Category Archives: Anzac Day Blog Challenge

From Six Bob Tourist to Souvenir

This is the third year I have posted for the Trans Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge.  For 2013, I share the story of Leslie Herbert Combridge.

When Billy Hughes spoke to the people of Australia on January 21, 1915, something must have stirred inside Les Combridge.  It may have been pride, anger, guilt or simply his sense of adventure.

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"WE WANT MORE MEN". (1915, January 22). The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3 Edition: DAILY.. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73915492

“WE WANT MORE MEN”. (1915, January 22). The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3 Edition: DAILY.. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73915492

On February 2, he travelled the 40 kilometres from Grantville to Wonthaggi and enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces.  He had nothing to lose.  He was 18½ and working on a farm in a rural area so the chance to get out and be paid to see the world must have been some incentive.  Why wouldn’t it be an adventure?  The papers were full of stories of soldiers enjoying the sights of Egypt, the Great Pyramids and the market places.  Besides, it probably would be all over by the time he got there.

WANTED—100,000 MEN.—STILL THEY COME. (1915, January 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 7. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1488026

WANTED—100,000 MEN.—STILL THEY COME. (1915, January 6). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 7. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1488026

After enlisting with his father’s consent, Les was assigned to the newly formed 21st Battalion.  After training at  Broadmeadows, the Battalion left Port Melbourne on May 10, 1915 aboard the HMAT Ulssyss.

This article from the Euroa Advertiser by “One Who Witnessed It” describes the arrival of the troops at the dock, boarding and departure.

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DEPARTURE OF A TROOP-SHIP. (1915, May 14). Euroa Advertiser (Vic. : 1884 - 1920), p. 2. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70371657

DEPARTURE OF A TROOP-SHIP. (1915, May 14). Euroa Advertiser (Vic. : 1884 – 1920), p. 2. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70371657

That account was a little different to that of A.M McNeil in his book The Story of the 21st He writes

“Embarkation was quietly carried out.  There was no fanfare of trumpets, and that night we slipped from the pier, down the bay…” (p. 7)

HMAT Ulysses  Image Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID NO: PS0154. Photographer Schuler, Phillip Frederick Edward  http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/PS0154/

HMAT ULYSSES. Image Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID NO: PS0154. Photographer
Schuler, Phillip Frederick Edward http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/PS0154/

A.R McNeil  described the voyage as “smooth” and a highlight was the arrival at the Suez Canal.

“…glorious trip through Suez Canal in daylight.  Here we saw troops on active service for the first time, as the “line” was then right on the Canal bank (p8).

Egypt lived up to the reports back home

“Our first stay in Egypt is one of our happiest memories,  In spite of the heat, and the not too good tucker, we enjoyed our time off thoroughly”  “Cairo 20 minutes by electric tram and the sights, sounds and smells of our new surroundings interested us”. (p.8)

HINDMASH PATRIOTIC FUND. (1915, January 23). The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954), p. 9. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59302494

HINDMASH PATRIOTIC FUND. (1915, January 23). The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59302494

Private Dusting of Portland, with the 21st, wrote home of the sights he had seen at Columbo, Port Said and Cairo.  Like others, he was keen to get to the Dardanelles.

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Soldier's Letter. (1915, August 18). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 - 1953), p. 3 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63974309

Soldier’s Letter. (1915, August 18). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), p. 3 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63974309

Bugler G.  Barett wrote of the training the 21st Battalion were carrying out before they moved on to Anzac Cove.  The food was good too, and a 8 pence a day allowance allowed for extras like tinned fruit and pickles.

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Our Men at the Front. (1915, August 21). Brighton Southern Cross (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75045296

Our Men at the Front. (1915, August 21). Brighton Southern Cross (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75045296

It was during this time that the term “Six Bob a Day Tourists” evolved to describe the Australian diggers.  They could earn six bob a day and see the World.

