Category Archives: western front

2nd Portsmouth Pals – The story of a raid: Ploegsteert, June 1916

English: War cross in a Commonwealth War Grave...

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The 15th Bn Hampshire Regiment, 2nd Portsmouth Pals, had entered the front line on the Western Front on 30th May 1916. They had gone into the front line at Ploegsteert Wood, a relatively quiet sector to the south of the Ypres Salient that was often used to ‘blood’ new arrivals in Flanders.

The 31st was a quiet day, with A, B and C Companies in the front line and support trenches and D Company in Reserve. No casualties were suffered. The next day Battalion HQ was shelled with 59 High Explosive rounds – the orderly room was demolished – and eight casualties were suffered. One man was killed, 2 accidentally injured, one returned to duty and three wounded.

Private Andrew Baillie, 20 and from Buckland, was killed on the 1st and is buried in Rifle House Cemetery. The next couple of days were relatively quiet, with several men wounded but none killed. On 5th June the Battalion was relieved by the 21st Kings Royal Rifle Corps at 5am, and went into billets at Creslow. The Battalion’s time out of the line was relatively quiet, but on 7th June A Companies billets at Touquet Berthe were shelled, and a barn destroyed, as well as nearby Royal Engineers supply dumps. Miraculously no casualties were suffered.

The Battalion went back into the line on 11th June, relieving the 21st KRRC at 5am in the same Ploegsteert Wood trenches. That evening two patrols were sent out from A and B Companies. Patrols were put out for the next couple of nights. On 14th June a patrol from B Company went out for 24 hours into no-mans-land. Pte Harris 18479 and Cpl Hopkins 20768 brought in a bad of three bombs (grenades) and saw several enemy patrols near Hampshire Trench. More patrols went out over the next couple of nights, and there were also several gas alarms. Several men were killed by enemy bombardment on 17th June, none of them being from Portsmouth.

On 18th June the Battalion was relieved by the 21st Bn KRRC, retiring to billets at Creslow. The men were congratulated by the Commanding Officer for their work on the night of 17/18 June. Later in the day a gas alarm was sounded, but no gas was present over the Battalion’s area. Although the Battalion was technically in reserve, patrols were still being sent out most nights. On the 21st the Battalion went back into the line relieving 21/KRRC, and the next couple of days in the front line were relatively quiet, with the usual patrols being sent out. On the 28th artillery fire from both sides became heavy. Private William Stephenson, aged 17 and from Twyford Avenue in Stamshaw, was killed and is buried in Ballieul Nord Cemetery. The next day Private L. Marshall, of Milton, was killed and is buried in Berks Cemetery Extension.

A major raid was planned on 30 June. Artillery began firing at 0730 and continued until 1700. The enemy wire was succesfully cut. At 2115 a preliminary bombardment began, ceasing at 2145. At 2200 gas was discharged. Then at 2201 artillery recommenced, before smoke was discharged at 2202. The smoke was turned off at 2215, and the raiding party started at 2223. Five minutes later the artillery lifted, and the raiding party advanced. The raiding party reached the enemys trenches at 2243 – after what must have been an agonising 15 minutes in no mans land. The artillery finally ceased at 2253, and later in the evening a second discharge of gas was made at 0125.

The raiding party was formed of three groups. No 1 was under Sergeant Green, No 2 under Lieutenant James and No 3 under Lieutenant Gates. No 1 group reached the enemy lines and threw in grenades, before returning as per the programme. No 2 group lost Lieutenant James wounded, and his second in command was gassed. No 3 group reached the enemy trenches, but had some difficulty in getting through the wire and returned. The raiding party was delayed in reach the enemy lines due to gas in no mans land which did not clear, resulting in the party having to don cumbersome gas masks. Sergeant Green was killed, Corporal Knight died of wounds and Private William Penfold (21, Fratton) later died of the effects of gas. Six men were gassed and wounded. In total 9 men were killed during the day, 28 men were wounded and two died of wounds. Three Portsmouth men died on the 30th – Private Edward Sansom (40, Stamshaw), Private E.H.W. Judd and Private William Fenfold (21, Fratton). All three are buried in Berks Cemetery, near Ploegsteer Wood. A number of men were recommended for awards.

Enemy retaliation was heavy. Lieutenant Gates, Corporal Murden and Private Parris returned into no mans land and recovered Sergeant Green’s body from about halfway across. The party was congratulated by the commander of 41st Division, Major-General Lawford. The objective of the raid had been achieved – to keep the enemy pinned down, and prevent them from sending reinforcements elsewhere. The next day the Battle of the Somme would commence further South. The raid by the Portsmouth Pals was obviously intended to pin down Germans along the western front. I would expect that it was replicated all along the line.

Raids and patrols were often insisted upon by Generals in order to foster an offensive spirit in troops, particularly those who had newly arrived on the front. The 2nd Portsmouth Pals were learning quickly, and a lot safer than their fellow Pals who were to suffer grievously on the first day of the Somme.

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Tommy by Richard Holmes

Richard Holmes was, in my eyes, unique. As a military man and an academic historian, he actually managed to capture the public’s imagination with his work. I can think of no other academic military historian who has reached out to society at large like Holmes. And surely, that is a fine, fine achievement.

As Holmes himself states in his preface, his initial military history interests involved researching battles and generals. Note his accomplished biographies of Marlborough, Wellington and French. But along the way he developed an interests in the ordinary man at war, and this led to his series of books such as Redcoat, and this book, which I consider to be his greatest achievement.

It does not have the revisionism of a writer such as Corrigan, and historiographically it sits in between narrative and probing challenges of the perceived wisdom. It is emminently readable and makes prolific use of first hand sources. But what I think is the real achievement here, is that Holmes has examined pretty much every aspect of war on the Western Front, and successively passed them all under a historical microscope. He doesn’t fall into the trap of hindsight, but neither does he go for hero worship or a bland recasting of earlier works.

The subjects that Holmes covers are vast, and some are not for the faint of heart – crime, punishment, homosexuality, venereal disease, honours, ranks, officer-men relations, attitudes to the war, food, drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), uniforms, lice, mud, weapons, training, and so on. In fact no stone is left unturned; there is no literary no-mans land here.

Holmes’ progression from a soldier, to an academic military historian, to a social military historian, is perhaps the best example possible of how military history itself is evolving. Not only has the field opened up beyond career soldiers alone, but we are more and more interested in the experiences of the common man – the millions of Tommies – rather than the deliberations of a few middle aged men who sat at the top of the tree. Perhaps this is a reflection of a change in modern society overall. As a military historian with both feet firmly in social history, I can only hope that this movement continues.

This book is a military history tour de force, by the late great Professor. It is the kind of book that makes me, as a historian, hope that I could one day write a book 5% as good as this. This is exactly the kind of book to get historians in the right frame of mind for the centenary projects looming in the next couple of years. It’s going to sit on my bookshelf for some time to come.

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War Horse

War Horse (film)

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I’ve just got in from seeing War Horse, so I thought I would post a review while it’s still fresh in my mind.

