World War I,Family Hero- Edward Herbert Vidler

I continue to blog to honour our family members, and their story as ‘volunteers’ in the Australian Imperial Forces in World War I.

Today I am writing about another of my paternal grandmother’s brothers, Edward Herbert Vidler.

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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 Tweed 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” …E. H. Vidler, S. V. Vidler,  F. C. Vidler… are now in the A.I.F.”

From his enlistment much of his story can be found in his personel file at the Australian Archives website at http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/.

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. His cousin , Frederick Cecil Vidler was also on board. When they arrived on 12 April they were sent to Codfield, on the Wiltshire plain for further training. They were transferred to France on 16 July..

We can follow the day to day action in the military diary for their unit in the 47th Battalion through the Australian War Memorial website at https://www.awm.gov.au/

Soon after landing in France the 47th was 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, but still it was under heavy bombardment from the German trenches.

The allied attack on the Passchendaele Ridge 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 allied 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 both the young Vidler cousins.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.

Bert Vidler was severely wounded in the left hand on 30 September and was sent to a field hospital. 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. The movement of casualties was also very difficult in the mud and wet weather, but Bert Vidler finally embarked on the Peter de Conick for England on 6 October, leaving his cousin ‘Fred’ behind. Sadly, ‘Fred’ was killed a few days later, although the family were not to know his fate for many months.

The story of Frederick Cecil Vidler was told in a former blog posted on 25 April 2015.

On his arrival in England Herbert Edward Vidler was admitted to Edmonton Military Hospital in London.This was one of several hospitals in England given over to the care of wounded soldiers during the First World War. It was a special surgical hospital for orthopaedic cases.

Although there are no military diaries to follow the story of a soldier for his surgery and recovery, we can gain much information from his personel file. Further information and photographs from various websites, give us some idea of his experience.

Edmonton Military Hospital was in Silver Street, Edmonton and had two large red crosses on the front gates. Today it is the North Middlesex Hospital. It’s wartime history can be found on the following website.

http://www.1900s.org.uk/1914-18-ww1-edm-military-hosp.htm

After he recovered from surgery Bert was sent firstly to Weymouth Convalence Camp No 2 – (http://weymouthanzacs.moonfruit.com/the-camps/4575540279 ) before being sent to Sutton Veny No 1 Australian Command, where there was a hutted military hospital of more than 1200 beds. (http://www.suttonveny.co.uk/1st-world-war.html )

Appaling wet weather set in and Bert hadn’t been there long, when he became ill with a sore throat and cold, which turned into bronical pneumonia. He spent several months in hospital there, but could not recover his health in the cold damp English weather.  It was decided he needed to return to Australia, to 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 on the battlefield were to die at Sutton Veny of sickness, many on their way home.They were buried in the Sutton Veny Australian War Cemetery, which is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

https://suttonveny.co.uk/war-cemetery.html 

Two photographs from the above website

Sutton Veny Churchyard2Sutton Veny Churchyard

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World War I, Family Hero- Harold Frederick Grenville Vidler

Today is Rememberance Day, when we pause and remember not only those who paid the ultimate sacrific and gave their lives in  the service of their country, but all those men and women who served gallantly, lived through the terrible conflict, and finally returned home to their families.

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My paternal grandmother, Olive Pearl Vidler was born in 1890, the seventh child in a family of nine.

She had four older brothers, three of whom enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in World War I, along with four first cousins, the sons of Frederick Ashley and Jane Vidler (nee Haydon), and George and Matilda Vidler (nee Law),who lived on adjoining farms.

Harold Frederick Grenville Vidler, was the first in that family to enlist in Brisbane,on the 16 August 1915.

He was the youngest son, and fifth child of Thomas Nathaniel and Margaret Jane Vidler (nee Goodwin) and had been born on the South Coast of New South Wales in 1887. He was known as ‘Harold’ or ‘Noel’ in the family because of all the ‘Fred ‘ Vidlers, however in the Army he was known as ‘Fred’. He was single and only five feet two inches tall, so was not a big man.

