed in action in France on 8th May. He was the only son of Mr. R. Fleming, of 47 Neil Street, Carlton, and enlisted for active service 2 1/2 years ago. Prior to offering his services to his country he was a resident of Devon, and amongst the members of the Devon Football club was regarded as one of their most prominent men, and besides being a general favorite he was acknowledged as a clean sport. His many friends here will regret the news at his having paid the supreme sacrifice.

Sergeant Fleming’s name is recorded on both the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. His name also appeared on the roll of honor for Blackwarry.

The very limited number of personal effects – 4 Notebooks, Photos, Cards – reached Australia in January 1919. His father was still alive at this point.

Unfortunately, there is no Red Cross report on the death. The only information comes from 29 Battalion’s war diary. This shows that at the time the battalion was on the front line near Sailly-Le-Sec, near Amiens. On the night of 7 May there was a successful operation to extend the front line and a German strong point was taken. There are references to heavy German artillery over the next day (8/5/18), as well as the use of special patrols to establish German intentions. However, there is only one reference to 29 Battalion casualties, and this refers to them as being ‘slight’.

As indicated, records in the service file show that by late 1922, the father was deceased. At the same time, the standard form covering the distribution of medals – the one that listed the sequence of eligibility, beginning with the father and going through 16 categories to end with Aunts on his mother’s side (stating eldest) – revealed that the mother was also deceased and there were no siblings. The immediate family ended with Robert’s death.

The service medals, Memorial Plaque and Memorial Scroll were issued to Sarah Ann Cook of Balook, via Traralgon who was the wife of Thomas Anderson Cook.  She was an aunt – the eldest – on the mother’s side. There was another, unsuccessful claim, for the same medals from Mrs A J Chapple of Ascot Vale. As ‘aunts on his father’s side’ had precedence over ‘aunts on his mother’s side’, this lady must have been a younger aunt on his mother’s side. Presumably, she could also have been a cousin. Both ladies also applied for a war gratuity on behalf of Private Fleming but while Mrs A J Chapple’s claim was unsuccessful there is no indication about what happened with Sarah Cook’s application.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for FLEMING Robert Victor
Roll of Honour: Robert Victor Fleming
First World War Embarkation Roll: Robert Victor Fleming

160. A E Barlow

BARLOW Albert Edward (725B)
5B KIA  19/4/18

The Barlow family had been living in the district from the late 1850s. Albert Edward (Bill) Barlow was a grandson of Thomas Barlow (c 1830-1917) who was the patriarch of the family. Thomas had been, variously, a local mailman, contractor, labourer and he had operated a coach service as well as having land at Woranga. He had married Mary Kent and there were 10 children.

Even though Thomas had 7 sons, by the time of WW1 the number of potential Barlow enlistments was limited. Only 5 of the 7 sons were still in the district: Thomas, Charles, Henry/Harry, Caleb and Albert. Moreover, the ages of this second generation were generally too old for enlistment and, at the same time, the ages of the next generation were too young.  Also, Thomas – the second of Thomas’s sons – had 3 daughters. Realistically, there was only a handful of local Barlow men who could have enlisted in WW1: two sons of Charles Barlow – Albert, born 1887 and Frederick, born 1892 – and one son of Caleb Barlow – Albert Edward, born 1897.

More than for most other families, the issue of enlistment was of fundamental significance for the Barlow family. Principally, this was because of the activities of Charles Barlow, brother of Caleb and uncle of Albert Edward Barlow. Charles Barlow was one of the most outspoken Imperial Loyalists in the Shire of Alberton. He was on the local recruiting committee. He spoke regularly at soldiers’ farewells and welcomes. He participated and officiated in all manner of pro-War and Imperial functions, from recruiting drives and pro-conscription campaigns to memorial services and the unveiling of honour rolls at local schools. He was also a local councillor and had served as Shire President just before WW1, and he was elected to the same position in 1918. He also served on the local JP court. Obviously, he had a very high profile in the local community. Yet it appears that neither of his sons enlisted. Rather, it was his nephew, Albert Edward Barlow who enlisted as an eighteen-year-old and who made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’.  Post 147 and Post 148 described how Barlow himself expressed public regret at his sons’ reluctance to enlist and noted how his authority to speak on issues such as sacrifice and patriotism was being questioned, particularly by returned soldiers.

