Tag Archives: anzac

ANZAC Day service in Portsmouth

Earlier today Sarah and myself went to the annual ANZAC service at Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth, in remembrance of the 13 Great War Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth. Regular readers might remember that I ran a series earlier in the year about the men and their experiences.

The service was attended by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Cheryl Buggy, Royal British Legion Standard Bearers, Royal Marines Cadets and members of the public. After a few words and prayers from the Chaplain, the last post was sounded and a minutes silence observed. After the reveille wreaths were laid, along with Poppy crosses.

It was great to see such a turn out, especially for some very young men who died over 95 years ago, so far from home. Hopefully they would be pleased that they have not been forgotten.

As you can see the graves are in a beautiful condition, and are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. All of the 11 in this particular row were buried separately, but then exhumed and re-interred after the war in the same row. Hence their graves look very much like war graves in some of the big foreign war cemeteries in France and Belgium. Also buried next to them is Edward Sanderson, who voluntarily tended the Australian graves, and his wife Harriet.

I also have pictures of each of the men’s graves, and I will be updating their biographies on my blog with their pictures. If anybody from Australia would like to take copies of these pictures, then please do. I am also hoping to write an article about Portsmouth’s adopted ANZAC’s for th Australian War Memorial Journal in the near future.

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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 #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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Suvla – the August offensive by Stephen Chambers

One of the fundamental tenets of modern British military practice has been to never, ever reinforce defeat. In other words, to not keep on flogging a dead horse. The Gallipoli campaign is a sober example of this. Noble in its intentions, once the Anglo-French fleet failed to force the Dardanelles by sea (and they might have succeeded if only they had pressed on a bit further) ground forces were landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, in an attempt to dominate the straits from the land.

In an abject lesson for later amphibious operations, the British at Helles and the ANZAC‘s further north failed to gain sufficient lodgement areas to build up their forces. In addition, the front line was so close to the sea that the lines of communications were frequently under fire. This lack of a lodgement area prevented the Allied forces from building up enough momentum to push on and capture the rest of the Peninsula.

Rather than seriously evaluate the viability of the whole Campaign, General Sir Ian Hamilton chose to make another landing, in between ANZAC and Helles at Suvla Bay. Quite why he thought that another limited landing, lacking in expertise and resources, would work where two others had failed is beyond me, it does strike one as a lack of imagination. Things might not have been so bad, had Kitchener not sent out Sir Frederick Stopford to command the Corps at Suvla. Lacking in experience and elderly, Stopford was sent out for old-fashioned, Army seniority reasons. One of the Divisional Commanders was a Lieutenant-General, and Stopford was the only available General who was senior to him – sending out a junior would have been unthinkable to what was still a hierarchy conscious Army.

Predictably, the landings at Suvla  met with little success. They were hallmarked by a lack of urgency in the initial landings and poor leadership thereafter, but also some very brave service by the rank and file, and indeed the opposing Turkish soldiers. Incidentally, the Turks at Suvla were led by a certain Mustafa Kemal. Among the men who fought at Suvla were the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, containing more than a few Portsmouth men. The whole peninsula was evacuated in late 1916, a costly failure indeed.

This book by Stephen Chambers serves as a very good history not only of the Suvla Campaign, but also the Gallipoli Campaign in general. It is by no means light on the bigger picture, in particular the issues surrounding Stopford. It also serves as a very good battlefield guide. Of course visiting Gallipoli is a bit more tricky than just nipping over on the ferry to Normandy or Flanders. It’s a long trek from the nearest airport, is in a pretty remote region with few facilities and poor transport, and apparently is home to plenty of wild dogs!

Naturally the amount of people going to Gallipoli is never going to be huge, but when I come to think of it, I’ve read plenty of battlefield guides for places I’ve never been anywhere near. For me, its actually quite an interesting way of being a battlefield tourist without the bother! In  that sense, I enjoyed it very much and it certainly added a lot to my understanding of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Suvla – the August offensive is published by Pen and Sword

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ANZAC #2 – Corporal John Craig

Australian Army Rising Sun hat badge used betw...

