Family Heirloom- Dead Man’s Penny for James Joseph Stapleton

A family heirloom on our children’s paternal side of the family is a World War I Memorial Plaque, but is more popularly known as a ‘Dead Man’s Penny’. It is in memory of James Joseph Stapleton who was killed in action on the Somme on 1 September 1918.

J J Stapleton Memorial Plaque-Copyright Nola Mackey 2013

This Photograph is Copyright-Nola Mackey

These Memorial Plaques were issued after World War I to the next of kin of all British and Empire soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed or died of wounds during the war.

In 1919 the British Government held a design competition for the proposed plaque. There were over eight hundred designs submitted. The winner was Edward Carter Preston a renowned sculptor and medalist for a prize of £250.

These plaques were made of bronze and about five inches or 120 mm in diameter.

The medal design was only on the front and is an image of Britannia holding a trident and standing with a lion. In Britannia’s outstretched left hand is an oak wreath. At the bottom of the plaque is another lion tearing apart the German eagle symbolizing Britain’s superiority on land. Dolphins swim around Britannia symbolizing sea power.

A rectangular tablet to the right of Britannia is where the deceased’s full name is inscribed. No rank is included as all gave the same sacrifice- their life. Around the edge of the plaque in capital letters reads: “HE/SHE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR.”

The initial plaques were made at Acton in London, but later, manufacture was shifted to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. On the back of this plaque is “WA”(the A being formed by a bar between the upward strokes of the “W” ), which indicates it was made at Woolwich.

These plaques were issued with a commemorative scroll from King George V.

On receipt of the scroll and plaque the next of kin were required to officially acknowledge by letter and form. These can be found within the service personel records at the Australian Archives.

From the 18th Century the British ‘penny’ was made of copper and a ‘Britannia’ design featured on the face of the coin. It is described as- “Britannia seated facing right, wearing a helmet, holding a trident in her left hand and her right hand resting on a shield with the words ‘one penny’ in the field and date below.” This design with few variations remained as the face of the British penny from c 1780 to 1967.

During World War I the soldiers used these coins as ‘Two-up’ Pennies and even today many surviving sets come out on “Anzac Day”. This is the only day ‘Two-up’ is legally sanctioned.

Due to the similarity in design of the Memorial Plaque and the British penny the Memorial plaque became known colloquially as “The Dead Man’s Penny”.

See also

posted 21 April 2013 at World War I Family Heroes – The Stapleton Boys

posted 13 October 2014 at Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Heroes J J Stapleton and R E Sherwood – Mont St Quentin

 posted 13 October 2014 at Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Heroes J J Stapleton and R E Sherwood – Peronne

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 daughter were borns. By the First World War the family had moved to Zillmere in Brisbane.

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 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]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World War I, Family Hero- Edward Herbert Vidler

Edward Herbert Vidler, born 1883, was the second son and the third child of Thomas Nathaniel and Margaret Jane Vidler (nee Goodwin). In the family he was known as ‘Bert’.

He had grown up in the Shoalhaven area and migrated with the family when they moved north to settle on the north arm of the Tweeds River. The family took up land at Chillingham.

He enlisted in Brisbane on 27 October 1916, along with his younger brother Sydney Vincent, and went into Ennogera Camp. Their cousin Frederick Cecil Vidler, known as ‘Fred’ and also of Chillingham, enlisted the following month.

An article in the local newspaper the Tweed Daily, stated

“SEEING IT THROUGH

The following names are those, of local and district- boys, who, preferring the “wents” to the “sents,” have after ‘attestation; voluntarily enlisted’ for active service abroad” …. H. Vidler, S. V. Vidler, …. F. C. Vidler… and are now in the A;I.F.”

After several weeks of training Bert Vidler was attached to the 47 Battalion and embarked on the troopship Ayrshire on 14 January 1917, for England. When he arrived on 12 April he was sent to Codfield, on the Wiltshire plain for further training, before being sent to France on 16 July, along with his cousin ‘Fred’.

Within three weeks they were sent to Belguim and were engaged in the trenches in the lower ground west of the Passchendaele Ridge. Three months of constant shelling had made this flat landscape a crater filled no-mansland. On the night of 4th October it began to rain which made the whole area a quagmire, and movement of men and equipment nearly impossible, although the German defences continued to shell constantly.

Bert Vidler was severely wounded in the left hand and was evacuated through Ypers to the coast. He embarked on the Peter de Conick for the 3rd Auxilary Hospital at Dartford in England. He was later sent to Weymouth Convalence Camp No 2 to recover before being sent to Sutton Vesy No 1 Australian Command where there was a hutted military hospital of more than 1200 beds.