"SIX BOB A DAY TOURISTS.". (1915, June 7). The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), p. 3 Edition: THIRD EDITION. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81003870

“SIX BOB A DAY TOURISTS.”. (1915, June 7). The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), p. 3 Edition: THIRD EDITION. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81003870

Despite the sightseeing, the boys were keen to get into action and on August 30, the 21st boarded the Southland bound for Anzac Cove.  On September 2, 1915, the troops of the 21st Battalion, including Les Combridge, got their first taste of the reality of war.  A German submarine torpedoed the cruiser and the call came to abandon ship.  Men rushed to life boats, some spent hours in the water while others drowned and they would be noted in history as the victims of the first Australian ship struck by a torpedo.  There were 14 casualties in total.

Men of 11 Platton 21st Battalion C Company IMAGE COURTESy of the Australian War Memorial.  ID No. A00746 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A00746/

Men of 11 Platton 21st Battalion C Company IMAGE COURTESy of the Australian War Memorial. ID No. A00746 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A00746/

The Southland after the torpedo attack.

The Troopship Soutland.  Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Id No.A00737http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A00737/

The Troopship Soutland. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Id No.A00737http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A00737/

Neil C. Smith in the Red & Black Diamond: the History of the 21st Battalion mentions letters home were censored after the event and the story was not officially released until two months later.  This article from November 15, 1915 was one of the first reports of the attack.

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THE GENERAL'S PRAISE. (1915, November 21). Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954), p. 1 Section: First Section. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57829146

THE GENERAL’S PRAISE. (1915, November 21). Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), p. 1 Section: First Section. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57829146

After their rescue, the 21st Battalion spent a couple of days at Lemnos Island in the Aegean Sea.   They then resumed their journey to Anzac Cove and their next big adventure began.

21st BATTALION AFTER ARRIVAL AT GALLIPOLI, MARCHING UP MONASH GULLY.  Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial ID No: A000742 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A00742/

21st BATTALION AFTER ARRIVAL AT GALLIPOLI, MARCHING UP MONASH GULLY. Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial ID No: A000742 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/A00742/

Letters home described the rough terrain and the risk of Turkish snipers. At some of the posts, ropes raised soldiers up and down the steep embankments.

Our Boys at Gallipoli. (1915, December 14). Port Pirie Recorder and North Western Mail (SA : 1898 - 1918), p. 1. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95346962

Our Boys at Gallipoli. (1915, December 14). Port Pirie Recorder and North Western Mail (SA : 1898 – 1918), p. 1. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article95346962

Private Fred Ware of East Gippsland also wrote home of the terrain and gave an account of the trip on the Southland.

SOLDIERS' LETTERS. (1915, December 24). Gippsland Mercury (Sale, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3 Edition: morning. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89277160

SOLDIERS’ LETTERS. (1915, December 24). Gippsland Mercury (Sale, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3 Edition: morning. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89277160

Les Combridge, with C Company, found himself stationed at Steele Post.  He  would stay in the trenches for weeks.  Steele Post looks as though it was one of the posts where ropes were necessary.

STEELES POST, GALLIPOLI 1915.  Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID No:  P01580.015 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P01580.015

STEELES POST, GALLIPOLI 1915. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID No: P01580.015 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P01580.015

Conditions were harsh.  From the 21st Battalion Unit Diary on September 13, 1915 -

“Trenches infected with vermin, fleas and lice…Sanitary arrangements with regard to this Section need particular care and every endeavour is being made to perfect same”

This was no holiday.

On September 21, Les was charged with disobeying am NCO, the first of several charges during  his years of service.

On September 30 the Unit Diary recorded that,

A large percentage of the men are suffering from diarrhea of dysentery …This Battalion has been in the trenches for 23 days...”

On that day, Les was charged for being absent from his place of duty.  Maybe he was making use of the limited sanitary arrangements available to him, given the diary entry for that day.

Another charge for Les came on October 18 of sleeping at his post while sentinel, but he was found not guilty.

During December 1915,  as blizzards began to hit the coastline, the 21st Battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli with the other Australian troops and they began to make their way back to Alexandria.  They spent some time at Imbros Island and Christmas and New Year at Lemnos Island where Christmas billies from home were enjoyed.

On January 4, 1916 they began the last leg to Alexandria.

When the 21st returned to Egypt, they spent time on the banks of the Suez Canal but when the 2nd Pioneer Battalion was raised soon after, Les joined their ranks on March 16, 1916.  They sailed for Marseilles, France and began to make their way to the north of France, by train and foot.

