Readers reveal family stories of WWI

Readers reveal family stories of WWI | Armistice Day

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Thomas William Mountain: Served in the First Light Horse Regiment.

Thomas William Mountain: Served in the First Light Horse Regiment.

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Fairfax Media put out a call-out for family stories telling the memories of their loved ones from World War One.

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Fairfax Media put out a call-out for family stories telling the memories of their loved ones from World War One.

Here is an edited selection of the responses.

From Malcolm Freak, Armidale

Who served: Thomas William Mountain

Thomas William Mountain (Tom) was born in 1890, the eldest son of Tom and Amy Mountain of Glen Innes. He grew up on the family property “Mountain View” and attended Glen Innes Public School.

He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on August 22, 1914, and was accepted into the 1st Light Horse Regiment. After the failure of the initial Gallipoli attacks, the regiment was sent to ANZAC Cove. Tom arrived as part of the Light Horse reinforcements. On August 7, 1915, Tom was wounded in his eye. By September, he was back at Gallipoli.

By November 1916, Tom was in action again. Three days after the great Light Horse charge at Beersheba (October 1917), he was killed whilst his regiment was attempting to capture a set of hills at Tel Khuweilfeh. He is buried at the Beersheba War Cemetery.

Honoured: Roy and Jeff Freak at the headstone of Thomas William Mountain in Beersheba.

Honoured: Roy and Jeff Freak at the headstone of Thomas William Mountain in Beersheba.

In August 2014, his great nephews Roy and Jeff Freak (former Armidale Express editor) visited his grave at the Beersheba War Cemetery in southern Israel.

From Jeanine Stewart, Port Macquarie

SERVED WITH COURAGE: Private Bob Meigan, Private Mick Meigan, Private Jack Meigan, Private Dick Meigan.

SERVED WITH COURAGE: Private Bob Meigan, Private Mick Meigan, Private Jack Meigan, Private Dick Meigan.

Who served: My grandfather Michael Meigan, his two brothers and cousin.

In 1915 our great grandmother saw her three sons and one nephew go off to fight a war that would change our world forever. Rose Meigan must have lost a large piece of her heart that year. I have never wanted to even imagine what heartache she went through when she kissed her boys for possibly the last time.

In the end Rose only had two sons come home, Michael (Mick) who was my grandfather, and John (known as Jack). Robert, known as Bobby, a member of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, left Australian shores  on September 9, 1915. He was killed in the Battle of Pozieres (he died July 27, 1916). He is buried  in a grave in Pozieres Somme Section.

His grave is unknown and carries no memorial. Rose and our great grandfather were offered a small sum of money by the Australian government in compensation for a headstone. They decided that there was very little purpose in placing a headstone when they did not know where Robert’s body lay. There was probably little comfort for them and all the families whose sons gave their young lives for Australia to have a better future. We just hope today and everyday since 1916 that we will never forget such sacrifice. Lest We Forget.

From Michael Pratt, Hillville

Brothers: George and Frank Ritchie

Brothers: George and Frank Ritchie

Who served: George and Frank Ritchie

George Ritchie enlisted on March 8, 1915. His letters home at the time show that he regarded the war as an adventure. He was eager to go and fight the hun. He arrived at Gallipoli on August 16, 1915. He stayed there until the end, and was involved in the retreat.

In late March 1916, he disembarked at Marseilles, and his battalion was joined to the British Expeditionary Force. He was wounded in his right arm in France on August 5, 1916, and transferred to England. The tone of his letters are changing. On September 3, 1916, he writes home saying that he hopes Frank (his brother) remains at home. He also expresses that “it is awful on the front where we have been”, and that they were doing it for the next generation.

Frank enlisted on February 14, 1916. He met up with George in November 1916, when Frank visited George in a convalescent hospital in England. In early 1917, Frank and George both got leave and spent some time together in England.

George was redeployed back to France on July 16, 1917, and was killed in action in Belgium on Sept 20, 1917, in the battle of Menin Road (Ypres) at Polygon Woods while attacking a German pill box called “ANZAC House”. His grave is at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium.

Frank completed an NCO course while in England. He left England at Folkestone on April 25, 1917. He was transferred to the Western Front on May 2, 1917, and was killed in action on November 1, 1917. His grave is at Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, Belgium.

Frank’s letters home indicate that he accepted his lot in the war, but was looking forward to coming home. The implication is that he had a life mapped out and wanted to fulfil the plan as soon as possible.

