World War I Family Hero – Leonard Ingram Mitchell

Leonard Ingram Mitchell, the eldest son of Reginald and Leticia Kate Mitchell (nee Bell) was born in the Hunter Valley in 1890. He worked with his father as a builder after he left school.

He was a young man of about 24  years of age when World War I broke out in 1914. By 1915 when further calls went out for volunteers, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 4 August 1915, at Newcastle. He was mustered into the 30th Battalion.

The 30th Battalion was raised as part of the 8th Brigade at Liverpool in New South Wales on 5 August 1915. Most of its recruits hailed from the Newcastle region and other parts of country New South Wales.

The 30th Battalion embarked on the troopship Nestor which sailed for Port Said on the Suez Canal.

There the 8th Brigade joined the newly raised 5th Australian Division in Egypt and proceeded to France, destined for the Western Front, in June 1916. Although being involved in the Battle of Amiens, the 30th Battalion’s first major battle was at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. It was tasked with providing carrying parties for supplies and ammunition but was soon drawn into the vicious fighting.

Len Mitchell was soon promoted to Corporal and later to Sargent.

Following the disaster at Fromelles, the battalion was rotated in and out of the front line along with others in the brigade but played no major offensive role for the rest of the year.

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In early 1917, the German Army withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. During the general advance that followed, the 30th Battalion had the honour of occupying Bapaume, one of the original objectives for the Somme Offensive.

However, the 30th missed much of the heavy fighting of 1917, being employed in flank protection and reserve roles at the second battle of Bullecourt in May 1917.

 

For the  Third Battle of Ypres which began in August 1917, they were brought forward again.

The preliminary bombardment before the battle lasted for 10 days, during which time 3,000 guns fired 4.25 million artillery shells. Along an 11 mile front the infantry attack comprised a corps of the French First Army on the left, the British Fifth Army in the centre and a corps of the British Second Army on the right of the attack. The German Fourth Army held off the attackers in most places.

Within hours of the start of the battle rain began to fall and crucially did not stop, carrying on into the following weeks. The constant rain produced conditions completely unsuitable for the continued movement of men, animals and heavy equipment, such as artillery and tanks.

The battle, however, continued to grind on in short phases for several weeks throughout the late summer and the autumn.

Success for the allies in late September with the Battle of Menin Road gave them hope to push on towards the Passchendaele Ridge. The Battle of Polygon Wood began on 26 September. The 30th Battalion were entrenched around Hooge Crater.

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It was at the Battle of Polygon Wood on 29 September 1917 that Len Mitchell was seriously wounded in the right shoulder.

He was evacuated to England. After surgery and convalescence, he was returned to Australia on the Field Marshall in March 1918. He was discharged as medically unfit on 23 May 1918.

Australian War Diaries can be found at the Australian War Memorial at https://www.awm.gov.au/ 

Unit Diary

Page for 29 September 1917, from the Australian Imperial Forces Unit Diaries 1914-18 War, 8th Infantry Brigade September 1917, AWM 4(Australian War Memorial), 23/8/22. (30th Battalion mentioned in daily plans.)

 

Leonard Ingram Mitchell’s full military records can be found at the  National Australian Archives at  https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/

He returned to working with his father in the building trade. He married Margaret Sylvia McInnes in 1926.

Len Mitchell had a brother and a number of first and second cousins who also served:-  Roy Hamilton Mitchell, Phillip John Vincent, James Joseph Thomas Bell, Louis Augustus Bell, Arthur Campbell Bell, and William George Blanchard.

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World War I Family Hero-Roy Hamilton Mitchell

Roy Hamilton Mitchell the second son of Reginald and Leticia Kate Mitchell (nee Bell), was born in the Hunter Valley about June 1893.

His father had been a builder at Gloucester for many years before the family moved to Mosman in Sydney.

His mother had been born at Picton and was the seventh child of James and Elizabeth Bell (nee Crockett). James Bell had worked his way to Sydney as a sailor on a convict ship in 1837. His brother George Bell had come with him.

As a young man, Roy Mitchell was very keen on engines and was apprenticed as an electrical engineer to Brian Bros and Stanton Cook.

He was in his early twenties when World War I broke out. He enlisted on 1 September 1915 some three weeks after his elder brother, Leonard.

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After several weeks training, Roy embarked on 30 November 1915 on the troop ship, Suffolk, as part of the 4th Field Company of Engineers, bound for Egypt. These soldiers were to be deployed on the Gallipoli Peninsular. However, on arrival, they found that the Australian and New Zealand troops had been evacuated, and returned to Egypt.  (During the Gallipoli landings and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War, Tel-el-Kebir was a training centre for the First Australian Imperial Force reinforcements).