After arriving in Morbecque, France on March 31, 1916,  the Pioneers received a demonstration about Poison gas and Weeping gas as recorded in the  2nd Pioneer Unit Diary.  They were now at the Somme, preparing to do the work the Pioneers were formed for, while still fending off the perils of war.

The Chief Engineer of the Australian Pioneers wrote of the work the 2nd Pioneers did near Ypres. He mentions the Battalion had suffered heavy losses.

The Chronicle. (1918, July 20). Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69681288

The Chronicle. (1918, July 20). Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69681288

Colonel E.J.H. Nicholson wrote of the Pioneers in 1919.

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Nicholson had the greatest respect for the pioneers and considered the 2nd Pioneers “the most respectable, steady, well conducted battalion…”

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AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERS AND PIONEERS. (1919, May 16). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 7. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62198709

AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERS AND PIONEERS. (1919, May 16). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), p. 7. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62198709

2nd Pioneer Battalion near Bapaume.  Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID No:  E00343 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E00343/

2nd Pioneer Battalion near Bapaume. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID No: E00343 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E00343/

The work of the Pioneer Battalion was described in the Williamstown Chronicle.    The Pioneers were give the nickname “Souvenirs” while the Engineers were “Ginger Beers”.  The “Souvenirs” not only had to do  hard labouring work but were prepared to fight if need be.  They often worked with gun fire and bombing going on around them and as a result there were often casualties.

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A PIONEER BATTALION. (1918, July 13). Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69681256

A PIONEER BATTALION. (1918, July 13). Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69681256

On July 14, 1916, Les was transferred to the newly formed 2nd Tunnelling Company.   On July 19, near Fromelles, the 2nd Tunnellers detonated a mine, the largest in its’ operational history, designed to shield the 32nd Battalion as they moved across No Man’s Land.

NEWS OF THE DAY. (1916, July 22). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1023967

NEWS OF THE DAY. (1916, July 22). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1023967

Les only had to endure digging underground for two months because on September 30 he moved back to the Pioneers, then at  Le Torquet, to continue digging above the ground.

On October 18, Les racked up another offence, charged with drunkenness.  As a result he lost two day’s pay.

On January 27, 1917  Les took sick and was transferred to hospital by the 13th Field Ambulance.  They took him to Allonville and the 39 Casualty Clearing Station.  He was then transferred on to the No 14 Stationary Hospital at Boulogne where he recovered from mumps.

Out of hospital, Les marched into the 2nd Australian Divisional Base at  Estaples on February 24, 1917, marching out again on February 27, 1917 to re-join the 2nd Pioneer Battalion on March 3.

From June 9, 1917 Les spent some time training with the 5th Army Musketry School and on August 4 he was promoted to Lance Corporal.

The 2nd Pioneers moved on to Ypres in October, 1917.  The following photo shows the 2nd Pioneer doing what they did best.  During the months of October and November, 1917 at Ypres the Battalion built water channels, stables and constructed a plank road as seen below at Chateau Wood.

2nd Pioneer building plank road at Chateau Wood, Ypres, Sept 26, 1917 Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID NOl P08577.002  http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P08577.002

2nd Pioneer building plank road at Chateau Wood, Ypres, Sept 26, 1917 Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial ID NOl P08577.002 http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P08577.002

An article in the Cairns Post on December 29, 1917 included stories from the front.  One of those mentioned was of a Sergeant from one of the Pioneer Battalions, lying injured in hospital.  The Sergeant described the work his Battalion were doing on the roads near Ypres.

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BATTLE STORIES FROM THE WEST FRONT. (1917, December 29). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40273100

BATTLE STORIES FROM THE WEST FRONT. (1917, December 29). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40273100

In July 21, 1919 the work of the Australian Pioneer Battalion was remembered in this article from the West Australian.

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ENGINEERS, PIONEERS, AND TUNNELLERS. (1919, July 21). The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), p. 9. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27611735

ENGINEERS, PIONEERS, AND TUNNELLERS. (1919, July 21). The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), p. 9. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27611735

On  November 2, 1917, Les was wounded, receiving a bullet to his right elbow.  The injury was described as severe.   The 3rd Australian Field Ambulance,  then stationed in Wippenhoek, took him to the 3rd Casualty Clearance Station.  The 2nd Pioneer Unit Diary states that one “OR” was wounded on that day.

