Captain Gordon Wilson – MC, AFC, DCM, MID


Gordon Wilson photo 2

110 Gordon Campbell Wilson

“Of the many decorated members of the Australian Flying Corps only one , Capt G.C. Wilson had the the great distinction of having been awarded the Military Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Mentioned in Despatches.

The combination of decorations is unique to an Australian and is not known to any other member of the British or Commonwealth Forces.” Author Rex Clark – Military Historical Society of Australia.

Before this… 19 year old Gordon “Skipper” Wilson was a SAPPER ………………Read More

17 Frederick William Pantlin

Portrait needed
Seraching for a Portrait

17 Frederick William Pantlin


17  Frederick William Pantlin  was nearly 50 years old when he enlisted.

Frederick had served in the Boer War, he was an engineer skilled in the use of explosives, especially for demolition, however he was posted as a Staff-Sergeant with the NSW Army Medical Corp, who had recruited men with a wide range of skills like Frederick, and considered they were quick to learn the medical skills required.

When Frederick was recruited for the Boer War he was sadly a widower with three young children, Harold, Victor and Amy. His wife Amy Mary nee Richardson had died in 1894.

After the Boer war Frederick had been a resident at the Old Rifle Range at Moore Park, secretary of the “Corps of Australian Engineers Rifle Club”and still considered a career soldier and instructor with the Royal Australian Engineers.

Frederick enlisted with the 1st FCE and was appointed Warrant Officer CSM – Company Sergeant Major and was the oldest non-commissioned member of the company.  At nearly 50 years of age Frederick had the opportunity to pass on his experiences and his unique skills to his fellow engineers.

Frederick was on active service at Gallipoli up to July 1915 and was later transferred to duty with the 5th FCE in Egypt and later the 8th FCE. Frederick was later admitted sick to hospital in April 1916 and with what was unfortunately called a “rodent ulcer” or known today as skin cancer.

He was shortly after this discharged from the AIF,  considered “over age” and was respectfully transferred to services back in Australia in August 1916 and returned to duty with the R.A.E in Australia.

When Frederick returned to Australia his eldest son Victor Thomas Pantlin would later enlist in the “Special Draft”  AIF in 1917. His youngest son Harold Leslie Pantlin had already been a member of the Australian Naval Force since 1910 as a chief stoker.

Frederick’s  story is far from your typical ANZAC story, he was a single father with 3 children, 50 years of age , who 15 years before the Gallipoli campaign had been to war in South Africa, returned back to his normal life in Australia and would live to a grand old age with his family by his side.

Frederick William Pantlin died in 1952 in Bankstown Sydney a retired military officer he was  87.

His family notice in the Sydney Morning Herald reads as follows…

PANTLIN, Frederick William. – October 12, 1952 of Canterbury Hospital and of 29 Taylor Street Bankstown, late 1st Div Engineer
(1st A I F Anzac) loved father of Victor, Harold and Amy, father-in-
law of Jane and fond grandfather of Ken and Bill, aged 87 years. Privately cremated at Rookwood, October 14, 1952.


 Story copyright© VanceKelly2015


More details on the Frederick William Pantlin page………………………

In Memory of 54 Henry Harman Fairnham

Henry Fairnham 2
54 Henry Harman Fairnham

 54 Henry Harman Fairnham

Henry” Harry” Fairnham age 30 was a fitter and turner from Glebe. It appears he and his brother lived at 123 Abercrombie st , City (Redfern) NSW,  he was 5 ft 8 “ and described as of a dark complexion with dark hair going grey.

On the 26th May 1915 Henry was on his way towards the beach to draw some stores from the No .1 Clearing station as he was the assistant Quartermaster, when he was blown to pieces by a direct hit by a shell from “Beechy Bill”.

His friend Cpl. Norman Masters,  gave an account of what happened……..

