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.

DSC02798

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.

DSC02939

DSC02942

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.

Advertisements

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.

DSC02798

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.

The Last Post Ceremony, Menin Gate, Ieper – Postscript

In my last blog, I wrote about our very emotional attendance at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ieper.

Menin Gate - West

After viewing the Last Post Ceremony, many of our tour group went to explore Ieper, but Vern and I returned to our hotel to have dinner in the restaurant there. We were ‘seated’ at a small table for two. An elderly couple sat at an equally small adjoining table. We were the only ones sitting in this section of the restaurant.

I had noticed this couple at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate earlier in the evening. They had been standing in the crowd opposite me. Just as the ceremony ended the woman collapsed. A number of bystanders rushed to her aid and the couple was assisted to a seating area and taken care of by paramedics.

While we were waiting for our meal to be served I plucked up the courage to speak to the couple. I admitted I had seen them at the ceremony and enquired if the woman was feeling better.  The elderly woman couldn’t speak English well, but the gentleman did and spoke on her behalf. He thanked us for our concern and said she had recovered, but needed rest.

Hearing our accent they asked where we from and what had brought us to Ieper. We told him we had come to pay our respects to family members who had died on the battlefields of Europe many years before we were born. During the course of things, my passion for Family History was mentioned once or twice.

 

Over the next hour, we heard much about this couple. They had been born near Ieper between  World Wars I and II and had grown up in the area, but now lived in the south of France.

Their ancestors were from Ieper through several generations, and they loved to return to the city whenever an occasion presented itself.

They told us the Menin Gate and the Last Post Ceremony had been an important part of their lives growing up. Friends and family members always attended the ceremony, whenever they visited the city, in grateful thanks for the great sacrifice made by so many.

We learned that this couple were special guests at an International Dinner at the Great Cloth Hall that evening and the gentleman was to receive an award. Neither were in good health and the lady had become quite frail, but both were determined to return to Ieper for this special dinner.

Iepers - Cloth Hall

They both wanted to attend the Last Post Ceremony, as they had always done when returning to the city.  When the lady’s health deteriorated at the ceremony, the attending doctor suggested she should return to the hotel to rest and not overly stress herself by attending the gala event with her husband. Of course, the gentleman would not leave his wife’s side and so they planned to dine quietly at the hotel restaurant.

We asked if there was anything we could do to assist them in any way. They thanked us for our offer but said the wonderful city officials had taken care of everything for them.

Then the gentleman reached into his evening jacket and retrieved the official guilt edged programme of the  Cloth Hall Dinner and asked us to accept it as a special memento of our meeting and dining together that evening. What a beautiful and generous gift. Although I cannot read it, (I believe it is in Dutch), there is no doubt receiving this is one of my most treasured memories of our Western Front Tour.

Remembrance Day – Menin Gate

One hundred years ago on the 11th hour of the 11 day of the 11th month, hostilities in Europe came to a close. Today we know the anniversary of this day as Remembrance Day.

DSC02798

Throughout the world, people pause and remember all those brave soldiers who were involved in World War I, particularly those who died.

Today there will be many special Remembrance services to mark the centenary of this occasion.

However, there is a place where these soldiers are remembered not only once a year, but every day- The Menin Gate.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefields around Ieper in Belgium. Here the names of more than 50,000 soldiers from Britain and the Commonwealth countries who died in the area around Ieper, but who have no known grave, are inscribed in the massive Portland Stone wall panels.

Menin Gate - Western

For more than ninety years every night at 8 pm, the Last Post Ceremony is held in the Menin Gate, by the citizens and visitors in grateful acknowledgment of the sacrifice of so many. Traditionally this ceremony consists of a parade, (with traffic halted), a call to attention, the sounding of the Last Post, the Exhortation, one-minute silence, the Lament, then the laying of wreaths, flags, banners and Standards, and the Reveille. More information about the ceremony can be found at here.

It is very special to witness this daily event and an even greater privilege to take part and lay a wreath.

When we were on our Western Front Tour, Vern and two women in our tour group were asked to lay a wreath in memory of all the Australians who had died in World War I. We all had family members who had lost their lives near Iepers. See my blogs on James Joseph Stapleton and William Sherwood

Most of the wreaths were of red paper poppies, but we had a huge green and gold floral wreath which seem to glow in the half-light of the Memorial on that Summer’s evening.

DSC02996Menin Gate

We arrived at the Menin Gate about six thirty as the crowds began to pour into the memorial arch. We wanted to get into a good position to see the ceremony and to take photographs. By the time the ceremony began at 8 pm we estimated there would have been a crowd of about three thousand people in the memorial and along the streets and roadway outside.

I had positioned myself so I could see Vern and our Aussie companions as they marched forward to place the wreath at the appropriate time. I had read much about the ceremony and what was to take place, but nothing could have prepared me for the rush of emotion when that first bugle note echoed throughout the Memorial. Tears streamed down my face and my hands trembled so much there was no hope of taking any decent photographs. Vern said later he had shivers down his spine too.

