Family Heirloom- Dead Man’s Penny for James Joseph Stapleton

A family heirloom on our children’s paternal side of the family is a World War I Memorial Plaque, but is more popularly known as a ‘Dead Man’s Penny’. It is in memory of James Joseph Stapleton who was killed in action on the Somme on 1 September 1918.

J J Stapleton Memorial Plaque-Copyright Nola Mackey 2013

This Photograph is Copyright-Nola Mackey

These Memorial Plaques were issued after World War I to the next of kin of all British and Empire soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed or died of wounds during the war.

In 1919 the British Government held a design competition for the proposed plaque. There were over eight hundred designs submitted. The winner was Edward Carter Preston a renowned sculptor and medalist for a prize of £250.

These plaques were made of bronze and about five inches or 120 mm in diameter.

The medal design was only on the front and is an image of Britannia holding a trident and standing with a lion. In Britannia’s outstretched left hand is an oak wreath. At the bottom of the plaque is another lion tearing apart the German eagle symbolizing Britain’s superiority on land. Dolphins swim around Britannia symbolizing sea power.

A rectangular tablet to the right of Britannia is where the deceased’s full name is inscribed. No rank is included as all gave the same sacrifice- their life. Around the edge of the plaque in capital letters reads: “HE/SHE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR.”

The initial plaques were made at Acton in London, but later, manufacture was shifted to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. On the back of this plaque is “WA”(the A being formed by a bar between the upward strokes of the “W” ), which indicates it was made at Woolwich.

These plaques were issued with a commemorative scroll from King George V.

On receipt of the scroll and plaque the next of kin were required to officially acknowledge by letter and form. These can be found within the service personel records at the Australian Archives.

From the 18th Century the British ‘penny’ was made of copper and a ‘Britannia’ design featured on the face of the coin. It is described as- “Britannia seated facing right, wearing a helmet, holding a trident in her left hand and her right hand resting on a shield with the words ‘one penny’ in the field and date below.” This design with few variations remained as the face of the British penny from c 1780 to 1967.

During World War I the soldiers used these coins as ‘Two-up’ Pennies and even today many surviving sets come out on “Anzac Day”. This is the only day ‘Two-up’ is legally sanctioned.

Due to the similarity in design of the Memorial Plaque and the British penny the Memorial plaque became known colloquially as “The Dead Man’s Penny”.

See also

posted 21 April 2013 at World War I Family Heroes – The Stapleton Boys

posted 13 October 2014 at Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Heroes J J Stapleton and R E Sherwood – Mont St Quentin

 posted 13 October 2014 at Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Heroes J J Stapleton and R E Sherwood – Peronne

World War I, Family Hero – William George Blanchard

Many years ago, when I seriously began researching my maternal grandmothers family ‘The Bells,’ I was very fortunate to be able to track down various branches including the Blanchard family, who had migrated to Western Australia. These were first cousins of my maternal grandmother, Harriet May Bell.

 William George Blanchard, born 1885,at Picton, New South Wales, was the second child, and eldest son of Joseph and Alice Blanchard (nee Bell). Through family connections, I found and corresponded with, his eldest son, Charles William (Charlie) Blanchard, for a number of years. He was able to tell me his father had served in World War I, and that his ‘job was to drive ammunition trains to the Front Line’. I was able to access William George Blanchard’s military service records at the Australian Archives, but these were basic, and had very little actual information. I also visited the Australian War Memorial seeking information on these ‘engine drivers,’ but found very little in official records. Even recent searches on the Internet had little success.

However this week I struck ‘gold’ in the historical newspapers on TROVE at the National Library of Australia. Now using family oral history, Australian Archives World War I military service records and extracts from the newspapers I have been able to add much information to this Blanchard twig of my family history.

 When a young child, William George, along with the family moved to Western Australia where the father, Joseph Blanchard found employment as an engine driver on the Midland Junction Railway. In 1906 Joseph Blanchard died suddenly leaving his wife Alice Blanchard with seven children. William George, the eldest of the children had also found employment in the railway by this time.

 William George Blanchard married Maud Lyons in 1908. They had a family of three surviving sons by the time World War I had been declared.