“I knew Fairnham when we joined in Sydney. He was in my section and we called him Harry. I was with him at Anzac. He was killed about 20 yards from the beach. He was on his way to the beach to draw stores , and was assistant Q/Master. He was hit in the back by “Beachy Bill”. The shell passing right through him. I saw him about a quarter of an hour after he was hit, and he was then dead. We buried him near the beach, and his name can be read on the wooden cross reproduced by the “Sydney Mail” of the 1st Dec. He was one of the best chaps and was always talking of his young lady. He was giving up the job he was on, and it was about his last trip”.
Source : (AWM record) Red Cross File No 1030801D


153 Phillip Carmichael, 209 William Cridland and 154 Albert Anderson, good friends of Henry were informants to his death, they stated how…………….. “ Henry was a reserved and quiet man and a great favourite. He was very highly thought of by all.” …………….“he was one of the best”.

He was buried by his close mates, 209 William Cridland and 154 Albert Anderson ,   Initially buried at the Hillside Beach cemetery Vll – Anzac Cove. His name is also remembered on the historic Anzac Cross “Where Heroes Lie” below.


where heroes lie
” Where Heroes Lie”


Henry left a will 2 months before his death, leaving all his property and effects to his young lady back home in Australia.

Miss. M Dodds of 156 Everleigh st, Redfern was his lady back home and she received 2 parcels of his personal effects nearly a year after his death at Anzac Cove.
His possessions consisted of a damaged nickel watch, 6 coins, a purse, a key, stud, 3 pens all damaged, a knife, a sovereign case, 2 pocket books and a handkerchief. Also he had some cards, photos and some stones which perhaps were souvinered from the great Pyramids in Egypt. Small momentoes , but these would have been treasures to Miss Dodds.

Exactly one year later on the anniversary of Henry’s death, Miss M. Dodds inserted in the Roll of Honours in the Sydney Morning Herald the following,

FAIRNHAM.-In loving memory of Sapper H. H. Fairnham
Killed in action at the Dardanelles, May 26, 1915.
On Australia’s roll of honour you will find this hero’s name

………. Inserted by M. Dodds.

Source : (AWM record) Red Cross File No 1030801D

His eldest brother 2329 Joseph Huston Fairnham was also in the AIF and a driver.  He was invalided home in 1919, both parents of Henry and Joseph were deceased.  Joseph was later living with his sister in 1920. He received all of Henry’s medals and war correspondence.


1. “Beechy Bill”…. the name given to the Turkish battery which constantly shelled the beach at Anzac Cove.

Full Military Honours

Ernest War Grave Waverley plaque
126 Ernest Cotterell – War Grave Waverley Cemetery NSW.

126 Ernest Cotterell left his home in England in 1914 and had not long arrived in Australia, and within 5 months enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces. He was an “original” Sapper for only 6 weeks.

Ernest did not embark with his new mates on the 18th October 1914 on the “Great Adventure” and although he was only with his fellow sappers for a brief time, he would make a significant impression on their lives and their preparations for war.

Ernest’s story is now available on his own page………….Please read

36 LITTLER, Alexander Bruce – MC

36 Lieut. Alexander Bruce Littler – MC

Alexander was a tall young man at 6 foot, a 23 year old engine driver, originally  from Rockhampton Queensland. He came from a family of early settlers in the region and his father Weaver Wilson Littler was the Mayor in 1896 and 1897.  Alex and his two older brothers Ernest and Wilson would all enlist in the AIF and the good news is, they all returned to Australia safely after the war had ended.

From all accounts Alex was a quiet achiever and a very private man.  He was awarded the Military Cross which was to be presented to him by his Excellency the Governor General, however he declined a public presentation and preferred a private ceremony.

The Military Cross awarded for Conspicuous Gallantry in the face of the enemy.
The Military Cross

 After the war, Alexander returned to a life as a farmer and grazier …………………..his story continues on his own page 

Anzac Cove – MAY 1915


Photo Courtesy of the "Clarence "Bob" Lundy Private Collection"
Photo Courtesy of the “Clarence “Bob” Lundy Private Collection”

Eventually after the initial weeks of scattered but fierce fighting and only managing to scratch together a few extra feet of beach, life at Gallipoli started to take on a familiar, but dangerous daily routine. The Anzacs knew they were here to stay, the opportunity to evacuate was lost, and so as ordered by the command , they dug in.

Phillip Schuler was 24 years of age and was the reporter for “The Age” newspaper who travelled with the first convoy to Gallipoli. His dispatches for the newspaper back home were honest and heartfelt accounts which eloquently described the hardship, horrors and the heroism of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers.

