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.
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.
Published The Bathurst times Friday 20th October 1916
To the long list of brave men who have offered their lives for the Empire is Lieutenant Ewen Lord Macpherson, a grandson of the late Mr. Randolph Machattie , who was in the landing at Gallipoli Peninsula, and having been invalided to England rejoined the army at Ypres recently with a commission in the Royal Field Artillery. This young officer lost his life on the 10th of August in the heavy fighting that took place near Ypres— and the following letter from the officer commanding his brigade has been received buy his parents.
” I am writing to offer you the sincerest sympathy of myself and every officer and man of tho RFA, at the death of your very gallant son, Ewen Macpherson. He was very badly hit about 4 p.m. on the 10th. inst. trying to get his men under cover; we were being heavily shelled at the time. He was carried to a trench nearby, but a heavy shell fell immediately after, killing him and the three officers who were assisting him. Although your son has only been with us three months he very easily made a name among us for fearlessness and throughout the rather heavy fighting in the Ypres salient, bore himself with great gallantry, and I had made a note of his name for recommondation for the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to. duty. We buried him the same evening in a cemetery in the valley, a chaplain of the Australian forces reading the burial service. Believe me, your sincerely,
J. D. SHERER, Lieut. Colonel, 5th Brigade, R.F.A., Lehore Artillery, B.E.F
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
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
150 Leslie Richard Cridland was a 22 years old carpenter and a well known St. Stephens Club footballer from Lidcombe, Sydney.
Prior to the Gallipoli landing Leslie or Richard as he was also known, was one of twenty original sappers selected and trained in demolition work. On board a troopship with a number of naval marines, these sappers were involved in the historic mission to “Force the Narrows” of the Dardanelles on March 18th 1915.
The Allied naval fleet had an ambitious plan to force their way through the Turkish straits known as the Dardanelles and onward to conquer Constantinople. This campaign was hampered by the Turkish artillery defences and the 2 kilometre wide section of the Dardanelles channel known as the”The Narrows” which was riddled with mines.
After the fleet had destroyed the forts guarding the outer entrance to the Dardanelles, Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale, the next phase was the bombardment of the Turkish forts guarding “The Narrows”. Unsuccessful attempts to clear Turkish minefields which were also guarded by well concealed forts and mobile artillery batteries led to fierce artillery duels between the Turks and the Allies culminating in an unsuccessful attack and the failure of the Allied Fleet to “Force The Narrows”.
The mission was abandoned when the two British battleships HMS “Ocean” and “Irresistible” and the French battleship Bouvet were lost . Leslie gives a rare and personal account of this historic attempt which was later published in the ‘Evening News’ Sydney.
Twenty Australian sappers were taken on board the troopship at Lemnos Island, and in company with a number of marines received special training in demolition work. The object was to land the men at the entrance of the Dardanelles, after the naval guns had wrecked the forts of Chanak and Seddal Bahr to complete the work of destruction.
Sapper R Cridland of Lidcombe was one of the men picked and was a witness of the historic attempt to force the narrows which resulted in the loss of HMS Irresistible and Ocean, and the subsequent abandonment of the idea that the Dardanelles could be forced by naval units alone.
Writing from Manchester Hospital, he said:
“We left for the Dardanelles on March 8 and arrived off Tenedos island at 10.30 am. The island had now been transformed into a naval base for the allied fleet. Here we witnessed a wonderful sight. The fleet of warships – sit ready for action, was a grim picture. Between them dashed destroyers of all size, and nearby was a fleet of trawlers that had been engaged in this risky work of clearing the straits of floating mines. The aeroplane ship Ark Royal with its hydroplanes on deck was an interesting sight.
Our ship then proceeded to Rabbit island and from here we could see into the Dardanelles and with the aid of glasses watch events up as far as the narrows. We had arrived just in time to see the first division commence the bombardment. Led by the battleship it steamed towards the entrance and fired a couple of well-directed shells against the ruined forts of Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale This precaution was taken in case the Turks had brought up new guns during the night. The firing of these shells was the signal for the bombardment to commencement. Receiving no reply from the forts the division dashed into the straights keeping up a heavy fire and was met by a torrent of missiles from the enemy’s concealed batteries. But practically no damage was done by the guns. It was the floating mines that caused trouble. Even though the trawlers had cleared the straights, the Turks directed by German officers floated a number of mines down the Narrows and about 20 minutes before the bombardment commenced.
The Queen Elizabeth standing well out to sea, kept firing her huge 15” guns. And when she spoke it was always directed against some big object of the enemy’s. I witnessed the explosion of two magazines- one at Chanak and the other at Kilid Bahr. The magazines when exploded caused huge columns of smoke to rise hundreds of feet in the air. During the day the British Ships, ‘OCEAN’ and ‘IRRESISTIBLE’ and the French ‘BOUVET’ were sunk ,though the ‘GAULOIS’ was badly hit she was beached on a small island about 60 yards from where were stationed.
“This day proved the most disastrous to the allied fleet since the attempt to force the Dardanelles began and at 8 o’clock the same night our troopship left Tenedos and made back to Lemnos Island. The proposed demolition work was abandoned which as it turned out subsequently was a very good thing for us sappers” – Leslie Cridland
19 year old driver 16 Marcus Clarkalso gave a brief account of the sappers first foray into battle in his letter home in May 1915, he reported how88 Bill Casburn was also one of the sappers selected for the mission.
“Two French and one English cruiser went down in the Dardanelles on the 18th March. Twenty one of our boys were up there that day, W. Casburn among them. They went up there to blow up a fort that was supposed to be silenced, but when they got there, it was one of the most active and they could not land.”– Marcus Clark
Sapper 88 Bill Casburn, writing from the trenches at Gallipoli described his experience as one of the engineers selected for the mission. The following extract from one of Bill’s letter home was published in the Sydney ‘Sun Newspaper’ on Tuesday 21st September 1915.
“After leaving Lemnos Island 20 men, including myself, were picked from the 1st Field Company Engineers as a demolition party to assist the Royal Marines in demolishing the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. We saw the combined British and French fleets bombard the outer and inner forts. It was a magnificent sight to see the big battleships In action. When the Queen Elizabeth fired her 151n. guns everything shook for miles around— even the ship we were on shook like a rowing boat.
Soon villages and forts were on fire as far as the eye could see.”- Bill Casburn