William George Blanchard had served several years in the local militia. He tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces in April 1916, but was turned down for medical reasons. In December the same year he applied to join the newly formed Railway Corps. He was finally accepted and was put into basic training. In January 1917 he was promoted to Sergeant and on 21 January embarked at Freemantle on the troopship ‘Miltiades’ for overseas service.

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The ‘Miltiades’ was of 7814 tons and a cruising speed of 13 knots. It was owned by G Thompson and Company of London and was leased by the Government for the transporting of troops and supplies from Australia in World War I.

 William George Blanchard disembarked at Devonport, England on 27 March 1917 and after further training was deployed overseas in France on 19 April 1917. On 12 October 1917 he was attached to the (British)Royal Engineers for special duties. [See below] While there, he ‘ was reprimanded by his commanding officer for failing to salute a ( British) officer’ — and I bet he wasn’t the only one.

He became ill in May 1918 and was admitted to Lakenham Military Hospital in Norwich, England.

 This Military Hospital was located in the premises of Lakenham Council School, which had only been built by the City Council in 1913.It had scheduled to receive its first pupils in August 1914. In fact, with the outbreak of First World War hostilities, its intended use for educational purposes was delayed until 1919, because the premises were requisitioned by the Army Council for use as a military hospital. [Ref:http://eventful.com/norwich/events/lakenham-military-hospital-colmans-detective-barry-/E0-001-087655001-9

 William George Blanchard later joined his unit in France and was transferred to ‘old gauge’ rail operations with the narrow French line.

When the war was over he spent a long furlong in England, before returning to his unit, to be transported home to Australia. He boarded the Konigin Luise on 21 June 1919.

 I believe the Konigin Luise was originally a German ship which had been converted by the Germans for mine-laying duties in the English Channel. She was later shelled and after much damage the wreck was finally captured. She was virtually rebuilt and was later used by the Government to bring troops and nurses home to Australia.

 After the war, William George Blanchard returned to employment with the Western Australian Government Railway. His son Charlie Blanchard was able to send me copies of much of his service in the railway.

 My ‘gold’ this week was in the form of informative newspaper extracts detailing the service of the Australian Railway Corp:-

 Australian Railway Corps on the Western Front as recalled by Lieutenant R J Burchell (MC), 4th Company Australian Railway Corps,( and Member of Parliament for Freemantle 1913-1922).

” There were three broad-gauge and three light railway companies, the original strength of each being 269 of all ranks which was increased by reinforcements to 300, so that the Australian railway operating troops totalled 1800. We were attached to the Royal Engineers for duty and discipline–a fact we did not appreciate. Our only connection with Australian corps was that we received AIF orders and an AIF paymaster visited us periodically for the purposes of pay. We took our places alongside our comrades of the Britain and French railway services, and whatever work came our way, in whatever circumstances, we did it.

Our first job was in the Ypres area with the British Second Army, under General Plumer. That started on October 5 1917, and we were at work up to the conclusion of hostilities-13 months. We were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even Hazelbrouck, the furthest back station of the 4th company, was under fire from the 15in guns. The first time I went into the station on a train the water tower was toppled over by a shell just as the train was entering the station. In the latter stages of the war the aeroplane bombs were of huge size. At Peronne the Australians captured German bombs estimated to weigh a ton, while for some time before the end the British planes were using 15cwt bombs. With both planes and guns the enemy paid systemic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realize that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Company, [William George Blanchard’s Battalion] based at Peselhoek, had the worst spot of the lot in the Ypres area for danger. Their section of the line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy.

In military railway work, owing to the conditions resulting from continual interruptions in the line by shell fire, you so not worry about mileage, or time-table. The main thing is to deliver your load safely where it is wanted. If you come to a spot on the direct road where the line has been blown up by the enemy, you go back, and endeavour to reach your destination by a roundabout route. The amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and the trains carry 1,000 ton loads. The system of traffic adopted mainly for army work was that of the Midland Railway Company, England. The French system of railway signals, which was in use, is much different from the British, and entails a much greater eye-strain on the engine drivers. Many of the men practically ruined their sight in the service.

As I have said, the lines were frequently cut by enemy fire. The British Engineers carried out repairs at any hour of the night or day, with remarkable expedition, but the French were not nearly so prompt.