On disembarking Roy Mitchell was transferred to the 14th Field Company as a Sapper.

(A sapper, also called pioneer or combat engineer, is a combatant or soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defences- such as laying razor wire trench fortifications, as well as working on road and airfield construction and repair.)

The 8th,14th, and 15th Field Companies were part of the Australian 5th Division.

Roy Mitchell displayed leadership and was promoted to a Lance Corporal before his unit embarked for the Western Front. This unit was originally deployed around Rouen in France. (In the First World War the city was safely behind the lines and became a major logistics centre with numerous base hospitals. Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen.)

Campaigns for the 14th Field Company includes Fromelles, Bullecourt, Polygon Wood, Villers-Bretonneux, Morlancourt, Amiens, Peronne and the Hindenburg Line.

Polygon Wood- 2014

Above: Polygon Wood (Copyright Nola Mackey 2014)
Below: The Australian 5th Division Memorial (copyright Nola Mackey -2014)

5th Division Memorial

Much of the day to day life in the trenches for Roy Mitchell can be found in the Unit War Diaries at AWM4 14/33/1 March 1916 to AWM4 14/33/25 March 1918.

 

14th Field Company-29 Sept 1917

Page for 29 September 1917, from the Australian Imperial Forces Unit Diaries 1914-18 War, 14th Field Company September 1917, AWM 4(Australian War Memorial), 14/33/19.

As can be seen from the above extract this unit was working in the Butte area at Polygon Wood on 29 September 1917, when Roy Mitchell’s older brother Leonard, was seriously wounded in the shoulder. It is interesting to speculate if they met or knew each other was in the area. I believe although not impossible, highly unlikely, given their different jobs on the front line. (In the 8th Brigade Infantry War Diary, mention is made that the 30th Battalion and the 15th Field Company having had contact on 28 September 1917).

From Spring 1917 the whole war became more mobile, with grand offensives at the Battles of Arras, Messines, and Passchendaele, there was no longer a place for a tactic that depended upon total immobility for its employment. It was about this time the Australian Tunnelling and Mining Companies came under direct control of the British Engineers who changed tactic when the men were employed

Underground work continued, with the tunnellers concentrating on deep dugouts for troop accommodation. To assist the attack, the Royal Engineers constructed 20 kilometres (12 mi) of tunnels, graded as subways (foot traffic only); tramways (with rails for hand-drawn trollies for taking ammunition to the line and bringing casualties back); and railways (a light railway system). Just before the assault, the tunnel system had grown big enough to conceal 24,000 men, with electric lighting provided by its own small powerhouse, as well as kitchens, latrines and a medical centre with a fully equipped operating theatre.

To improve the logistical movement of artillery and supplies an extensive programme of road building was started. Ten field companies, seven tunneling companies, four army troop companies, and nine battalions were put to work repairing or extending existing plank roads. From the middle of October until the end of the offensive, a total of 2 miles (3.2 km) of double plank road and more than 4,000 yards (3,700 m) of heavy tram line was constructed.

 Except for a couple of bouts of sickness including Mumps, Roy Mitchell spent more than two years on the front line. He was on leave in Paris when the Armistice was declared.

He re-joined his unit and was transferred to the Australian Engineers, Mining and Boring Company.

This company was attached to the British Royal Engineers and was tasked with the rebuilding of roads and bridges in France to begin the mammoth task of moving of troops and equipment from the front lines back to Britain. From early December 1918 to March 1919 Roy Mitchell was involved in these activities.

On 7 March 1919, he finally transferred back to the 14th Engineers and was sent to England, where he boarded the Devonha for return to Australia.  The ship arrived on 8 May 1919 and an interesting incident occurred when it reached Adelaide. Details can be found here.

Roy Mitchell was finally discharged a few weeks later.

Roy Hamilton Mitchell had a brother and number of first and second cousins who served in World War I.  I have written blogs on the following:-  Leonard Ingram Mitchell, Phillip John Vincent, James Joseph Thomas Bell, Louis Augustus Bell, Arthur Campbell Bell, William George Blanchard.

Although Roy Mitchell showed courage and leadership during his years of service on the Western Front during World War I, it was his daring and courage after the war that made him famous.

World War II Family Hero, John Bernard Mackey,VC

Our grandchildren had been on a school group visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. While there, they had admired some medals for bravery in the form of the Military Medal and the Victoria Cross.

There was a whole section on those who had been awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and all theatres of war up to the present time.

For the children, one name stood out, “John Bernard Mackey”, because he had the same surname as us.

First of all, they wanted to know if he belonged to our family, and then what he had done to deserve the honour.

I helped them research this soldier on the internet.

First of all, we went to the War Memorial website at  https://www.awm.gov.au/

And was able to find the ‘citation’ that went with the medal when it was awarded.