The film is set in Iddisleigh, a picturesque village in Devon not far from my better half’s place of origin. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and equally well matched by the soaring, classical soundtrack. Some of the action scenes are mind-blowing, particularly the cavalry charges. The battle scenes are not as bloody as say Band of Brothers or the Pacific, but I don’t really think that they needed to be horrific for the sake of it.

In historical terms, there were perhaps a few bloopers. The german accents are almost laughable, and I can’t think for the life of me why Spielberg didn’t make them sound better. And in the final scenes in France all kinds of random men in random units seem to mingle together freely, which seems a bit unrealistic. But apart from that, it seemed to ring true for the most part. It IS a completely unrealistic story – but then that is the beauty of a novel, it doesn’t have to be absolutely realistic, and we can forgive a little historic or artisitic licence if it serves the story.

My performing arts student girlfriend tells me that there isn’t any particularly great acting, in fact the real star of the film is/are the horse(s). This film is very much an epic rather than a drama. That said, there are some very touching moments – apart from the final reunion scene, when the main equine protagonist becomes entangled in barbed wire is likely to move even the most cynical of hearts.

Whenever a new war film or programme comes out, you can guarantee that there will be scores of internet ‘experts’, bemoaning the inaccuracies and claiming the moral high ground. Sure, no war film is ever 100% accurate. But they can never be – no one really dies in a war film, surely? We need to look beyond the historical inaccuracies of incorrect shoulder titles or weapons. They might matter to us geeks, but in the bigger picture a film like War Horse has got thousands of people interested in the First World War, which is something that no manner of scholarly articles or mediocre books will achieve. Neither geeks, enthusiasts nor academics have any universal ownership of war. War is a human experience that touches everyone when it occurs, so it is the right of everyone to be interested by it.

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Portsmouth’s WW1 Royal Marines

Having visited the Royal Marines Museum the other day to take a look at their ‘More than a Name’ exhbition, I thought I would follow it up by taking a look at what I have learnt about Portsmouth‘s Royal Marines of WW1.

The names of Royal Marines from Portsmouth who died between 1914 and 1921 are included in the Royal Navy panels on Portsmouth’s WW1 Cenotaph in Guildhall Square. So far I have processed and researched all of the Navy names from A up to M, so just over halfway and probably enough to start drawing some conclusions.

So far, 161 men from Portsmouth died serving with the various units of the Corps of Royal Marines in the Great War. 72 were Royal Marine Light Infantry, 68 were Royal Marine Artillery, 14 were Royal Marine Bandsmen, and 1 was a Royal Marine Engineer. 1 served in the RM Canteen Service, and one was an officer of as yet unknown origin.

As in WW2, most Marines were killed on sea service in ships. 12 Marines were killed in HMS Good Hope on 1 November 1914, 9 in HMS Bulwark on 26 November 1914, and a total of 30 at Jutland on 31 May 1916, in Black Prince, Invincible, Lion, Princess Royal, Queen Mary, Indefatigable and Defence.

9 were killed serving with the Royal Marine Howitzer Brigade on the Western Front, and 16 were killed serving with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division (8 in France, 5 at Gallipoli, 2 in Britain, 1 in Belgium and 1 in Greece). One man, Private William Elliot of the RMLI, was killed serving in Northern Russia on 27 August 1919, during the Russian Civil War.

Thanks to the National Archives, we have information available for when Royal Marines enlisted in the Corps. And the findings are striking. Out of the 144 who we have enlistment dates for, only 18 joined up after the start of the war. In fact, 61 had enlisted when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. This suggests that the Royal Marine of 1914-18 was an older, experienced man, and that the Corps did not actually expand that much in wartime. Much as with the Royal Navy, its role in peace was almost as demanding as it was in war. Of course, the Corps had its own emergency manpower to fall back on, in the form of the Royal Marines Reserve. 12 RMR men were killed in action.

Out of those 18 who joined up post August 1914, four of them were killed serving with the Royal Naval Division. This would suggest that the RN Division was composed of a higher proportion of hostilities only men than ships detachments. As we might expect, a large proportion of Royal Marines were living in Southsea and Eastney, near to the Royal Marine Barracks. Of the 97 that we have age statistics for, 44 were aged 30 or over – the oldest at 51!

So whilst the British Army of 1914-18 was very much a wartime creation – particularly from 1915 onwards – the Royal Marines, and to an extent the Royal Navy by definition – were still very much a product of Victorian Society.

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2nd Portsmouth Pals – formation to May 1916

 

With the euphoric volunteering for the British Army that was experienced in the late summer of 1914, many towns and cities formed their own Battalions for service in the Army. Comprised virtually of volunteers, in many cases these became known as ‘Pals’ Battalions. The word ‘Pals’ is normally applied to midlands or northern working class towns or cities, but my research has shown that the 1st and 2nd Portsmouth Pals – the 14th and 15th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment respectively – were very much Pals Battalions. And it was quite credible of Portsmouth to raise two Battalions – over 2,000 men – considering that most of her young male population must have been either at sea with the Royal Navy, or engaged on important war work. Fortunately, the war diary for the 2nd Portsmouth Pals is available to download online from the National Archives website, and it tells us an awful lot about what happened to these young men from Portsmouth in those dramatic years.

 

The 1st Portsmouth’s were formed by the Mayor and a local committee on 3 September 1914, and would have taken the initial rush of recruits. After gathering and training locally, it was found that there were still enough recruits to form a second battalion, which took place on 5 April 1915. Several men died before they even left Britain – Private R.P.A. Cornhill on 6 August 1915, who is buried in Kingston Cemetery. After training locally, on 30 May 1915 both battalions were accepted by the war office, and began training for service abroad. With so many raw recruits, so many new units and a shortage of equipment, naturally things happened slowly. In October 1915 the 2nd Portsmouths joined the 122nd Brigade, in the 41st Division at Aldershot. In February 1916 they were at Marlborough Barracks in February 1916, before landing in France in early May. Private H.T. Sait died on 11 March 1916, and is also buried in Kingston.

 

The Battalion disembarked at Le Havre at 0600 on 2 May 1916, marching to a rest camp from the port. The next day they entrained at 1139, before detraining at Godewaerveld the next day and marching to Meteren. After three days in billets at Meteren, the Battalion marched to new billets in the La Creche area. On 10 May 12 officers and 40 NCO’s spent two days in the trenches, attached to the 11th Royal Scots, in order to gain experience. Whilst they were there they experienced some heavy bombardments, and then an attack on the Royal Scots trenches. Two were repelled, but a third gained access to the Scots front lines before being pushed back.

 

All was quiet again until the 18th, when a gas alarm was raised. The Battalion stood to at 0115, and stood down at 0150. The next day more men went into the trenches for experience, this time 4 officers and 80 NCO’s. On the 25th the Battalion suffered a sad casualty, when Private H. Evans committed suicide. A Court of Enquiry found that he had become temporarily insane. Private Evans was buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Nord), but unfortunately his record on the CWGC does not give any information as to where in Portsmouth he lived.

 

On the 28th the Battalion marched from La Creche to billets at Creslow. Two days later on the 30th they moved up to the front line at Ploegsteert Wood, taking over trenches from the 8th Black Watch, between Le Gheer to opposite the Birdcage. A, B and C Companies were in the front line, with D Company in reserve. Ploegsteert was often used to give new units experience, rather than the more active Ypres Salient.