After three months in the Ypres area, we were sent to the Somme, near Peronne. We had 30 miles of line to work, our main function being to supply ammunition, material, and food to the 5th Army, under General Gough, and provide engine power for six 15-inch guns, mounted on railway waggons, which operated from the ends of our lines. The 5th Army connected with the French Army on its right, and our corps was the last connecting link of British railway troops on the Southern end. We had exceptionally heavy work in this sector, culminating with the great German offensive. The attack began on March 21, and three days later we were compelled to evacuate as the 5th Army was pushed back. The Australian railwaymen did particularly fine work during those critical days. The men of our company were warmly commended for their services at Tincourt in unloading ammunition at the advanced dump under heavy machine gun fire. Three of them were awarded the DCM, and six received the Military Medal over that episode. The German attack was pressed home so rapidly that the big rail-mounted guns were abandoned b. We managed to get two of the pieces away y the gunners in the nick of time. An attempt was made to rescue two more, but, while they were being hauled away, the line was so badly cut up by enemy gunfire that the rails spread, and the guns could not be moved further. Our fellows stuck to it as long as there was work to be done, but quitted only when everything that could be shifted had been shifted. The French railwaymen had all gone 12 hours before….Lieut. Burchell was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty… on this occasion]”

[See also http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/bellenglise/calvaire-cemetery-montbrehain/tincourt-british-cemetery.php for those Australians that died there]

Lieut Burchell continues, “Many hard things have been said about General Gough and the 5th Army, …often by Australian soldiers. But the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised. In numbers the odds against them were eight to one, and the enemy had an immense concentration of artillery. The attack began on March 21, but the Australians did not come into contact with the remnants of General Gough’s force until the following Tuesday. In the intervening five days the 5th Army were forced back over 30 miles, fighting continuously, at a terrible disadvantage. The whole of their ordinary transport organisations was gone, and they had no fixed supply and ammunition points, and they were for long periods without food.

After unceremoniously leaving the Somme we were sent to Dunkirk, where we served until the conclusion of hostilities. Even Dunkirk can hardly be described as a safe spot well behind the firing line. Indeed it had the reputation of being the most heavily bombed city on the whole front. The official figures carefully recorded by the municipal authorities show that 7514 projectiles were dropped on it during the war… the town was decorated by the British Government in recognition of its sacrifices

Our welcome to Dunkirk was a warm one, for on our very first night there was a succession of air-raids, and 500 bombs were dropped. The port has fine wharf and harbour accommodation, which was used for the purposes of landing great quantities of ammunition from England, and it was on this account that it received so much attention from the Germans. Their spy service must have been remarkably good, for every time one of the great lighters full of ammunition arrived there would be an air raid. We were there for six months, working ammunition from the docks….”

[Reference:- With The Railway Corps on the Western Front, Interview with Lieutenant R J Burchell, Western Australian (Perth, W A: 1879-1954), Monday 2 June 1919, page 6, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27606481 ]

 Another newspaper extract from Lieutenant-Colonel Fewtrell [DSO] invalided home 1918….” There was a light railway running out to the Ypres salient, and on this railway I trained my 4th Battalion officers and men. I am as you know, a railway construction engineer, and there were a number of others. The result was that in about four weeks we had a first-class railway construction battalion, our reinforcements having come up in the meantime. Then the whole of the Anzac Corps was suddenly removed south again on the Somme, and we arrived there about the beginning of November, 1916. We had taken over a new area from the French, and the mud was frightful on the roads along which the ammunition and supplies had to be got up to the troops holding the front line. There was so much stuff that had to be got up that I have seen at night time as many as three lines of traffic. As the mud was 2 feet deep in many places you can imagine what a task it was, and one of the first things we were asked to do was to make decent roads.

Then I was made officer commanding light railways. We constructed a mile of light railway a day, and within ten weeks we were supplying 40,000 men and 8000 horses with all they required, carrying the supplies right into Bapaume. One night we took up to within 300 yards of the battle positions the whole of the guns, with the exception of one battery, for one of the Australian divisions. At the end of ten days the Canadians had built a broad-gauge line into Bapaume and when we pushed out to the Hindenburg line we had passenger trains running into the town every half-hour-just like the suburban system at home…”[Reference:- Colonel Fewtrell’s Return, Sydney Morning Herald (NSW:1842-1954),Saturday 30 March 1918, p12, retrieved from Trove 11 February 2017 – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15782819

 What a productive day with my Bell Family History with researching and writing up.

