World War I,Family Hero- Edward Herbert Vidler

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


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

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

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 – ( ) before being sent to Sutton Veny No 1 Australian Command, where there was a hutted military hospital of more than 1200 beds. ( )

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

Sutton Veny Churchyard2Sutton Veny Churchyard


Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Hero, Gunner L A Bell – Passchendaele

We were on the first day of our tour of the Australian Battlefields of World War I in France and Belgium.

We had already visited the graves of some of our family heroes earlier in the afternoon, and now as we neared the city of Iepers, we were to visit another, Gunner Louis Augustus Bell, who had been killed in action on 26 October 1917, and was buried in the Perth (China Wall) Cemetery.

This cemetery was located about three kilometres east of Ieper on the road connecting Menin to Ieper. It was begun by French Troops in November 1914 and was later used by the 2nd Scottish Rifles in June 1917 and given the name ‘Perth’. ‘China Wall’ was from the nearby communications trench, known as the Great Wall of China. This cemetery was used for front line burials until October 1917 and contained about 150 graves.
After the war many men were transferred here from all the isolated graves and small cemeteries in the area around Ypres, and there are now over 2790 allied soldiers buried here.

It was late in the afternoon and the sky was dark and over-caste and atmosphere was particularly gloomy, as we got off the bus. The cemetery was enclosed and mature trees enveloped and sheltered the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ and many of the headstones of this large cemetery.


I had also brought a map of this cemetery, which I had downloaded from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at and marked the grave.
Once we had oriented ourselves by locating the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ and ‘Stone of Remembrance’ on the map, we soon found the headstone of Gunner Bell.

This headstone was in a little clearing and was open to the sky. A misty dampness was visible on the top section of the headstone, which showed a gentle shower must have fallen earlier in the day.
We were thankful we had found this headstone was not under the gloomy trees, as it allowed us to take some good photos.
On the foot of this headstone, flanked by a cheery yellow daisy, the family memorial read “ IN LOVING MEMORY, OF OUR JACK, ALSO TOM, WHO WAS BURIED AT SEA.

Louis Augustus Bell, known as ‘Jack’, was the second son of William James Allen and Louisa Mabel Bell (nee Day) of Gundagai in western New South Wales.
I was able to access his full military service from the Army Personnel records held at the Australian Archives. These are now on-line at .

He had enlisted on 18 August 1915, soon after his older brother, Tom, had died being medically evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsular.
Jack Bell embarked with the 1st Light Horse, on the HMT Mashobea on 4 October 1915 for Egypt and arrived in Cairo on 10 March 1916. He was soon afterwards transferred to the Artillery unit and trained there before embarking for England on HMT Corsican
at the end of May. He went into further training with the 119th Howitzer Battery until the end of the year. He spent some weeks in an English hospital before being declared fit for duty and being deployed on the Western Front with the Australian 2nd Division Artillery and later with the 4th Division and Field Artilleries.
A detailed history of these artillery units can be found at the Australian War Memorial website at

Here is a brief extract for the 4th Division Artillery in 1917 when Jack Bell joined them.
In March 1917 the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line and the 4th moved forward to Bullecourt. The brigade moved to Flanders in June and was in constant action to Novemeber, supporting allied attacks on Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, and then Passchendaele, as part of the Third Battle of Ypres. During this period, the brigade suffered its heaviest casualties of the war – 151 in October and 145 in November – including killed, wounded, and evacuated ill.”

Jack Bell’s 110th Battery (Howitzer) in the October offensive on the Passchendaele Ridge suffered severe casualties when five were killed,( including Jack Bell), and fifteen were wounded.
Gunner Bell was buried at ‘Tokio Farm’ near Zillebeke where he died in 1917, and was later removed to the nearby Perth (China Wall) Cemetery by the Imperial War Graves Commission.

A more detailed story can be found within the unit daily reports, also held at the Australian War Memorial.
Some weeks before we left home I had accessed these reports and had read widely on the situation on the Passchendaele Ridge in October 1917.
I was so struck with the Commanding Officer’s report of the 4th Australian Division Artillery Brigades of the 25 October 1917 I took a copy with me. I also downloaded a ‘Trench Map’ of the area from

As I stood beside his grave and looked across the very flat landscape to the north-east I could see in the distance on the skyline, behind a row of trees, a small elevated area, which I guessed would perhaps be the ‘Passchendale Ridge’. According to my Trench Map the area would have been no more than 60 feet above sea-level.
It was here I re-read the 4th Divisional Artillery Brigade commander’s report written on the 25th October 1917- “ the position of the guns was as follows, 30, 18 pounders and 8, Howitzers, with an ample supply of ammunition, were all in positions within 3000 to 2500 yards of our front line.
This was done under appalling conditions.
Every round had to be taken up by pack transport.
Horses and men were short in numbers; the drivers had often to make three or four trips a day.
The enemy’s shell-fire increased in volume.
The weather became worse, the shell-torn country became a morass through which men and horses had to struggle before reaching their Battery positions.
At the positions themselves there was no cover as material could not be got up.
The enemy was using large numbers of gas shell which seriously affected all ranks; men in consequence could hardly speak above a whisper. Gassed, wet through, under shell-fire night and day and rapidly diminishing in numbers these Batteries had carried out their task. Their guns were forward, well supplied with ammunition, but in doing so their strength had been absorbed… and they were relieved by the 4th and 5th Field Artillery.”

Our Tour Guide, Pete Smith, had explained to us as we travelled through the area how terrible the fighting had been in September and October 1917 in the Third Battle of Ypres, and after reading this description by someone who was there at the time, it gave me a further appreciation of what Jack Bell faced on the 26 October 1917- truly a family hero.