The following day, Les was transferred to the 5th General Hospital at Rouen France, but it was necessary to move him to England and he arrived at the 5th South General Hospital at Portsmouth on November 8.

On Februay 8, 1918 Les  was  transferred to 3rd Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford for just under a week.  Patients with war related nervous conditions were treated there.  Then on to Weymouth, Dorset to convalesce until his departure on April 10, 1918

So Les was on a ship home.  But what was going on at home, who had he left and who had arrived?

ON THE HOMEFRONT

Les Combridge was the son of Herbert John Combridge and Jane Wyatt.  Jane passed away in 1909 at Grantville,  presumablyas a result of childbirth leaving Les, aged 12 and Horace Claude (known as Claude), aged two,  the only children remaining from five pregnancies.

In 1913,  Herbert married widow Sarah Hade (nee Jackson), already a mother of a large family.  In February 1914, Herbert and Sarah welcomed Verena May.  When Les left Australia 12 months later, Sarah was pregnant again and in July 1916 Harold Herbert was born.

Herbert had given his son his consent, maybe with even a hint of envy.  In 1916, after the age for enlistment was raised, the then 43-year-old Herbert himself enlisted.  After a short time at Royal Park, he was discharged due to a weak heart.

It seems that in each story I write for Anzac Day, rumours made their way home about the welfare of a soldier abroad.  The Combridges had their own taste of this, leading to Herbert writing to the  Army requesting information about Les.

On August 30, 1915, Herbert penned a letter to Colonel Hawker.  At the same time, in Egypt, Les was three days away from boarding the Southland to Gallopoli.

“…I have had one letter from him since he arrived in Egypt and since then I have not heard there is two other families around here had sons went away at the same time and they have sent letters home stating that my son lost the use of his legs since he landed and then contracted pneumonia and was to be invalided home and as I have not heard from him I thought you may be able to give me some information about him as I am anxious and if he is unable I think some one ought to let us know I have only him and a lad of 7 years out of 5 from my first marriage losing 3 and his mother in a few years so trusting you will do me the kindness of letting me know what you can about him…”

Herbert writes with little punctuation but the worry he was feeling is not lost.  He mentioned the children and wife he lost and the thought of losing another after such a short time must have been excruciating.

On September 7, 1915, a Lieutenant H Mackintosh, officer from Base  Records, responded to Herbert to ease his mind  somewhat.  He advised Herbert that no official notification had come through about Les, but if Herbert was to send any evidence he may have to the contrary with the full details of the informant etc etc.  A typical government letter.

Herbert replied, to let Lieutenant Mackintsh know that Les had since written and all was well.  He had been in hospital with pleurisy and bronchitis but had returned to his Company.  He went on to thank Mackintosh and apologised for the trouble he may have caused.  He explained:

“..,it was sent to two different parties about him and I thought if he was to be sent back I ought have heard…”

On November 16 1917, two weeks after it occured, Herbert received the notification he had expected two years earlier.  Les had been wounded.  It was two weeks later, on December 1, that he learned that Les had been shot and was in the 5th Southern General Hospital at Portsmouth.  Almost two weeks later he heard that Les was improving.  It was looking like Christmas 1917 would be a little happier than was thought at the beginning of the month.

Herbert’s next official notification of Les’ health was mid March 1918.  Les was “progressing favourably”.

When Les returned home in May 1918, he reunited with his father and Claude and met his two-year old brother for the first time.  His step mother was pregnant again with a third child to Herbert.

POST WAR

In September 1919, Les married local Grantville girl Myrtle Rose White, daughter of Culmer Thomas White and Alice Elizabeth Hunt.  On November 12, 1920 their first child, daughter Mavis Ayleen was born at Wonthaggi.  Over the next 16 years, they would have a further three girls and a son.

Les farmed first at Grantville and  later took up a property “Hazelbrook” at nearby Alumurta .  He became involved with the Blackwood Forest Football Club.