NX20317 CORPORAL JOHN BERNARD MACKEY VC, 2/3RD PIONEER BATTALION, AIF. CORPORAL MACKEY WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS FOR BRAVERY ON 1945-05-12 DURING AN ATTACK ON THREE JAPANESE POSITIONS AT A FEATURE KNOWN AS HELEN, EAST OF TARAKAN, BORNEO. MACKEY MANAGED TO SILENCE THE POSITIONS BUT WAS KILLED WHILST ATTACKING THE THIRD.

https://www.awm.gov.au/index.php/collection/C56109

Jack Mackey VC

However the RSL Virtual Memorial website at

https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/people/637210  gave us all the information we needed on this soldier, including some photographs.

Biography:-

‘John Bernard ‘Jack’ MACKEY was born on 16 May 1922 at Leichhardt, Sydney, and until his enlistment worked in his father’s bakery. He embarked with the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion in November 1941, serving in Syria and in the later operations at El Alamein. He also took part in the New Guinea campaign. The landing on Tarakan Island, Borneo, was the battalion’s final campaign.

Mackey had already been recognized as an outstanding and brave junior leader. On 12 May 1945, he displayed those qualities again on Tarakan Island, Netherlands East Indies. Together with his lance corporal, Mackey approached a well-defended position along a steep and narrow spur. Reaching a Japanese light machine-gun post, the two men killed four enemy soldiers, but Mackey’s companion was wounded. Mackey killed the remaining Japanese, then dealt with a heavy machine-gun crew in an adjacent bunker. Taking up an Owen gun, he moved towards another heavy machine-gun nest and managed to silence it before he was mortally wounded. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The recommendation for the award reads:

‘For most conspicuous bravery in the face of strong enemy resistance in the attack on the HELEN feature at TARAKAN on 12 May 1945.

Cpl MACKEY was in charge of 3 section 16 Platoon D Coy 2/3 Aust Pnr Bn in the company attack on the feature known as HELEN East of TARAKAN town.

This section was in the van and led by Cpl MACKEY moved along a narrow spur with scarcely width for more than one man when it came under fire from 3 well-sited positions near the top of a very steep razor-backed ridge. The ground fell away almost sheer on each side of the track making it almost impossible to move to a flank so Cpl MACKEY led his men forward.

He charged the first LMG [Light Machine Gun] position but slipped and after wrestling with one enemy bayoneted him and charged straight on to the HMG [Heavy Machine Gun] which was firing from a bunker position six yards to his right. He rushed this post and killed the crew with grenades.

He then jumped back and changing his rifle for his comrades [sic] submachine gun he attacked further up the steep slope to another LMG position which was firing on his platoon. Whilst charging he fired his gun and reached within a few feet of the enemy position when he was killed by LMG fire but not before accounting for two more enemy.

By his exceptional bravery and complete disregard for and the sacrifice of his own life, Cpl MACKEY was largely responsible for the killing of 7 Japanese and the elimination of two machine gun posts which enabled his platoon to gain its objective from which the coy continued to engage the enemy. His fearless action was an inspiration to the whole battalion and although he was killed his name is legendary.’ ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ Page 2459, position 1 Date: 15 November 1945

He was eventually buried in the Labuan War Cemetery.”

Jack Mackey War Medals

Personal Details:-

Service Number: NX20317
Enlisted: 5 June 1940, Paddington, New South Wales
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
Born: Leichhardt, New South Wales, 16 May 1922
Home Town: Portland, Lithgow, New South Wales
Schooling: St. Columba’s School, Christian Brothers’ High School, St Joseph’s Convent School
Occupation: Baker’s labourer
Died: Killed in Action, Tarakan, Borneo, 12 May 1945, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Labuan War Memorial Cemetery

Plot. 27 Row. C Grave. 9

Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour

His World War 2 service history:-

5 Jun 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, Paddington, New South Wales
6 Jun 1940: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317
15 Aug 1940: Transferred 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, 2 Recruit Depot, Posted to 2 Recruit Reinforcement Battalion
4 Sep 1940: Transferred 2nd AIF WW 2, Private,2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
1 Nov 1941: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Sydney (for the Middle East)
1 Jul 1942: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, El Alamein
25 Jan 1943: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Middle East (for Sydney)
3 Aug 1943: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Cairns (for Milne Bay)
16 Aug 1943: Promoted 2nd AIF WW 2, Lance Corporal, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
23 Jun 1944: Promoted 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
22 Feb 1945: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Morotai (for Tarakan)
12 May 1945: Honoured Victoria Cross, Borneo – Operation Oboe July-August 1945, for “Conspicuous bravery at The Helen, Tarakan, 12 May 1945”
12 May 1945: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN NX20317,2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion Borneo – Operation Oboe July-August 1945

There were also links to a newspaper article about how his VC was won, at the National Library website TROVE: Lithgow Mercury, Thurs 6 December 1945, Page 6, Late Cpl J B Mackey–How His V C Was Won –Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/219729677

And a link to another article about his sisters donating his medal to the War Memorial.