From Andrew Fletcher, Bathurst

Vivian Clyde Fletcher: He served four years to the end of the war.

Vivian Clyde Fletcher: He served four years to the end of the war.

Who served: Vivian Clyde Fletcher

Vivian Clyde Fletcher was born on May 30, 1892, at Ferndale at Bald Nob near Glen Innes.

He was 22 years old when he enlisted in the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment (1ALHR) and allocated to C Squadron as a Trooper on September 8, 1914, just over one month after Britain had declared War on Germany.

After some initial training he left Australia with the first convoy on HMAT Star of Victoria on October 19, 1914, arriving in Egypt on December 3, 1914, just in time for Christmas. After a few more months training in the deserts, Vivian and the majority of the 1ALHR landed on Gallipoli on May 12, 1915, just 17 days after the ill-fated landing at ANZAC Cove.

Vivian remainder here alternating between Pope’s Post and Quinn’s Post. In August 1915 the Regiment took part in the attack on Deadmans Ridge & Chessboard which cost Australia 2000 casualties.

Vivian was one of the last to leave Gallipoli, with the second group of C Squadron on December 20, 1915 leaving Outpost No.1 at 0308hrs. They embarked on HMTS Horarata at Mudros on December 23, 1915. They had Christmas 1915 on board arriving at Alexandria on December 26, 1915, and transferred to Aerodrome Camp Heliopolis on December 27, 1915.

Vivian transferred to the 4th Division Artillery and left for the Western Front arriving on May 7, 1916. Over the next few years he took part in all major battles including;  Battle of Pozieres, Mouquet Farm, advance to the Hindenburg Line, Arras Offensive including the Battle of Bullecourt , Battle of Messines, Battle of Polygon Wood, Battle of Broodseinde, First Battle of Passchendaele, First Battle of Arras, Battle of the Ancre and his final actions at Villers-Bretonneux  in 1918 where he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field on June 2, 1918. He was in charge of a mortar on Rue de la Gare when the building they were in caught fire in the middle of a German bombardment.

After being presented his Military Medal ribbon from Gen Birdwood he was granted 1914 Leave to return to Australia and embarked on the MT Matatua on June 17, 1918. He arrived in Melbourne on August 15, 1918.

After about 10 weeks leave he reported for duty in Sydney on November 6, 1918, and embarked the next day on SS Carpentaria to return to the front. The first time he had left Australia in 1914 he was full of excitement of being part of what they believed to be the greatest event in their lifetimes.  They did not know what to expect, believing that the might of the British Empire will ensure that it is all over by Christmas. But this time he knew what war was like. Of course the war ended on November 11, 1918, and the SS Carpentaria was recalled to Australia arriving on November 28, 1918.

What a relief this must have been. He then waited for the return of his mates from the 8th Medium Trench Mortar and the 1ALHR and for his discharge. He spent his last Christmas in the Army and was discharged on December 27, 1918.

He had time to reflect on what he had survived, his training in Egypt, the unwinnable debacle of Gallipoli, the senseless waste of life on the Western Front, the hardship that active service offered – poor quality and irregular supply of food, the never ending and repetitive work, the lack of sleep, the constant danger, the terrible hygiene conditions in and out of the trenches, the lice, the mud, the dirt, the smells of explosives and death, the sights you hope you never see again and the unrelenting noise. Vivian had lived a lifetime of memories in just over four years.  It was now time to return to civilian life, but it was not the same as before.

Vivian married Ruby K Horder in 1928 in Sydney and died in 1971, aged 79.

Vivian’s name was listed on the ANZAC Memorial Gates in Glen Innes, and in 2014 he was honoured as a local decorated soldier by the Glen Innes RSL Sub-Branch.

From Anthony Wood, Mount Hutton

Served: Jack Bonser, Albert J Bonser, George Bonser and Percy Bradson

Served: Jack Bonser, Albert J Bonser, George Bonser and Percy Bradson

Who served: Albert Joseph Bonser

My grandfather, Albert Joseph Bonser was born in Northam, Western Australia on August 6, 1893. Although he died before I was born, I did hear of his bravery in the face of war. Interestingly, my birthday is April 25 and with every passing ANZAC Day my curiosity about my grandfather’s journey through war grew.

