22nd May 1918 -Remembering Alexander Finnie

P07219.001 20 Alexander Finnie
20 Alexander Finnie

20 Alexander Finnie

Alexander Finnie was a 21 year old sheet metal worker and employed by the Randwick Tramway department. His proud parents living at Botany were Alexander James and Ida Jane (nee Bullock). Alexander also had an older sister who unfortunately died in 1911.
Alex served almost 3 years in the 1st Field Company Engineers and had a long stay at Gallipoli up to the 18th August. A near miss from a shell blast and gas poisoning meant that he was transferred to hospital in Alexandria, very sick and suffering from deafness. Like many others Alex was keen to recover and get back into the fray, and he did, but this time he would do it from the sky as a flying officer.
Alex had transferred to Flying school in England and graduated as a flying officer and was appointed 2nd Lieut. and posted to the Australian Flying Corp.

Now wearing his wings he proceeded overseas to France and reported for duty with the No 4 Squadron AFC, the last squadron to be formed during the first World War.
The 4th Squadron had arrived in France in December 1917 and established itself at Bruay France and operated in support of the British 1st Army, undertaking offensive patrols and escorting reconnaissance machines.

Sopwith Camels No 4 Squadron AFC -France 24 March 1918 - AWM-24-march-1918-awm
Sopwith Camels No 4 Squadron AFC -France 24 March 1918 – AWM

Towards the end of February 1918 the squadron was made up of 24 flying machines, considerably enhancing its capacity for offensive operations.
March 1918 saw an increase in the 4th squadron’s ground attacks and offensive patrols, including a notable engagement with elements of Manfred von Richthofen’s “Flying Circus” on 21 March, during which five enemy machines were downed in an attack led by Captain Arthur Henry Cobby , who would become the AFC’s number one flying ace .
No. 4 Squadron claimed more “kills” than any other AFC unit, 199 enemy aircraft destroyed and 33 enemy balloons were destroyed or driven down.

Capt_A_H_Cobby_DSO_DFC

Cpt Arthur Henry Cobby – DSO, DFC

In May of 1918 the Squadron had moved from Bruay to Clairmarais North and the 4th squadron was heavily involved in strafing and bombing operations in support of the retreating Allied ground forces.
On the 22nd May 1918 Lieut. Finnie was on his usual offensive and balloon patrol in his Sopwith Camel No. D1924. Enemy observation balloons were stationed thousands of feet in the air and tethered to the ground and fiercely protected by machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery known as “Archie”.
Even with incendiary bullets the gas in the balloons was hard to ignite and downing a balloon took a lot of shooting while running a gauntlet of ground-fire and keeping a sharp eye out for enemy scouts trying to protect the balloons.
On this day while diving and firing on enemy balloons Lieut. Alex Finnie collided with fellow flyer Lieut.G Nowland. They both spun to the ground five miles over enemy lines, their planes falling to pieces as they crashed to the ground at Neuf Berquin and both men were killed.
The following eye witness accounts describe the action that saw Alexander Finnie meet his end.
“ We were firing on enemy balloons. I was flying with him and saw him go down. He collided with another chap and they both fell from about 10,000 ft over the German lines. I should certainly say there was little hope of his being alive. I wrote to his people.”
Informant – F/Lieut R.C Nelson 4th Squadron A.F.C
“I knew Lieutenant Finnie in the Squadron. I saw him killed on the 22nd May 1918. The Squadron was then engaged in an offensive patrol near Estaires. I saw Lieutenant Finnie and Lieutenant Nowland attack a German captive balloon. Their machines collided and Lieutenant Finnie’s machine fell. “
Informant – Captain Roy King 4th Squadron A.F.C

Alex Finnie flight record

Alexander Finnie’s last flight record.

Alexander’s father was notified in 1921 that his son Alex Finnie was exhumed and later reburied in an Imperial War grave at Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery (Plot II, Row F, Grave No. 19), La Gorque, France.

Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery La Gorque France
Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery La Gorque France

On this day we also remember and pay tribute to Alexander’s flying mate Lieut. George Nowland who also died in the tragic accident.

Alexander’s page is now available and will continue to be updated ……………………….

Read More – clink on this link

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Remembering 231- Frank Somers

231 Frank Somer portrait
231 Francis Patrick Somers

231 Francis Patrick Somers

Frank had just started out as an amateur Boxer, and then the war changed all of that.
Frances Patrick Somers was born in the small country town of Tenterfield, New South Wales in 1886 to parents Michael and Mary Somers. By adulthood Frank had moved to Sydney and was living at Redfern and worked as a labourer with the NSW Railway Department at the Everleigh Workshops.
In December of 1913 Frank made his debut as a featherweight boxer on the local Sydney scene. He planned a boxing career and went by the name of Patrick Summers and quickly became well known among followers of the sport of pugilism.

Berrima Reinforcements embarkation

When war broke out, Frank enlisted as a Driver with the 1st Field Company Engineers 1st Reinforcements on the 4th September 1914. He later embarked from Victoria with just 22 other men that made up the 1st Reinforcements on the HMT Berrima on the 22 December 1914.

 

H.M.T Berrima A02221
H.M.T Berrima – A02221 – AWM

Shortly after arrival in Egypt the reinforcements were all transferred to the 1st FCE and allotted new service numbers.
For many of the drivers not attached to the landing party at Gallipoli, many were attached to a mounted division awaiting to land with their horses, however this never eventuated and the drivers along with the horses later returned to Mena camp In Egypt.