The moral of the story in family history research, never give up and think’ outside the box’

World War I, Family Hero – Kenneth George Vidler

Kenneth George Vidler, born 1894, near Goulburn in southern New South Wales, was the third child and second son of George Angel James and Matilda Vidler (nee Law). The family moved to northern New South Wales in the early 1900’s and lived with relatives for a short while on the Richmond River, before moving further north to the Tweed River. They settled at Chillingham where two daughter were borns. By the First World War the family had moved to Zillmere in Brisbane.

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 When war broke out in 1914, Kenneth Vidler was eager to go, as he found his employment as a clerk a bit too tame for his liking. He enlisted Australian Imperial Forces in Brisbane on 19 September 1914. After several weeks training he embarked for Egypt on the troopship “Canada”, just before Christmas on 22 December 1914.

 After further training in Egypt he was sent to the Gallipoli peninsular in May 1915. Although not in the first wave on 25 April 1915, he was part of the reinforcements in May.

He was in the thick of things on the peninsular for more than three months, when he was wounded on 21 August 1915 with a bullet wound to his left arm. Three days later he was taken off Gallipoli by ship and sent to the Princess Club Hospital in London for surgery. He was later transferred to No1 Auxilliary Hospital at Harefield.

Harefield Park House was used as the No. 1 Australian Auxilliary Hospital from December 1914 until January 1919. Originally it was estimated that the house would accommodate fifty soldiers under winter conditions and 150 during spring and summer. At the height of its use it accommodated over 1,000 beds and had a large nursing and ancillary support staff.[Ref:From <https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/harefield/][Ref: Photographhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/66782262@N05/sets/72157627411217445/with/6165756224/]

Kenneth George Vidler spent months recovering before he was sent to the Western Front in Europe as a driver for transporting ammunition to the Australian Infantry Forces. Soon after his arrival he was involved in an accident, when he ran into another truck, and had to forfeit two day’s pay.

For the next couple of years through the war he was in the motor transport division around Rouen, France and later at the Australian Headquarters at Harefield.

[Ref: Photograph from https://www.flickr.com/photos/66782262@N05/sets/72157627411217445/with/6165756224/]

The ancient city of Rouen on the Seine played a significant role in World War I as it was safely behind the line and became a major logistic centre with numerous depots and hospitals. These were situated on the southern outskirts of Rouen.

Soon after the end of the war Kenneth George Vidler boarded the Australian Transport, ‘Berrima ‘ for return to Australia. He disembarked at Melbourne , and then travelled back to Brisbane where he was discharged from military service on ANZAC Day 1919, a few weeks after his older brother Harold Ernest Vidler.

HMAS Berrima was a passenger liner which served in the Royal Australian Navy as an armed merchantman and troop transport. The Berrima continued in this roll until 18 February 1917, when she was torpedoed. She was towed ashore and repaired. She continued to be of service until returned to P&O service in 1920.

[Ref: Photograph from and information from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMAS_Berrima]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World War I, Family Hero- 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 Tweeds 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” …. H. Vidler, S. V. Vidler, …. F. C. Vidler… and are now in the A;I.F.”

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. When he arrived on 12 April he was sent to Codfield, on the Wiltshire plain for further training, before being sent to France on 16 July, along with his cousin ‘Fred’.

Within three weeks they were sent to Belguim 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-mansland. 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 defences continued to shell constantly.

Bert Vidler was severely wounded in the left hand and was evacuated through Ypers to the coast. He embarked on the Peter de Conick for the 3rd Auxilary Hospital at Dartford in England. He was later sent to Weymouth Convalence Camp No 2 to recover before being sent to Sutton Vesy No 1 Australian Command where there was a hutted military hospital of more than 1200 beds.

