A Rare Gem – The diary of William Irving Phillips

In 2015 Beverley Prior the granddaughter of original 1st Field Company Engineer 192 William Irving Phillips was commemorating the 100 year anniversary of ANZAC.

Beverley and her family had held onto a treasure for 100 years, a rare gem and a significant piece of Anzac history……her grandfather’s war diary.

Beverley has taken the time to carefully transcribe Will Phillips diary and also include   personal photos and momento’s.

It is an exciting and magnificent archive which opens up the life and times of William Phillips and other originals during the war years.

The diary has enormous relevance to the story of the original men of the 1st Field Company Engineers and provides a unique insight into many of the men of the company.

Will Phillip had a balanced view of all things that life threw at him, his country upbringing  combined with a quality education, the foundation which prepared him for Gallipoli and the war in Europe.

Will Phillips was like so many original Anzac’s…… a rare individual who took so much in his stride, never seemed to complain, and despite the daily hardships of war always found a way of making light of the circumstances and getting on with the task at hand.

Will was a teacher, and a skilled horseman who found himself in the second boat to hit the shores of Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915.

He lived to tell his story, and what a story his granddaughter Beverley has so generously shared.

Please follow this link and enjoy the story of a fine man, William Irving Phillips….CLICK HERE

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Original photo courtesy of Beverley Prior – family private collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remembering 208 Walter Gilchrist M.C MID – 3rd May 1917

Capt Walter Gilchrist MC

Captain Walter Gilchrist was an original sapper with the 1st FCE.  On this day, in 1917, he was an officer in the 6th Field Coy. Engineers, and known to be a popular officer among his men.

Several witness accounts on this day state that he was in command of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sections of the company at Noreuil. It was recorded that on the morning of the 3rd of May he volunteered to lead an infantry battalion across to the Hindenburg Line, Bullecourt, as all the battalion’s officers had been killed or wounded.

The official war historian Charles Bean tells us what happened next…………

“None … knew who their leader was, but for half an hour or more he would be seen, bareheaded, tunicless, in grey woollen cardigan, his curly hair ruffled with exertion, continually climbing out of the trench to throw bombs or to call to the men in the shell-holes, begging them to charge.” – Charles Bean

Major William Henry Ellwood M.C  24th Infantry Battalion wrote ” Capt. Gilchrist was the bravest man I have ever known”

Sapper 14540 Palmer…. stated he saw Walter fighting with his revolver without his hat or tunic out in the open, “All the odds were against him. Then I saw him hit by a shell and killed outright.”

Sapper 14945 W.Fairley  another witness to the events  stated  “he was a specially fine soldier who did not know what fear was. I have heard that if he had lived he probably have got the V.C.”

Captain Walter Gilchrist was killed in action in France on 3rd May 1917.

He will always be remembered.

Read More…………..

 

 

 

Remembering 204 Spr. Patrick Finn Walshe

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Sapper 204 Patrick Finn Walshe died from wounds on the 5th March 1917. Today he is honoured and remembered and his story is available to read….

A portrait of Patrick Finn Walshe does exist, however he is only named in a group photo.

Which one is Patrick, or the identity of the others  is not known at this stage, however they are all Engineers from the 1st Field Company.

This photo can be viewed  and is AWM copyright protected. The photo is from the Thuillier Collection of glass plate negatives taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.

The image is available to view at the following link  https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10550.219

Patrick Finn Walshe  ….link to his story 

First pictures of the men of the 1st FCE

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1st Field Company Engineers from New South Wales  – Sept. 1914

A new discovery of what is likely to be the first pictures published of original members of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers.

The picture above showing a relaxed and cheerful group of sappers “ON A PONTOON OF THEIR OWN CONSTRUCTION”  on the lakes of Centennial Park , Sydney.  They look proud of their achievement and at this early stage of their training completely unaware of how valuable these skills would prove to be throughout the war.

The pictures were published in the ‘Sydney Mail’ on the 23rd September 1914  just weeks after the men had enlisted.

sydney-mail-september-23-1914

– ON A PONTOON OF THEIR OWN CONSTRUCTION-

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 – ERECTING BARRICADES FOR PROTECTION FROM THE ENEMY’S FIRE –

“The work of the Field Engineers includes the construction of roads, pontoons, trestle bridges, barricades, wire entanglements, laying ground mines, digging entrenchments, and many other important as well as frequently dangerous duties.”

 

Source:  National Library of Australia

227 Billy McDevitt – Rower and ANZAC

227 –  “Billy” Charles William McDevitt

Known as Billy McDevitt,….. a rowing champion from Tasmania.

In 1911 Billy was travelling between Tasmania and Sydney and was planning his course towards becoming the world sculling champion when Australia suddenly joined the war in 1914.

An original member of the 1st Field Company Engineers, Billy was severely wounded at Gallipoli. Billy returned to Australia and with strength and determination recovered and when the war ended he returned to his love of rowing.

Ten years after he volunteered as an original member with the 1st FCE  and at age 36  he became the Australasian Rowing Champion and was regarded by his peers as the best in the world.

In 1925 Charles “Billy” McDevitt was later declared World Rowing Champion. 

Read more of Billy McDevitt’s amazing story…………..click this link

Remembering 186 Ewen Macpherson

186 Ewan MacPherson

186 Ewen Fergus Lord Macpherson

 

 

PASSING OF A HERO
BRAVE ENDING OF A GALLANT LIFE.