Frank gave a brief account of his time in Egypt and his obvious love of boxing in a letter to  journalist W.F Corbett who contributed a regular article in the Sydney ‘Arrow’ often titled “GLEANINGS FROM THE WORLD OF PUGILSIM”.

Boxing Article

On the 13th June his service record with the 1st FCE was cut short when he was admitted to hospital with venereal disease and transferred to the Abyssinia General hospital. He then embarked from the Suez for Australia on the Hospital Ship Ballarat on the 5th July 1915 landing back in Australia on the 6th August. Later in the month he was A.W.L and was struck off strength from the A.I.F.
In the very early stage of the war, the stigma attached to venereal disease was detrimental to both the soldier and the reputation of the Australian Imperial Forces and efforts were made to keep the truth of this illness quiet and many of the VD cases were described as “sick enteric”. This standard was maintained for the duration of the war and many severe VD cases returning to Australia were hospitalised at Langwarren Venereal Diseases Hospital in Victoria. Once the soldier fully recovered, he returned to active service.

AWM-Langwarren Camp -Venereal Hospital
AWM-Langwarren Camp -Venereal Hospital

Frank’s disappearance however remains a mystery until the 23rd September 1915, but still in Victoria, he re-enlisted, this time using his boxing identity Patrick Summers as an alias.
He enlisted with the 3/51st Battalion as Private No. 1953 and spending a few months at Broadmeadows Camp in Victoria, the battalion later embarked from Fremantle in July 1916.
While on board the troop ship, Frank now known as Patrick, was promoted to Lance Corporal shortly before disembarking in Plymouth England. A few short months in England and the battalion made its way to France .
In February 1917 he was congratulated for his excellent results achieved at the Anzac Corp school in France. Four weeks later he reverted back to Private and spent almost 12 months continuous service in the field.
Early in 1917, the 51st Battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. On 2 April it attacked at Noreuil, a village which had been fortified to delay the Australian advance.
With the collapse of Russia in October 1917, a major German offensive on the Western Front was expected in early 1918. This occurred in France in late March and the 4th Division moved to defend positions around Dernancourt on the River Ancre. The 51st Battalion assisted in the repulse of a large German attack on 5 April, launching a critical counter-attack late in the day.
The German threat remained until late April, and in the early hours of ANZAC Day 1918 the 51st Battalion participated in the now legendary attack to dislodge the enemy from Villers-Bretonneux.
Frank Somers was killed in action on this day, Anzac Day 1918, at the 2nd Battle for Villers-Brettoneux, France. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown.

His body was recovered and buried in a field of honour by the Reverend Chaplain Blackwood of the 13th Brigade. His remains were later exhumed and he was reburied at the Adelaide Military Cemetery Villers Bretonneux .

When news of Frank’s death filtered back home, journalist J.W Corbett made mention of Frank in “GLEANINGS FROM THE WORLD OF PUGILSIM”.

” Killed Sapper Frank Somers, whom boxing’s followers in Sydney knew as Pat Summers, was killed on Anzac Day in France, aged 33″. –  Arrow (Sydney, NSW Fri 21 Jun 1918 )

Francis Patrick Somers also has his name located at panel 154 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial (as indicated by the poppy on the plan).

AWM memorial panel

His name will also be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory on the following dates:
• Fri 20 April 2018 at 10:23pm
• Mon 04 June 2018 at 7:07pm
• Mon 16 July 2018 at 4:55am
• Thu 30 August 2018 at 9:38pm
• Tue 23 October 2018 at 8:42pm

Sources and Acknowledgments :
AWM, NAA, NLA

Family Notes:

Sister Elizabeth Alice Somers married John Newnham in 1905 – she died in 1938.
Twin brother Patrick Martin Somers or Patrick Thomas Somers b.1886 went by the name Joseph and enlisted AIF at Armidale. – died 1964 Queensland
Brother William Joseph Somers b. 1891 (served AIF Ambulance) ( spent a troubled youth and ended up on the Sobroan – his parents were noted on file as respectable). He also enlisted in WW1 served from 1916 on the Nursing staff throughout France was wounded and returned in 1919. He died Sept 1942.

 

126 Ernest Cotterell

 

With the passing of time, memories fade and stories are forgotten, but the modern world and the vast network of information and technology that surrounds us, has helped to rediscover our history and bring new life to many personal stories.

Archiving the stories of the brave men of the 1st FCE has been a fabulous journey and it continues to reveal unexpected as well as new and exciting information.

The search for portraits of each member of the 1st Field Company Engineers whilst initially seemingly impossible, has proven to be very successful to date.

One such portrait which has come to hand was passed on courtesy of Christopher Sykes the great nephew of sapper 126 Ernest Cotterell.

The embarkation of the first Australian Imperial Forces had been delayed and rescheduled on more than one occasion and the level of anxiety among the men was noted by all ranks. Sadly for Ernest, the delay’s would fuel his own anxiety and mental suffering.

Six weeks after enlisting on the evening of the 5th October 1914 Ernest sustained a self inflicted gunshot to the head and he died instantly.

192 William Phillips mentioned in his diary the gloom that fell over the camp on news of the tragedy and briefly described the Military funeral of Sapper Cotterell. “Our boys marched to Waverley Cemetery behind gun-carriage with coffin. A fine procession, and touching ceremony.”

It is with many thanks to Christopher Sykes that the memory of both Ernest and his brother Frederick can be commemorated with the addition of their portraits.

Ernest’s story was published earlier…READ MORE 

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

20161102_130236
Original photo courtesy of Beverley Prior – family private collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

anzac-bulletin-28th-march-1917

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

1st-photo-of-1st-fce
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-

erecting-barricades-pic-1914

 – 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