His book “Australia in Arms” published in 1916, was the first full account of the Anzacs at Gallipoli. His revelations of the Gallipoli campaign and a soldier’s life on the Peninsula helped craft the Anzac legend we know today.
His evocative description of the beach being the “Heart of Anzac” and its “pulse of life” are typical of his wonderful gift of prose and it sets the scene for the next eight months of the campaign.


Phillip Schuler
Phillip Schuler

The beach and the cliffs overlooking it might be best described as “The Heart of Anzac”. At the foot of the gully was camped General Sir William Birdwood the “Soul of Anzac” and his whole staff in dug-outs no different from the holes the men built in the hills……… General Birdwood remained always on the beach, almost at the foot of the jetty.

 Here it was that one found the living pulse of the position, the throb of life that meant the successful holding of the acres so gallantly won, the strength that held back the Turks, while road arteries cut into the hillsides and formed the channels down which the best blood of the Australians and New Zealanders flowed”.Phillip Schuler – “Australia in Arms”.

From the day of the landing the Engineers were had at work, doing what Sappers do best, cutting in pathways and roads, building trenches , erecting supply stations and the landing stages for the supply vessels.

Lieut. Noel Ernest Biden
Lieut. Noel Ernest Biden

Lieut. Noel Ernest Biden and his section had carried out very useful reconnaissance work in conjunction with road making for pushing the large guns forward.”

Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. 26 April 1915. Australian artillerymen dragging guns into position after the landing at Anzac. By 6 p.m. on the first evening one gun had been placed on the neck above the southern end of Ari Burnu beach, and next day more guns were dragged over this neck into positions to the right.
Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. 26 April 1915. Australian artillerymen dragging guns into position after the landing at Anzac. By 6 p.m. on the first evening one gun had been placed on the neck above the southern end of Ari Burnu beach, and next day more guns were dragged over this neck into positions to the right.

He and his team of engineers then gave the infantry great assistance in consolidating the newly dug trenches.

In the middle of May, Lieut. Noel Biden and his section started work on the construction of piers and landing stages on the beach. This work was extremely dangerous and was carried out under heavy shellfire.”  NAA Citation


While the cove was relatively sheltered from shellfire from across the peninsula, the well concealed Turkish battery at Gaba Tepe, known as “Beachy Bill” was, and would remain a constant menace.

As it was always going to be a struggle maintaining sufficient drinking water at Gallipoli, most soldiers disregarded all but the fiercest shelling from “Beachy Bill” and the beach became a popular place for bathing and a wash, a luxury few were willing to give up.

“….it is only a question of time”, was a phrase that well described the situation of the “ The Beach” on the cove. It was considered by all the working parties that one only had to be on the beach often enough and inevitably a shell burst would claim its next victim. According to war correspondent Phillip Schuler, General Birdwood’s own staff officer was blown up by a shell.

The month of May was proving to be an arduous month for the Engineers, hard at work building and preparing the cove for a prolonged stay, they would still continue to suffer casualties.

245 Sapper Robert Haddock was a 24 year old machinist born in Glasgow Scotland.  He was wounded on the 2nd May, a bullet wound to the left foot. Curiously his wound was considered slight and his recovery expected within 3 months, however he was not sent to either Lemnos or Cairo hospitals, but was quickly repatriated back to Manchester, England in late May. He remained in England having obtained munitions work and was later discharged.

76 James Morrison Hamilton was a 19 year old carpenter originally from Mildura, and was also serving in the citizens Militia. He was  wounded in action on the 9th May, a bullet wound to his left arm and the finger of his right hand and was transferred to Lemnos  and then Cairo to convalesce. James was a robust young man who recovered and returned to Anzac three weeks later. This would not be the only time James would be wounded or find himself in danger on the front line.


45 Norman Edward Hartridge

45 Norman Edward Hartridge was nearly 20yrs old when he enlisted , he was born in Woolahra, New South Wales and a carpenter from Summer Hill. An original from the jetty building team, he was wounded on two separate occasions. A shrapnel wound to the right hand on the 18th May saw him evacuated to Alexandria to convalesce. On his return to Anzac Cove in August he was shot in the arm and this time returned to England to recover from his wounds.

Norman was a young man who worked tirelessly with his unit at Anzac Cove, he received a 153 complimentary and was also mentioned in despatches.