COUNTRY NEWS. (1926, April 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 26. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3746499

COUNTRY NEWS. (1926, April 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 26. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3746499

By 1937, and almost 20 years after his return from Europe, it seem that Les had got on with his life.  But on June 28, Les died suddenly at Wonthaggi from heart failure.  He was only 40 years old.

' OTHER DISTRICTS. (1937, July 3). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 21. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11115412

‘ OTHER DISTRICTS. (1937, July 3). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 21. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11115412

The loss of Les at such a young age must have hit hard.  Myrtle had the five children, aged from two to 17 and a farm.  Also Herbert was faced with the death of yet another child.

How do I know about Leslie Herbert Combridge.  He was my great-grandfather.  His eldest daughter Mavis was my Grandma and never in the 39 years I knew her, did I realise how much his death had an effect on her.  Not until I started reading newspapers at Trove, that is.  Then I found  “In Memoriam” notices she had submitted, right up until 1947, 10 years after his death,  herself then married and raising a family, living hours away from her beloved Bass Valley.

(1943, June 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 10. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page625813

(1943, June 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 10. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page625813

(1944, June 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 12. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page628551

(1944, June 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 12. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page628551

Family Notices. (1947, June 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 11. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22436539

Family Notices. (1947, June 28). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 11. Retrieved April 25, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22436539

I can’t say how much WW1 played a part in the premature death of Les Combridge, but given the work he did, particularly with the Pioneers and the exposure to gas in France and the overall wear  the conditions must have had on a body, it cannot be dismissed.  Although with Herbert’s weak heart, hereditary factors were also at play, but Herbert, who didn’t serve, lived to 66, dying 18 months after Les, in 1939.

The places Les went read like a Contiki itinerary, but the hard working Pioneer was no tourist and for the most time, the sights he saw would be unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons.  His time spent collecting his nerves at Dartford before his return to Australia giveing some clue to the mind-set he was in but how much this continued to be a part of his life is not know.  If it was still there he must have kept it deep inside .

The early death of Les robbed him of time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He gave so much of his heart to Australia, there was little left for his family.

LEST WE FORGET

SOURCES

Australian War Memorial

Finlayson, Damien (2010). Crumps and camouflets : Australian tunnelling companies on the Western Front. Big Sky Publishing, Newport, N.S.W

MacNeil, A. R & 21st Battalion (A.I.F.) Association (Melbourne, Vic.) (1971). The Story of the twenty-first : being the official history of the 21st Battalion, A.I.F. 21st Battalion Association, Melbourne

National Archives of Australia

Smith, Neil C (1997). The red and black diamond : the history of the 21st Battalion 1915-18 (1st ed). Mostly Unsung Military History Research and Publications, Gardenvale, Vic

Trove Australia


The McClintock Brothers

This is the second year I have participated in the ANZAC Day Blog Challenge.  It is a privilege to share the stories of my family members who went to war.  The stories of the men and women who served their country in each of the wars should never be forgotten.

Reading the World War 1 service records of  my 1st cousins 3x removed,  brothers, John, James and Albert McClintock one thing was obvious.  The great adventure of  war soon became a nightmare for the McClintock family of Grassdale near Digby.

Head of the family, John McClintock was born in Ireland in 1842.  He arrived in Victoria in 1865 aboard the “Vanguard“.  Somehow he ended up in the Digby area and in 1878 he married Sarah Ann Diwell, my ggg aunt and daughter of William Diwell and Margaret Turner.  The following year, daughter Margaret Ann was born and in 1880, son David was born.  Life seemed good for the McClintock family.

In 1882, the first  tragedy befell them.  Sarah passed away at just 31.  John was left with two children aged just three and four.

Help was close at hand.  In 1883, John married Sarah’s younger sister, Margaret Ann Diwell.  At 26 and 15 years John’s junior, Margaret went from aunt to mother to Margaret and David.

In 1885, the first of 11 children to John and Margaret McClintock were born.  A son, William Diwell McClintock died as an infant in 1887 but by 1902, when the last child Flora was born, Margaret and John had six girls and six boys.

In 1913, a seemingly harmless activity of chasing a fox, ended in another tragedy for the McClintocks.  Eighteen year old Robert died from heart strain and tetanus as a result of his fox chasing.