Appauling wet weather set in and he hadn’t been there long, when he became ill with a sore throat and cold, which turned into bronical pneumonia. He didn’t recover in the cold damp English weather and it was decided he was to return to Australia for 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 of the battlefield were to die at Sutton Veny of sickness, many on their way home.They are buried in the Sutton Veny Australian War Cemetery, which is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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World War I, Family Hero – Sidney Vincent Vidler

Another blog in my series of family heroes.

Just as everyone’s challenges and experiences in life are different, so are the stories of our soldiers. Some died on the battlefield; some drowned in the water filled trenches and shell- holes; and others survived the terrible carnage, and came back to their families horribly ‘broken’; although few families realized how ‘broken’, as they still had all their limbs. However, they may have been ‘gassed’; or had been prisoners of war and been starved and beaten; or they may have been so traumatized by years of ‘soldiering’ that they could no longer live in the ‘ordinary’ world as their minds would not allow them that peace.

Few ever considered the lives of those young men, who didn’t want to go to war. They were branded as cowards by both friends and family and were often sent ‘white feathers’, most anonymously. They felt coerced or compelled to ‘volunteer’ especially as the war dragged on for yet another year. Some were so desperate they injured themselves, so they would not be accepted into the military.

Then there were others who ‘volunteered’ and genuinely met with an accident whilst training. They were ‘injured’, so they were not accepted into service,and were sent home as medically unfit. Sadly these men were often treated with suspicion and were accused of ‘ducking’ military service, and then were unfairly targeted. Although, I do not know for sure, I believe we had such an case in our family.

Sidney Vincent Vidler was born in 1885, the third son, and fourth child, of Thomas Nathaniel and Margaret Jane Vidler (nee Goodwin). He spent his early childhood on the South Coast of New South Wales near Kiama, and migrated north with the family to northern New South Wales in the early 1890’s. The family settled at Chillingham on the North Arm of the Tweed River.

‘Sid’ as he was known in the family, started assisting on the farm at an early age, and didn’t return to school after the family moved north. He continued to work on the family farm, until his father sold and moved to Queensland in 1916.

Sidney Vincent Vidler enlisted on the 27 October 1916, along with his brother, Bert, (Edward Herbert Vidler). Their younger brother, Harold Frederick Vidler, had enlisted more than twelve months before, and their first cousin, Ashley Haydon Vidler, who lived nearby, had also enlisted the previous year. Ashley’s younger brother, Frederick Cecil Vidler enlisted in November 1916.

See former blogs World War Family Heroes, Harold Frederick and Edward Herbert Vidler posted on 11th and 14th November 2015, respectively, and Frederick Cecil Vidler, posted 25 April 2015..

Many war tales had reached Bert and Sid Vidler, by the time they signed on as volunteers in Brisbane, October 1916.

Military training was going well at the Enoggera Army Camp, when there was an accident at the rifle range on the 18th December, and Sidney Vincent Vidler was shot in the foot. He was admitted to hospital, where it was found that a bullet had entered his left foot and lodged in the bone. The wound healed in a couple of weeks, and he returned to Enoggera, where his brother, Bert and cousin, Fred,(Frederick Cecil Vidler), had nearly completed their basic training, and were preparing to leave by troop-ship for England.

However when Sid resumed training it was found he couldn’t march or undertake further training due to pain in the foot, and he was returned to hospital. It was suggested he undergo surgery for removal of the bullet, but it was explained that it was a very risky procedure at the time, as chloroform could be lethal, and there was no real guarantee that they could extract the bullet anyway. He declined to have the surgery. He was a patient in the hospital for over three months with little progress with his injury, as he still couldn’t walk properly, only limp. By this time his brother, Bert and cousin Fred Vidler, had already sailed for overseas service.

There was a military inquiry in early February 1917, but I have been unable to ascertain any further details of this accident. As he was not dishonourably discharged it certainly was not a self- inflicted wound, and his army records are notated with the comment- “Good Character”, so the mystery remains.

[Ref: Personel File of Sidney Vincent Vidler, Australian Archives,website at http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/NameSearch/Interface/ItemDetail.aspx?Barcode=8398220&isAv=N ]

He was discharged from the Australian Army on 24 April 1917, as medically unfit for duty, and returned home.

