John Thurlby was an honest hard working man. A young man who left his remaining family in England in 1910 to explore new opportunities in Australia and like so many young men of the time would later join the Australian Imperial Forces to fight in the great war.
A clean military record as a Driver with the 1st Field Company Engineers and later duly promoted. His life was cut short not by his engagement in the theatre of war, but by misfortune.
On this day we remember original 169 John Thurlby who tragically died on the 20th October 1916.
164 James Page was born in Springston, New Zealand in 1886 to William Thomas Page and Margaret nee Delahunty. James had served 1 ½ years in the Canterbury mounted rifles before arriving in Australia in January 1910 and started working for the NSW Railways, his war record showing he was a union member.
Shortly after arriving James had met and married Gertrude Alice Ryan in Sydney in 1911 . Gertrude was born in 1882 in Forbes, New South Wales and in 1907 gave birth to a daughter Hope Merea Ryan and the father was declared unknown. When she married James, he adopted Hope.
James and Gertrude later also had a son together, Neville John was born on 12th July 1914 . Five weeks later his father enlisted on the 19th August 1914.
Jim as he became known by his fellow engineers enlisted as a driver and embarked on the Afric on the 18th October 1914, his signature appears ( 2nd top left) on the John Hoey Moore postcard recording many other originals in the company that shared the journey.
As a driver Jim was stationed off shore during the Gallipoli landing. “The Short Account” of the formation of the 1st FCE explains how the “drivers of the company could not land their horses on the Peninsular they returned to Egypt and were encamped at mex near Alexandria during the whole of the occupation of Gallipoli”.
James during his time in Egypt had one minor indiscretion and was found in Alexandria on leave without a pass and was fined 3 days pay.
On the 16th December 1915 the Drivers arrived at Zeitoun Camp near Heliopolis, Cairo. On the 21st the drivers together with 9th and 11th reinforcements entrained for Tel-el-Kebir.
On the 28th March 1916 James and the 1st FCE embarked for France and the western front and later in June 1916 James was remustered as a sapper.
In September 1916 the 1st FCE were stationed at Ypres and relieved the Canadians on this sector. Major Richard Dyer reported that the “trenches were in a shocking condition, no work appears to have been done for some time, the mud in some places being two feet deep”
It wasn’t long before the men of the 1st FCE were busy revetting, duck-boarding and reclaiming many of the trenches despite continued poor weather and enemy bombardments.
The poor weather continued and on the 20th September work was delayed by rain and enemy snipers who were particularly active, forced the working party that James Page was attached, to “seek cover on many occasions”.
The following day the men pushed on determined to reclaim the trenches before the winter set in. On this day the 21st September 1916 James Page was fatally wounded by a sniper.
The company war diary confirmed that James had been sniped through a sandbag and killed by a gun shot wound to the forehead .
“A careful reliable witness” Sapper Willock also gave his account of Jim’s death, however his mention of James having seven children was doubtful.
There had been some confusion over the final resting place of James and in 1921 it was finally confirmed that his burial was actually at the Railway dugout burial ground. ( grave 27 Row N Plot 6) Zillebeke , Belgium approx 1 ½ miles south, south east of Ypres.
In July 1917 a plea to obtain his wallet containing photos was made to base war records. This wallet must have been of considerable sentimental value and Gertrude perhaps still too grief stricken to write herself, had a good friend Mr R Bowmaker write to the war office on her behalf . He also made inquiries regarding a gunners certificate stating that James had written to his wife and told her he had successfully passed the examination for 1st class gunnery instructor
A month later in August 1917, James Page personal effects were returned home to his wife Gertrude. A machine gunners certificate was included in his effects, a testament and a copy of the Gospel showed that he was a god fairing man and a small collection of personal items such as his hair brush, razor, photos, letters, a note book and what was described as a linen case….. perhaps this linen case was the wallet so treasured by his loving wife.
Hopefully his memory lives on with the possibility of his son and daughter both having married and perhaps having children of their own.
William Patrick Allan (Whelan) was the mischievous type , perhaps a well liked trouble maker, a bit of a modern day larrikin.
His trouble making behaviour was probably always expected by his officers but was never overlooked or went unpunished, however persistent. None the less his superiors must have always seen the soldier in William.
In his final moments as an original with the 1st FCE he demonstrated the bravery and courage that proved his true soldiering spirit.
William made the ultimate sacrifice at the “Battle of Pozieres” attempting to save a mate.
