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.
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 personnel 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 Belgium 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-mans land, 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 the 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 defenses 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 Connick for England on 6 October, leaving his cousin ‘Fred’ behind. Sadly, ‘Fred’ was killed a few days later, although the family was 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 orthopedic 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 personnel 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. Its wartime history can be found on the following website.
After he recovered from surgery Bert was sent firstly to Weymouth Convalescent 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 )
Appalling wet weather set in and Bert hadn’t been there long when he became ill with a sore throat and cold, which turned into bronchial pneumonia. He spent several months in the 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.
Two photographs from the above website