Sydney Vincent Vidler married Pearl Hayes later that year. They had several children. Their second son, Vincent Noel, enlisted in the Second World War. He died on 14 September 1944 and is memorialized on the Labuan Memorial in Malaysia.

Although, Sidney Vincent Vidler’s military story is a very brief one compared to that of his brothers’ and cousins’, I believe he should be included in the list of World War I family heroes just the same.

World War I Family Hero- Frederick Cecil Vidler

Frederick Cecil Vidler, known as Fred, was born in 1892, the second son and fourth child of Frederick Ashley and Jane Vidler (nee Haydon), of the Berry area, in southern New South Wales. In the late 1890’s the family moved north to Chillingham, on the Tweed River, in northern New South Wales. He was also the first cousin of my paternal grandmother, Olive Pearl Vidler, whose family also moved from Kiama to Chillingham in the 1890’s.

In World War I, Frederick Cecil Vidler followed his older brother, Ashley Haydon Vidler, and several Vidler first cousins, into the Australian Imperial Forces.

He enlisted in Brisbane on 23 November 1916, soon after the defeat of the 1st Australian referendum on ‘military conscription’, in October 1916.

Fred went into training at Enoggera Camp in north-western Brisbane, and on 21 January 1917 he embarked on the troop ship ‘Ayrshire’, as part of the 47th Battalion. After several weeks at sea, he disembarked at Devonport in England, and was sent to the Australian camp at Codford on the Wiltshire plains, to undergo further training.

In early July 1917, he proceeded with his battalion to the port of Le Harve in France, and marched into the nearby camp of Rouelles. A few days later the 47th was moved to Ypres, Belgium, where the Battle of Passchendaele was raging on the Western Front.

The Battle of Passchendaele fought from July to November 1917 is sometimes called the Third Battle of Ypres. Those that were there, later referred to it as the Battle of Mud.

The attack on Passchendaele 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 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 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 young Vidler.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.

Finally with artillery support, the Australian’s captured the Broodseinde Ridge on 4th October. This was a most welcome and vital victory.

However, heavy rain began to fall making the area, which had been so heavily shelled in the weeks before, a deep quigmire, and both men and beast found it impossible to move forward leading to further heavy casualities.

On the night of 12th October the Australians (and New Zealanders) launched another attack against Passchendaele, which was atop the main ridge, and heavily fortified by German troops. By now the fighting on the Eastern Front had crumbled and most of those German troops had been moved to the Western Front, particularly re-enforcing the Passchendaele Ridge.

Because of the water filled craters, deep mud and no cover, the Australian troops struggled to keep up with their artillery barrage. Ground was taken, but could not be held, and there was total carnage. Conditions were so devastating the attack was called off next day.

Frederick Cecil Vidler moved out with his Company on the night of the 12th October moving toward the front line, but they came under heavy German artillery fire. Next day he was reported wounded, but with no further details. He appeared on the gazetted list for his unit and his father was advised accordingly on 6 December, some seven weeks later..

On the 10 December his father wrote to Australian Army Headquarters, enquirying how his son was wounded and what hospital he was in. By this time Fred’s older brother, Ashley Haydon Vidler, who had been badly wounded earlier in the year was recruperating in England.

An Australian Army Headquarters officer advised that there had been no further information, so it was probable that his son Private F C Vidler was progressing well, but he would enquire further to his whereabouts and health.

At this time no further information had come to light on the fate of Private Frederick Cecil Vidler and he was listed as ‘ missing in action’.

A Red Cross Wounded and Missing enquiry was launched and a number of soldiers were questioned about their knowledge of Private Frederick Cecil Vidler.

‘Private J B Finger of the 47th was interviewed on a hospital ship some months later, on 17 April 1918 and said-

He was in C Company. I saw Vidler wounded at Passchendaele on Oct 13th the night we came out. He came with us to Ypres and he was evacuated from there- as I know. Vidler was a big chap, fair- we called him ‘Fred’.