Next was the outbreak of war in 1914 which paved the way for the greatest tragedy faced by the family.  Three of the five McClintock boys, John, James and Albert, enlisted.  Of the remaining two boys, David was too old and Thomas was too young.

JAMES RICHARD MCCLINTOCK

James was the first of the McClintock boys to enlist.  In Melbourne on October 7, 1915, the 24 year old signed his attestation papers and effectively signed his life away.

At the time,  those of eligible age were  bombarded with  propaganda designed to drive recruitment.   The horrors of war had already been felt at home with the Gallipoli landing earlier in the year. The recruitment campaign went to a new level.  War was no longer the big adventure it was made out to be.  Rather men were urged to fight in honour of  their fallen countrymen who had died for them.

Recruitment posters were everywhere and articles such as this from The Argus of September 16, 1915 must have gone a long way to persuading James to enlist the following month.

A CALL TO THE FRONT. (1915, September 16). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 5. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1560597

On January 27, 1916, James was given a send off by the Digby community,

A Digby Recruit. (1916, January 27). The Casterton News and the Merino and Sandford Record (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3 Edition: Bi-Weekly. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74484539

24th Battalion 10 Reinforcements. Australian War Memorial http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/DAX1243

James sailed on March 7, 1916 aboard the HMAT Wiltshire with the 24th Battalion 10th Reinforcement.  He arrived in England on July 26, 1916 and later France at “Sausage Valley” south of Pozieres on August 5, 1916.  The 24th Battalion had been in France since March after arriving from Egypt.  Previous to that the Battalion had been at the Gallipoli landing in 1915.

On the day of his arrival, the 24th had seen action with casualties.  They moved on from their position, making their way around the Somme before reaching Moquet Farm on August 23.  The Battalion settled in, digging trenches while they could.  The  noise of shelling was all around them.

THE FIGHT AT MOQUET FARM. (1916, August 31). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved April 21, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58914119

The following day, the battle intensified . The 24th Battalion received an estimated 50 casualties.  James McClintock was one of those

CASUALTIES IN FRANCE. (1916, October 3). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 7. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1626549

Details surrounding his death were sketchy, so much so, his father employed the services of Hamilton solicitors, Westacott and Lord.  On his behalf, they requested details of the death from the defence department to finalise necessary paperwork.  As of November 1916, the final report on James’ death had not been received.  It was clear  his remains had not been  found.  He now lies below the former battlefields of the Somme with no known grave.

James is remembered at the Villers-Brettoneaux Military Cemetery.    The cemetery has the remains of soldiers brought from various burial grounds and battlefields when it was created after Armistice. It also has memorials for those missing and with no known grave.  James is one of 10, 885 listed with such a fate.

Anxiety at home must have increased after news of the death of James.  It was too late to talk John and Albert out of going to war. They had already arrived in England preparing to also travel to the battlefields of the Somme.  At least John and Margaret would have been comforted that 26 year old John would be there to look after his younger brother.

ALBERT EDWARD MCCLINTOCK & JOHN MCCLINTOCK

John and Albert McClintock shared their World War 1 journey.  They would have been spurred on by the enlistment of James and maybe envy that he was setting sail on March 7, 1916.  The recruitment drive was in full swing and what man would not have feelings that he was less of a man if he did not enlist?

No title. (1916, March 1). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 7. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2092485

Albert enlisted six days before his brother John.  At 19, he filled in his enlistment papers at Hamilton on February 25 1916.

STREET APPEAL AT HAMILTON. (1916, February 26). The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 4 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74502118

On March 2, John enlisted at Ararat.

The Ararat Advertiser. (1916, March 4). The Ararat advertiser (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75028814

John was married and living at Wickliffe with his wife Selina Miller Ford.  They had married a year earlier.  At the time of John’s enlistment, it is unlikely that the couple knew they were expecting their first child, due in December.  Maybe John knew by July 4, when he and Albert boarded the HMAT Berrima  and sailed for war with the 29th Battalion 7th Reinforcements.

John and Albert disembarked in England on August 23, 1916.  During December, back home, John’s wife Selina gave birth to their son, John James, his second name a tribute to his fallen uncle.