He went into training at Ennogera Camp in Brisbane. After a few weeks he embarked onboard the Seang Bee on 21 October 1915 and disembarked in Egypt for further training. Zeitoun was a training camp for the New Zealand and Australian men near Cairo.When troops disembarked at Alexandria they went by train to the camp.

Unfortunately he contracted mumps and was sent straight to the army hospital at Cario.When he recovered he was transferred to the 3rd Training Brigade, where he proved to be a very good shot with the rifle.

At the end of three months training he was transferred to the 49th Battalion which was sent to Tel el Kebir .

Tel el Kebir, during the early days of World War I, was a training centre for the Light Horse of the Australian Imperial Forces, particularly for the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. Some 40,000 Australians camped in a tent city of six miles in length at Tel el Kebir. A military railway was constructed to take troops from the camp to their vessels in Alexandria.

On 5 June ‘Fred’ Vidler’s  unit was transferred to Alexandria to board the troop ship Arcadian. On the 12 June 1916 he disembarked with his unit at Marseille, France.

Fred saw service in several places in the infantry along the Western Front and on 27 September was sent to a casualty station with eye problems, possibly caused by the chlorine gas,the German Army was using, but he soon returned to the trenches.

In October 1917 he was confused in the military records with his cousin “Fred Vidler’ who had been killed at Passchendaele.

By the end of the year he was attached to the 13th Battery Infantry Brigade Headquarters and is believed to have been in charge of the horses used to move the battery guns.

Just after Christmas he was sent to Bonlogne hospital with ‘tonsilitis’ and was later transferred to the 7th Convelescent hospital.

On recovery he was sent to Le Harve and was attached to the Australian Veterinary Hospital Corps there with a BII classification.-ie “Labour Service Abroad- able to walk five miles to and from work and to see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes”. He was later attached to the Veterinary Hospital at Calais.

The war ended on 11 November 1918. By 30 November, H F G Vidler was among those who were despatched to the Australian General Base Depot at Le Harve and boarded the military transport ‘Nance‘. He was sent to the Australian Base Hospital at Weymouth and was medically classified as ‘BI- that is able to march five miles, and to see and shoot with glasses and hear well’. He was later sent to No 2 Convalescent Depot at Weymouth.

On 16 December 1918 he was listed as boarding the troopship ‘Argyleshire‘ for return to Australia..

Many books have been written about the First World War including, ‘Forgotten Men- The Australian Army Veterinary Corps’, by M. Tyquin, which was published in 2011. Within this book is the story of the significant contribution to the Australian Army of the Veterinary Corps is told. While the Veterinary Corps reached their peak during World War I, especially on the Western Front, they continued to support military activities until horsepower finally gave way to mechanization in World War II.

This band of men is one of the army’s smallest and least recognized units, but were very important particularly during the campaigns on the Western Front.

Harold Frederick Grenville Vidler returned home to his family at Chillingham, although the terrible experiences on the Western Front were to remain with him for many years.

On Rememberance Day the red poppy symbolises this memorialization in many countries, but in France it is often the blue cornflower.

The website – http://www.landscapesatwar.eu/2015/04/26/poppy-and-cornflower-flowers-of-remembrance/  gives us an interesting history of the reasons for this.

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World War I Family Hero- Frederick Cecil Vidler

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.

Frederick Cecil Vidler

Frederick Cecil Vidler

(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.

Buttes New Britain Cemetery

Here I stand at the end of the row where Private F.C. Vidler is buried . His headstone is just off my left shoulder.

Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Hero, Phillip John Vincent – Bullecourt

In a previous blog I mentioned Lance-Corporal Frank Leslie Bell, who was killed in the disastrous First Battle of Bullecourt in April 1917.

Another family hero, who had been involved and survived the First Battle of Bullecourt was Private Phillip John Vincent. He was the youngest son of Alfred and Elizabeth Vincent (nee Bell). His father had died in 1910, leaving Elizabeth a widow, and  “Jack’ as he was known, a young fellow not yet sixteen years of age.