For several minutes time seem to stand still. Not a sound could be heard from the huge crowd. Just the bugle and orders shouted by the officers at the appropriate time and then the footsteps of those who marched forward to lay wreaths and finally the stomping of the soldier’s feet as they marched out in formation towards the Town Square.

Several of our tour companions also admitted that the ceremony had had a big emotional impact on them too, as we all walked back to our hotel.

Next morning we rose early and set off in the bright sunshine to visit the Menin Gate again. This time there were no crowds and we were able to visit all the side steps and galleries where the names of the missing are displayed in row after row in hundreds of panels of Portland Stone imported from Britain. The stairways and galleries were covered in hundreds of wreaths of red poppies for the fallen.

Menin Gate - Gallery Stairs

Menin Gate - Memorial Panels

Menin Gate - North side from Ramparts

Our tour guide also explained other features of this incredible memorial.

Lest we forget.

World War I Family Hero, James Joseph Stapleton – Postscript

At this time of year with Anzac Day upon us, my thoughts turn to the many family members and ancestors who have been involved in the Defence Services, particularly World War I.

It is now 100 years since all this took place, but those people are still remembered for their great service and sacrifice.

James Joseph Stapleton has always been a part of our family history. He was killed near St Quentin on 1 September 1918, a few weeks before the war ended. More about this soldier here.

In 2014 we took a tour of the World War I Australian Battlefields of the Western Front and visited his grave in the Peronne Communal Extension a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Blogs about our experience can be found here.

DSC02753

J J Stapleton, Peronne,11 July 2014-Copyright

A few weeks ago a family member connected to one of James Joseph Stapleton’s mates who died with him, got in touch and told us about the coincidence of her visiting the cemetery the same day as we had done, although we didn’t meet. She wrote:

Hi Nola, I’m so pleasantly surprised and grateful to have discovered your wonderful post about your visit to the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery dated 13 Oct 2014 tonight. I’m a niece of Leiton Roy Johnston who died with Corporal James Joseph Stapleton, Sergeant Thomas James Stewart McDonald and Lieutenant John Gardiner on 1 September 2018. Thank you for your kind, respectful tribute to my uncle Leiton Johnston and Thomas McDonald and for including the wonderful photo of yourself holding the Australian Flag behind the three graves (Plot I, Row C, Grave Nos. 59, 60, 61). After receiving advice from the War Office that her son’s remains had been reinterred in the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery, my late grandmother Ann Johnston wrote to Base Records on 16 January 1921 to ask if her son had been buried alongside Lieutenant Gardiner, Sergeant McDonald, and Corporal Stapleton as she was aware they ‘fell with him’. Lieutenant Gardiner is buried just behind the three graves in Plot 1, Row C Grave No. 31. I’ve visited the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery twice – on 23 July 2007 and 11 July 2014. During my visit in the afternoon of 11 July 2014 I noted entries in the visitor’s book/folder at the cemetery by relatives of James Stapleton who had visited the cemetery earlier in the day and entries by relatives of Thomas McDonald who visited the cemetery just a couple of days earlier – such a coincidence! I took a photo of the page with my iPad with the intention of contacting the relatives of both men on my return to Australia however, unfortunately, I lost my iPad on a train at the end of my trip and with it the photo of the cemetery visitor’s book page containing the relatives’ contact details. Like you, I too was very grateful to find that our family members ‘were resting in peace with their mates’. [Judy Zappacosta]

Then one of our tour companions recently made a comment about a photograph I mentioned as having seen at the 2nd Division Memorial. She reminded me that I should follow up and try to identify the photograph.

I have visited the Australian War Memorial website this morning, and have located the photograph in their Online Photographic Gallery.

I had taken a photograph of the photograph at the 2nd Division Memorial Site, and can now confirm it is the same photograph, which can be found at https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C55028

WWI Stretcher Bearers

It was taken on 1 September 1918, possibly near St Quentin by an unknown Australian Official War Photographer

Here is the description with the photograph:-

Stretcher bearers of the 6th Australian Infantry Brigade bringing in an injured soldier. This was at a time when the German forces still held the hill and the soldier on the right is holding up the Red Cross flag to minimize the risk of being fired on. While the Germans frequently used the Red Cross flag when collecting wounded, it was rather unusual for our bearers to use it as German snipers generally disregarded it. Note also the use of four stretcher bearers. Earlier in the campaign two stretcher bearers only were allowed for each stretcher and they used to wear slings around their necks to take some of the weight. In the last stages of the war the ‘carries’ were usually longer and consequently, four men were allowed to carry each stretcher.

So although I believe I can now say, the photograph was not James Joseph Stapleton being transferred to the first-aid station by his mates, it certainly is a photograph of the kind of situation on the battlefield that day.

 

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.

DSC02798

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.