68 Jack Lloyd McMahon

68 Jack Lloyd McMahon  was 22 years old, a bridge carpenter from Coogee NSW. Jack would have been a very handy member of the bridge building teams, unfortunately he was wounded, a gunshot wound to both hands on the 18th May. Also suffering from Scurvy, Jack managed to repair and felt well enough to return just four weeks after being wounded.  Four weeks later Jack was wounded once again.

This time Jack was lucky not to be killed, he suffered a triple fracture on both bones of his left arm due to a nearby explosion. He was hospitalized for a lengthy time but would return again to the company in May of 1916.


65 Edward Makinson

65 Edward Makinson was 27 years old, a civil engineer and a native of Lancashire England. He was wounded on the 15th May 1915 and transferred back to Hospital at Alexandria. He rejoined the unit at Gallipoli on the 12th June and was promoted to Lance corporal in July.

Within a space of 5 months, Edward was wounded , sick with enteric, promoted twice and made two more journeys back to Gallipoli. Edward was clearly a valuable member of the unit , and was not one to back away and leave his unit which was now being quickly diminished in number…….Read More on his own page.

47 Frank Atherton was born in Liverpool England , he was 23 years old, a fitter with the United Arc Light Co. Fleetwood England. He was wounded at Gallipoli 19th May  and was invalided  back to Australia on the 8th August 1916. At this stage little is known of the circumstance of his wounds or his life story. He was medically discharged and shortly after returned to England.

101 John Hoey Moore a 25 year old mechanical engineer from Paeroa, Auckland, New Zealand,  a “Maorilander” and proud of it, and 111 Benjamin Alfred Coram a 24 year old  Carriage Smith from Victoria were both wounded by gunshots on the 19th May.

Benjamin had a bullet wound to the left arm, and John Hoey Moore a bullet wound to his right shoulder. Both men were admitted to hospital. Benjamin Coram would eventually recover enough to perform active duty as a “guard” and returned to Australia. When John Hoey Moore returned to duty, he went to the western front where he would later distinguish himself.

101 John Hoey Moore - couretsy -of his son - Mr Jack Moore
101 John Hoey Moore – courtesy -of his son – Mr Jack Moore

Everyone knew that if “Beachy Bill ”or a sniper’s bullet didn’t get you…. then it was some illness that was standing next in line. A long list of illnesses the most common , influenza , dysentery, and debility due to poor diet and rheumatism would start to knock the fellas over like flies. With the heavy physical work load they were also prone to injury.

One of the earliest casualties from sickness was…….40 William Alexander Sutherland  he was a 22 year old Cooper from Wallsend, Newcastle NSW. William gave the following account “Sappers Story” in the Sydney Morning Herald describing the early work of the sappers and the day he succumbed to rheumatic fever.

“Our company  was sapping, building roads, trenching, and digging all the time, night and day. For the first three nights we got absolutely no sleep whatever. We were either digging or else standing to arms. Poor chaps were being shot down all around us. We lost a terrible lot of our chaps, and the sights we witnessed were awful.

I had a lot of awfully narrow escapes. One bullet went through the sleeve of my coat, but never touched the skin. A piece of shrapnel hit me on the knee, and made me limp for a few days. I was feeling quite right up to Tuesday, when I felt a bit of a cold coming on me. I worked up till 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning in the trench, when I lay down to have a nap till dawn. When I went to get up, I found that I could not hold my head up, and the pains in my chest, legs, and back were terrible. So the major sent me down to see the doctor in the afternoon, and he told me to go along to the 4th Field Ambulance, and sleep there for the night. Next morning Dr. Beeston ordered me off to the hospital ship for a few days. On that ship everything was up-to-date, and I was given a bunk in a first-class cabin.”  Source:

William Sutherland was at Gallipoli for 10 days when suffering from rheumatic fever, he was admitted to hospital on May 4th and his transfer was almost immediate to Cairo hospital and by August he was declared medically unfit and returned home and discharged.