In February 1916, a week after his twenty-first birthday, he followed two of his older brothers into the Australian Imperial Forces, and went into training. A newspaper article gave some details:-

“ Private Jack Vincent, who is now in camp at Cootamundra, was prior to enlisting in the employ of Dwyer Bros at Moppity for four years. When leaving for camp, Messrs Dwyer Bros wished to show their esteem of a good employee, and one whom they were very sorry to lose, although proud of his determination to go forth to battle. They presented Private Vincent with a luminous dial wristlet watch as a memento of his associations with the Dwyer Bros, who also expressed best wishes for a safe return after the war to home and friends.”

He embarked on the troopship Wiltshire in August, and went straight to England, for further training until the end of the year. He was sent to the Western Front as part of the reinforcements to the 1st battalion in January 1917. His two older brothers were already there.

A few weeks later Jack sent a letter to his mother at home in Young.

“ We have been here about three months. I have not seen much of it yet. Les Jennings, Harold Wales and Dick Short are over here. I have also met others I knew before the war.” Jack goes on to relate a humorous scene he witnessed. “ In one place where we were, the Germans used to get up on top of the trenches and light fires and run about all over the place in broad daylight. Our chaps were the same. They wouldn’t shoot at us and we didn’t shoot at them. They wanted to meet us half way with a bottle of whiskey. They used to wave bottles at us. It was funny one day. One old Fritz (a man with a grey beard) who wanted to meet our captain half way with a bottle. He was only about 30 yards from us. Anyway, he got out of the trench, and the captain got out of our trench with a rifle and bayonet. Fritz held his hands up jumped about and laughed like mad. But he would not come over. He said he was afraid of the bayonet.”

About the same time as his mother received this chatty letter, Jack Vincent was in the thick of fighting in the First Battle of Bullecourt.

On the 11th April the Australians had been ordered to take the German trenches near Bullecourt.

Further details of the battle can be found at-

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/bullecourt/what-happened-here.php

Bullecourt, a village in northern France, was one of several villages to be heavily fortified and incorporated into the defences of the Hindenburg Line in 1917.

In March 1917, the German army had withdrawn to the Hindenburg Line in order to shorten their front-line and thus make their positions easier to defend. This move was rapidly followed up by the British and empire forces, and they launched an offensive around Arras in early April 1917.

An attack was launched at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917.This was hastily planned and mounted and resulted in total disaster.

Nevertheless, the infantry managed to break into the German defences. Due to uncertainty as to how far they had advanced, supporting artillery fire was withheld, and eventually the Australians were hemmed in and forced to retreat.

The two Australian brigades that carried out the attack, suffered over 3,300 casualties; 1,170 Australians were taken prisoner – the largest number captured in a single engagement during the whole war.

After several hours of fierce fighting, sometimes hand to hand, the Germans received reinforcements, and were able to drive the Australians from the trenches, they had captured early in the day, and forced them to retreat back to their original front line.

Jack Vincent had been in the thick of the fighting, and had survived that terrible carnage. We have no words from him giving us an idea of how he felt about it all.

Three weeks later in early May, The British and Australian Lines were approximately where they had been on the 11th April. On the 5th May, the British and Australians attacked the German Line again. After many hours of relentless fighting, the allies were able to make some progress, and over the next few days were to successfully recapture the ground lost in the previous battle. This battle continued for two weeks until the Australian and British were finally able to drive the Germans back.

Of the estimated 150,000 men from both sides who fought at the Second Battle of Bullecourt some 18,000 British and Australians, and 11,000 Germans, had been killed or wounded.

Jack Vincent went into battle, at daylight on the 5th May, clambering towards the German trenches. It was difficult to know from hour to hour the progress of the battle, and how many had been killed, and where.

Jack Vincent had been killed, but there was confusion over the actual date and place.

When finally a roll call was made, and he was found missing, inquiries were made of this mates, to ascertain what had happened to him. This was carried out by the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau of the Australian Red Cross, whose records are at the Australian War Memorial and now available on-line at http://www.awm.gov.au/

Private W Huckle of D Company, 14th Platoon recalled-” I saw him killed at Bullecourt. He was hit with shell fragments about the body and was killed instantly. I knew him very well, he was the only man of that name in the Company. We held the ground, but I do not know the place of burial, and I cannot refer to anyone for particulars. He was sure to have been buried near place of casualty.”