On April 3, 1916, at the age of 23, Albert (Bert) enlisted in the Australian Infantry Division of the Australian Imperial Force. He was issued service number 6223 and commenced training at the Blackboy Hill training camp in Greenmount (a suburb east of Perth).

After a period of training, Bert boarded the SS Suffolk on October 13, 1916 in Fremantle. He, and fellow comrades from the D Company, were part of the 16th Battalion, 20th Reinforcements bound for France.

In France, the 16th Battalion fought as part of the 4th Australian Division for numerous Western Front campaigns. During an offensive on April 11, 1917, Bert sustained a severe gun-shot to the right shoulder. He was evacuated to England and, after six months of recovery, returned to his battalion in August of that year.

On September 18, his bravery was awarded with a promotion to Lance-Corporal. It was only two days later, on September 20, that the 4th Australian Division joined the battle of Menin Road. Bert’s battalion advanced to the remnants of Polygon Wood near Zonnebeke where the fighting was ferocious and troops were subject to incessant shelling and machine-gun fire from German pillboxes. For his part in this offensive, Bert was awarded a Military Medal on October 1, 1917. In the recommendation, it mentioned the acts of “… gallant conduct and devotion to duty during the operations near Zonnebeke on the 26th September 1917.” It noted that Bert was “… in charge of the rifle grenade section and in the attack showed most excellent judgement in dealing with and destroying a detached post of enemy troops.”

Albert completed three weeks at the Australian Corps School (military college) in January 1918 then rejoined his battalion prior to the German “Spring Offensives” of late March and early April. The Australian War Memorial (AWAM) records the 16th Battalion’s in Ancre on April 5 with “…defensive operations mounted in …the Picardy sector.” Bert was certainly in the midst of this action and no doubt took part in the “…confused fighting along the line of the River Ancre, which helped slow the German advance on Amiens.” (AWM) Unfortunately, he was wounded in action for the second occasion and admitted to hospital on April 6 with a gun-shot wound to his jaw and right hand.

After returning home, he resumed his previous vocation as a builder and, over the years, the size of his family grew to 10 children. All of Albert Bonser’s descendants are extremely proud of the bravery he showed to defend our current freedoms. A cheeky newspaper article from 1918 mentions him and, whilst his medal is noted, the paper also suggests he was “Bonser by name and Bonser by Nature.”

From Emma Newman, Mount Clear, Victoria

Who served: Harold Bartlett

Harold Bartlett: Awarded a military medal for bravery on the battlefield.

Harold Bartlett: Awarded a military medal for bravery on the battlefield.

My great grandfather William and my great uncle Harold both went to World War I in 1915 at the ages of 20 and 19 respectively. Both brothers were from Maryborough, Victoria.

I found the extract below in Uncle Harold’s war records about an act of bravery for which he was awarded a military medal. Military medal awarded to: No 115. Private Harold Stanley Bartlett of Maryborough, Victoria, 29th Battalion. Recommended by: E. Tivey Brigadier General, Commanding, South Australian Infantry Brigade. Recommendation date: August 25, 1918

During the operations on August 9, 1918, at Vauvillers east of Villers Pretonneux [France] this man was in charge of stretcher bearers. Though he had been suffering from illness and exhaustion for days he insisted on remaining at duty. Owing [to the] open nature of the attack, stretcher bearers were advancing long distances over open country. On several occasions it became necessary to change the position of the R.A.P. and Private Bartlett by continuously working in the open directed the stretcher bearers to the new positions. When it became known the Companies had advanced beyond the village Private Bartlett personally reconnoitred routes forward and directed the work of collecting and carrying back the wounded. When the casualties were very heavy he relieved the situation by pressing German prisoners and personally improvised stretchers from such material as could be found on the field. His courage, initiative and untiring devotion to duty set a splendid example to the remainder of the bearers. - (Sgd) J. Talbot  Hobbs, Major General, Commanding 5th Australian Division

Harold and his brothers were very involved in the Maryborough Brass Band. See photo of Harold with his tuba.

From Paul  Pfluger, Sutton

Who served: Walter Parr

My grandmother’s father, Walter Parr, is buried on the Somme. He was killed in October 1916 at the age of 24. He had two children, one whom was my Nana.  He was a private, just machine gun fodder. He died for no good reason.