The Red Cross continued their enquiries . Another soldier of the 47th W P Filand, reported,

There were two Vidlers in the Battalion (47th), both in C company, who were cousins. About 1 January I was told by another Vidler who was the brother of one and the cousin of the other and is, I think, in the 49th AIF, that F C Vidler was in hospital, wounded and doing very well. The news came from the cousins in C Company,  both were about 25 years and about 5 feet 11, but F C Vidler whose name was Fred had most of his front teeth out. My informant, Vidler was a very small man, 5, 2 or 3. He gave me the information about Jan 1 in camp near Cambrai.”

However, no further information could be found until his Battalion burial records were searched and it was found that ‘F C Vidler had been killed in action on 12 October 1917’ and had been buried ‘1000 yards SW Passchendaele, and 1000 yards NE Zonnebeke’.

A military inquest conducted by the 47th Commanding Officer on 22 March 1918 found that- ‘F C Vidler had been killed in action on 12 October 1917- and his family were informed accordingly. His personal effects- listed as ‘four photos’- were packed ready for shipment back to his family. They were placed in ‘crate No 112’ aboard the cargo ship Barunga on 21 June 1918.

This cargo ship was made ready to return to Australia and left port in early July. However, it was torpedoed by a German submarine, as it left the English Channel on 15 July. Although all those on board were rescued, the cargo was lost.

For the rest of the war his family didn’t know what had happened to him. Only that he had been killed.

With the War Graves Commission’s work after the war all those lone graves and groups of the soldiers around Zonnebeke were exhumed and the remains brought in and buried in the Buttes New British Cemetery, in Polygon Wood. The largest percentage of these soldier remains could not be identified and have unnamed headstones.

However in September 1920, the War Graves Commission notified Private Frederick Cecil Vidler’s parents that his remains had been identified and buried in the Buttes New British Cemetery, and asked if they had any wishes concerning wording and symbols on his headstone. The following year they received from the Commission photographs of his grave.

Frederick Cecil Vidler

Frederick Cecil Vidler

(This photograph was supplied by the family for the publication, “Australia’s Fighting Sons of the Empire”, p.136, 1918).

Last year we undertook a pilgrimage to the World War I Battlefields of the Western Front, and visited many cemeteries and memorials, where we honoured family members, many of whom had lost their lives in that terrible conflict. I blogged about some of our experiences as well as the stories of our family heroes.

World War I Family Hero- Gunner L A Bell – Passchendaele, posted 20 October 2014, and Australian World War I Battlefield Tour- Polygon Wood, posted 27 October 2014 are two postings that should be read with this post, as they give more information about these places.

This year I have continued family research, including identifying and researching more family heroes, who went to World War I. This included the above Private Frederick Cecil Vidler, who was a first cousin of my grandmother. As his story unfolded we realized we had visited the Butte New British Cemetery, where he is now buried. Although a little disappointed that we didn’t know it at the time, we have now pulled out all our photos and maps of that cemetery, and are able to identify just where he rests in peace.

Buttes New Britain Cemetery

Here I stand at the end of the row where Private F.C. Vidler is buried . His headstone is just off my left shoulder.

Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Family Hero, Phillip John Vincent – Bullecourt

In a previous blog I mentioned Lance-Corporal Frank Leslie Bell, who was killed in the disastrous First Battle of Bullecourt in April 1917.

Another family hero, who had been involved and survived the First Battle of Bullecourt was Private Phillip John Vincent. He was the youngest son of Alfred and Elizabeth Vincent (nee Bell). His father had died in 1910, leaving Elizabeth a widow, and  “Jack’ as he was known, a young fellow not yet sixteen years of age.

In February 1916, a week after his twenty-first birthday, he followed two of his older brothers into the Australian Imperial Forces, and went into training. A newspaper article gave some details:-

“ Private Jack Vincent, who is now in camp at Cootamundra, was prior to enlisting in the employ of Dwyer Bros at Moppity for four years. When leaving for camp, Messrs Dwyer Bros wished to show their esteem of a good employee, and one whom they were very sorry to lose, although proud of his determination to go forth to battle. They presented Private Vincent with a luminous dial wristlet watch as a memento of his associations with the Dwyer Bros, who also expressed best wishes for a safe return after the war to home and friends.”

He embarked on the troopship Wiltshire in August, and went straight to England, for further training until the end of the year. He was sent to the Western Front as part of the reinforcements to the 1st battalion in January 1917. His two older brothers were already there.