When the Imperial War Graves Commission began their work a couple of years later, Phillip John (Jack) Vincent’s burial place at Bullecourt could not be determined.

Nearly one hundred years later the Bullecourt Digger gazes silently over the fields, where Jack rests peacefully amongst his fallen comrades.

He and all his ‘missing’ companions are not forgotten, but are memorialised at the Australian National Memorial at Villers – Bretonneux, which we visited on the fourth day of our tour.

Here below Vern and I, with the Australian flag, stand in front of the Australian National Memorial, honouring Private P J Vincent, whose name is etched forever into the grey stone wall of the memorial.

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Australian World War I Battlefields – Family Hero, James Joseph Thomas Bell – Anzac

As we watched on TV, the Anzac Anniversary Ceremony broadcast from Albany Western Australia, yesterday, the question was asked; Did our family have anyone, who sailed out on the troopships from Albany a hundred years ago? The answer was yes, we did.

James Joseph Thomas Bell, known as ‘Tom’ was born in 1891, the eldest son of William James Allen and Louisa Mabel Grace Bell (nee Day), of Gundagai, New South Wales. He enlisted at Kensington Army Recruiting on 2 September 1914, and was one of the first in the state to join-up.

After nearly six weeks of basic training the 1st Battalion marched out of the Kensington Racecourse Camp to Fort Macquarie, where they embarked on HMAT Afric on 18 October 1914. This ship of nearly 12,000 tons, with a speed of 13 knots, belonged to the Federal Steam Navigation Company of London, and had been requisitioned, along with many other ships, by the Australian Government as a troopship.

The Afric and several other ships sailed from Sydney, for the port of Albany in Western Australia, to await the arrival of all the other Australian and New Zealand troopships, which were to be escorted by several war ships across the Indian Ocean. There were a total of forty ships in the complete convoy, and 27,000 able-bodied men, who were originally to sail to England, for further training to fight with the British soldiers, on the Western Front.

The Afric arrived at Albany on the 25 October. On 30 October the fleet learned that Britain and Turkey were at war, and the Australian and New Zealand troops were to be diverted to Egypt. The convoy of ships left Albany harbour on 1 November 1914.

Further details of the soldier’s training and life on the troopships, and camps, as well as throughout the war can be found in the ‘unit histories’ at the Australian War Memorial at http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/awm4/

After disembarking at Alexandria on the 5 December the 1st Battalion marched to Mena Camp near Cairo.

(Below) A general view of the camp at Mena and a hotel, which was converted to a camp hospital.

The Camp at Mena LHN0013601 004

The ‘Unit history’ then detailed the training over the next four months before the 1st Australian Battalion embarked on Minniewaska on 5 April for the Dardanelles Campaign.

The Australian and New Zealand forces went into battle on 25 April 1914, against the Turks on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Tom Bell was part of the 1st Brigade, which ‘dug-in’ and manned the trenches on the steep Gallipoli shoreline.

C E W Bean in Volume II of the Official History of Australia in the War 1914-18, has maps and full descriptions of life and action in these trenches.

See “Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 – Volume II – The Story of ANZAC from 4 May, 1915, to the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula (11th edition, 1941) found at http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/first_world_war/AWMOHWW1/AIF/Vol2/

Tom Bell was severely wounded in the abdomen, in action at Lone Pine, on 26 June 1915, and was stretchered off to the ship, Gascon, where he died at 4.30 pm on 29 June. He was buried at sea about three miles off Gaba Tepe. He is memorialised on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli.

Private J J T Bell kept a diary while overseas, and this was returned to his parents after his death. Years later his youngest brother, Oscar Isaac Bell prepared some extracts for publication in the Gundagai Independent, and his daughter sent me a copy, which I shared with everyone in the Bell Family Newsletter No 5 (July 1986).Here is a copy of those extracts, which tells part of Tom’s story in his own words.

