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

REMEMBERING – 106 Frank Rochester

Searching for a Portrait
Searching for a Portrait

 

106 Lieut. Frank Rochester

Frank Rochester was born in 1888 in Durham England, to parents John William Rochester and Marion Pringle Rochester, nee Purvis.
At age 17 Frank started work as an apprentice blacksmith at the same local Colliery as his father. Franks younger brother John Rochester was an engine fitter and iron worker and they also had two sisters Mary and Marion.
After five years blacksmithing Frank decided to take a new path and on the 16th February 1912 Frank departed from London on the “Osterley” and immigrated to Australia originally disembarking in Adelaide and later making his way to New South Wales.
Frank enlisted with the 1st Field Engineers Co. on the 19th August 1914 and on October 18th he embarked with his fellow originals on the HMAT Afric, his autograph on the original postcard that belonged to original 101 John Hoey Moore.

Signatures of originals hmats-afric.jpg enhanced
Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

Shortly after his arrival at Egypt he was appointed Lance Corporal on the 8th March 1915.
At Gallipoli, Frank was an original dawn lander and after 3 months he was promoted to 2nd Corporal.
He was also one of the rare individuals who served continuously at Gallipoli and during preparations for the planned evacuation on the 11th December he ruptured his knee-joint cartilage.

Lemnos Hospital
Lemnos Hospital – courtesy of ThruTheseLines

He was later treated at Mudros hospital, recovered and was promoted to Corporal before rejoining the unit in time to embark back to Alexandria, Egypt.
On the 21st March 1916 he embarked with the unit for Marseilles, and served in Sailly France and was promoted to Sergeant on 9th August 1916.
In December of 1916 Frank was detached from his unit and along with his mate 230 Robert Osborne Wrightson Earle returned to Newark in England and attended Engineering Training School and on completion was appointed his commission as 2nd Lieutenant.
In July 1917, like many of the originals, Frank prepared his final “Will and Testament” and his good friend 230 Robert ‘Ossie’ Earle, a draughtsman from Leeton was a witness to his statement.

will

Frank returned to France and the 1st FCE in December of 1918. A few weeks later he was promoted to full Lieutenant on the 31st January 1918.
“ In April 1918 the 1st FCE had left Amiens and were disentrained at Hondeghem near Hazebrouck and marched to Borre. The Germans had broken through the Portuguese sector and the 1st Division had been ordered back to stop the enemy’s further advance and which the company duly accomplished.” – source :- A Short Account of the Formation of the 1st FCE- 1914 – 1918
On the 13th April the company was billeted at Pradelles and on the 17th April “they were shelled out of their billets.” Around this same time fellow original 180 Clyffe Bailey is wounded, a shell wound causing severe injuries to his right leg which is later amputated.
On the 23rd April 1918, Lieutenant Frank Rochester was in charge of certain road mines which were being laid across roads and at strategic points. The mines were then meant to be blown at the last minute in the event of the allied forces having to fall back. The road would then be blocked to enemy guns and transport.
About midday in company with 6989 Lance Cpl. Russell Robson of his section, were testing the electric fuses of some of these mines in Strazeele. He and Robson had just completed tests and then made their way back through the main streets of Strazeele when a small enemy artillery shell burst immediately in front of them killing both men instantly. The bodies were discovered by a working party of the 1st FCE that followed shortly after and they took the mutilated bodies back to the company billets in Pradelles.

Postcard of Strazeele ruins
Postcard of Strazeele ruins

Frank Rochester and Russell Robson were buried side by side at the Borre Military Cemetery the following day, a Padre officiated and most of the officers and men of the unit were present at the graveside, erecting the cross they had made and a white picket and chain fence surrounding the plots. For the 1st FCE this was a rare opportunity to prepare and attend an official burial.
By this stage of the war they were use to seeing death and devastation each day, but to have some time out to pay their respects to their mates was a special moment that they took very seriously.
The originals would have had memories of their first weeks back at Moore Park, Sydney and their first military burial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney before they left in 1914.
Nearly four years had passed when they lost their first original 126 Ernest Cotterell and paid him the same honour and respect they had just paid to Lieut. Frank Rochester and L. Cpl Russell Robson.

The Borre Military Cemetery is the final resting place for 235 Australian soldiers… including 106 Lieut. Frank Rochester and Lance Cpl Russell Robson M.M . They are buried side by side.
In 1919 on the anniversary of Frank Rochester’s death, the Sydney Morning Herald coincidently published memorial notices for both Frank and Russell…once again side by side…. and it also appears that Frank may have had a sweetheart in Australia.
“ROBSON. – In loving remembrance of Russell Dunsmore Robson. M M. of First Field Company Engineers, A. I. F., killed April 23, 1918, at Strazeele, aged 20½ years.
ROCHESTER -In loving memory of Lieut Frank Rochester. Killed in action, April 23. 1918, after 3 years and 8 months faithful service. An Anzac.
Greater love hath no man than this. Dearly loved friend of Gladys Dawson”. – SMH 23rd April 1919
Frank Rochester’s name is located at panel 24 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial (as indicated by the poppy on the plan below).