From Anthony Wood, Mount Hutton

Who served: Percival Albert Clarence Wood

For several years after her son’s loss, Janet Wood placed a notice in her local paper, the Rangitikei Advocate and Manawatu Argus.  Every year, close to November 16, a message would appear in the ‘In Memoriam’ section of that publication. Although brief, the advertisement marked the end of her only child’s life and meant more to Janet than all of the papers in the world combined.  Her annual notices stood in remembrance of her son, Percival Albert Clarence Wood, a rifleman in the 4th Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Albert, as he preferred to be known, signed up on November 13, 1916, at the age of 21.

Although his war record is not specific, there’s no doubt Albert would’ve seen ‘New Zealand’s Blackest Day’ in the allies drive on Passchendaele. The NZ History Website notes that “… after enduring a searing few minutes of shelling from their own side, the infantrymen moved off in drizzle that soon turned to driving rain …. A few determined individuals got through … [but] the rest succumbed to their wounds in field ambulances and hospitals behind the lines in Belgium, France and the UK.” Albert was one of those and, several weeks later, died from his wounds on November 16, 1917.

An only son: Percival Albert Clarence Wood, a rifleman in the 4th Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

An only son: Percival Albert Clarence Wood, a rifleman in the 4th Battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

It must have been a struggle for a staunch member of a pacifist, Salvation Army family to take up arms against another - such was desperation of the times. In the past, members of the Salvation Army throughout their missionary activities in New Zealand had ‘turned the other cheek’ when rocks were hurled at them on evangelical marches by the larrikins of the ‘Skeleton Army’.

After his death, Albert was interned in the grounds of ‘Ecole’ Bienfaisance (charity school) on the Menin Roa, east of Ypres. He was later commemorated at the Buttes New British Cemetery (NZ) at Polygon Wood.

The loss of an only son must have been heartbreaking both for Janet and Albert’s father, Thomas. On November 15,1920, part of Janet’s message read: “Three years today as we mourn him/Our son like a soldier fell/Mid the Death-charged shot and shell/God knows best, His will be done/’Sometime we’ll understand.’” She also adds a line that calls for anyone who fought at Polygon Wood to contact her.

It’s true that emotional grief can have a physical effect and just over three years later, at the age of 55, Janet’s broken heart gave out and she passed away from a stroke secondary to heart disease.

I’m a first cousin (twice removed) from Albert and, as he was an only child with no children himself, I feel compelled to carry on his memory - if only for Janet. Lest we forget.

From Peter Andrews, Greenacre

Who served: Trooper William James Graham 1st Light Horse from Koree Island, Wauchope

Corporal Robert Colin Graham 56 Battalion from Koree Island, Wauchope

Sergeant Harold Dudley Andrews 1st Battalion from Coleraine,  Wauchope

Mates: Harold Dudley Andrews and Norman Douglass Way in March 1918.

Mates: Harold Dudley Andrews and Norman Douglass Way in March 1918.

Private Norman Douglas Way 1st Battalion from Huntingdon, Wauchope

All four of these men were cousins. And they were best friends.

Trooper W J Graham was killed in action at the Battle of Kantara in Egypt. During the battle Bill went out three times and to bring back his wounded mates. The fourth time he went out he was hit by machine-gun fire a killed. He is buried at the Kantara War Cemetery.

Lance Corporal R C Graham was with the 56th Battalion and was in a tent with several platoon members asleep when it was hit by a shell, instantly killing all the occupants. He is buried at Croix Du Bac War Cemetery.

The Graham boys’ father was distraught at the loss of his two sons and planted two fig trees on his property at Koree Island, where they are standing proud and strong to this very day.

Sergeant H D Andrews was in the 1st Battalion and wounded at Pozieres. He lay in the field for 30 hours before being picked up and taken to first aid station, then shipped to England to hospital. He returned to France and rejoined the 1st Battalion and took a major part in the capture of the Chipilly Village and Spur along with five other AIF mates (the Chipilly Six). Sgt Andrews survived the war and married Isabel Victoria Graham, sister of the two Graham boys.

Private N D Way was with the 1st Battalion and was killed in action on August 23, 1918. After rousing the remnants of his platoon to attack a enemy position, the platoon was cut down by a machine-gun which a tank had missed, Sergeant H D Andrews had to bury his best mate with just a hankerchief covering his face.

From Sally Cotterell, Wynyard

Who served: Major John “Jack” Burns Scott and Lieutenant Ernest Charles “Joe” Gordon Scott.