The caption with the photograph:

Damian Norris, 8, of Sydney, and his mother, Mrs. Jo Norris, with the Victoria Cross awarded posthumously to Mrs. Norris’s brother, Corporal John Bernard Mackey, during World War II. Mrs. Norris presented the medal to the Australian War Memorial yesterday as a gift from the corporal’s three sisters.

Medal from the past (1980, July 18). The Canberra Times, p. 1. retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125610819

This confirmed that the medal they had seen at the War Memorial was the actual medal presented. Their reaction to that piece of information was, “How Cool is that”!

Another biography in the publication Australian Dictionary of Biography at

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackey-john-bernard-jack-10993 gave us further information to help us find more on his family.

Although I couldn’t find any family links with our Mackey family, and cannot really claim him as our ‘family hero’, it was good to be able to find out so much about our brave namesake- John Bernard Mackey.

World War I, Family Hero – Arthur Campbell Bell

Arthur Campbell Bell, born 1893,at Picton, NSW, was the tenth child and seventh son of Thomas and Matilda Bell (nee Anderson). He was also a first cousin to my maternal grandmother, Harriet May Bell.

When Arthur Campbell Bell was a young child the family moved to the Tumbarumba Ranges in the southern highlands where they had various gold-mining leases.

Thomas and Matilda Bell retired to Sydney just before the outbreak of World War I and Arthur Campbell lived with them.

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He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 23 May 1916.At that time he gave his occupation as motor driver. He was first sent to the signal school at Broadmeadows for several weeks training.

When training was completed his unit was sent to Melbourne by train, where they embarked on 25 September 1916 on the troop ship Shropshire for overseas service.

Some weeks later Arthur Campbell Bell disembarked at Plymouth on 11 November 1916. Soon afterwards he was sent with the 58th battalion to France as a signalman. Little is known of his actual service there, but he fell ill in the April and was returned to England for treatment.

He was then attached to the 15th Training Battalion and was promoted to Lance-Corporal, however he asked to be returned to the ranks as a private before the end of the year.

He was admitted to hospital again in April 1918. He was then transferred to Motor Transport Department.

A few weeks later, when on leave he got into trouble for’ asking for an extension of leave by telegram, contrary to regulations’ and ended up having to forfeit a day’s pay.

After the war was over he remained in England for some time, where he continued to serve as a transport driver. He returned to Australia by the SS Cape Verde in February 1920.

World War I, Family Hero- Harold Ernest Vidler

Harold Ernest Vidler, born 1891, near Goulburn in southern New South Wales, was the eldest child and son of George Angel James and Matilda Vidler (nee Law). He along with the rest of the family moved to northern New South Wales early in the 20th Century. By the outbreak of the First World War they had moved to Zillmere in Queensland.

When war broke out his brother Kenneth George quickly enlisted and soon encouraged his older brother to join him on the great adventure.

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Harold Ernest Vidler enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in Brisbane on the 4 May 1915. After several weeks of training he embarked on 20 August 1915 for Egypt on board the military transport Shropshire.[ Also on board was Cecil Vidler another ‘cousin’, the eldest son of George Stephen and Eliza Vidler (nee Harris), who was a van driver at Lismore when he enlisted.]

 On disembarking at Alexandria, Egypt it was found Harold Ernest Vidler had mumps and was admitted to hospital. He was discharged to his AIF unit on 9 November 1915 and sailed for Moudros on Lemnos Island heading for Gallipoli. He was looking forward to catching up with his younger brother, Kenneth George Vidler. He didn’t know at the time, but Kenneth George Vidler had been injured on Gallipoli on 21 August and had been medically evacuated to England. There was to be no grand reunion for the Vidler brothers after all.

 In early December it was decided to abandon the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Australia troops were taken off during the nights of 18 to 20 December 1915.

 Here is a link to a photograph of part of the evacuation through William’s Pier, North Head, on the Gallipoli Peninsular.

http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/north-beach-and-the-sari-bair-range/evacuation-of-anzac.php

Harold Ernest Vidler returned to Alexandria in Egypt on 4 January 1916 on board the transport ‘Grampian.’