Image via Wikipedia

Like most Australians to this day, many of the ANZAC’s were either descended from immigrants, or even immigrants themselves. Corporal John Craig was born in Glasgow in Scotland. Before leaving for Australia he attended public school in Glasgow, and was apprenticed to an ironmonger for two years. It appears that the whole family emigrated to Australia around 1913, as when he enlisted on 18 June 1915 his next of kin were his parents, Andrew and Margaret Craig, who lived at Killingworth, New South Wales. It is also known that Craig had been in Australia for around 2 years before he enlisted.

When he enlisted Craig was 18 years and 10 months old. He was 5 foot and 8 3/4 inches tall, and weighed 140lbs. He had a fresh complexion, with hazel eyes, brown hair, and not unusually for his scottish ancestry, was a Presbyterian. He was a natural born British subject, and worked as a lamplighter prior to enlisting. He had served for 2 years with the Citizen forces, and before that for 6 months in the senior cadets. On enlistment he was drafted to the 17th Battalion of the Australian Infantry, a New South Wales recruited unit in the 5th Australian Infantry Brigade.

On 9 August 1915 Craig left Australia, onboard the trooship HMAT Runic (A54), from Sydney. After arriving at the AIF’s base in Egypt, and a period of training, on 4 October 1915 he joined up with the 17th Battalion at Gallipoli. Like many of his comrades at Gallipoli, Craig was soon struck down with an unpleasant illness – Dysentery. On 1 December 1915 he was admitted to the Hospital Ship Dongola from ANZAC Beach. From there he was transported to the Greek Hospital in Alexandria. He was eventually discharged on 19 January 1916.

After a short period back with his Battalion at Ters-el-Kebir, on  17 March 1916 Craig embarked at Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force in France, disembarking at Marseilles on 23 March. On 30 January 1917, Craig was promoted to Lance Corporal. Not long after this, however, he was admitted to hospital on 14 March 1917 with Trench Foot. He rejoined his Battalion two weeks later on 28 March, before being quickly promoted to full Corporal on a Temporary basis on 19 April 1917.

After Eighteen months on the Western Front, on 1 September 1917 Craig was posted to England, for a well-earned ‘rest’ at the 5th Australian Traning Battalion in England. The 5th Battalion were based at Longbridge Deverill, on Salisbury Plain. Later in the war ANZAC recruits were trained in England prior to going over the Channel, with the ANZAC depot being based on Weymouth. After 6 months in England, during which Craig also attended a Gas Instructors course, he returned to his Battalion in France on 8 March 1918. He was not there long before being struck down with Trench Foot again. On 8 April he was admitted to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station, and from there to the 11th Stationary Hospital in Rouen. His case was obviously serious, for on 18 March he was shipped back to England, and admitted to the 2/1st Southern General Hospital in Dudley Road, Birmingham.

Craig was not fully fit for another 4 months, when on 2 July 1918 he was discharged from a convalescence depot to a training brigade, in order to prepare him for his return to the front line. A month later on 3 August he went to France, via Folkestone, before finally rejoining his Battalion on 10 August 1918.

Although the war only had several months left to run, there was still much serious fighting taking place in 1918. After the Germans last desparate attempt to break through had stalled, the Allies in turn began to push the Germans back towards their own borders. The ANZACS were obviously in the thick of this, for on 5 October 1918 Corporal Craig was seriously wounded. He was admitted to the 58th Casualty Clearing  Station with Gunshot Wounds in his left thigh, left chest, left arm and left hand. From there he was taken to the 47th General Hospital at Le Treport, before going back to England on 26 October. On 28 October he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth, at Fawcett Road.

Sadly his wounds were serious, and his condition did not improve. Corporal Craig died at 4.15am on 17 November, in Portsmouth. The cause of death was given as a shrapnel round in his right thigh, and a compound fracture of the femur – wounds that differed somewhat from those described when he was first wounded. The First World War had ended six days earlier.

The actual report of Craig’s death is given below, verbatim:

Compound fracture left femur. Large wound outside left thigh just above knee fragments of femur can be seen. Another wk in hospital space healthy. Also wnd in upper and outer part of left upper arm no injury to deep structure. Same day haemorrhage occurred on the night of 15/11/1918 was plugged. Ch3 was given and wound opened up considerable amounts of haemorrhaging from which he did not recover and he died 4.15am 17/11/1918 as result of secondary haemorrhage.