Extracts from the Diary of an Anzac

The following extracts are from the diary of Private J J T (Tom) Bell, No 1023, ‘D’ Company, 1st Btn., Infantry 1st AIF Division, eldest brother of Mr O Bell, of ‘Lone Pine’, Gundagai. Tom was severely wounded at ‘Lone Pine’ and was being evacuated to the Base Hospital on the Isle of Lemnos. He died on the way and was buried at sea.

The diary extracts read:-

Sunday, 18 October, 1914

We marched on-board Troopship Afric, and moved out to sea, which was very rough. We were all very sea sick.

Sunday, 25th October, 1914

We arrived at Albany. We have to wait a week for all the rest of the Troopships and our warship escort to catch up. Amongst our escort are three Japanese warships.

Sunday, 1st November, 1914

We leave Australia. Our troopships sail in three columns of five, with warships all around us.

Monday, 9th November, 1914

The German cruiser Emden, sighted by escort Sydney. They blazed away at each other for nearly two hours. The Sydney scored several hits, and the Emden beached herself on Cocos island to save herself from sinking. She was being coaled at the time and the Sydney then captured the collier and sank her after taking her crew off. 200 Germans killed on the Emden.

Tuesday, 24th November, 1914

We enter the Red Sea. We pass three Indian troopships returning to India for another load of Indian troops.

Saturday, 5th December, 1914

We arrive at Alexandria, Egypt. There are hundreds of English, French, and Indian troopships and warships in the harbour. They all saluted us as we passed.

Thursday, 10 September, 1914

I met a lot of Gundagai men today, Lt Beeken, from Solomon’s Store, Bugler Fitzsimmons, Larry Quinn, Bill Laffin, Harold Hansen, Micky Burke’s son, Tom Smith and George Bramley. Sir George Reid inspected us.

Wednesday, 24th February, 1915

I met Fred Elworthy, Jim McLean, Clem Harris, Bill Oliver, Doug Carr, Bill Eurell and Hjack Rolfe.

Saturday, 10th April, 1915

We leave Alexandria, preparatory to sailing across the Mediterranean to the Dardanelles. We have five Generals aboard with us. General Birdwood gave us a very stirring address. He said that before we land we would be issued with 3 days’ rations and two hundred rounds of ammo. He advised us to be very careful of our water supply.

Monday, 12 April, 1915

We get a good view of the Dardanelles. We enter a bay at Lemnos Island. Hundreds of troopships, battleships, cruisers, submarines and other craft, and moving around us everywhere British, French, Indian, Russian and other nations were represented the crew of the Queen Elizabeth pay us a visit. They said,”Look out for the Turks”.

Saturday, 24th April, 1915

We steam out from Lemnos Bay. Everyone seems to think there is something doing. We anchor on the north side of Lemnos Island. We are surrounded by cruisers. We are issued with three days rations, and ammo. Which weighs over 100 lbs altogether.

Sunday, 25th April, 1915

We arrive at Gulf of Saros. We land in knee deep water, under heavy rifle and shrapnel fire. The noise is terrific. We chase Turks with our bayonets from the shore for three miles. I could feel the bullets- whizzing past my face but I was lucky. We dig in. We were covered in the landing by heavy artillery fire from our warships. While chasing the Turks, we sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and other songs.

Thursday, 20th May, 1915

I heard the two Putlands were killed. I met Clem and Vern Harris, Bill Eurell, Bill Oliver and Roley Carr.

Monday, 24th May, 1915

An armistice to bury our dead, after 23 days continual bombardment. We were relieved by the 7th Light Horse. I heard George Elliott is about. Will try and find him during next lull.

Friday, 11th June, 1915

I met George Elliott tonight. We had a long yarn about home and it cheered us both up.

Friday, 25th June, 1915

I met Bill Oliver and Fred Cornett. The cruiser Lord Nelson, set fire to the village of Maidos, full of spies.”

Tom Bell was wounded in action the next day and died on the 29th June while being evacuated to the Base Hospital.

See his Personel File at the Australian Archives website http://www.naa.gov.au/

Many of the above mentioned ‘Anzac’ friends did not survive the war either, but it is nice to know they rest in peace, and are remembered a hundred years on.