 

 

 

 

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ANZAC #13 – Corporal Herbert Townsing

Since reading the article in the Portsmouth News about Australian Great War Soldiers buried in Milton Cemetery, I have always thought that the story was limited to the twelve lads buried in Milton. However, after taking a glance at Tim Backhouse’s excellent memorials in Portsmouth website, I have discovered that there is also one ANZAC buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth. It seems only right to tell his story too.

Corporal Herbert Townsing was born in Avoca, Ampitheatre, Karra Karra, in Victoria. Townsing joined the Australian Forces on 27 August 1915, at Black Boy Hill in Western Australia. He was a 29 year old labourer, married with one child. At the time of his enlistment he was living at 62 Sterling Street, Perth, Western Australia, which would suggest that he had moved from Victoria looking for work. He was very tall at 6 foot 2 inches, and weighed a strapping 196lbs. With chest measurements of 38 and 40 1/2 inches, he had blue eyes – with imperfect eyesight – brown hair, and was a member of the Church of England. He had a scar over the bicep on his left arm.

After joining up he was posted to 26 Depot, and from there joined the 12th reinforcements for the 12th Battalion, Australian Infantry on 16 October 1915. Just before Christmas on 17 December 1915 he embarked on the HMAT Ajana (A31) from Freemantle. Upon arrival in Egypt he reported to the 3rd Training Battalion. On 3 March 1916 he was transferred from the 3rd Training Battalion to the 52nd Battalion, Australian Infantry, who were then at Zeitoun. Less than two weeks later, however, Herbert Townsing was transferred again, this time to the 4th Pioneer Battalion, at Tel-el-Kebir. Perhaps this transfer was due to his background as a Labourer.

Townsing was swiftly promoted in the Pioneers. On 14 April 1916 he was made a Temporary Corporal whilst at Serapeum, and this appointment was made permanent on 27 May 1915 at Merris. Soon after on 4 June 1916 he embarked for Europe, onboard the HMT Scotian at Alexandria. Disembarking at Marseilles on 11 June, he went up to the western Front.

On 9 August 1916 Herbert Townsing was wounded, receiving a shrapnel wound in his back. The next day he was admitted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital in Wimereux, where he was described as having spinal injuries. On 11 August he was embarked on the Hospital Ship St Dennis, and a week later – possibly after passing through other hospitals – Townsing was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth. Unlike the other Australians, however, Townsing was sent to the Fratton Bridge Hospital, rather than Milton or Fawcett Road. This suggests that the 5th Southern General was in fact an umbrella for a number of smaller military hospitals in Portsmouth.

Only a day after being admitted, Herbert Townsing died on 19 August 1916, of his wounds. Surprisingly, he was buried the same day in Kingston Cemetery. His personal effects were sent back to his wife Molly in Australia – 2 notebooks, purse, 2 photos, 2 letters, 2 cigarette holders, 3 badges, 7 coins, knife, watch in tin, small bag. Interestingly, Townsing was referred to as a Sergeant in  the caccompanying letter note. The only other reference in his service record to this rank is the letter to AIF HQ in London informing them of his casualty. My guess is that he was serving as a local acting Sergeant, and that this had not been entered on his records at the time of his death. Sadly, the re

Molly Townsing lived in various places after the war, including at Gordons Hotel, Buabura; and Frazer St, Bunbury in Western Australia. In 1922 her last known address was care of the Post Office at Wyalcatchem, Western Australia. She was awarded a pension from 2 November 19i6, and in writing to AIF Base HQ in 1917 had the following to say:

‘I am very grateful for your kindness in informing me as to where he lies, it is consoling to know that he lies in friendly soil’

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ANZAC #12 – Private Thomas Lynch

I thought having reached the W’s I had concluded my look at the Australian Great War soldiers buried in Milton Cemetery, but it seems that I had overlooked Private Thomas Lynch.

Lynch was born in Adelaide, in South Australia, the son of Henry and Mary Lynch. Enlisting at Keswick on 25 July 1915, he was aged 18, and lived on the corner of Auckland and Ifauld Streets in Adelaide. He was an unapprenticed boilermakers assistant. He was 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighed 140lbs, had chest measurements of 33 and 35.5 inches, a medium complexion, brown eyes (with good eyesight), light brown hair, was a Roman Catholic and had two vaccination marks on his left arm. As an 18 year old he required his mothers permission to enlist, which was duly given.

Upon joining Thomas Lynch was posted to K Group, Base Infantry at Mitcham. Whilst there he was fined a days pay for going absent without leave. Before leaving Australia he was posted to A Company of the 32nd Battalion, Australian Infantry. Lynch embarked from Adelaide on 18 November 1915, onboard the HMAT Geelong (A2). He arrived at Suez on 16 December 1915. Whilst at Tel-el-Kebir on 14 March 1916 he was punished for failing to have his kit stacked properly, and at Moascar on 6 June 1916 he was punished for quitting the ranks without permission. He was awarded four days of Field Punishment Number 2 – being shackled. Not long after this incident Lynch embarked to join the BEF, at Alexandria on 17 June onboard the Transport Transylvania. Disembarking at Marseilles on 23 June.

Lynch was wounded at Fromelles on 20 July 1916, receiving gunshot wounds to his left thigh. He was admitted to the 8th Field Ambulance and then the 8th Casualty Clearing Station. By the next day he was at the 32nd Stationary Hospital in Wimereux. His wound was obviously slight, as a day later he was discharged to the 1st Convalescence Camp, also at Wimereux. Four days later, after processing through the Base Details Depot at Etaples, he returned to the Battalion on 15 August 1916.

Lynch was wounded again in the winter of 1916. On 29 November, whilst on the Somme sectory, he received gunshot wounds to his right arm and right thigh. Admitted to the 38th Casualty Clearing Station, the next day he was in the 2nd General Hospital. On 3 December he was embarked on the Hospital Ship Gloucester Castle, and taken across the channel to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth. Sadly, at 2.30am on 18 December 1916 Private Thomas Lynch died of his wounds. He was buried in Milton Cemetery two days later.

Strangely, AIF HQ in London received the report of his funeral before being informed of his death, which no doubt resulted in some administrative hair-pulling. After his death, it transpired that Thomas was not actually the biological son of Henry and Mary Lynch. In correspondence with Australian Army officials, Mary Lynch referred to him as her adopted son. He had been brought up by her since he was a baby, and he never knew that she was not his mother. She had never told anyone. Despite this, Mary Lynch was paid Thomas’s estate of £16.3.6 on 3 December 1917, and received a fortnightly pension of 15/- from 26 February 1917.

And in a fascinating insight into the attitudes of a bereaved mother, Mary Lynch also had this to say in correnspondence with officials:

There is not one thing in the world this minute that I longed to have more than a photo of his grave. How I yearned to have that photo no one knows. I pray that it will not be long before we will have a glorious victory over those inhuman brutes of Germans.