“everyone said he ought to get the V.C . he went out in the very thick of the firing”
William Whelan served as William Allan and will always be remembered for his bravery, and courage. Missing from the 23rd of July, officially it was recorded he was killed in action on this day 25th July 1915.
Scott Wilson, fellow writer, and researcher has kindly shared his story written about “original” 139 James Albert Pasfield.
Scott details the circumstance of how he came to write about James Pasfield and brings his story back to life.
“In late 2014 I had a story published that I had written about 160 Driver Percy Thompson’s experiences around the Ypres Salient in late 1917. Shortly afterwards I was contacted by Greg Pasfield, a grandson of 139 Sergeant James Albert Pasfield. Greg told me of his grandfather and two uncles who had all served with the 1st field Company Engineers during the course of the war.
Later Greg supplied many photos of the brothers and other details and I agreed to write about their experiences during the war. The stories that follow are a record of their service during the war and I would like to thank Greg for the use of photographs and other information.” – Scott Wilson
Photo of 85 John Ashton property of Joyce Anderson – Article published by Noosa Today – see link to original article below.
85 John “Jack” Gilbert Ashton
85 John Gilbert Ashton was a 29 year old bricklayer, a native of Lincolnshire England. His mother was Sarah Ashton (nee Hutton), his father, Benjamin was a building contractor, and John was his apprentice. There were opportunities for skilled builders and bricklayers in Australia in the 1900’s, the lure for John may have been good pay for his skill and a new life in Australia.
John was with the other sappers as ‘dawn landers’at Gallipoli and lost his best friend “nugget” and a few good mates on that day. John was active at Gallipoli up to and including the Battle of Lone Pine and the assault on the German officers trench.
From the 6th to the 10th August, John spent a few long days and nights with fellow sappers during the ‘Battle ofLone Pine’ and may have been too close to the constant shelling for long periods, or was even a victim of a close call from an exploding shell. This often left survivors shocked and suffering deafness for extended periods of time.
John Ashton was suffering from deafness in both ears and his condition never quite improved and while not one hundred percent fit to return to active service in the field, he remained for two years attached to the permanent staff company at Perham Downs England and was promoted to temp. Sergeant.
John’s deafness continued and like many before him suffering a similar debility, he eventually returned home to Australia on the “Runic” in Feb. 1918 and was later medically discharged on 16.4.18
John had fought as an ANZAC and after the war returned to Australia, returned to his trade and married.
John and his wife Edith had two children, Joyce and Frederick.
John was a member of the 1st FCE Re-Union Association which was established in 1922 by the originals. He was an active and esteemed member and no doubt maintained his friendships with many of the surviving “originals”.
Sadly John died in 1954 in his home at Birrong and Edith his loving wife died just four weeks later.
The following notices were published in the Sydney Morning Herald Notice – published
A I F 1914- 18 Reunion Assn – The Members of the above Assn are invited to attend the Funeral of their late esteemed Member JOHN GILBERT ASHTON For further particulars see family notice Wednesday’s Herald
H A MURRAY Pres NORMAN H JARVIS Hon Secy
Family Notices published…..
ASHTON, Edith Harriet. -June 13, 1954, at hospital, of 28 Stephenson Street, Birrong, adored wife of the late John Gilbert Ashton, loving mother of Joyce and Eric (Fred). Privately cremated 15th June.
ASHTON John Gilbert -May l8 1954 at his residence 23 Stephenson Street Birrong dearly beloved husband of Edith Ashton and loved father of Joyce and of Frederick (Eric) and loved brother of Mary and Hubert aged 68 years
85 John Jack Gilbert Ashton was honoured and remembered on the centenary year by his daughter Joyce Anderson and a tribute in the ‘NoosaToday’ and a story by Katie De Verteuil.
The article is available to view and download, please follow the link below and enjoy the story of her brave father.
One of the youngest to volunteer was 19 year old 16 Marcus Adamson Clark, another strapping young fellow from country Narandera. He was a blacksmith and farrier and at 5 ft 10” and 12 stone he was one of the youngest and fittest in the company. He also couldn’t wait to get on a horse and get to Sydney as quickly as possible to enlist as he enlisted on the 1st day and was assigned service number 16.
Marcus was also a skilled Horseman and was featured in the Sydney Mail in January 1916.
Marcus Clark’s story is available and offers some insights into the driver’s of the 1st FCE.