See Lone Pine Memorial at http://www.cwgc.org/

Although we do not plan to go to Gallipoli this year to visit the Lone Pine Memorial, we can find much information on it, at the above Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, to honour our family hero, Private James Joseph Thomas Bell, an original ANZAC.

Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Polygon Wood

Polygon Wood – Now there is a name that brings an emotional lump to the throat.

This area is about eight kilometres east of Iepers, and is approached from a small road off the main Menin Road.

We could see the 5th Australian Divisional Memorial through the trees, as we got off the bus, but we visited the Polygon Wood Cemetery first.

The Polygon Wood Cemetery was irregularly used as a front line cemetery between August 1917 and April 1918, and then again towards the end of the war. It is now a Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. Many of the identified burials were for those who served with the New Zealand Infantry Forces. There was also a lone German grave in this cemetery, which we thought was rather unusual. The Battle of Polygon Wood took place on 26 September 1917.

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There was a walled avenue, which led from this cemetery to the Buttes New British Cemetery, which is located below the Australian 5th Division Memorial.

This cemetery was made after the war when a large number of graves, mostly from 1917, were brought from the battlefields around Zonnebeke.

Also standing here is the Butte New British Cemetery (New Zealand) Memorial, which commemorates nearly 400 New Zealand soldiers, who lost their lives around Polygon Wood in 1917 and 1918, and who have no known grave.

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Overlooking this quiet sanctuary was the Australian 5th Division Memorial.

The Memorial was a grey stone obelisk, which stood upon a long elevated bank known as a ‘butte’, and is approached by a steep flight of stairs, which were extended some years after the Memorial was erected, in 1919. This is ‘Australian’ land acquired by the Division after the war.

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There were several story-boards located here, which we spent some time reading.

More information can be found at –

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/zonnebeke/fifth-australian-division-memorial/battle-of-polygon-wood.php

The 5th Australian Division was formed in Egypt in February 1916 after the withdrawal of Australian troops from Gallipoli. When the first Australian troops were sent to France to serve in trenches along the Western Front, some battalions were left in Egypt for further extensive training.

However, by July 1916 all the Australian Infantry Forces had arrived in France, the 5th Division being the last to arrive, took their place as re-inforcements at Armentieres.

It was from here the 5th Division, the most inexperienced as far as battlefield action goes, found themselves at the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916. This attack was poorly planned and was not fully executed, or supported as it should have been, by the British forces, which resulted in the greatest loss of life of Australian soldiers, in one day, for the whole war . There were over 5,500 causalities, including 400 prisoners. The 5th Division was totally incapacitated for several months and were not ready for combat again until October 1916. We were to hear more about this horrendous battle from our Tour Guide, Pete Smith the following day, when we visited the new cemetery at Fromelles.

We then boarded the bus and took the short drive to the Hooge Crater cafe and museum, for a late lunch.

Australian World War I Battlefields Tour- Iepers

The second day of our tour began with a walking tour of this beautiful medieval city. Perhaps I need to fill you in on a bit of history of this place first.

Ieper is an ancient town located in the Flemish province of West-Flanders (or Vlaanderen). When World War I was declared in August 1914, it was known by its French name, Ypres.

Soon after the declaration of war and the German mobilisation, more than 8,000 German soldiers passed through Ypres on the 7 and 8 October 1914, on their ‘push to the coast’.

Within a few days French and British soldiers arrived in the town to set up a blockade to stop the full-on German offensive, as they realised the strategic importance of the town.

It was the British soldiers who first called it ‘Wipers’, which was a much easier name to pronounce. They were there for four long years from October 1914 to November 1918.

This town was the focus of German operations in the north west, as they tried to recapture it. However, despite major offensives and severe artillery shelling, which reduced the town to rubble, the town never fell into German hands during the war.

This town was also the main staging post for allied forces before they went out to fight in the surrounding area, known as ‘ the Salient,’ which is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory .

Every allied soldier fighting in Belgium most likely would have passed through this town, at some time.