Oddly, there is no report of Lynch’s funeral in his service records, nor any detailed hospital records of how exactly he died. We do know, however, that his personal effects were sent back home to his mother. They consisted of:

Cigarette Case, Rosary, part of Rosary, Shaving brush (damaged), 7 religious medallions, wallet, money belt, prayer book, Postcards, 2 cotton bags, scarf, cap-comforter, razor strop, pipe.

This suggests that he was quite a religious young lad. Funnily enough, most of the 12 ANZAC’s we have looked at had either cigarettes or pipes, which is interesting. The Great War is often cited as an example of how cigarettes replaced pipe tobacco, as they were easier to transport up to the front line.

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ANZAC #11 – Lance Corporal George Wall

So far in our study of Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth we have come across a fairly even spread of men who either died of illness or wounds received in battle. Yet one man was drowned at sea, whilst being transported from France to England on a Hospital Ship, having been wounded on two separate occasions and suffering from three serious illneses.

George Savoury Lipscombe Wall was born in Thorpdale, Balu Balu in Victoria. The son of Francis and Blanche Wall, when he enlisted in the Australian Forces on 17 April 1916 the Wall family were living at Koncwak, South Gippsland in Victoria. George Wall was a 22 year old farmer, and was unmarried. Interestingly, it seems that he had served in the Australian Light Horse previously for 2 years, but his attestation form records ‘no discharge – removed from training centre (I would be interested to hear if anyone can suggest what this means). Wall actually attested at Leongathra. Wall was quite tall at 6 foot 1 3/4 inches, 168lbs, and had a chest measurement of 38 inches. He had a dark complexion, blue eyes – of which both had perfect sight – and brown hair. He was a member of the Church of England, and had 2 vaccination marks on his right arm, and a scar on his left shin. He was allocated to the 37th Battalion of the Australian Infantry.

Wall embarked from Melbourne on 28 July 1916, onboard the HMAT Themistocles (A32). The Themistocles docked at Plymouth on 11 September, and from there Wall joined the 2nd Training Battalion on Salisbury Plain. After twelve days training he joined the 37th Battalion. The Battalion was evidently in England at this point, as Wall did not embark for France until 23 November 1916. On 16 January 1917 George Wall was admitted to the 9th Field Ambulance and then the 9th General Hospital, suffering with Mumps. After being discharded from Hospital on 6 February, he finally rejoined the Battalion on 22 February. On 5 April he was promoted to Lance Corporal.

On 7 June 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres, Lance Corporal Wall was wounded in action. Admitted to the 9th Field Ambulance and then the Casualty Clearing Station, by the next day he was in Hospital at Le Touquet, where his wounds were described as a gunshot wound to the left forearm. Four days later on 12 June he was shipped to England on the Hospital Ship Stad Antwerpen. Admitted to the 3rd General Hospital the next day, and spent several months recovering. A medical report states that no bones were broken, that the wound was healing well, and there was no discharge. He finally went back to France on 6 August 1917, after spending time at the Training Depot near the Brighton Downs. He finally rejoined his Battalion on 18 August 1917, where despite his absence, he was promoted to Temporary Corporal four days later – perhaps losses at Passchendaele brought about his promotion.

Several months later Corporal Wall was wounded a second time, on 19 November. This time he received a gunshot wound to his right leg and bruised his back. He was admitted to the 9th Field Ambulance and then the 53rd Casualty Clearing Station, and as he was only a Temporary Corporal, reverted to his substantive rank of Lance-Corporal upon leaving the front line. The next day he was admitted to the 55th General Hospital in Boulogne. His wounds were obviously slight, as only five days later he was discharged to the 12th Convalescence Depot at Aubenque. On 7 December he reported to the 3rd Base Details Depot at Rouelles, and rejoined his unit on 18 December.

Only two days later, however, George Wall was again admitted to Hospital, this time suffering with Trench Fever. He was processed swiftly through the 11th Field Ambulance, the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station to the 1st Canadian General Hospital. After reaching the Hospital on 23 December he spent Christmas there, before once again being shipped to England on 13 January, onboard the Hospital Ship Pieter de Connick. He was admitted to the Military Hospital in Edmonton, suffering from slight Trench Fever. Twelve days later he was transferred to the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital, at Dartford in Kent. On the same day he was admitted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital. On 4 February he was discharged to the 4th Convalescence Depot at Hurdcott, as he was still feeling very week and feeling pain in his back – possibly a recurrence of his earlier back inbjury. Six weeks later he reported to the Training Battalion at Longbridge Deverill. The long time that Wall was out of action shows just how debilitating Trench Fever could be.

After a months re-training, George Wall re-embarked for France on 17 April 1918, via Southampton. The next day he reported the the 3rd Base Depot at Rouelles, which we are told was a New Zealander-run depot. Five days later he moved out to the front, and on 24 April he rejoined his Battalion after an absence of almost four months. From then on Wall actually managed to spend three months at the front relatively unveventfully, before being sent to Hospital sick on 21 July 1918. The next day he was admitted to the 10th Field Ambulance with Enteric Collitis, and the next day found him in the 12th Casualty Clearing Station, where his diagnosis was changed to ‘dysentery’. On 26 July he was admitted to the 16th General Hospital at Le Treport.

On 1 August he was shipped to England, onboard the Hospital ship Warilda. Earlier in the war the Warilda had served as a troopship, but by 1918 had been converted to a hospital ship (Private Clarence Jones, buried in Portsmouth, had left Australia on the Warilda). In the English Channel the Warilda was torpedoed by the German submarine UC-49, 35 miles off Littlehampton, en route to Southampton. The ship sank in two hours, and of the 801 people on board, 123 were killed. Of the 471 patients onboard, 115 perished.

George Wall was reported missing presumed drowned. his body was one of the few recovered at sea, and taken to Southampton, and then to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth. He was buried in Milton Cemetery on 7 August 1918. At some time between his enlistment and his death Wall must have converted to Catholicism, as although his attestation papers state that he was a member of the Church of England, by the time of his funeral he was recorded as a Roman Catholic. His funeral was conducted by Reverend Timothy A. Toomey, of Bishops House in Edinburgh Road, the residence of Portsmouth’s RC Bishop. The undertaker was Alfred G. Stapleford of Crasswell Street. Unlike most Australians buried in Portsmouth Wall had a number of relatives present at his funeral – his uncle Mr. Charles A. Wall, of the Hollies, Harcourt Road, Wallington in Surrey; and aunts Misses Ethel and Dorothy Wall, of 21 Maldon Road, also in Wallington. Wreaths were sent by George Wall’s mother and father, his uncle and aunts, staff at the hospital and australian patients. 30 Australian patients followed Wall’s coffin from the hospital to Milton Cemetery.

As he was lost at sea, very few of his possessions were returned to his family – only items held in storage either in France or in Britain. His family received 1 book (knots untied), 1 belt, 2 prayer books, pair boots, 1 khaki shirt and 1 strop. George Wall was insured with the National Mutual Life Insurance, and his will was handled by Messrs Corr and Corr of Melbourne. His will bequeathed his entire estate to his father.