119 William George Pitt
119 ” Billy” William George Pitt

119 William “Billy” Pitt enlisted as a 19 year old carpenter from Paddington NSWOn the same day the 4th May, perhaps working closely with William Sutherland……..  also gave his account of the landing and the work accomplished by the engineers from his hospital bed in Cairo, to his parents in Paddington.
“’The task of removing the wounded was a very formidable one. The engineers where then called out of the firing line, and set to work making a road up the hill to the firing line. We worked for two days and nights without any sleep, but each man knew what the job was for, and worked with all his might.
Besides this work we were engaged in building barbed wire entanglements for six nights and we also started a sap towards the Turkish trenches. I worked all one night in wet clothes, and as a result had to be carried out of the firing line to the hospital ship, thence being taken to the El Hayat Hospital, Egypt. The doctor said I was suffering from rheumatism, but I hope to be back in the firing line again in a few weeks.”
As Billy had hoped he did return to the firing line and returned to Gallipoli nearly seven weeks later. After another six weeks at Gallipoli, suffering with dysentery he was again admitted to hospital, only to recover and return yet again to Gallipoli and remained until the company was finally evacuated.
Billy was young and resilient and each time he was sent away sick from what he described as the “firing line”, he just couldn’t wait to get back with his mates. The William Pitt story reaches greater heights in forthcoming additions.

176 William Richard Harvey  was a 30 years old a carpenter from Edinburgh Scotland, he was also at Gallipoli up to the 4th May and was then transferred sick to hospital in Cairo for bronchitis and rheumatism. William returned to Gallipoli 27th July 1915 until the evacuation.


Portrait - Courtesy Gail McLoughlan "Private Collection"
37 Albert Edward Shoosmith                 Portrait – Courtesy Gail McLoughlan “Private Collection

37 Albert Edward Shoosmith was a 20 year old painter born in Middlesex England, living in Waverley Sydney. He was one of the first of the company to contract dysentery and on the 9th May he was transferred to Lemnos Isl. and shortly after transferred to convalesce at Cairo. He would later return to extensive service on the western front……….. Read More on his own page.

64 Thomas Liddle 24 year old plumber, born in Scotland, was injured with a hernia on the 9th May, a debilitating injury and with possible complications he returns to hospital on Lemnos Island and is then later discharged and returns to Australia….Read More on his own page.

28 Thomas Lytton real name Appleyard who falsely enlisted as a single man was an early casualty and with a crushed chest and rheumatism was transferred from Gallipoli to hospital in Alexandria on 15th May he was to return to duty at Gallipoli on 13th June, but 2 months later was again transferred out to Malta hospital with Malaria. By this time Thomas was clearly starting to think about life back home and felt it was also time he let his wife know exactly where he was, since she had been searching for him for a few years.


23 William Hay

23 William Hay was born in Edgecliffe Sydney NSW, he was 20 years old an engineering student at Sydney University. William was suffering with Pneumonia and transferred from Gallipoli on the 15th May to hospital in Alexandria. He returned to Gallipoli on the 19th July and was invalided back to Mudros hospital suffering from seizures on the 29th August and then to England.

82 Andrew Burgess  was age 24,  a carpenter born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was also a member of the 9th Highlanders for 6 years.
Initially he was reported missing in action, but was wounded on the 19th May a gunshot wound to his left foot.

44 Rudolf Jessen was the youngest member of the Engineers, born in 1898, he was only 16 when he enlisted. His real name was Randolph. He declared he was 19 years old and a carpenter and previously had some civilian military experience in the 5th field Australian Engineers and was still serving when he enlisted.

Perhaps Rudolf should not have passed any close medical examination when he enlisted, that’s if any was performed. He had been operated on 6 years earlier for Empyema, which is a serious infection between the lungs and the inner surface of the chest wall. But like so many young men who couldn’t wait to enlist, he went in straight away, keen to do his duty, and so enthusiastic he didn’t dream of volunteering his real name, age or his medical history.

While serving at Gallipoli Rudolf was suffering from influenza on the 24th May  which later developed into pleurisy in June, and he was then invalided back to Alexandria. By July his condition had worsened and he embarked to hospital in England. By November he was seriously ill with Empyema & Pneumonia and was eventually sent home to Australia in December 1915 medically unfit and later discharged on 5th April 1916.  This very young and unwell man was certainly loyal and determined to serve his country but was also very lucky to have returned home at all.