Appauling wet weather set in and he hadn’t been there long, when he became ill with a sore throat and cold, which turned into bronical pneumonia. He didn’t recover in the cold damp English weather and it was decided he was to return to Australia for a warm dry climate.

Bert Vidler embarked on the Suevic on 25 April 1918. On arrival in Australia he was discharged as medically unfit for any further service.

It is particularly sad that more than a hundred Australian men and women who had survived the terrible conditions and slaughter of the battlefield were to die at Sutton Veny of sickness, many on their way home.They are buried in the Sutton Veny Australian War Cemetery, which is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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World War I, Family Hero – Sidney Vincent Vidler

Another blog in my series of family heroes.

Just as everyone’s challenges and experiences in life are different, so are the stories of our soldiers. Some died on the battlefield; some drowned in the water filled trenches and shell- holes; and others survived the terrible carnage, and came back to their families horribly ‘broken’; although few families realized how ‘broken’, as they still had all their limbs. However, they may have been ‘gassed’; or had been prisoners of war and been starved and beaten; or they may have been so traumatized by years of ‘soldiering’ that they could no longer live in the ‘ordinary’ world as their minds would not allow them that peace.

Few ever considered the lives of those young men, who didn’t want to go to war. They were branded as cowards by both friends and family and were often sent ‘white feathers’, most anonymously. They felt coerced or compelled to ‘volunteer’ especially as the war dragged on for yet another year. Some were so desperate they injured themselves, so they would not be accepted into the military.

Then there were others who ‘volunteered’ and genuinely met with an accident whilst training. They were ‘injured’, so they were not accepted into service,and were sent home as medically unfit. Sadly these men were often treated with suspicion and were accused of ‘ducking’ military service, and then were unfairly targeted. Although, I do not know for sure, I believe we had such an case in our family.

Sidney Vincent Vidler was born in 1885, the third son, and fourth child, of Thomas Nathaniel and Margaret Jane Vidler (nee Goodwin). He spent his early childhood on the South Coast of New South Wales near Kiama, and migrated north with the family to northern New South Wales in the early 1890’s. The family settled at Chillingham on the North Arm of the Tweed River.

‘Sid’ as he was known in the family, started assisting on the farm at an early age, and didn’t return to school after the family moved north. He continued to work on the family farm, until his father sold and moved to Queensland in 1916.

Sidney Vincent Vidler enlisted on the 27 October 1916, along with his brother, Bert, (Edward Herbert Vidler). Their younger brother, Harold Frederick Vidler, had enlisted more than twelve months before, and their first cousin, Ashley Haydon Vidler, who lived nearby, had also enlisted the previous year. Ashley’s younger brother, Frederick Cecil Vidler enlisted in November 1916.

See former blogs World War Family Heroes, Harold Frederick and Edward Herbert Vidler posted on 11th and 14th November 2015, respectively, and Frederick Cecil Vidler, posted 25 April 2015..

Many war tales had reached Bert and Sid Vidler, by the time they signed on as volunteers in Brisbane, October 1916.

Military training was going well at the Enoggera Army Camp, when there was an accident at the rifle range on the 18th December, and Sidney Vincent Vidler was shot in the foot. He was admitted to hospital, where it was found that a bullet had entered his left foot and lodged in the bone. The wound healed in a couple of weeks, and he returned to Enoggera, where his brother, Bert and cousin, Fred,(Frederick Cecil Vidler), had nearly completed their basic training, and were preparing to leave by troop-ship for England.

However when Sid resumed training it was found he couldn’t march or undertake further training due to pain in the foot, and he was returned to hospital. It was suggested he undergo surgery for removal of the bullet, but it was explained that it was a very risky procedure at the time, as chloroform could be lethal, and there was no real guarantee that they could extract the bullet anyway. He declined to have the surgery. He was a patient in the hospital for over three months with little progress with his injury, as he still couldn’t walk properly, only limp. By this time his brother, Bert and cousin Fred Vidler, had already sailed for overseas service.

There was a military inquiry in early February 1917, but I have been unable to ascertain any further details of this accident. As he was not dishonourably discharged it certainly was not a self- inflicted wound, and his army records are notated with the comment- “Good Character”, so the mystery remains.

[Ref: Personel File of Sidney Vincent Vidler, Australian Archives,website at http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NameSearch/Interface/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=8398220&isAv=N ]

He was discharged from the Australian Army on 24 April 1917, as medically unfit for duty, and returned home.

Sydney Vincent Vidler married Pearl Hayes later that year. They had several children. Their second son, Vincent Noel, enlisted in the Second World War. He died on 14 September 1944 and is memorialized on the Labuan Memorial in Malaysia.

Although, Sidney Vincent Vidler’s military story is a very brief one compared to that of his brothers’ and cousins’, I believe he should be included in the list of World War I family heroes just the same.