After the Gallipoli campaigns most of the Australian Infantry departed for the Western Front in Europe. However many in the Australian Light Horse as well as some Australia infantry remained in Egypt as part of the ANZAC Mounted Division that took part in British Offenses pushing Turks and their allies across Palestine and Syria. These Australian and New Zealand mounted troops conducted long range reconnaissance patrols and raids deep into the desert.

Camel Corps were formed, as camels could achieve much more than horses in the dry dessert terrain

On the 5th February 1916 Harold Ernest Vidler was transferred to the Camel Corps and after minimal training he was taken on strength at Sollum. He took ill and was admitted to hospital and transferred to Alexandria by the Rasheed. After spending some time in the hospital, he returned to his unit on 18 November1916.

 Military conflicts took place in North Africa from 1914. The Senussi of Libya sided with the Ottoman Empire against the British. On 14 November 1914, the Ottoman Sultan proclaimed war and sought to create a diversion to draw British troops from the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. The Senussi Campaign took place in north Africa, from 23 November 1915 – February 1917.

In the summer of 1915, the Ottoman Empire persuaded the Grand Senussi, Ahmed Sharif, to attack British-occupied Egypt from the west, and encouraged insurrection in support of an Ottoman offensive against the Suez Canal from the east. The Senussi crossed the Libyan–Egyptian border at the coast in November 1915. British Empire forces withdrew at first and then defeated the Senussi in several engagements, including the Action of Agagia.

In January 1917 the victory of the Desert Column at the Battle of Rafa completed the capture of the Sinai Peninsula and brought the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces within striking distance of Gaza.

On 28 January 1917 Harold Ernest Vidler was transferred to No 2 Company of the 1st Australian Battalion of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces, under Brigadier General Smith.

[Ref:From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_operations_in_North_Africa_during_World_War_I

The First Battle of Gaza was fought on 26 March 1917, during the first attempt by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to take the territory around Gaza. Fighting took place all day and late in the afternoon, on the verge of capturing Gaza, the troops were withdrawn due to concerns about the approaching darkness and large Ottoman reinforcements. This defeat was followed a few weeks later by the even more emphatic defeat of the British Forces at the Second Battle of Gaza.

The Second Battle of Gaza was fought between 17 and 19th April 1917. In the three weeks between the two battles of Gaza, the Ottoman strengthened entrenchments and fortifications at Gaza which proved unassailable and disasterous with the British frontal attack. It was estimated the casualty rate for the Egyptian Expeditionary Forces approached fifty per cent, for very slight gains in this battle. Officially there were 6444 casualties with the Camel Brigade some 345 of these. -509 killed,4359 wounded and 1534 missing including 272 prisoners of war.

[Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_Gaza]

 Harold Ernest Vidler was one of these. It was reported on 22 April 1917 that Harold Ernest Vidler had been wounded near Gaza during the battle on 19 April, but it was some time before his true fate was known.

The Australian Red Cross Society of Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau in London received a communique on 19 May 1917 from the Ottoman Red Crescent Society, dated 10 May, that Harold Ernest Vidler was a prisoner of war in Turkey. He had been admitted to the hospital at Zeyne Kiamil, Istanbul suffering a gunshot wound to the right knee. He had then been transferred to the Prisoner of War Camp at Psamatia. This camp was on the western outskirts of Istanbul and was formed around the Armenian Church of the Virgin Mary

We have no other information on Harold Ernest Vidler’s time as a prisoner of the Turks. It was many months before his family knew what had happened to him and he appeared in the official lists. However other prisoners told harrowing stories of forced labour and starvation.

Many Australian prisoners were assigned to work parties in the Taurus and Amanos Mountains and spent up to twelve hours a day quarrying, drilling tunnels, felling timber, laying track and blacksmithing on the Baghdad to Istanbul section of the Berlin- Istanbul Railway. Almost all were subjected to the same harsh living conditions and very limited supplies as their Ottoman captors. Feeding and clothing prisoners in the far reaches of the Ottoman Empire proved woefully inadequate owing to the logistical problem of sending Red Cross parcels from London, so many prisoners fell victim to sickness, hard labour and prolonged effects of malnutrition.

The personal effects of Harold Ernest Vidler, which remained at camp when he went into battle, were sent home to his parents in January 1918 by the ‘Wiltshire‘.

On the victory of the allied forces in the Middle East he was released on 6 November 1918 and repatriated to Alexandria in Egypt, along with many other surviving Australian prisoners. He embarked on the troop ship ‘Leicestershire’ on 23 December 1918 and headed home.

He was discharged on 19 March 1919 in Brisbane and returned to his parents farm at Chillingham.

This soldier was a first cousin of my paternal grandmother, Olive Pearl Vidler. However there was another personal link for my family history. My grandmother had married an Irishman in 1910 and settled on a dairy farm at Jackson’s Creek near Chillingham on the north arm of the Tweed River.

