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.
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.
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.
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.
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