Craig was buried in Milton Cemetery on 21 November 1918, in a full military funeral with a firing party, bugler, band and pallbearers, officiated by Reverend Gilmour Neil. The undertaker was Mr A.G. Stapleford, of Craswell Street in Portsmouth. Although there were no friends or family present, AIF HQ in London was represented.

His personal effects were received by his family in Australia in 1919 – 1 Jack Knife, 4 discs, 1 note book, 1 wrist watch, 1 photo case, 1 pipe, 1 fountain pen, 1 corkscrew, badges, 1 wallet, photos, postcards, letters, 1 L1/2d stamp, 2 prs sock, 1 coin, 1 purse. Also in 1919 a Miss P. Ward, from Rozelle in New South Wales, wrote to the Australian Army, asking for Craig’s relatives address, as he had been very kind to her eldest brother when he was killed, and had written to her describing how he was killed – a very touching personal story amongst the administrative details of a service record.

In 1920 Craig, along with the other Australians buried in Milton Cemetery, was exhumed and re-interred, in order to lie next to his countrymen. In a strange quirk of fate a very brave and very distinguished soldier found himself buried in the country that he had left seven years before, after sailing to the other side of the world to start a new life.

If anybody has any information about Corporal John Craig, or any of the other Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth, please feel free to contact me.

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Galipoli – L.A. Carlyon

Galipoli

Galipoli

I’ve always been much more interested in the Second World War. In fact, I can count the amount of First World War books that I have read on two hands. Seeking to remedy this and to try and wean me away from all things 1939 to 1945, my brother gave me this book for Christmas. It’s been my ‘bus book’ to and from work (including sat in snow for 4 hours!).

Even as someone who knows very little about the Great war, I cannot help but have pigeonholed Galipoli as a valiant disaster, much like Arnhem. The similiarlities are striking – incompetent generals, a good plan badly executed, but lit up with some brave deeds and some steadfast soldiering. Ironically, Urquhart modelled the withdrawl over the Rhine at Arnhem on the evacuation of Galipoli, ‘collapsing bag’ style.

But Galipoli is not just any other battle. There presence of the ANZAC contingent on the Galipoli peninsula adds another perspective to what is already a uniquely located battle. As the first major battle that Australian troops fought in, Galipoli and its legacy have become a central part of Australian national identity. And when history is overshadowed by national identity, we all too often find that objectivity goes astray and the history is stunted. The ‘Australian’ ownership of Galipoli is perhaps curious given that 21,255 British soldiers died in the Campaign, compared to 8,709 Australians. But we must remember that 1915 saw a very young Australia, and as for all youngsters that first opportunity to prove oneself is etched in Australian national consciousness.

Carlyon is an Australian, and it shows. Whilst there is no doubt some grain of truth in his arguments about incompetent British Generals and bungling politicians, it all smacks far too much of hindsight. The plan to force the Dardanelles WAS a sound strategy, and could have reaped significant rewards. It WAS badly executed, from the British Government down. But we need to see these factors in context – they apply to pretty much every other battle of the First World War, after all. The ‘Brave ANZACS, useless British Generals’ overtone is far too simplistic. And war is rarely simple.

I’m not exactly sure what Carlyon was aiming to achieve. The history is all too often interspersed with modern anecdotes, and with poetic imagery. Yet alongside this, this book is also quite a thorough account of the whole Galipoli campaign. Which is a pity, as if it were slightly stripped down to a Middlebrook-style account, it would be very readable indeed. Even so, it will probably sell by the truckload down under. For the general interest reader, this is probably a very enjoyable book.

There are plenty of lessons to take from Galipoli. It is always worth looking for the alternative strategy, the leftfield option that might outflank the enemy. And amphibious assaults need to be organised down to the finest detail. Finally, any troops landed by sea have to advance as far as possible and quickly as possible before the element of surprise is lost, to gain a solid build-up area before the enemy can bring up reinforcements and close off the invasion, as the Turks did.

Perhaps once it became clear that Galipoli had bogged down into stalemate it might have been sensible to withdraw. But then virtually the same decision was flunked all through the First World War. Although Galipoli has given me more questions than answers, it has quite possibly sparked an interest in the Great War.

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