 Several Vidler families had migrated from southern New South Wales in the early 1900’s including my Great-Grandparents, Thomas Nathanial and Margaret Jane Vidler (nee Goodwin), and also Thomas’ younger brother, George Angel James Vidler and his family. However, by the beginning of World War I these families had moved to Queensland. George Angel James Vidler’s family settled at Zillmere in Brisbane, where two of the sons enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1914 and 1915. In 1916, George Angel James Vidler, uncle to my grandmother returned to Chillingham and purchased the successful dairy from my grandparents, William and Olive Growcock (nee Vidler), who then moved to Tygalgah near Murwillumbah.

 

Other Vidler World War I Family Heroes blog posts include-

Frederick Cecil Vidler posted 25 April 2015

Harold Frederick Vidler posted 11 November 2015

Frederick Grenville Vidler posted 11 November 2015

Edward Herbert Vidler posted 14 November 2015

Sydney Vincent Vidler posted 27 November 2015

Kenneth George Vidler posted 10 February 2017

World War I, Family Hero – William George Blanchard

Many years ago, when I seriously began researching my maternal grandmothers family ‘The Bells,’ I was very fortunate to be able to track down various branches including the Blanchard family, who had migrated to Western Australia. These were first cousins of my maternal grandmother, Harriet May Bell.

 William George Blanchard, born 1885,at Picton, New South Wales, was the second child, and eldest son of Joseph and Alice Blanchard (nee Bell). Through family connections, I found and corresponded with, his eldest son, Charles William (Charlie) Blanchard, for a number of years. He was able to tell me his father had served in World War I, and that his ‘job was to drive ammunition trains to the Front Line’. I was able to access William George Blanchard’s military service records at the Australian Archives, but these were basic, and had very little actual information. I also visited the Australian War Memorial seeking information on these ‘engine drivers,’ but found very little in official records. Even recent searches on the Internet had little success.

However this week I struck ‘gold’ in the historical newspapers on TROVE at the National Library of Australia. Now using family oral history, Australian Archives World War I military service records and extracts from the newspapers I have been able to add much information to this Blanchard twig of my family history.

 When a young child, William George, along with the family moved to Western Australia where the father, Joseph Blanchard found employment as an engine driver on the Midland Junction Railway. In 1906 Joseph Blanchard died suddenly leaving his wife Alice Blanchard with seven children. William George, the eldest of the children had also found employment in the railway by this time.

 William George Blanchard married Maud Lyons in 1908. They had a family of three surviving sons by the time World War I had been declared.

William George Blanchard had served several years in the local militia. He tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, but was turned down for medical reasons. In December the same year he applied to join the newly formed Railway Corps. He was finally accepted and was put into basic training. In January 1917 he was promoted to Sergeant and on 21 January embarked at Freemantle on the troopship ‘Miltiades’ for overseas service.

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The ‘Miltiades’ was of 7814 tons and a cruising speed of 13 knots. It was owned by G Thompson and Company of London and was leased by the Government for the transporting of troops and supplies from Australia in World War I.

 William George Blanchard disembarked at Devonport, England on 27 March 1917 and after further training was deployed overseas in France on 19 April 1917. On 12 October 1917 he was attached to the (British)Royal Engineers for special duties. [See below] While there, he ‘ was reprimanded by his commanding officer for failing to salute a ( British) officer’ — and I bet he wasn’t the only one.

He became ill in May 1918 and was admitted to Lakenham Military Hospital in Norwich, England.

 This Military Hospital was located in the premises of Lakenham Council School, which had only been built by the City Council in 1913.It had scheduled to receive its first pupils in August 1914. In fact, with the outbreak of First World War hostilities, its intended use for educational purposes was delayed until 1919, because the premises were requisitioned by the Army Council for use as a military hospital. [Ref:http://eventful.com/norwich/events/lakenham-military-hospital-colmans-detective-barry-/E0-001-087655001-9

 William George Blanchard later joined his unit in France and was transferred to ‘old gauge’ rail operations with the narrow French line.

When the war was over he spent a long furlong in England, before returning to his unit, to be transported home to Australia. He boarded the Konigin Luise on 21 June 1919.

 I believe the Konigin Luise was originally a German ship which had been converted by the Germans for mine-laying duties in the English Channel. She was later shelled and after much damage the wreck was finally captured. She was virtually rebuilt and was later used by the Government to bring troops and nurses home to Australia.

 After the war, William George Blanchard returned to employment with the Western Australian Government Railway. His son Charlie Blanchard was able to send me copies of much of his service in the railway.