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ANZAC #10 – Private John Roberts

John Roberts was born at Mount Egerton in Victoria. The son of William and Esther Roberts, John was living at Herbert Road in Footscray, Victoria when he joined the Australian Army on 4 October 1916. Upon enlisting he was aged 27 years and 9 months, and had been working as an unapprenticed miner. He wasn’t married, and his next of kin was his mother, suggesting that his father was dead. His permanent address was given as care of the Post Office, Bulong in Western Australia. He hadn’t previously served in the armed forces, and he took the oath at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. That he was living in Western Australia is not surprising, I would imagine there are more openings for miners there than in Victoria! He was quite a small man, at 5ft 6 and a half inches and he weighed 135lb. He had a ruddy complexion, with brown hair and hazel eyes, with perfect eyesight. His chest measured 32 inches and 35 expanded. He was a member of the Congregational Church – a church where each congregation pretty much runs itself – and had a tattoo of a heart and clasped hands on his left forearm.

Upon enlisting, he was posted to 87 Depot, and from there was drafted to the 44th Battalion, Australian Infantry on 11 November 1916. In October he received unspecified dental treatment, and at some point during this period Roberts spent some time in the Clearing Hospital in Black Boy Hill, Western Australia, with an inflamed right buttock – possibly a training injury.Roberts service record, uniquely, give us an impression of just how many vaccinations servicemen had to receive – Roberts was vaccinated on 17 and 26 October, and 13 and 28 December – the last two for influenza. He was also vaccinated on 16 February 1917, whilst in transit to Britain. He embarked from Freemantle, Western Australia onboard the HMAT Persic (A34), on 29 December 1916. The day before leaving Australia Roberts made a will, lodged with a Miss Margaret McInnes, at the Government Hospital in Kargoolie, West Australia.

The Persic finally arrived at Devonport on 3 March 1917, and from there Roberts processed through the Camp Details Section at Sutton Manderville. Five days later, he joined the 11th Training Battalion at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. All Australian troops arriving from Australia spent some time with a training Battalion, even if they had already been designated for a Battalion that was at the front. After three months training, Roberts left for France. On 19 June 1917 he proceeded overseas via Southampton, arriving at the 3rd Australian Base Details Depot at Le Havre the next day. After 18 days there he finally left to join his Battalion, joining up with the 44th on 9 July 1917.

After less than a month at the front, John Roberts was admitted to the 11th Australian Field Ambulance suffering with Influenza – possibly an early sufferer of the Spanish influenza epidemic. After a week in the Field Ambulance he was discharged and returned to duty on 16 August. Less than four days later, however, Roberts was again admitted to Hospital sick. He was processed through the 9th Australian Field Ambulance and the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station, and was believed to be suffering from appendicitis. On 21 August he boarded 38 Ambulance Train, to the 5th General Hospital in Rouen. Five days later he was sent to England on the Hospital Ship Esquibo, by now diagnosed with acute Nephritis. The next day he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth, where his Nephritis was described as slight.

Upon admission Roberts was assessed by a doctor. No blood was found in his urine, but a large ischio-skeletal abcess was discovered on his right side, in the kidney region. Over two months his condition deteriorated, and he died at 12.50pm on 11 November 1917, of Nephritis. He was buried in Milton Cemetery at 3pm on 21 November 1917 – an unusually long 10 days after his death. Prior to his internment a service was held in the Chapel at the Cemetery – the only time this happened for any of the twelve Australians in Milton – conducted by the Reverend J. Watkins Daines, a Congregational Minister of Milton. And unlike most other Australian servicemen, Roberts elm coffin had brass mountings. A Firing party, bugler and pallbearers were provided by the Hampshire Regiment. Roberts brother, Private A.B. Roberts of 3 Coy Australian Army Service Corps Divisional Train was present at the funeral. Interestingly, Roberts was originally buried in unconsecrated ground – why, exactly, I have yet to establish. The undertaker was H. Osborne of Gosport – again, unusual, as all of the other ANZACS were ‘looked after’ by A.G. Stapleford, of Crasswell Street, Portsmouth.

John Roberts personal effects comprised the following:

1 wallet note book (containing letters), 2 discs, 1 coin, 1 silk shirt and collar, strop, pipe, jack knife, mirror, gospel, writing pad, hair brush, badges, shaving brush, soldiers guide, testament, 1 holdall (containing toothbrush, razor, 2 combs), 1 pair mittens, 1 pair socks.

Interestingly, these objects were sent to Mrs. M. McInnes at Kargoolie, who had been appointed as Private Roberts executor in his will. She was given sole powers over his estate, as if she were his sole beneficiary. If there was a dispute with his mother is unknown.

Sadly, John Roberts other brother also died during the war. Private Lawrence Moyle Roberts, of the 2nd Australian Machine Gun Company, was 20 when he died on 9 December 1916, and is buried in Lodge Hill Cemetery in Birmingham. Their mother Esther Roberts received a pension for both of them after their deaths.

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ANZAC #9 – Private Thomas Pearson

Thomas Owen Pearson was born in Bathurst, New South Wales in 1895, the son of Thomas and Ellen Pearson. In 1914, Thomas Pearson (junior) was working as an unapprenticed clerk. By this time, the Pearson family, including 19 year-old Thomas, were living at Walareyan, Dean Street, in Toowong. As well as working as a clerk, Pearson had been serving in a militia unit, the Oxley Infantry, for just over a year.

Thomas Pearson joined the Australian Army on 7  September 1914, very soon after the start of the Great War. He was initially drafted to the Australian Army Medical Corps, in No 3 Field Ambulance, A Section. He was 5ft 6 1/2 inches tall, weighed 133lbs, had a chest measurement of 33 and 36 inches, a fresh complexion, blue eyes, brown hair, and was a member of the Church of England.

After joining up Pearson spent less than three weeks in Australia, before he embarked for the Middle East, onboard the HMAT Rangatira (A22), on 25 September 1914 from Queensland. In common with most of the early members of the Australian Forces, Pearson and 3 Field Ambulance went to Egypt to await further instructions. Whilst there they commenced training, and it was not until 2 March 1915 that Pearson finally embarked for active service, joining the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Gallipoli. The Australians did not actually land at ANZAC Bay until 25 April 1915, but Pearson – who landed on the first day – was wounded in his shoulder and right hip on 9 May. He was taken to the Hospital Ship Gloucester Castle, and from there to Egypt. He was admitted to the 1st General Hospital in Helipololis, in Cairo. He had sufficiently recovered by 23 June to be discharged. On 21 July he again embarked for Gallipoli, this time on board HMAT Seang Bee.

Pearson was again evacuated from the Dardanelles on 26 September, this time suffering with Diaorrhoea. Admitted to the 1st Casualty Clearing Station, he then passed through 3 Field Ambulance – his own unit – and onto the Hospital ship Gascon. on 2 October he disembarked at Malta, where on 25 October he boarded the Hospital Ship Gibraltar, this time bound for England. He arrived in England on 31 October, and was admitted to the 2nd Southern General Hospital, at Mandlin Street in Bristol. There he remained for a good couple of months, evidently very weak after suffering from acute diarrhoea. A cable back home in November reported that he was suffering from debility, a serious weakness brought on by his illness. He was finally discharged on 4 January 1916, and reported to the ANZAC Depot at Abbeywood.