After time in England,  Albert and John arrived in Etaples, France on February 4, 1917.  On February 9, they marched out into the field.  The 29th Battalion unit diary notes their location on February 9 as Trones Wood near Guillemont and only 10 kilometres from Moquet Farm.

The Battalion was not involved in any major battles at the time.  It  had been at the Battle of Fromelles in 1916 and later in 1917 would be a part of the Battle of Polygon Wood. John and Albert had arrived between campaigns.  During February 1917, some of the Battalion were laying cable in the area around Trones Wood.

What exactly happened, three days later on the 12th, is not clear, however the outcome saw both McClintock boys fighting for their lives with gunshot wounds to their faces.  John’s service record notes the injury was accidental.  He  also had shoulder injuries and a fractured left arm.  Albert lost his right eye and had an injured left arm and a fractured right leg.   They were relocatied over the next 24 hours to the 1st New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Amiens.

On February 17,  John and Albert’s war-time “adventure” together would end.  Albert was transferred to the 13th General Hospital at Boulogne, leaving John fighting for his life at Amiens.

On March 1, 1917, John McClintock passed away from his wounds.  He was buried at the St Pierre Cemetery at Amiens.  Both boys said goodbye to France on the same day, as it was that day that Albert sailed for England.  After only 20 days in the country, and no active fighting, one had lost his life and the other had suffered life changing wounds.

AUSTRALIAN CASUALTIES. (1917, March 16). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 10. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1604104

On February 28, 1918, over 12 months after the incident,  Albert was discharged from Harefield House Hospital, north of London,  the No.1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital.  He remained in England until May when he returned to Australia.

Digby. (1918, July 25). The Casterton News and the Merino and Sandford Record (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3 Edition: Bi-Weekly.. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74221588

So Albert was home and the war had ended.  Life was expected to go on.  On the outside that is what it did.  There would have been some brave faces at the welcome at Digby.

Albert married Doris Hancock around 1920 and they raised a family of seven.  He died in Digby in 1970 aged 74.

Selina never remarried and remained in Wickliffe most of her life, finally passing away in Adelaide in 1960.  John jnr enlisted in WW2 but was discharged early.

Parents John and Margaret McClintock did not live long past the war.  The loss of one son would have been enough for any parents to bear, but two would be heart wrenching.  Another tragedy bestowed them with daughter Flora passing away in 1921 aged just 19.  John passed away in 1923 aged 80 and Margaret in 1932 aged 74.

On the inside,  these people could never have been the same as they were before the war.  In Albert’s case the loss of an eye and memories of  his short time as a soldier would have lived with him forever.  For the others, the deep loss each suffered must have been immense.

This story interested me in a number of ways.  In particular the timing and the locations of  the McClintock brothers while in France.  They were each there for such a short time and in similar towns and villages.

Maybe, in those last days before the departure of James, the brothers talked about  meeting up somewhere, sometime during their war adventure. They were very close.  James was killed only six months before John and Albert arrived in the same area of France he had fallen.  They marched the same roads.  Maybe at some time they did in some way pass each other by.  As John and Albert marched to Trones Wood they could well have passed the final resting place of their brother James.

Today, John and James lay around 40 kilometres away from each other in France.  Albert is buried at Digby, thousands of kilometres away from his brothers, but I am sure he left a part of his heart in France the day in left in 1917.

LEST WE FORGET

REFERENCES:

24th Battalion Unit Diary

29th Battalion Unit Diary

Australian War Memorial

Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The AIF Project

The National Archives of Australia

The War Graves Photographic Project


Arthur Leonard Holmes 1889-1918 – Lest We Forget

Most of my family members made it home from World War 1.  While they were far from unaffected,  they were able to return to their loved ones.  Not so for Arthur Holmes.  Newly married he sacrificed his life for his country following both his older brother and cousin into war.

Arthur Leonard Holmes was born in 1889 in Sandford, Victoria.  His parents were George Holmes, the local miller and Julia Harman, a Byaduk girl.  They were married in 1882 in Byaduk and had seven children, with Arthur being the fifth born.  Julia died suddenly in 1896 of a cerebral hemorrhage while George was away gold prospecting on the other side of the state at Tallangatta.   The children ranged in age from 14 to 1.  George remarried in 1900 to Betsy Swain and they had a daughter, Bessie, in 1903.