 My ‘gold’ this week was in the form of informative newspaper extracts detailing the service of the Australian Railway Corp:-

 Australian Railway Corps on the Western Front as recalled by Lieutenant R J Burchell (MC), 4th Company Australian Railway Corps,( and Member of Parliament for Freemantle 1913-1922).

” There were three broad-gauge and three light railway companies, the original strength of each being 269 of all ranks which was increased by reinforcements to 300, so that the Australian railway operating troops totalled 1800. We were attached to the Royal Engineers for duty and discipline–a fact we did not appreciate. Our only connection with Australian corps was that we received AIF orders and an AIF paymaster visited us periodically for the purposes of pay. We took our places alongside our comrades of the Britain and French railway services, and whatever work came our way, in whatever circumstances, we did it.

Our first job was in the Ypres area with the British Second Army, under General Plumer. That started on October 5 1917, and we were at work up to the conclusion of hostilities-13 months. We were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even Hazelbrouck, the furthest back station of the 4th company, was under fire from the 15in guns. The first time I went into the station on a train the water tower was toppled over by a shell just as the train was entering the station. In the latter stages of the war the aeroplane bombs were of huge size. At Peronne the Australians captured German bombs estimated to weigh a ton, while for some time before the end the British planes were using 15cwt bombs. With both planes and guns the enemy paid systemic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realize that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Company, [William George Blanchard’s Battalion] based at Peselhoek, had the worst spot of the lot in the Ypres area for danger. Their section of the line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy.

In military railway work, owing to the conditions resulting from continual interruptions in the line by shell fire, you so not worry about mileage, or time-table. The main thing is to deliver your load safely where it is wanted. If you come to a spot on the direct road where the line has been blown up by the enemy, you go back, and endeavour to reach your destination by a roundabout route. The amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and the trains carry 1,000 ton loads. The system of traffic adopted mainly for army work was that of the Midland Railway Company, England. The French system of railway signals, which was in use, is much different from the British, and entails a much greater eye-strain on the engine drivers. Many of the men practically ruined their sight in the service.

As I have said, the lines were frequently cut by enemy fire. The British Engineers carried out repairs at any hour of the night or day, with remarkable expedition, but the French were not nearly so prompt.

After three months in the Ypres area, we were sent to the Somme, near Peronne. We had 30 miles of line to work, our main function being to supply ammunition, material, and food to the 5th Army, under General Gough, and provide engine power for six 15-inch guns, mounted on railway waggons, which operated from the ends of our lines. The 5th Army connected with the French Army on its right, and our corps was the last connecting link of British railway troops on the Southern end. We had exceptionally heavy work in this sector, culminating with the great German offensive. The attack began on March 21, and three days later we were compelled to evacuate as the 5th Army was pushed back. The Australian railwaymen did particularly fine work during those critical days. The men of our company were warmly commended for their services at Tincourt in unloading ammunition at the advanced dump under heavy machine gun fire. Three of them were awarded the DCM, and six received the Military Medal over that episode. The German attack was pressed home so rapidly that the big rail-mounted guns were abandoned b. We managed to get two of the pieces away y the gunners in the nick of time. An attempt was made to rescue two more, but, while they were being hauled away, the line was so badly cut up by enemy gunfire that the rails spread, and the guns could not be moved further. Our fellows stuck to it as long as there was work to be done, but quitted only when everything that could be shifted had been shifted. The French railwaymen had all gone 12 hours before….Lieut. Burchell was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty… on this occasion]”

[See also http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/bellenglise/calvaire-cemetery-montbrehain/tincourt-british-cemetery.php for those Australians that died there]

Lieut Burchell continues, “Many hard things have been said about General Gough and the 5th Army, …often by Australian soldiers. But the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised. In numbers the odds against them were eight to one, and the enemy had an immense concentration of artillery. The attack began on March 21, but the Australians did not come into contact with the remnants of General Gough’s force until the following Tuesday. In the intervening five days the 5th Army were forced back over 30 miles, fighting continuously, at a terrible disadvantage. The whole of their ordinary transport organisations was gone, and they had no fixed supply and ammunition points, and they were for long periods without food.

After unceremoniously leaving the Somme we were sent to Dunkirk, where we served until the conclusion of hostilities. Even Dunkirk can hardly be described as a safe spot well behind the firing line. Indeed it had the reputation of being the most heavily bombed city on the whole front. The official figures carefully recorded by the municipal authorities show that 7514 projectiles were dropped on it during the war… the town was decorated by the British Government in recognition of its sacrifices

Our welcome to Dunkirk was a warm one, for on our very first night there was a succession of air-raids, and 500 bombs were dropped. The port has fine wharf and harbour accommodation, which was used for the purposes of landing great quantities of ammunition from England, and it was on this account that it received so much attention from the Germans. Their spy service must have been remarkably good, for every time one of the great lighters full of ammunition arrived there would be an air raid. We were there for six months, working ammunition from the docks….”