There was yet another twist to this background because it appears that prior to his son enlisting – in January 1916 – Caleb Barlow had himself attempted to enlist. Caleb Barlow, who gave his age as 45 – he was in fact 47 yo – had his medical in Yarram on 16/7/15. Not surprisingly, given his age, his enlistment did not go ahead. However, unlike his brothers – Charles was only 2 years older – Caleb did make the attempt to enlist; and his young son was the only one from the Barlow family at that time who did enlist. It is also possible that Caleb Barlow’s family had not enjoyed the same social and financial success as that of his brothers’ families, particularly the family of Charles Barlow.

Albert Edward Barlow was born in Devon, grew up in the local area and went to North Devon State School. Another student from the same school – Edwin Alford (Post 158) – was killed at Hazebrouck, only a few kilometres from where Barlow was killed 5 days later.  In another cruel link, Albert played football for Devon North and Patrick Sexton (Post 159) , also a keen local footballer, played for the opposing Devon team. Sexton was killed at Mont Kemmel only 2 days before Edward’s death, and, again, only a short distance away. Probably the last football match in which these 2 local footballers played against each other was in early July 1914, when Devon beat North Devon.

Private Barlow enlisted in late January 1916 (29/1/16). He was nearly 19 yo. He had his medical in Yarram with Dr Crooks and was then re-examined in Melbourne. He variously gave his occupation as ‘labourer’ and ‘farm labourer’. His father had a small farm at North Devon so it is likely that besides helping his father, Edward worked on other local farms. On the enlistment form he gave his religion as Church of England but others in the extended Barlow family appear to have been strong Methodists.

The Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published on 5/5/16 a detailed account of the send-off for 4 young soldiers – Albert Barlow, Henry & George McKenzie and Clyde Rendell – from Devon North. The event was held at the local school and it was very well attended. Cr Barlow, Albert’s uncle, attended to award the shire medallion and card – each man also received a wristlet watch from the community – and he was the key speaker. He used the occasion to speak for conscription and asked, Why should not the burden be borne by all, and not by a few. He also offered that, Conscription is the only means of ending this terrible war. He also specifically drew attention to his nephew, noting that, He was glad to see one Barlow representative going – he will not be the last – and these fine men will not be the last lot sent form here. (Applause).

Others there that night gave the usual stirring reminders to the young men:

And remember, boys, if the worst comes to the worst, and you are to die for your country, do it with your back to the wall; ask no mercy and give none. (Loud applause).

The individual soldiers responded and thanked their well-wishers. Albert Barlow … thanked all the ladies and gentlemen, and hoped to be be back once more with them after the war.

However, of the 4 men farewelled that night, Barlow and Rendell were killed and George Mckenzie was seriously wounded and discharged on medical grounds. Only Henry McKenzie survived intact.

Private Barlow joined 37 Battalion and left for England on 3/6/16. He undertook further training in England and then moved across to France in September 1916. At that point, he was taken on strength of 5 Battalion and remained in that unit until his death.

There was an extended period of hospitalisation – he was transferred to hospital back in England – with trench feet from mid December 1916. The convalescence lasted 52 days and even when he was discharged in mid March 1917, the medical notes recorded,

Circulation poor and fairly painful. Feet still tender.

He rejoined his unit in France in early May 1917. However, there were still problems with his feet and at the start of 1918 there was another brief period of hospitalisation.

Private Barlow was another victim of shell fire. However on this occasion, his unit was well behind the front line, near Meteren some 20 Km S-W from Ypres. They had been withdrawn from the front line that very day and one witness statement had the troops as far back as 3 miles from the front. The war diary for the battalion records that on the night of the 19th April,

Billets of Bn. Shelled at night caused casualties 4 ORs killed and 9 ORs wounded.