A few weeks later Jack sent a letter to his mother at home in Young.

“ We have been here about three months. I have not seen much of it yet. Les Jennings, Harold Wales and Dick Short are over here. I have also met others I knew before the war.” Jack goes on to relate a humorous scene he witnessed. “ In one place where we were, the Germans used to get up on top of the trenches and light fires and run about all over the place in broad daylight. Our chaps were the same. They wouldn’t shoot at us and we didn’t shoot at them. They wanted to meet us half way with a bottle of whiskey. They used to wave bottles at us. It was funny one day. One old Fritz (a man with a grey beard) who wanted to meet our captain half way with a bottle. He was only about 30 yards from us. Anyway, he got out of the trench, and the captain got out of our trench with a rifle and bayonet. Fritz held his hands up jumped about and laughed like mad. But he would not come over. He said he was afraid of the bayonet.”

About the same time as his mother received this chatty letter, Jack Vincent was in the thick of fighting in the First Battle of Bullecourt.

On the 11th April the Australians had been ordered to take the German trenches near Bullecourt.

Further details of the battle can be found at-

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/bullecourt/what-happened-here.php

Bullecourt, a village in northern France, was one of several villages to be heavily fortified and incorporated into the defences of the Hindenburg Line in 1917.

In March 1917, the German army had withdrawn to the Hindenburg Line in order to shorten their front-line and thus make their positions easier to defend. This move was rapidly followed up by the British and empire forces, and they launched an offensive around Arras in early April 1917.

An attack was launched at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917.This was hastily planned and mounted and resulted in total disaster.

Nevertheless, the infantry managed to break into the German defences. Due to uncertainty as to how far they had advanced, supporting artillery fire was withheld, and eventually the Australians were hemmed in and forced to retreat.

The two Australian brigades that carried out the attack, suffered over 3,300 casualties; 1,170 Australians were taken prisoner – the largest number captured in a single engagement during the whole war.

After several hours of fierce fighting, sometimes hand to hand, the Germans received reinforcements, and were able to drive the Australians from the trenches, they had captured early in the day, and forced them to retreat back to their original front line.

Jack Vincent had been in the thick of the fighting, and had survived that terrible carnage. We have no words from him giving us an idea of how he felt about it all.

Three weeks later in early May, The British and Australian Lines were approximately where they had been on the 11th April. On the 5th May, the British and Australians attacked the German Line again. After many hours of relentless fighting, the allies were able to make some progress, and over the next few days were to successfully recapture the ground lost in the previous battle. This battle continued for two weeks until the Australian and British were finally able to drive the Germans back.

Of the estimated 150,000 men from both sides who fought at the Second Battle of Bullecourt some 18,000 British and Australians, and 11,000 Germans, had been killed or wounded.

Jack Vincent went into battle, at daylight on the 5th May, clambering towards the German trenches. It was difficult to know from hour to hour the progress of the battle, and how many had been killed, and where.

Jack Vincent had been killed, but there was confusion over the actual date and place.

When finally a roll call was made, and he was found missing, inquiries were made of this mates, to ascertain what had happened to him. This was carried out by the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau of the Australian Red Cross, whose records are at the Australian War Memorial and now available on-line at http://www.awm.gov.au/

Private W Huckle of D Company, 14th Platoon recalled-” I saw him killed at Bullecourt. He was hit with shell fragments about the body and was killed instantly. I knew him very well, he was the only man of that name in the Company. We held the ground, but I do not know the place of burial, and I cannot refer to anyone for particulars. He was sure to have been buried near place of casualty.”

When the Imperial War Graves Commission began their work a couple of years later, Phillip John (Jack) Vincent’s burial place at Bullecourt could not be determined.

Nearly one hundred years later the Bullecourt Digger gazes silently over the fields, where Jack rests peacefully amongst his fallen comrades.

He and all his ‘missing’ companions are not forgotten, but are memorialised at the Australian National Memorial at Villers – Bretonneux, which we visited on the fourth day of our tour.

Here below Vern and I, with the Australian flag, stand in front of the Australian National Memorial, honouring Private P J Vincent, whose name is etched forever into the grey stone wall of the memorial.

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