[Reference:- With The Railway Corps on the Western Front, Interview with Lieutenant R J Burchell, Western Australian (Perth, W A: 1879-1954), Monday 2 June 1919, page 6, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27606481 ]

 Another newspaper extract from Lieutenant-Colonel Fewtrell [DSO] invalided home 1918….” There was a light railway running out to the Ypres salient, and on this railway I trained my 4th Battalion officers and men. I am as you know, a railway construction engineer, and there were a number of others. The result was that in about four weeks we had a first-class railway construction battalion, our reinforcements having come up in the meantime. Then the whole of the Anzac Corps was suddenly removed south again on the Somme, and we arrived there about the beginning of November, 1916. We had taken over a new area from the French, and the mud was frightful on the roads along which the ammunition and supplies had to be got up to the troops holding the front line. There was so much stuff that had to be got up that I have seen at night time as many as three lines of traffic. As the mud was 2 feet deep in many places you can imagine what a task it was, and one of the first things we were asked to do was to make decent roads.

Then I was made officer commanding light railways. We constructed a mile of light railway a day, and within ten weeks we were supplying 40,000 men and 8000 horses with all they required, carrying the supplies right into Bapaume. One night we took up to within 300 yards of the battle positions the whole of the guns, with the exception of one battery, for one of the Australian divisions. At the end of ten days the Canadians had built a broad-gauge line into Bapaume and when we pushed out to the Hindenburg line we had passenger trains running into the town every half-hour-just like the suburban system at home…”[Reference:- Colonel Fewtrell’s Return, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW:1842-1954),Saturday 30 March 1918, p12, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15782819

 What a productive day with my Bell Family History with researching and writing up.

The moral of the story in family history research, never give up and think’ outside the box’

World War I, Family Hero – Kenneth George Vidler

Kenneth George Vidler, born 1894, near Goulburn in southern New South Wales, was the third child and second son of George Angel James and Matilda Vidler (nee Law). The family moved to northern New South Wales in the early 1900’s and lived with relatives for a short while on the Richmond River, before moving further north to the Tweed River. They settled at Chillingham where two daughters were born. By the First World War the family had moved to Zillmere in Brisbane.

 DSC02798

 When war broke out in 1914, Kenneth Vidler was eager to go, as he found his employment as a clerk a bit too tame for his liking. He enlisted Australian Imperial Forces in Brisbane on 19 September 1914. After several weeks training he embarked for Egypt on the troopship “Canada”, just before Christmas on 22 December 1914.

 After further training in Egypt he was sent to the Gallipoli peninsular in May 1915. Although not in the first wave on 25 April 1915, he was part of the reinforcements in May.

He was in the thick of things on the peninsular for more than three months, when he was wounded on 21 August 1915 with a bullet wound to his left arm. Three days later he was taken off Gallipoli by ship and sent to the Princess Club Hospital in London for surgery. He was later transferred to No1 Auxilliary Hospital at Harefield.

Harefield Park House was used as the No. 1 Australian Auxilliary Hospital from December 1914 until January 1919. Originally it was estimated that the house would accommodate fifty soldiers under winter conditions and 150 during spring and summer. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1,000 beds and had a large nursing and ancillary support staff.[Ref:From <https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/harefield/][Ref: Photographhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/66782262@N05/sets/72157627411217445/with/6165756224/]

Kenneth George Vidler spent months recovering before he was sent to the Western Front in Europe as a driver for transporting ammunition to the Australian Infantry Forces. Soon after his arrival he was involved in an accident, when he ran into another truck, and had to forfeit two day’s pay.

For the next couple of years through the war he was in the motor transport division around Rouen, France and later at the Australian Headquarters at Harefield.

[Ref: Photograph from https://www.flickr.com/photos/66782262@N05/sets/72157627411217445/with/6165756224/]

The ancient city of Rouen on the Seine played a significant role in World War I as it was safely behind the line and became a major logistic centre with numerous depots and hospitals. These were situated on the southern outskirts of Rouen.

Soon after the end of the war Kenneth George Vidler boarded the Australian Transport, ‘Berrima ‘ for return to Australia. He disembarked at Melbourne , and then travelled back to Brisbane where he was discharged from military service on ANZAC Day 1919, a few weeks after his older brother Harold Ernest Vidler.

HMAS Berrima was a passenger liner which served in the Royal Australian Navy as an armed merchantman and troop transport. The Berrima continued in this roll until 18 February 1917, when she was torpedoed. She was towed ashore and repaired. She continued to be of service until returned to P&O service in 1920.

[Ref: Photograph from and information from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMAS_Berrima]