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

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

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 memorialized 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 Jack 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

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

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.


More Family Heroes in World War I – Sherwood and Bell

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 . 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 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 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.