Arthur enlisted at Melbourne on July 4, 1916 aged 27.  At the time he was working in Casterton as a coachbuilder. His brother Frederick had enlisted 10 months earlier and his cousin Edgar Holmes, a year before.  At the time of enlistment, Arthur noted he was single and gave his next of kin details as his father.  At some point afterwards, this information was edited with single being changed to married and the contact details changed from father George, to his new wife Alice Edith Osborne.  Marriage records show they married in 1916.   Alice was from Millicent, South Australia and was 24 years old.  After their  marriage  and Arthur headed overseas, she went to live in Windsor in Melbourne.

Arthur joined his unit on August 2, 1916 initially in Geelong and then he would have gone to Broadmeadows with the 29th Battalion.  Meanwhile in France, events were unfolding that would not have filtered home at the time of Arthur’s enlistment.  His cousin Edgar was listed as missing at Fromelles on July 28, 1916.  A court of enquiry 12 months later found that Edgar was killed in action, with the date given as July 16, during the Battle of Fromelles.  Also, on July 28, Arthur’s brother Frederick James Holmes was shot in the shoulder in France.  He was later to return home due to his injuries.  As he donned his uniform for the first time, Arthur would have been oblivious that the horror of war had touched his own family.  By the time he sailed for Plymouth on October 26, 1916 the news would have reached him and one could imagine he left Australian shores with a heavy heart.

On the voyage to England he was promoted from Private to Acting Sargent without extra pay, as he was appointed bandmaster for  the trip.   The Holmes boys were musical.  Arthur’s older brother Goldie was an Australian Cornet Champion in the 1920s and led many large bands around Australia.  Arthur may have had the same abilities and aspirations.

On arrival in England Arthur left the 29th and joined the newly formed 62nd Battalion.  The 29th moved on to France while Arthur stayed in England until the 62nd Battalion was disbanded in September 1917.  Arthur returned to the 29th Battalion in France arriving on October 15, 1917 almost a year since he left home.  The 29th were experiencing a relatively quiet period, following their involvement at Ypres, and as the allies prepared for the eventual Battle of Hamel.  This meant no less of a danger for the soldiers.  On June 12, 1918, Arthur Holmes was overcome by mustard gas, the feared silent killer.  It was never an instant death.  In Arthur’s case, he passed away the next day, June 13, 1918 at the 12th Casualty Clearing Station at Hazebrouck.  He was initially buried at the Longpré Cemetery before being exhumed, with 41 other fallen soldiers and re-interred at the Crouy British Cemetery, his final resting place.

CORNET PLAYER KILLED. (1918, June 26). The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 4. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75192499

From these two articles I have discovered Arthur was known as “Lennie” by his family.

Family Notices. (1918, June 24). The Casterton News and the Merino and Sandford Record (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 2 Edition: Bi-Weekly. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74221268

What of his new bride Alice?  She spent some time in Melbourne after his death,  before moving to Daylesford.  She lived at “Belvedere House” , lodging rooms in Vincent Street, with her widowed mother, Annie Osborne.  In January 1919, she received a parcel containing Arthur’s possessions.  Along with personal items such as photos, letters and a diary there were small hints about Arthur’s time overseas, a French dictionary, a knife and fork in a case, a razor and mirror.  Did she open the parcel?  Did she read Arthur’s diary?  We will never know, but this is all she had left of her time with Arthur along with her memories.  They did not have time to have a home together or raise a family.

In 1923 Alice’s mother passed away and she stayed on in Daylesford before her own death in 1930 at only 38 years of age.  She is buried at the Daylesford cemetery.

In Arthur’s hometown of Casterton, he is remembered on the Town Hall Honour Roll and the Casterton War Memorial

Reading of Arthur’s fate reminded me of a poem I studied at school by the great World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est.  It’s haunting words give some insight into the experiences  of the thousands of Australians who served their country in World War 1 and the discovery that the Great War was not the big adventure so many expected.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

*It is sweet and right to die for your country

Wilfred Owen – 1918


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