Pearson was destined to go back to the Mediterranean, but failed to report when he was supposed to. On 9 February he was fined a days pay, a remarkably light fine compared to some men who went AWOL for a matter of hours and were fined weeks worth of pay! Pearson finally embarked for the Middle East again on 24 February, onboard the MHAT Kingstonian. The Kingstonian arrived at Alexandria on 24 February 1916, and from there Pearson reported to the overseas draft base at Ghezerieh. He was finally assigned to the 2nd Field Ambulance on 12 March, at Serapeum. Two days later he was actually admitted to the Field Ambulance as a patient, suffering from Inflenza. This was edivently not serious, as he was discharged a week later.

The MEF had been evacuated from Gallipoli in January 1916, and since then the ANZAC troops had been awaiting their next move in Egypt. As the Western Front was consuming vast numbers of men, it was decided to bring the Australians to France to join the BEF. Accordingly, on 23 March Pearson embarked on the HMAT Briton at Alexandria. He had only been back in Egypt for less than a month.

The Briton docked at Marseilles on 30 March 1916, and from there Pearson proceeded to the Western Front. On 19 June Pearson was transferred from 2 Field Ambulance to the 25th Battalion of the Australian Infantry – whether he had been transferred as medical orderly or stretcher bearer, or even as an infantryman, is unclear. But on 30 June 1916, the day before the opening of the Somme offensive, Thomas Pearson received a serious shrapnel wound in his left leg. Admitted to the 7th Field Ambulance the next day, by 3 July he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital. By this time his wounds were described as a gunshot wound in his left leg, and a severely fractured fibula.

It appeared that Pearson’s wound was clearing up and healing well. Sadly developed Tetanus, probably as a result of the filthy conditions on the western front, the nature of his wound and lack of development of battlefield medicine at the time. On 24 July he reported a stiffness in his jaw, and by the next day was showing symptoms of Tetanus. He was treated with anti-tetanus serum, but died at 11.10pm on 26 July 1916. He was just 20. Unlike most soldiers who died at the Hospital in Milton, Pearson was actually buried in Highland Cemetery in Southsea. His personal effects were sent back to his fathe, consisting of 2 wallets, photos, letters, watch, correspondence, note book, purse, 3 coins, cigarette holder, cigarette case, tooth brush, scissors, ring, 2 pipes and a tobacco pouch. Pearson’s body was later exhumed after the war, and re-interred with his fellow Australians in Milton Cemetery.

Tragically, Thomas Pearson’s parents lost another son on the Western Front. Corporal F.W. Pearson, also serving with the 25th Battalion Australian Infantry, was reported missing on 29 July 1916, during the Battle of Pozieres on the Somme. Twelve months later he was reported killed in action. Thus it seems feasible that the two Pearson brothers died within three days of each other.

A series of letters from Thomas Pearson senior to the Australian Infantry Base Records Depot sheds much light on what this poor family went through. By the early 1920’s the family were living at Wilmington Street, in Newmarket, Queensland. Evidently their moving confused matters, as there is evidence that Thomas’s memorial scroll took some time to reach them. His letters also tell us that Mr Sanderson of Exeter Road, who voluntarily tended the Australian graves in Milton, had actually visited Thomas whilst he was hill. It seems reasonable to suggest that Mr Sanderson looked after the Australian boys in life as he did in death.

The last words, perhaps, belong to Thomas Pearson senior:

to know a lad is buried decently softens the blow exceedingly… of my other lad I suppose we shall never know

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2nd Portsmouth Pals Battalion War Diary located!

For a long time I had been labouring under the misaprehension that only a select few WW1 war diaries had been made available for download via The National Archives Documents Online service. In such a manner I had downloaded a copy of the 1st Hampshire’s War Diary some time ago, and not long ago I posted up a summary of their activities from Le Cateau in August 1914 until the beginning of 1918. It’s a thread that I’m sure I will pick up again some time in the future.

But thanks to browsing on the Grear War Forum, I have discovered that more War Diaries are available than I had originally thought. It works like this – for many Battalions, in particular territorial or hostilities only, the Battalion diaries have been grouped by brigade, hence by a cursory glance, it appears that it is only the Brigade HQ War Diary that is available. But, and here’s the golden bit, they are actually consolidated – so in reality you get four for the price of one!

Of course I have a very keen interest in the Portsmouth Pals, as I will be carrying out a lot of research into their formation, their membership, their battles and their losses. Sadly the war diary for the 1st Portsmouth Pals (14th Hampshires) is not available, and will necessitate a trip to Kew, but that of the 2nd Portsmouth Pals (15th Hampshires) is.

I’ve downloaded a couple of hundred page PDF’s, and although I have only had a quick flick through, it seems like it is unusually detailed for a war diary. Not necessarily in terms of grid references, maps or operational matters, but it does seem to give an unusually high amount of attention to other ranks rather than just officers. Of course this will be priceless for finding out about when Private X died, or when Sergeant Z won his Military Medal.

Let the transcribing begin!

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Retreat and Rearguard 1914: The BEF’s actions from Mons to the Marne by Jerry Murland

I have always felt that perhaps the military history of the First World War has focussed far too much on the events of 1916 and 1917 – primarily, Verdun, the Somme and Passchendaele. Sure, all three were epic battles with a profound social and military impact, but viewing them without looking at what became before and after is to only see half of the picture. The British Expeditionary Force landed in France in August 1914, and marched up to the Belgian frontier. In defence of Belgian neutrality, the BEF marched into Belgium itself to meet the German Army’s advance.

I have studied something of the retreat from Mons, during my research into the 1st Hampshires and their battle at Le Cateau. But given that I am hoping to write a book or two on the First World War, I was very pleased to see this land on my doormat. I have always been mystified by the portrayal of Mons as a defeat. True, I think it would be hard to paint Mons itself as a victory, but Smith-Dorrien‘s decision to stand at Le Cateau was a masterpiece. Much like Quatre Bras almost a hundred years before, success there gave the rest of the Army time to slip away orderly. And although it is never inspiring for an army to retreat, a General should not be afraid to do so if the strategic situation demands it. French and the BEF had little option but to fall in line with Joffre’s overal strategy, particularly with an unreliable Lanzerac on the BEF’s right flank. The Duke of Wellington retreated many times, but almost always in an orderly fashion, with a plan up his sleeve. True, French might not exactly have had a Waterloo planned, but the retreat forced the German Army to over extend itself and to falter on the Marne. I think history would probably hold out that this was a far wiser strategy than to stand at Mons and be destroyed.

I feel a special mention is in order for the fighting at Etreux on 27 August 1914, where the 2nd Bn Royal Munster Fusiliers were attacked by the Germans at 7am near Chapeau Rouge, before a fighting withdrawal throughout the day, before a dramatic last stand at the Orchard in Etreux. The Battalion was decimated, and four of those killed were from Portsmouth – Lieutenant Challoner Chute (19), Lance Corporal Edward Carroll (29, Milton), and the two brothers Corporal Charles Roberts (23) and Corporal George Roberts (21),  of Meyrick Road in Stamshaw. I am very grateful to Jerry Murland for adding to me knowledge of how these Portsmouth men died.

