It is Anzac Day again and my thoughts return to our family war heroes.
Last year I wrote about my husband’s family, the “ Stapleton bothers’ and their enlistment in World War I and II. This year I am writing about some of my family who answered the called to arms in the defence of the British Empire..
This year we decided we would make the pilgrimage to the World War I Australian Battle Fields to honour the many family members who enlisted in the AIF, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.
In this blog I’m concentrating on my maternal grandmother’s family lines of SHERWOOD and BELL The following men were all cousins of my grandmother.
Robert Edward Sherwood, was born in 1885 near Wilcannia in western New South Wales, the son of William Edward and Margaret Lillian Sherwood (nee Ross), who had married earlier in the year at Bourke. William Edward Sherwood (known as ‘Will’ had a team and was a carrier between Bourke and Wilcannia
In 1898, the summer had been hot and dry, but significant rains had fallen in early February.The annual flooding of the Darling River from above Bourke and and heavy rainfall in western New South Wales caused the river to rise quickly to record heights. William Edward Sherwood had his loaded waggon on the river bank at Tilpa where the river had risen to over 24 feet by the 25 February, and was still rising. It is not known how ‘Will’ was caught in the flood waters but his body was retrieved by the police on 28th and at the inquest a verdict of accidental drowning was given.
I have not yet established where his wife ‘Lillie’, and thirteen year old son, Robert were living it this time, but by 1900 they had moved to Broken Hill. Lillie married William Oliver there in that year.
Robert Edward Sherwood married Mary Ellen Butler at Broken Hill in 1912 and had a daughter Doris Mary, who married Hugh Gannon.
Robert Edward Sherwood enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces on 22 June 1916 at Broken Hill. His full service records can be found at www.naa.gov.au . He was killed in action on 2 September 1918 a few weeks before the end of the war. By the Commonwealth Graves Commission website at www.cwgc.org/ I know he is buried at the Peronne War Cemetery in the same section as James Joseph Stapleton, one of my husband’s family heroes, whom I wrote about last Anzac Day.
As we are visiting these graves later in the year I wanted to find out as much as I could about what happened in early September 1918.
The Australian War Memorial at www.awm.gov.au can help fill in the story. On their website they now have the WWI War Diaries. These are the official records of the daily diaries of each Battalion, and gives a incredible insight of what was happening at the battle front.
From his service records I knew that Robert Edward Sherwood served in the AIF 27th Battalion.
On the Australian War Memorial website I looked for Australian Imperial Force Unit War Diaries- Infantry- 27th Battalion- September 1918. There are some 93 pages in this file with all kinds of information. Here follows some extracts-
“The 7th AIF Brigade will carry out an attack on the morning of Sept 2nd. 1918.”.. with the objective ….”Capture of Allaynes and Haut Allaines”…
Battle plan for early September -” The attack will be made by three battalions 26th, on the right, 25th in the centre and 27th on the left……
28th Battalion will follow 1000 yards behind the rear of the attacking battalions.”…..
After very heavy fighting the attack was successful and the commanding officer later reported “In the opinion of the G.O.C this fight is one of the most brilliant achievements of the Brigade”.
A report of this action stated there were 1 officer and 36 of other ranks killed; 8 officers and 138 other ranks wounded; with 1 officer and 3 other ranks dying of wounds and 2 of other ranks missing.
A few days later a report was entered that crosses were to be erected for the fallen.
“ Crosses for the following men of this battalion have been completed and will be taken forward tomorrow morning 14th instant at 9 am.
Then were listed 12 names including that of “ 6327 Pte Sherwood, R E of B Company.
Permission will be given to any NCO or man who desires to accompany this party to HAUT ALLAINES.”
Originally Robert E Sherwood had been, “buried in an isolated Grave in a Field in a Shell Hole just south of Allaines and one and three quarter miles north of Peronne, France. He was later transferred to Peronne Cemetery.”
These diaries and papers are well worth wading through as you can find so much information about what your soldier was experiencing. There are a few surprises too, such as inter Brigade Sports Days where not only the schedule is given but who won each contest. No doubt a welcome break and distraction in the midst of war.
On my maternal family line of the Bell family there were several members who enlisted, but I have only listed a few from one section of the family here.
. William James Allen and Louisa Mabel Bell (nee Day), who resided near Gundagai in western New South Wales, had three sons who went to war.
James Joseph Thomas, known as “Tom” joined up on 1 September 1914. He was at Gallipoli and was severely wounded on 26 June 1915,. and died on board ship on transfer to Alexandrina. He was buried at sea and is memorialized at the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallopoli.
Their second son Louis Alexander, born 1893, was known as ‘Jack’. He enlisted at Gundagai on 18 Aug 1915 a couple of months after the death of his brother ‘Tom’.He was killed in action on 26 October 1917 and is buried Perth Cemetery (China Wall) at West Vlaanderen, Belguim.
Their third son James Allen Bell born 1897, and known as ‘Jim’ enlisted on 2 June 1915 and fought on the Western Front where he was wounded and gassed several times. He survived the trauma of war and finally returned to Australia in 1919.
Alfred and Elizabeth Jane Vincent (nee Bell) also had three of their five sons enlist.. They were also first cousins to the above mentioned Bell brothers. The father Alfred Vincent had died in 1910.
Alfred James, born 1880 the third child, and eldest son, enlisted on 1 January 1916. He was severely wounded and was invalided to Australia and arrived home soon after 28 July 1917.
Philip John Vincent, born 1895, the youngest son was known as ‘Jack’. He enlisted on 14 March 1916 and was killed in action about 5 May 1917. He is commemorated on the Villers- Bretonneux Memorial in France.
I have not identified the third son of this family who went to war, but know he survived and returned to Australia.
I was able to follow the stories of these soldiers, as well as other family members who went to war, through their personal papers at the Australian Archives, their place of burial through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and their unit history through the Australian War Memorial.
I also found several items through several newspapers in the Historical Newspapers on Trove at the National Library of Australia. These were particularly of interest as many of the letters written home to their parents were published in the local newspapers and are in fact the words of the soldiers themselves recording their thoughts and experiences.
All these can be accessed free online at the above mentioned websites and have been invaluable in our preparation for our forth coming trip to the Western Front.
The centenary of World War I is upon us and I encourage all family historian not to just add birth and death dates to your family tree, but to research these men and women lives. They are all heroes.