panel 24 AWM

Frank Rochester’s name will be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory on:
• Wed 18 April 2018 at 7:35pm
• Sat 02 June 2018 at 5:55am
• Sat 14 July 2018 at 4:37am
• Tue 28 August 2018 at 7:08pm
• Sat 20 October 2018 at 10:21pm

Story ©VanceKelly2017
Sources:
AWM, NAA, NLA, CWGC
Acknowledgments:
Original Afric postcard and Sphinx photos – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

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 

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 

The Battle of Pozieres 1916

awm-ez0097

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sphinx Photo

 

SPHINX Sappers Photo
The men of the 1st Field Company Engineers – Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

While camped in Egypt during the early months of 1915, the men of the 1st FCE were tourists as well as soldiers, most of them having left the shores of Australia for the first time and very likely, none of them having ever seen the likes of ancient Egypt.

Cpl 132 Alexander McDonald  was very excited about touring the sights and wrote a letter to his brother Michael and in detail described the splendid  Pyramids, temples and of course the Sphinx of Cheops.

His letter was one of the earliest letters from the 1st FCE published.

“We (1st Engineers) got photoed today at the Sphinx, horses and all. I am the highest one in the picture. Pathe Freres moving picture man was busy taking our camp all day a few days ago, and I suppose the pictures will be out with you soon.” –  132 Alexander J McDonald

 

Ex-Woodburnite at the Front.

LETTER FROM EGYPT.

Published Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday 5 February 1915

Sergeant A. J. McDonald, 1st Engineers, writing from Egypt to his brother,: Mr. M. McDonald, of South Woodburn,

” on 18th’ December, Sergeant McDonald says: — We went on a route march today, around the Pyramids, just at dawn, and the fog was very thick. We proceeded to the Sphinx, and I can tell you its a great piece of work. Cut out of a great, rock, the head is about 15 feet square, so it must have taken some time to carve. We next went to the Temple. This is a wonderful piece of work, and was covered in sand for about 2000 years. It was excavated a great while ago. You get into it by a tunnel. It is built of a greenish pink granite, and of great size.  I suppose every piece is 50 tons weight, and all beautifully polished 4000 years B.C., still the polish is just splendid yet. You can see it is very old and all the top is of alabaster, with some granite tiles. Some of the tiles in the roof are 26 feet, long, and 10 feet, wide, by 3ft. thick. We then went about 5 miles across the Desert to another place excavated by an American syndicate two years ago. You go down a steep incline to a great depth, and find yourself in a big chamber. The floor is of greenish pink granite paves. We measured them— 10ft. x 10ft. x 10ft, 100 tons each, and all perfectly square and polished. But the best I ever saw is the tomb of the King who reined 4000 B.C  named Clieesir (or something like that.) It is just beautiful, and I don’t think could be made in this age.

We took all the measurements and they were exact, The tomb was made out of one stone (granite), and brought 500 miles down the Nile. These objects are miles away from the Nile, so how did they get them here? And how did they lower the immense blocks down to this depth?  It beats all present day science. The Pyramids are about 350 yards each angle, and about 1500 yards in circumference. There are two large ones, and some smaller ones. They are 451 feet high, and coming to a point at an angle of about 45 degrees.  Some of the stones are 100 feet from the ground, are 76 feet long, and 10ft x 10ft, so how did they get them there? It beats creation. I have not yet been inside them, but I will tell you at a later date what it is like there.

Its proclamation day today, and the ceremonial part takes place on Sunday, when Cairo will have 50,000 troops participating in the function. Egypt is going to be a British protectorate after this. We might go to France in two months, if things are quiet here, and I hope we do, as it is nothing but sand here — hills and dales and everything, barring the Nile valley. It’s just starting to get hot, and the sand makes it ten times worse.

We (1st Engineers) got photoed today at the Sphinx, horses and all. I am the highest, one in the picture. Pathe Freres moving picture man was busy taking our camp all day a few days ago, and I suppose the pictures will be out with you soon.”–  Source: nla.news-article125934877 -Published Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday 5 February 1915

We remain uncertain if Alexander McDonald is on the left or right at the highest point on the Sphinx, either way he is certainly among his mates from the 1st Field Company Engineers and the sphinx photo will always remain a historic and lasting memory of this unique company of men.

Alexander may never have seen this photo, sadly he died from wounds he sustained on landing day at Gallipoli, his own story linked here.

Clearly identified in the sphinx photo are the officers of the company in front standing aside their horses and the local guide seated.

 

The Officers SPHINX Sappers Photo enhanced
Front row L – R – 1st FCE Officers – Biden, Dyer, Mather, Corlette, McCall, Huntley

Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

 

 

Acknowledgements:

A special thank you to Jack Moore  for providing a digitised photo of the 1st FCE. This is owned by Jack Moore son of 101 John Hoey Moore DCM who has kindly granted permission to use this photo.

Photo of  132 Alexander Joseph McDonald -This photo is owned by the descendants of Alexander Joseph McDonald, Mr Ian McDonald, descendant of Michael McDonald, Alexander’s brother and is published with their kind permission – Photo presented courtesy of Mr Ian McDonald and Diane Hewson