Murland has made a fantatic contribution to the history of the BEF on the Western Front. Impeccably researched, it is based on a wealth of primary and secondary material. In particular I was very impressed with the maps, which really helped to gain a feel for the battles of August 1914. He has dealt very well not only with giving a full and insightful narrative of the campaign, but has also shed light on often overlooked areas – the relations between French, Haig and Smith-Dorrien, and between French and Joffre and Lanzerac; the myth that the BEF’s marksmanship was so rapid that the Germans thought that every man was armed with a machine gun; and he has also given new prominence to the sterling work of the gunners and sappers during the retreat.

A retreat in contact with the enemy is perhaps the most challenging military maneouvre to pull off – if it works, you have barely survived; if it fails, you have a rout. Not only was it a success for the BEF get itself back to the Marne in the state that it did, but it is also very commendable that Murland has looked at every last little aspect of the campaign in such a forensic yet fulsome manner. As good as John Terraine’s book on Mons is, I found Jerry Murland’s much more insightful.

Retreat and Rearguard 1914 is published by Pen and Sword

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ANZAC #8 – Driver Andrew ‘Snowy’ Melville

We are now two-thirds of the way through our look at the 12 Australian Soldiers buried in Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth. We have heard stories of disease and illness, of battles and wounds, of far off lands in the Empire. All of these lads stories are touching, but so far I don’t think a story has quite grabbed me like that of Andrew Melville.

 

Andrew Melville was born in Ballarat in Victoria, the son of Andrew and Sophie Melville. Andrew Senior had died some years prior to the first world war, so it was in 1915 that Andrew junior, then just over 18 years old, had to gain the consent of his mother to allow him to apply to join the Australian Imperial Force. Melville initially applied for the prestigious Australian Light Horse, but this was quietly crossed out on his attestation papers, and replaced with the 24th Battalion of the Australian Infantry.

 

Upon attestation on 15 March 1915 Melville was 18 years old, and an un-apprenticed Butcher. His mother lived at Peel Street North in Ballarat, and his only previous service was via the cadets. He was relatively tall at 5 foot and 10 1/4 inches, and weighed 146lbs. His chest was 34 inches normal and 37 inches expanded, and he had a fair complexion, with blue eyes and fair hair. He was a member of the Church of England, and had four vaccination marks on his left arm, and moles on his right shoulder and the left side of his neck.

 

After joining the Army, Melville initially served at a Depot in Australia. On 10 May 1915, he embarked on the HMAT Euripides (A14) from Melbourne, bound for Egypt. Sadly Melville’s service records do not suggest precisely what he was up to between when he left Australia, and the beginning of 1916 – a gap of around 7 months. We do know, however, that the 24th Battalion was in action at Gallipoli, fighting in the Lone Pine sector from September until December 1916. After being evacuated from Gallipoli the Battalion was in Egypt, guarding the Suez Canal Zone. On 4 March 1916 Melville was taken ill with influenza – perhaps an early case of the later epidemic? – and was admitted to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Ismailia. He must have recovered, as on 20 March 1916 he was with the 24th Battalion when they embarked from Alexandria, to join the BEF.

 

Landing at Marseilles on 27 March 1916, the Battalion spent much of 1916 fighting in the Battle of the Somme, in particular at Pozieres in late July and early August and at Mouquet Farm in August and September. On 13 September Melville was remustered as a Driver, suggesting that he had taken on a role with transport within the Battalion. On 5 Oct0ber 1916, however, he reported sick with a septic buttock, and was quickly admitted to a Dressing Station, then a Casualty Clearing Station. By the next day he was in the 3rd Canadian General Hospital in Boulogne. Two days later he was embarked on the Hospital Ship St Patrick, arriving in England the same day. Melville spent some time in the Shorncliffe Military Hospital in Kent, then at the 2nd Auxiliary Hospital, before being discharged to the ANZAC Depot in Weymouth on 4 November 1916. Whilst there he recuperated at a Depot in Wareham, near Poole.

 

Melville obviously required some recuperation and/or remedial training, for it was not until 24 January 1917 that he embarked again for France, on the Princess Clementine. The next day he arrived at the Australian Base Depot at Etaples, before finally rejoining his Battalion on 5 February 1917, after an absence of exactly four months. He was next ill on 22 March, when he was admitted to the 2nd Dressing Station and 2nd Australian Field Ambulance succesively with Trench Foot. He was discharged back to the Battalion on 2 April 1917.

 

Melville was only back with his Battalion for four days, however, as on 6 April he was admitted to the 45th Casualty Clearing Station, and then the 6th Australian Field Ambulance, with ‘Pyrexia of an unknown origin’. Two days later he was put onboard an ambulance train, and from there was admitted to the 10th General Hospital in Rouen. His records do not suggest whether his illness was resolved, but On 22 April he was well enough to be discharged to the 11th Convalescence Depot at Buchy. After several weeks there he was back at the Australian Base Depot at Etaples, before once again rejoining his Battalion on 13 May 1917, just in time to take part in the closing stages of the first battle of Bullecourt, part of Third Ypres. The Battalion later fought in the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October 1917.

 

Life was pretty uneventful for Snowy Melville, until 1 February 1918 when he was granted a rare two week leave pass to England. For whatever reason, he did not return as scheduled on 16 February, and was absent without leave until 18 February, for a total of two days. He was sentenced to 14 days of Field Punishment Number 2 (ie, shackled), and fined 16 days pay. His punishment over and done with, Melville was with the 24th when they were part of the desparate defence of the allied line during the Kaiser Offensive in the spring of 1918.

 

On 31 July 1918, Melville – by now no stranger to military medicine – again reported sick. He was admitted to the 6th Field Ambulance, and three days later to the 5th Casualty Clearing Station, where his condition was once again described as ‘Pyrexia of unknown origin‘ – obviously a recurrence, as the origin obviously not having been found since his last admission back in April 1917. By 5 August 1918 he was in the 16th US General Hospital in Le Treport, before being shipped to England on 11 August. He was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth. His condition does not seem to have been too serious initially, but thirteen days after he arrived he suddenly began to experience acute abdominal pain. An abdominal section was performed, which revealed that his abdomen was full of fluid and food matter, but no perforation was found. He became worse, and Driver Andrew Melville died of what was later found to be a perforated gastric ulcer, at 10.15am on 28 August 1918.

 

Snowy Melville was buried in Milton Cemetery on 31 August 1918. The burial was officiated by the Reverend J.M. Young, with Mr. A.G.Stapleford being the undertaker. Melville’s friend, a Miss K. White of 90 St Marys Road in Portsmouth, attended. Melville was given a full military funeral, with a firing party, bugler, military pallbearers and his coffin as draped with the union jack. Wreaths were given by the nursing staff of the hospital, Miss K. White, Sister Smith of the Hospital, and comrades from B2 Ward. Large number of patients and sisters were in attendance, and the Last Post was sounded. It seems that Melville was extrermely well liked in the Hospital, by nurses, patients and visitors alike. A comrade and a visiting English lady reported that he never complained, and that the doctors and nurses tried very hard to save him, but to no avail. Reportedly all were saddened by his death.