Story Copyright© VanceKelly2015

Sources: AWM, NAA, NLA, Universirty Of Sydney

Photo : Anzac Cove  – Courtesy of Bob Lundy Private Collection –


Looking for Portrait
Looking for Portraits

1. Portraits needed  for:

82 Andrew Burgess

47 Frank Atherton

76 James Morrison Hamilton

176 William Richard Harvey  

64 Thomas Liddle 

28 Thomas Lytton real name Appleyard

245  Robert Haddock

2. 101 John Hoey Moore – fortunately “Anzac Jack” as he became known has his full story available free online, It has some historic photo’s and a great read as well…….it can be downloaded.

“Not Cook’s Tourists”

N Masters
66 Norman Masters – MM


66 Norman Masters – MM  from all accounts loved soldiering, it was probably no surprise as he came from a “family of soldiers”. (see footnote)

His commitment to soldiering meant Norman had a real presence in the 1st FCE, he was involved every where……. all the stunts, big or small, and he made close friendships with his fellow engineers and maintained correspondence with family and friends under some difficult circumstances as he was witness to many events including the deaths of his mates.

He was also extremely proud of his mates and proud to distinguish himself as an Australian………

Extract from “The Sun’ July 14 1915
Lance Corporal Norman Masters writes to his father : —

“ One of our boys, Sapper Reynolds, swam back to the boat, and brought ashore two boxes of gun cotton and machine gun and a wounded man, and was shot dead on landing with the man. He would have got the V C. had he lived. I should like Harry to tell the boys at Chowder how poor Reynolds died. Sergeant Logan was shot in the neck ; Corporal Johnson was shot in the stomach— both bad cases. They are from the Sub marine Miners. I have not fired a shot yet. All the time for the past fortnight, day and night, sapping and trenching, except short spells when we go about 300 yards to our dug-outs for a little sleep. I am proud, dad, to be an Australian ; not Cook’s tourists, as some one has said. It is wonderful to see the boys being carried back wounded. They are smoking cigarettes or joking ; that is, those who are not almost out.”


Norman was 28 years old a brass moulder from Bellevue Hill Sydney.

He served at Gallipoli up to 12th October 1915. Like most of the men he would suffer from diarrhea, influenza and dysentery and had a few spells in hospital each time recovering and rejoining his unit. While at Gallipoli he was promoted to 2nd Corporal.
In October he was struck down with influenza and transported to hospital in Mudros . He was suffering from pyrexia (fever), and a contusion to his left side. He was transported back to Australia 28th Jan 1916 with debility and leave for 6 months to recover.

Norman did recover, embarking from Sydney on 8th October 1916 on the A40 Ceramic, arriving at Plymouth England 21.11.1916 and proceeded to France 3rd March 1917 and rejoined the 1st FCE in the field. Norman would later be awarded the Military Medal…………………….

Norman never lost sight of his friendships and the close bonds he had made with his fellow engineers.
On Anzac day 2 years later in 1917 his memory for his good friend 55 Walter Freebairn killed on landing day had not diminished and somehow even while still serving in France, he found time and taken measures to have a dedication inserted “In Memoriam” notices in the Sydney Morning Herald.

FREEBAIRNIn memory of Sapper Walter Freebairn
(Boller) 1st Field Coy. Engineers, killed in action
April 25, 1915 Inserted by his friend and comrade
Corporal Norman Masters 1st Field Co , Engineers.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 25 April 1917 –


His complete story ……………… here




1. “family of soldiers”….. a further story to follow on this subject.

2. “A Cooks Tourist” …. was a poor reference made by the British Military to the Anzacs before Gallipoli. The British Soldiers felt the Aussies were overpaid and part time soldiers who thought they were on a holiday from the land discovered by Captain Cook…… hence a Cook’s Tourist………………After Gallipoli it didn’t take long for this reference to die out.