I can imagine several of our family heroes marching out at night, to their positions in the trenches, batteries and observation posts. Most of the troop movements were at night, because there was some advantage to travelling under the cover of darkness, in such open and flat country. The enemy was not easily able to observe the size and position of troops, and then bombard the area with artillery and bombs.

With the centenary of World War I, there is so much material on-line that literally ‘puts you there’, such as this film.

The film deals with the participation of the Australian troops in the Third Battle of Ypres during the autumn of 1917. The scenes include Australians preparing for the attack; being reviewed by Sir Douglas Haig before going in to action; shells falling amongst the ruins of Ypres and then shows the battlefields over which Australians fought and incidents connected with the fighting.

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/ieper/a-walk-around-ieper/ruins-of-ypres-1917-movie.php

Today it is difficult to image there was so much destruction here, and how everything was painstakingly restored after the war, right down to the cobblestoned streets. In fact the whole city is a memorial to World War I

From the moment we got off our bus at our hotel, we could feel a special atmosphere about the place. It took me a while to work it out. There was a busyness, but not the loud brashness of many tourist places. The people we met were welcoming, but not patronising. In many places on our travels throughout Europe, the people smiled and rushed out to greet us, but we knew they were looking for our ‘tourist dollar’.

At Iepers it was different. There was a quite respectfulness, as if they knew why we were there, especially as our Australian accents soon announced us. Everyone we met wanted to help us understand and to know, what had happened there all those years ago.

However, I must point out the place was not silent and morbid. In fact when we arrived in the hotel restaurant for our dinner, there were obviously several celebratory parties in progress, including a large school group.

Perhaps you could say there was a certain ‘joyfulness’ about the place too. I don’t really know why, but maybe it is an appreciation of the sacrifice of all those thousands of soldiers, from all over the world, all those many years ago, so that their city could remain in existence, and be reclaimed and rebuilt.

After a wonderful dinner and a good nights sleep, we were ready to begin our walking tour of the city.

We started our tour not far from the hotel at St Jacobs Church. (below).

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If you look carefully you can see the original doorway and footings of this medieval church which survived the war, but everything above the door was rebuilt.

We then proceeded to a section of the city wall ramparts, where actual shops had been built into the earthen bank. This area was also used as allied headquarters during the war.

We then visited the Menin Gate. Nothing I can write, can do it justice, but I will try, with a separate blog or two soon.

After a very emotional visit to the Menin Gate, we proceeded along the main street until we arrived at the Great Market Square. It was a huge cobblestoned area, surrounded by beautiful Gothic buildings faithfully and painstakingly restored after World War I. The Gemeentehuis, or Town Hall is one such building. (Below).

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The weekly markets were taking place in the Square and it was interesting to wander through the stalls. We found them similar to what we could expect to find at city markets back home, and it gave us a comfortable familiar feeling, as the grey over-caste sky gave way to warm summer sunshine.

We headed for the huge inspiring Gothic building, which took up nearly half the square itself. It was the Lakenhalle or Cloth hall.

So much about the history of this building can be found at-

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/ieper/a-walk-around-ieper/cloth-hall-lakenhalle.php#

This beautiful restored and refurbished building is the ‘Jewel in the Crown’, for the city for the World War I Anniversary celebrations. Lots of information can be found here.

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/ypres-salient/museum-in-flanders-fields.htm

Within this building is the In Flanders Fields Museum. This museum is spread over two floors and is an incredible place. It uses all the modern technical equipment to tell the story of the war, not only from the city’s perspective, but all those who endured those terrible times. Although the history was well told and illustrated, I found it crowded, gloomy and very oppressive, as it is painted all black inside with little light, except for a cold reflected light from the display cabinets and strategically place down-lights..

A large shop can be found on the ground-floor, where I was able to purchase many gifts and books, which will add to my knowledge and understanding of this very special city, and its surrounding villages.

I was pleased to get outside and have a quick morning tea at one of the many pavement cafes, on the edge of the Square, before we returned to the hotel to join our group to begin our bus tour of the Ypres Salient.

As we boarded the bus the sunshine had deserted us again. Our next stop would be the 5th Australian Division Memorial at Polygon Wood.