31st May 1918 – Remembering Norman Jack Niccol

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102 Norman Jack Niccol – Photo source; CSR A record of war Service of Members of the staff 1914 – 1918

102 Norman “Jack” John Niccol

Norman was born in Sydney in 1893 to parents Thomas and Lilian Niccol.  Along with his younger brother Thomas Roy Niccol they originally lived at Leichhardt on the fringe of  the city of Sydney.

By the age of twenty Norman had completed his electrical apprenticeship while employed with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company for 4 years .

In 1914 he enlisted with the 1st Field Company Engineers as a Sapper.

On Sunday the 18th October 1914 the men of the First Field Company Engineers embarked for a seven week voyage at sea. A few false starts and weeks of delays, the loss of one of its original members and 8 weeks of training and finally the men were about to head off for the great adventure. The drum beat sounded – Reveille – at 5.00 a.m and the 1st FCE broke camp at Moore Park and marched to the trams to take them to the wharf at Woolloomooloo Bay. They were then taken by Ferry to board the troopship A19 – Afric.

The fading signature of Norman Niccol appears in the bottom left corner of the original postcard of the Afric belonging to fellow original 101 John Hoey Moore.

Coincidently John Moore and Norman Niccol had consecutive regiment numbers 101 and 102 respectively, so it very likely they were tent mates at Moore Park when they enlisted and in the same section of the 1st FCE.

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

Norman served continuously at Gallipoli until the evacuation, when he returned with the rest of the company to Alexandria, Egypt on the troopship Caledonia on the 27th December 1915.

Caledonia
While camped at Alexandria,  Norman was appointed lance corporal 22.1.1916 but was quickly reduced to rank of sapper after he was found guilty for disobeying the command of a senior officer and was absent without leave for 22 hrs.

In March 1916 Norman proceeded to France and then onwards with the 1st FCE to the western front.

On the 20th August 1916 he was wounded, an injury to his left hand. After a quick recovery he was granted leave and had taken only 3 days and rejoined the unit in the field where shortly after in September he was transferred to the No.4 A.D.S Col (Australian Division Supply Column) as a Driver.

On the 31st May 1918,  a number of ammunition lorries from the supply company that Norman was attached were parked at Allonville on the Somme, near Amiens. Two high explosive shells landed among the lorries  where Norman and his mate 5451 Roland Rose were sleeping. A shell fragment punctured the floor of the lorry and ripped through Normans legs. Roland Rose was not wounded and managed to drive Norman to the casualty clearing station all the while Norman was conscious and holding onto what remained of his severely injured legs.

Norman ‘s legs were amputated in an attempt to save his life , unfortunately later that evening Norman died from his wounds.

Norman’s service record shows he has the rare distinction of serving continuously in France from the 28th March 1916 to 31st May 1918 except for 3 days leave. Over 2 years at the front in any capacity was extraordinary.

Norman Jack Niccol was buried in a small British War cemetery in the town of Longueau which is situated on the south-eastern outskirts of Amiens, the cemetery located on the eastern side of the town.

Longueau British Cemetery was begun in April 1918, when the Allied line was re-established. The cemetery contains 204 First World War burials, 14 of which are unidentified.

Norman’s memory is honoured at the wall of remembrance in Canberra.

Norman Jack Niccol’s name will also be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on the following dates:

Thu 28 June 2018 at 7:23pm
Sat 11 August 2018 at 12:01am
Sat 29 September 2018 at 2:01am

AWM_canberra_1

Sources:

AWM, NLA

Original Postcard photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

Photo by Len @ findagrave.comuserprofile48488629

Photo source: CSR – A record of war service of members of the staff 1914 – 1918

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

Lieut. William Hay

HAY-William
23 Lieut. William Hay – photo image courtesy University of Sydney –

William Hay was a determined man,  his short and eventful life was full to the brim.

His personal story reads more like a colourful contemporary drama. Born into a hard working and ambitious family, educated at the University of Sydney, he inherited a small fortune from his father and shortly after enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces with the 1st Field Co. Engineers.

He served the entire war and survived but unfortunately his older brother did not, his brother, a pilot in the Royal Flying Corp and the only Australian shot down by the famous German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

William returned after the war to carve out a pastoral empire.  He married a well-known socialite, but he shunned the limelight.  A bitter divorce later ensued, but this did not prevent him from achieving his inherent destiny, but sadly the poisonous after effects of the Western Front ultimately took its toll and cut his life short.

Read more….CLICK HERE.

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 Phillips 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…………..

 

 

 

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-

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

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 169-John Thurlby

 

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 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.

His story is continued………please read more

 

 

 

Image: courtesy Revielle Magazine

Buried alive and saved by his mates

 

 

167 - Albert James Currie - MM (Photo courtesy of Beverly Prior Collection)
167 – Albert James Currie – MM (Photo courtesy of Beverly Prior Collection)
1st Battle Passchendaele  AWM E01200
Passchendaele  – 1st Battle 1917

 

On the 4th of October 1917 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.

167 Albert James CURRIE – MM

WW1 - Military Medal - For Bravery In the Field
WW1 – Military Medal – “For Bravery In the Field”

 

His personal story is available to read …….More about Albert  Currie – MM  –  Link to his page .

 

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