“I had no idea what a sapper was…………”

Anzac Digger - Roy Denning
213 – Roy Howard Denning – Cover photo from “Anzac Digger” by Roy & Lorna Denning – Published 2004

“I had no idea what a sapper was, however I had placed myself unreservedly in the hands of the military …“ Sapper 213 Roy Denning


When the First World War started in 1914, most Australians did not know what the term “sapper” meant or in military terms, how vital the work of the sapper was to the operations of the military forces and their role in the success of many of the campaigns.
It would take the entire course of the first world war for the general public to gain a glimpse into the life of the sapper or Engineer.  It took nearly a further hundred years  for a very personal account to be told by an “original” sapper -213 Roy Denning of the 1st Field Company Engineers.
The phrase “sapper”  is derived from the French word sappe (“spadework,” or “trench”) and became connected with military engineering during the 17th century, when attackers dug covered trenches to approach the walls of a besieged fort. They also tunneled under those walls and then collapsed the tunnels, thus undermining the walls. These trenches and tunnels were called “saps,” and their diggers came to be called “sappers.”
The textbook definition is as follows…….. a Sapper is a Military engineer, meaning his duties involve building field defences, communication lines, construction of trenches, roads, bridges, as well as being trained to serve as infantry personnel. The term Sapper is still being used today by the British Army, Commonwealth nations and the U.S Military.

In modern armies, sappers serve three functions. They provide tactical support on the battlefield by installing portable bridges, tank traps, and other construction; they build major support facilities, such as airports, supply roads, fuel depots, and barracks; and they are assigned additional tasks, including the disarming and disposal of mines and unexploded bombs and shells and the preparation and distribution of maps. Source – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The modern Sapper’s  motto  “First in, Last out” …….

Sapper Roy Denning in his published war diary describes the day he enlisted……..
“On Monday the 9th September 1914, I left home for work as usual. I was a carpenter by trade . Not tall, not big , just medium. I had not mentioned to my mother or family that I intended to go to Victoria barracks in Sydney instead of going to work.
After considerable screening as to my capabilities , I was drafted in as a “Sapper” in the Engineers.
I had no idea what a sapper was, however I had placed myself unreservedly in the hands of the military to be sent to any part of the world. They could order me to go to my death if necessary. They could have me shot if I refused to obey orders. I had thought of all this and signed my name.
Now my chief worry was how I was going to break the news at home.”
Source: “Anzac Digger” by Roy and Lorna Denning.


After reading  “Anzac Digger” I discovered Roy was a very compassionate man and deep down he was a gentle soul. He was like so many of the volunteers , displaying all the willingness to being a soldier but perhaps not suited to war, and like most volunteers, he was untrained and unprepared.

Some men would thrive on soldiering and some would struggle and many like Roy would find an inner strength, an overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility to their mates. This inner strength helped men like Roy survive and push through the hardships he would have to endure over 4 years at war, displaying a fortitude that not many of us will ever have to muster.

Roy discussed with his mate 212 “Chook’ Charles Fowle whether it would be better to lose a limb or be killed. Chook said he would rather be killed but Roy replied  he was not ready to die ….“life was still sweet, self preservation still a potent factor demanding recognition”.

Roy also had two special mates  “cobbers ” as he called them, Phil and Fatty.  Phil was a 6 footer, 26 years old and reared on a farm, Fatty also a farmer was shorter and a rough carpenter.  Roy explained how he was not like either of them, not impulsive like Phil or boisterous like Fatty, but he felt he was slow in making up his mind, but when he did decide to do something he was determined to see it through.

When Roy enlisted in 1914,  he felt he was not so tall, just medium and perhaps he was not as confident as his two war mates Phil and Fatty, but Roy was his own man, self motivated and always determined and loyal to the end, his war record testimony to these fine qualities.

Roy Denning was a man who in war time would distinguished himself , and in his life after the war never gave up on anything and made a good fist of everything he tried …..  I think this is what gallant men do.

Sadly the war took something from Roy. The photos of Roy tell the tale, like so many returned soldiers, he looks older beyond his years and there is a sadness and distance in his gaze. The war had taken the best bits of Roy and left only bruised remnants and ultimately his family would become innocent casualties as they lived with Roy’s struggle to rebuild himself.

His daughter Lorna has written the epilogue to the final work her father and mother had completed in 1976. Lorna bravely gives the details of her childhood , growing up in a family subjected to her father’s inner torment brought on by the effects of war.

She explains how her father was devastated by the outbreak of World War II, being afraid his own son would be called up. He would suffer constantly from sleeplessness, hives and nightmares about war for another 30 years.