John Burns Scott and Ernest Charles Gordon Scott were brothers in a family of 10 children, born in Hagley, Tasmania ,to Jabez Scott and Susannah Wesley Scott (nee Smithies).  Their father died on January 11, 1915, in Launceston. A sister of the two men was Mrs Una Solomon, widow of former Premier of Tasmania, Mr Albert Edgar Solomon (1876-1914), who had been Premier from 1912-1914.

Jack and Joe had both been enthusiastic members of the Launceston Artillery Battalion in their youth and were keen rifle shots, members of the Union Jack Gymnasium and fine athletes, particularly lacrosse.

Jack Scott began with the artillery as a gunner and worked his way up to the rank of Captain. He was commanding the artillery in February 1910 when Field Marshall Lord Kitchener came to visit Launceston as part of his tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Major John “Jack” Burns Scott

Major John “Jack” Burns Scott

The brothers moved to Western Australia to join two other brothers, Arthur Theodore Scott and William Jabez Scott, in business there. Jack married Eleanor Gilbert in Northam, Western Australia in 1911.  A daughter, Eleanor Annie De Witt Scott, was born in 1912. Joe Scott never married.

Major John B. ‘Jack’ Scott and 2nd Lieutenant Ernest C. G. ‘Joe’ Scott enlisted in the 10th Light Horse Regiment in Western Australia in 1914. They were part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade which was sent initially to Alexandria in Egypt and then despatched from Egypt to Gallipoli in May 1915 as reinforcements for the original ANZACS, leaving their horses behind as the terrain was recognised to be unsuitable for horses.

 Lieutenant Ernest Charles “Joe” Gordon Scott.

Lieutenant Ernest Charles “Joe” Gordon Scott.

2nd Lieutenant Ernest C. G. ‘Joe’ was promoted to Lieutenant on June 1, 1915.  In any assault on the enemy the Australian officers led from the front. Lieutenant Scott was just such an officer. He was wounded on July 17, 1915, at Gallipoli and he died of his wounds on July 19 on board a hospital ship.  He was buried at sea.

In early August the 10th Light Horse Regiment was involved in the catastrophic Battle of the Nek.  The men bravely went ‘over the top’ to be greeted by a hail of machine gun fire. Out of 300 members of the regiment 138 were casualties (80 killed).

On August 28, 1915, Major John B. ‘Jack’ Scott led his men courageously during an attack on Hill 60, the final major assault of the Gallipoli campaign, and was mentioned in despatches for his bravery in capturing and holding the Turkish trenches on top of the hill.

Major John B. ‘Jack’ Scott was given temporary command of the 8th Light Horse Regiment on September 18, 1915, and again on October 3, 1915. He was subsequently killed in action on October 8 by shrapnel from an exploding shell.  He was a very well liked and respected commander among his superiors and his men. He is buried in the Embarkation Pier Cemetery, Gallipoli.

Rev J. Williams, of Balfour Street Methodist Church, Launceston had the distressing task of informing Susannah Scott and her family of the untimely deaths of her sons. Rev Williams also led two very moving and well attended memorial services at the church for the Scott brothers.

Together ... they lived, served and died with honour.

From Anthony Wood, Mount Hutton

Who served: Frederick Charles Wood

Frederick Charles Wood was born on August 7, 1891, in Sydney and, on January 6, 1916, at the age of 24, enlisted for duty. He was issued service number 5211 and assigned to the 4th Cyclist Corp.

The soldiers of the Cyclist Corp were given a variety of roles during the war. Most of their work was dedicated to delivering dispatches but they were also assigned to tasks such as laying communications cables, unloading stores, burial of the dead or even harvesting crops.

Pictured: Members of the Australian cyclist corps in 1915. Frederick Charles Wood served in the 4th Cyclist Corps.

Pictured: Members of the Australian cyclist corps in 1915. Frederick Charles Wood served in the 4th Cyclist Corps.

After arriving in Egypt, Fred found himself afflicted with ear infections and conjunctivitis and in May 1916 was admitted to hospital. In August, he was evacuated back to England where he remained for two months.

The war was short for Fred who, after leaving hospital in October 1916, was granted further leave (furlough) until February 1917 when he returned to Australia. One of the many whose story may never be heard, he never married, had no children and passed away in 1948.

Although Fred never had the chance to show his bravery on the battlefield, his actions were a powerful testament to the gallantry of those Australians who were prepared to defend the freedoms we now enjoy.

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