Tag Archives: Western Australia

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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Filed under Pompey ANZAC's, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

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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Filed under Army, Uncategorized, western front, World War One