192 William Phillips – portrait courtesy of Beverley Prior family collection
Original War Diary 1915 – courtesy of Beverley Prior family collection
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
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.Fairleyanother 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.
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.
– ON A PONTOON OF THEIR OWN CONSTRUCTION-
– 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.”
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.
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.
On the 4th of October1917 the 1st FCE helped to capture Passchendaele Ridge. They followed the second wave of the Infantry and when the ridge was captured the company proceeded to consolidate the position by forming a strong point.
At 1.30 in the afternoon a German aeroplane came over at a low altitude and had spied their position and turned back to inform the German batteries. The German batteries then opened fire and sent a salve into the company’s position on the ridge, a barrage of heavy shelling that lasted for the remainder of the day, ultimately at great cost to the “original” sappers and many others.
“……. I was wounded and buried alive as a shell exploded and the trench was blown upon us,…. but I was rescued before I was smothered”…. 167 Albert Currie
Albert’s good mates 66 Norman Masters and 99 John Jackson were by his side at the Ypres stunt and helped dig him out. Due to the quick actions of Masters and Jackson, Albert Currie was lucky enough not to be killed.
The 4th October 1917 was a day the “originals” would suffer their greatest losses since Gallipoli.
Three “original” sappers were killed on this day , 32 James Claude Nicholls, 119 William “Billy” Pitt, and 190 Jack Raymond Hollingworth.
It would also be a day remembered for their “Bravery In The Field” and six “originals” received the Military Medal,….. Albert was one of them.
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
Alexander Joseph McDonald -This photo is owned by the descendents 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
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.
Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
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