Published The Bathurst times Friday 20th October 1916

To the long list of brave men who have offered their lives for the Empire is Lieutenant Ewen Lord Macpherson, a grandson of the late Mr. Randolph Machattie , who was in the landing at Gallipoli Peninsula, and having been invalided to England rejoined the army at Ypres recently with a commission in the Royal Field Artillery. This young officer lost his life on the 10th of August in the heavy fighting that took place near Ypres— and the following letter from the officer commanding his brigade has been received buy his parents.

” I am writing to offer you the sincerest sympathy of myself and every officer and man of tho RFA, at the death of your very gallant son, Ewen Macpherson. He was very badly hit about 4 p.m. on the 10th. inst. trying to get his men under cover; we were being heavily shelled at the time. He was carried to a trench nearby, but a heavy shell fell immediately after, killing him and the three officers who were assisting him. Although your son has only been with us three months he very easily made a name among us for fearlessness and throughout the rather heavy fighting in the Ypres salient, bore himself with great gallantry, and I had made a note of his name for recommondation for the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to. duty. We buried him the same evening in a cemetery in the valley, a chaplain of the Australian forces reading the burial service. Believe me, your sincerely,

J. D. SHERER, Lieut. Colonel, 5th Brigade, R.F.A., Lehore Artillery, B.E.F

 

More about Ewen Fergus Lord Macpherson………………….follow this Link 

The Battle of Pozieres 1916

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The Battle of Pozieres

The village of Pozières, is located in the Somme Valley, France.  The main road running along the ridge, in the middle of the British sector of the Somme battlefields ran from the towns of Albert to Bapaume and close by stood the village of Pozieres, the highest point on the battlefield.

On the 19th July 1916 the men of the 1st Field company Engineers had bivouacked just outside of Albert, approximately 3 miles from the front lines. On the 21st July they marched into Albert and commenced helping to dig a communications  trench that same night. The heavy bombardments from the Germans had already commenced and were relentless.

By Sunday the 23rd July the company had moved in closer to the front lines at Pozieres and commenced construction of a strong point for a machine gun placement.

Original 233 Cpl Thomas Arkinstall reported that the section  was in front of Pozieres about 100 yards past the village , and were digging an advanced Machine Gun position overlooking two roads leading to Pozieres and Bapaume.

For four days, Pozieres would be pure hell for the men of the 1st Field Company Engineers.

 

Major Richard John Dyer was the young officer in charge of the 1st Field Company Engineers during the Battle of Pozieres.

Major Richard Dyer remarkably not quite 23 years old was the very able and hardened Gallipoli veteran, famous for his single handed efforts at  Gallipoli and his bravery at the German Officers Trench, creating his own landmark at what became known as “Dyers Crater”.

The young Major was no stranger to putting himself at great risk. However as Major and commanding officer, he was now placing his men at great risk and his diary entries show his hesitance in despatching the sections whilst under extremely heavy bombardment from the Germans.

Link to the full  1st FCE Unit diary July 1916 –July 1916 RCDIG1008590-1

The drawings above from the unit diaries showing the detailed plans for the construction of the “Strong Point” and machine gun placement.

Original 29 Bob Lundy recorded in his diary on the 23rd July the casualties and the devastation of the day, noting that there were dead laying all along the track and every inch of ground was just shell holes.

Within the first four days of the operations the return lists for the engineers prepared by  original Lieut. Robert Osborne Earle for Major Richard Dyer outlined the devastation to the men of the 1st Field Company..

The casualties list recorded the men who were either killed, wounded, missing , gassed or suffering shell shock,  between the 22nd and 26th July 1916.

 

Fourteen of the originals were included on this list of casualties…..58 Percy Hirst was listed as killed, 215 William Allan (Whelan) was listed as missing, 234  Archibald Bland  and 50 Lionel Burton-Fuller were listed as wounded.

Also wounded was 88 George Casburn, a gun shot wound to the right hand and shoulder and  163 William Rice also a gunshot wound to the shoulder.

123 William Goodwin, 76 James Hamilton, 184 Donald Clark, 237 Evelyn Lloyd..  all wounded.

336 Alfred Girdler and 157 Frederick Newson were gassed,  and 242 Thomas Cook and 26 Roland King were both listed suffering from shell shock.

Interestingly  the brothers of  fellow originals 14 Edmund Banks and 139 James Pasfield were also on the same casualty list.

Pozieres  Main street 1914                 Pozieres  Main street 1916

 On the 23rd July 234 Archie Bland died from his wounds, two days later on the 25th July both  58 Percy Hirst and 50 Lionel Fuller Burton also died from their wounds.

 

 Above Left to Right – 234 Archie Bland, 50 Lionel Fuller Burton, 58 Percy Hirst

215 William Patrick Allan Whelan  was originally reported missing on the 23rd, all later enquiries confirmed that he was killed in action on the 25th .

Searching for a Portrait
Searching for a Portrait

Still searching for a portrait of 215 William Whelan

During what became known as the “Somme Offensive”,  between the  23 July and early September 1916, the 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions of the Australian Imperial Forces were involved in 19 attacks on German positions in and around the ruins of Pozieres.

Although the British and Australian artillery were no match for the German artillery and machine guns, despite that, they held their positions and subsequently held Pozieres at great cost. The Australians suffered 23,000 casualties while advancing only two kilometres.

Australian official historian Charles Bean  declared that the Pozières Ridge ..” is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”- Charles Bean

 

Story ©Vance Kelly 2016

Sources: AWM, NLA, NAA, Manly Library