 

Melville’s personal effects were sent back to his mother, and consisted of correspondence, 1 wallet, photos, 1 comb, 1 metal ring, 1 cigarette case, badges, 1 razor, 1 penknife, 1 safety pin, 1 disc, 1 nail file. Interesting, that most of the dead ANZAC’s possessions seem to have been very simple, personal comfort items. Melville is also the first to have had a cigarette case. Cigarettes overtook the pipe as a means of smoking during the war, given the ease of transporting and keeping cigarettes when compared to loose tobacco.

 

An interesting postscript emerged after the war regarding Melville.  Two bodies of unknown Australian soldiers were discovered near the Serre Road, around Pozieres where the 24th Battalion had fought in 1916. One of the bodies wore a watch, engraved with ‘227’ – Melville’s Army number. All of the men around the unknown soldiers were of the 24th Battalion, in an area where the Battalion had fought on the Somme. As we know that Snow Melville was buried in Portsmouth, it seems that he had somehow parted with his watch, which was buried with a comrade and possible friend. The two unknown soldiers were never identified.

Snowy Melville was an incredible, very young man. We have to remember that he was barely eighteen when he first left home for the war, and fought for almost three years on the other side of the world. Evidently well liked, he had fought practically everywhere – Gallipoli, the Somme, Ypres, and the Kaiser Offensive of 1918. He had suffered from numerous illnesses, but showed a remarkable ability to keep bouncing back. Sadly, it seems that his luck simply run out, so close to the end of the war. Had he lived, Melville would surely have been something of a legend amongst his friends and family.

 

Snowy, we salute you.

 

 

 

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ANZAC #7 – Private Clarence Jones

HMAT Warilda

Image via Wikipedia

Clarence Morgan Jones was born in Colebrook in Tasmania in 1892. The son of Charles James and Mary Ann Jones, after leaving school he worked as a Shepherd. Attesting in the Australian Forces in Colebrook, Clarence Jones was 23 on 15 September 1915. He hadn’t previously served with the armed forces. He was a well built young man, at 5 foot 9 inches tall and 13st 1lb, and a 38 inch chest, 40 inches expanded. He had a fair complexion, brown hair and dark eyes, was of a church of england persuasion, and had no distinguishing marks.

After enlisting, Jones was sent to A Company of the 12th Australian Infantry Battalion, as part of the 14th reinforcements for that unit. Jones actually stayed in Australia for a lot longer than most new recruits, and did not embark until 8 February 1916, on the HMAT Warilda out of Melbourne. The Warilda arrived at Suez on 8 March 1916, where Jones joined the 3rd Training Battalion. Not long after arriving in Egypt he was transferred to the 52nd Battalion, then at Serapeum.

Whilst undergoing training Jones was admitted to Hospital, on 23 May 1916 going to the 34th Casualty Clearing Station, From there he was admitted to the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital, suffering with Pleurisy. His service records do not indicate when he was discharged, but he must have recovered swiftly as on 21 June he embarked at Alexandria to join the BEF in Europe.

Disembarking at Marseilles on 30 June 1916, Jones was at the 5th Divison Training Base at Etaples until 22 July, when he was transferred to the 57th Bn, Australian Infantry. The Battalion fought at Frommeles, entering the line on 19 July without first aclcimatising on a quiet sector. On 27 November Jones was admitted to Hospital, apparently suffering with Trench Feet. On 29 November he was sent from the 38th Casualty Clearing Station, on no 2023 Ambulance Train, to the 2nd General Hospital at Le Havre. From there he was shipped to England, on the Hospital Ship Gloucester Castle on 3 December 1916.

After arriving in England Clarence Jones was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital, but his condition did not improve. By then he was suffering from gangrene in both feet and pneumonia. He died at 10.50am on 10 December 1916, and was buried in Milton Cemetery three days later. Sadly, his parents were only informed that he was seriously ill in a telegram on 12 December, after he had already died.

His effects were sent to his father, and consisted of the following:

Hair brush, razor in case, shaving brush, mirror, 2 knives, belt containing badges and buttons, spectacles in case, razor strop, testament, pipe, housewife, identity disc, 2 bullets, purse, comb, pocket book, letters.

In 1925 Jones’s father sent a touching letter to the Base Records Department of the Australian Army:

We received the photographs of our dear lad’s grave, Pte. CM Jones. For which we thank you so very much for them. We are so pleased to have them and they are so well cared for which we are so thankful to know. And we are pleased to have Mr Sanderson’s photo he has been so kind in writing to me so kindly and he seems to very interested in our loved ones graves.

But that’s not all. A letter from Mr and Mrs Jones to Base Records in 1923 suggests that they lost more than one son in the War. Whats more, it seems that it took quite some time for their memorial plaques to reach them, after problems with the post. By this time his parents were living at Green View, Lake Road, near Oatlands in Tasmania. At some point they also lived in Tower Marshes, Jericho, also in Tasmania.

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Birmingham Pals by Terry Carter

In the past year or so there has been a real increase in the number of military history books looking at the First World War. And refreshingly, many of them are focused on the experiences of the average guy caught up in conflict. Among them is Pen and Sword‘s series of books on the Pals Battalions.

In 1914 the British Army was relatively small – virtually an Imperial police force, and a continental role was never really envisioned until only a few years before the war began. As a result, the Army had to expand massively in order to field a sizeable expeditionary force in Flanders. The solution of the Secretart of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, was to recruit masses of volunteers into a ‘New Army‘, or ‘Kitchener Battalions’. Many of these were centred on large urban areas, including Birmingham.

Birmingham eventually raised three Kitchener Battalions – the 14th, 15th and 16th Battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Birnimgham’s local country Regiment. Of course, if we try to divorce units from their social history, and indeed their communities in general, they make much less sense in history. As raw recruits, the Battalions spent much time in England training before embarking for France. Like most of the Kitchener Battalions, the Birmingham Pals first action was on the Somme. The fate of the Pals Battalions on the Somme has really struck a chord in British military history, probably due to the grievous losses combined with the fact that it was the first time that Britain had truly fielded a citizen army.

But this isn’t just a narrative, ‘1914 to 1918 what happened’. Terry Carter grounds his work with a chapter on the social and economic context of Birmingham’s history, and the events of August 1914 which saw mass volunteering amid a wave of euphoria. It is impeccably well researched, and generously illustrated. It contains a roll of honour of all members of the three Battalions who fell, and a list of gallantry medals – a real bonus for anyone wishing to look up their ancestors. Overall it is very well handled, and at no point does the text stray into the oft-heard stereotypes about the Pals, and instead wisely focuses on sources and events.

I found this a very interesting read indeed. Not only will it interest Brummies, but also those of us from further afield who are interested in this kind of research, with the 100th anniversary looming in 2014. Terry Carter has definitely put down a marker here, and I hope I can do half as good a job when it comes to paying tribute to Portsmouth’s own pals.

Birmingham Pals is published by Pen and Sword

 

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