Roy had tried to have his work published in the early 70’s , but publishers were not interested in the First World War at the time. Sadly Roy and his wife Lorna would not see their hard work published before they died.

Their daughter Lorna however made it happen and in 2004 the book was finally published. It has been an inspiration to my own research and I am deeply indebted to the influence it has had on my own journey.

 Story – Copyright© VanceKelly2015

Anzac Digger Book Roy Denning

 Source & Photo:  “Anzac Digger” by Roy and Lorna Denning.


1.Phil is believed to be..129 Phillip Owen Ayton,  while “Fatty”is still not confirmed, a rough carpenter is the clue, but which rough carpenter ?….

2. The book“Anzac Digger” by Roy and Lorna Denning. is available from Military Booksellers and also Ebay.

The Father of the Company


Major John Patrick Lawton McCall was 50 years old, a family man, married to Grace Eleanor Scott, and with two children. He was from Marrickville NSW and had taken over the duties as O.C (Officer Commanding) the 1st FCE.

In 1914  Major McCall had been specially requested by the defence authorities to take command of the 1st FCE.  He had served in the Boer War and had received the Queens Medal + 5 clasps. and the Cape of Good Hope Medal.  His experience and age were clearly an important factor in his placement and would prove to be invaluable to the development of the company.  Despite Major McCall being more suited to his specialty as a signals officer, his commission and rank as commander of the newly formed Engineers, was very well judged.

Major McCall had been a military man all his life and now his own son John James McCall was completing his military training at Duntroon Royal Military Academy and also preparing to embark for war. Thoughts of his own son’s circumstances would have fostered that fatherly instinct in preserving the lives of the young men who had been placed under his own command. His personal circumstances made for a compassionate leader who valued his men and the hard work they would put in while preparing for Gallipoli.

As time was drawing closer to the landing day at Gallipoli, the father figure was always the first to support the company, and as the reality of war struck down upon his men he was the first to show his deepest concerns for the families and proved to be a genuinely sympathetic man.

In 1914 Major John Patrick McCall fudged his age when re- commissioned, he was actually 55 years old, perhaps he feared he would miss out on the opportunity to do what he knew best. John Patrick Lawton McCall would have an outstanding military career throughout his life,  from the Boer War years to the end of the Great War.

In 1920 now Lieut. Colonel John McCall was honoured with the medal of the “Order of the Nile” from His Highness the Sultan of Egypt, an honour generally reserved for Kings, Queens and Heads of State……………………Read More


"Medal of the Order of the Nile"
“Medal of the Order of the Nile”

 Copyright © Vance Kelly 2015


Footnote :  It is so important to get a good photo of John Patrick Lawton McCall –  he should never be forgotten.

The ” KID “

24 Sapper Stanley Hense

Gallipoli 25th April 1915………. “They had just landed on the wrong beach, now known as Anzac Cove, there had been no previous intelligence or survey of the beach,  and  now amidst mass confusion, constant shrapnel and machine gun fire, snipers and the treacherous and unfamiliar terrain ahead of them, the entire military assault and the commanding officers were now completely on the back foot.
They were clearly unprepared and poorly equipped for the rapid change of circumstances and now they were looking at a possible military defeat on the first day. On this unfamiliar beach they arrived,  meanwhile their was a rapidly growing number of wounded and dying soldiers surrounding them.
The wounded were in serious trouble, the ambulance and stretcher bearers ….. were at full stretch, unable to cope with the rapidly growing numbers of casualties, hundreds of men were lying wounded, groaning and screaming for hours while unattended…..”

This is the scene that confronted 24 Stanley Hense and the other sappers when they rowed ashore in readiness to secure the barrel piers in preparations for the evacuation of the wounded and dying…… Stanley had just turned 18.

Stanley Hense was a plumber from Burwood  Sydney NSW.  He wasn’t quite the right height at 5ft 5 ½” and on enlistment he stated he was 20 years old, Stanley hadn’t received permission from his parents to enlist and simply lied about his age. In fact Stanley was only 17  which made him the ” Kid “,  but he was not quite the youngest member of the company. This honour would go to a 16 year old named Rudolph Jessen.  Stanley Hense however openly celebrated his 18th birthday with his new mates in Egypt.

Read More………………………..

Copyright © Vance Kelly 2015