Frederick Cecil Vidler, known as Fred, was born in 1892, the second son and fourth child of Frederick Ashley and Jane Vidler (nee Haydon), of the Berry area, in southern New South Wales. In the late 1890’s the family moved north to Chillingham, on the Tweed River, in northern New South Wales. He was also the first cousin of my paternal grandmother, Olive Pearl Vidler, whose family also moved from Kiama to Chillingham in the 1890’s.
In World War I, Frederick Cecil Vidler followed his older brother, Ashley Haydon Vidler, and several Vidler first cousins, into the Australian Imperial Forces.
He enlisted in Brisbane on 23 November 1916, soon after the defeat of the 1st Australian referendum on ‘military conscription’, in October 1916.
Fred went into training at Enoggera Camp in north-western Brisbane, and on 21 January 1917 he embarked on the troop ship ‘Ayrshire’, as part of the 47th Battalion. After several weeks at sea, he disembarked at Devonport in England, and was sent to the Australian camp at Codford on the Wiltshire plains, to undergo further training.
In early July 1917, he proceeded with his battalion to the port of Le Harve in France, and marched into the nearby camp of Rouelles. A few days later the 47th was moved to Ypres, Belgium, where the Battle of Passchendaele was raging on the Western Front.
The Battle of Passchendaele fought from July to November 1917 is sometimes called the Third Battle of Ypres. Those that were there, later referred to it as the Battle of Mud.
The attack on Passchendaele was an attempt to break through to the Flanders coast so the German submarine ‘pens’ could be destroyed.
On July 18th 1917, a heavy artillery barrage was launched at the German line. This lasted for ten days.The wet weather was a problem, but the infantry forces inched forward with artillery cover. Fortunately a change in the weather brought better conditions and on 20 September the ‘Battle of Menin Road’, was a small victory for the allied forces, amid great loss of life..
The Australians were slowly moving forward towards the remnants of Polygon Wood, not far from Zonnebeke.
The 4th and 5th Australian divisions were brought in on 26 September.This was the ‘baptism of fire’ for young Vidler.The fighting was bloody as the German concrete pillboxes were in the path of the Australians and many thousands of men fell under the heavy shelling and machine gun fire.
Finally with artillery support, the Australian’s captured the Broodseinde Ridge on 4th October. This was a most welcome and vital victory.
However, heavy rain began to fall making the area, which had been so heavily shelled in the weeks before, a deep quigmire, and both men and beast found it impossible to move forward leading to further heavy casualities.
On the night of 12th October the Australians (and New Zealanders) launched another attack against Passchendaele, which was atop the main ridge, and heavily fortified by German troops. By now the fighting on the Eastern Front had crumbled and most of those German troops had been moved to the Western Front, particularly re-enforcing the Passchendaele Ridge.
Because of the water filled craters, deep mud and no cover, the Australian troops struggled to keep up with their artillery barrage. Ground was taken, but could not be held, and there was total carnage. Conditions were so devastating the attack was called off next day.
Frederick Cecil Vidler moved out with his Company on the night of the 12th October moving toward the front line, but they came under heavy German artillery fire. Next day he was reported wounded, but with no further details. He appeared on the gazetted list for his unit and his father was advised accordingly on 6 December, some seven weeks later..
On the 10 December his father wrote to Australian Army Headquarters, enquirying how his son was wounded and what hospital he was in. By this time Fred’s older brother, Ashley Haydon Vidler, who had been badly wounded earlier in the year was recruperating in England.
An Australian Army Headquarters officer advised that there had been no further information, so it was probable that his son Private F C Vidler was progressing well, but he would enquire further to his whereabouts and health.
At this time no further information had come to light on the fate of Private Frederick Cecil Vidler and he was listed as ‘ missing in action’.
A Red Cross Wounded and Missing enquiry was launched and a number of soldiers were questioned about their knowledge of Private Frederick Cecil Vidler.
‘Private J B Finger of the 47th was interviewed on a hospital ship some months later, on 17 April 1918 and said-
“ He was in C Company. I saw Vidler wounded at Passchendaele on Oct 13th the night we came out. He came with us to Ypres and he was evacuated from there- as I know. Vidler was a big chap, fair- we called him ‘Fred’.
The Red Cross continued their enquiries . Another soldier of the 47th W P Filand, reported,
“ There were two Vidlers in the Battalion (47th), both in C company, who were cousins. About 1 January I was told by another Vidler who was the brother of one and the cousin of the other and is, I think, in the 49th AIF, that F C Vidler was in hospital, wounded and doing very well. The news came from the cousins in C Company, both were about 25 years and about 5 feet 11, but F C Vidler whose name was Fred had most of his front teeth out. My informant, Vidler was a very small man, 5, 2 or 3. He gave me the information about Jan 1 in camp near Cambrai.”
However, no further information could be found until his Battalion burial records were searched and it was found that ‘F C Vidler had been killed in action on 12 October 1917’ and had been buried ‘1000 yards SW Passchendaele, and 1000 yards NE Zonnebeke’.
A military inquest conducted by the 47th Commanding Officer on 22 March 1918 found that- ‘F C Vidler had been killed in action on 12 October 1917- and his family were informed accordingly. His personal effects- listed as ‘four photos’- were packed ready for shipment back to his family. They were placed in ‘crate No 112’ aboard the cargo ship Barunga on 21 June 1918.
This cargo ship was made ready to return to Australia and left port in early July. However, it was torpedoed by a German submarine, as it left the English Channel on 15 July. Although all those on board were rescued, the cargo was lost.
For the rest of the war his family didn’t know what had happened to him. Only that he had been killed.
With the War Graves Commission’s work after the war all those lone graves and groups of the soldiers around Zonnebeke were exhumed and the remains brought in and buried in the Buttes New British Cemetery, in Polygon Wood. The largest percentage of these soldier remains could not be identified and have unnamed headstones.
However in September 1920, the War Graves Commission notified Private Frederick Cecil Vidler’s parents that his remains had been identified and buried in the Buttes New British Cemetery, and asked if they had any wishes concerning wording and symbols on his headstone. The following year they received from the Commission photographs of his grave.
(This photograph was supplied by the family for the publication, “Australia’s Fighting Sons of the Empire”, p.136, 1918).
Last year we undertook a pilgrimage to the World War I Battlefields of the Western Front, and visited many cemeteries and memorials, where we honoured family members, many of whom had lost their lives in that terrible conflict. I blogged about some of our experiences as well as the stories of our family heroes.
World War I Family Hero- Gunner L A Bell – Passchendaele, posted 20 October 2014, and Australian World War I Battlefield Tour- Polygon Wood, posted 27 October 2014 are two postings that should be read with this post, as they give more information about these places.
This year I have continued family research, including identifying and researching more family heroes, who went to World War I. This included the above Private Frederick Cecil Vidler, who was a first cousin of my grandmother. As his story unfolded we realized we had visited the Butte New British Cemetery, where he is now buried. Although a little disappointed that we didn’t know it at the time, we have now pulled out all our photos and maps of that cemetery, and are able to identify just where he rests in peace.
Here I stand at the end of the row where Private F.C. Vidler is buried . His headstone is just off my left shoulder.