Private Barlow was one of the 4 killed.

There were numerous witness statements concerning his death. Essentially, he was hit by HE shellfire at about 8.30 pm when the troops were in their billet, an old mill. There was one explicit account that had his head blown off; but another had him hit by a ‘piece of shrapnel to the heart ‘which killed him instantly; and yet another had him ‘hit by a piece of shell through the head’. While these are significant differences, there was consensus that death was instant.

There were several references to the others killed in the same bombardment:

I saw him [Barlow] killed by an H.E. shell which killed 4 and wounded 5 others. 2 kilos out of “Caestres” near River Somme. Buried at Borre, cemetery – cross on grave. Enlisted Victoria 3-6-16. Left with 37th Battn. About 20, 5ft 9ins, stocky built, dark, nicknamed Ben (sic). Came from Gippsland – his people – farmers.    Barnes H. C. 540B    5th Battn H.Q. 7/9/18

I did not see him killed but I helped to dig “Bill” Barlow’s (D. Company) grave in the new cemetery at Borre near Hazebrouch (sic), he was buried with 4 others in the same grave (Pte. Woldron, Pte. Brown, one British soldier who we could not identify and an Australian). I saw the cross giving particulars.    Pte. J. Kendall    5th Battn. 5/9/18

Private William Waldron (7340) was also in 5 Battalion. He was from Stawell. He was killed on the same day as Private Barlow, as was Private Thomas Sheridan Brown (3731), also of 5 Battalion, from Bendigo. Privates Brown, Barlow and Waldron are all buried in Borre British Cemetery. They are all in Plot I, Row A, in graves 14, 15 and 16 respectively.

There were several references in the witness statements to Private Barlow being a good sportsman: footballer, athlete and boxer. One even referred to the fact that his front teeth were missing. He was described as … very well known and liked in the Battn.

It appears that the cable advising of the death came in early May (7/5/18) and news of his death was published in the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative on 10/5/18:

The sad and regretful news came through on Wednesday [8/5/18] that Private A. Barlow, the eldest son of Mr. Caleb Barlow, had been killed in action in France. Naturally a shock came to the parents, when they were informed that the supreme sacrifice had been paid by their son, who was a fine athletic young man, and had enlisted nearly two years ago.

The following death notice appeared in the same edition:

BARLOW – Killed in action on 19th April, somewhere in France, Albert Edward, eldest son of Caleb and Dinah Barlow, brother of Daisy, Percy, Harold and Thomas, aged 20 years and 1 month. On active service 1 year and 11 months. [At that time, Percy would have been either 18 or 19 years old.]

He marched away so bravely,
His young head proudly held;
His footsteps never faltered,
His courage never failed.

When on the battlefield
He calmly took his place;
He fought and died for Britain,
For country and his race.

The midnight stars are shining on a grave I cannot see,
There sleeping without dreaming is the one so dear to me.
No matter how I pray, dear Albert, no matter how I call,
There is nothing left to answer but your photo on the wall.
– Inserted by his loving parents, North Devon.

The personal effects to reach the family in September 1918 were:

Disc, Silver medal, Metal wrist watch (damaged) & strap [presumably the one presented at his farewell], Testament, Wallet, Photos, 3 Cards.

In May 1919, the local solicitor, BP Johnson wrote, on behalf of the mother, to Base Records to ascertain if she was eligible for the ‘mother’s badge’ [First World War Mothers’ and Widows’ Badge]. In June, Base Records replied, attaching a … form of application for the badge issued to the nearest female relative.

Albert Edward Barlow’s name is featured on both Shire of Alberton memorials – roll of honor and soldiers’ memorial – and it also appears on the honor rolls for the state schools of Devon North and Alberton and also on the roll for the district of Devon North.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

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

National Archives file for BARLOW Albert Edward
Roll of Honour: Albert Edward Barlow
First World War Embarkation Roll: Albert Edward Barlow
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Albert Edward Barlow
Honour and Awards: Albert Edward Barlow