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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 #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 #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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Petty Officer Percy Kempster DSM

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Image via Wikipedia

Having been researching twelve australian great war soldiers who lie in Portsmouth, little did I expect to come across a Portsmouth-based naval rating who died whilst serving with the Royal Australian Navy.

Percy John Kempster was born in Southampton, on 24 October 1883. Kempster initially joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16, in 1899. In late 1907 Percy married his wife Beatrice, in Portsmouth. After completing his service with the Royal Navy – including service on submarines at HMS Dolphin – Kempster joined the Royal Australian Navy on 24 October 1913, for an initial period of 5 years. Upon joining the RAN he was immediately promoted to Leading Seaman, and passed for eventual promotion to Petty Officer in due course.

It seems that Kempster’s main task upon joining the RAN was to form part of the crew delivering Australia’s first submarines. HM Submarines AE1 and AE2 were built at Vickers, and accepted by the Australian Navy at Portsmouth in February 1914. They finally left Portsmouth on 2 March 1914, escorted by the Light Cruiser HMS Eclipse. They finally arrived in Sydney Harbour on 24 May 1914, an epic voyage on such small, cramped vessels. After his arrival in Australia Kempster came under the command of HMAS Penguin, an ex Royal Navy sloop being used as a Submarine Depot ship.

Whilst Kempster was in Australia the First World War began. Obviously unhappy at being thousands of miles away from the action, after completing such an epic voyage Kempster returned to Britain. How exactly is unclear, but on 1 January 1915 he came back under the command of the RAN’s London Depot, serving in Royal Navy submarines. British and colonial personnel often interchanged on postings. Hence it is not a surprise that Kempster fought in the Royal Navy, even though he was technically an Australian rating.

On 20 January 1916 Percy Kempster was promoted to Petty Officer, and on 10 August 1917 he was appointed a Submarine Coxon – a key job on such small and demanding vessels. For service on HM Submarine G8 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, announced in the London Gazette on 2 November 1917, for ‘services in action with enemy submarines’. Early submarines were much smaller than their modern equivalents – the G Class only having a crew of 31 men.

Sadly, Kempster did not survive the end of the war. On 14 January 1918 HM Submarine G8 was lost in the North Sea. The exact cause of her loss remains unknown. Petty Officer Percy Kempster is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. He was 34. At the time of his death his unit was given as HMS Lucia, a Royal Navy submarine ship. His wife Beatrice was living at 180 Fratton Road in Portsmouth.

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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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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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