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, the sappers would then 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
Further reading of 101 John Moore (Anzac Jack) diaries reveals John Moore was also included in the mission and while lying wounded in a hospital bed in Malta, he writes a letter to his mother and gives his account of the “Narrows Mission”. He explains how the 20 men were transhipped from Mudros on the Cowder Castle. Pages 35 though to 39 give a brief account of the mission. Also on the mission was 30 Donald Asire Mackay.
The investigation into who the remaining men were, continues. These men also make up No.3 section of the 1st FCE.
249 Alan Alexander Wilson- Walker was born in 1893 in Woolhara Sydney, to parents Alexander Wilson and Edith Gertrude Wilson nee Cater. Alan had a younger brother William Douglas and two sisters Sylvia and Dora.
His father Alexander died in tragic circumstances in 1897 when Alan was just four years old.
Widowed and with four young children Edith later remarried in 1901 marrying prominent Sydney Chartered accountant and businessman Charles Alfred Le Maistre Walker. The children then adopted the extended family name of Wilson – Walker.
Edith and Charles would later also have two son’s from their marriage Charles and Theobald.
The Wilson-Walker family were at this time a very prominant family due largely to their father Charles who was a very successful man. He was senior partner of his own accounting firm C.A Le Mastrie Walker Son & Co. He was also a Director of John Shaw Aust Ltd, Director of Universal Land and Deposit Bank Ltd, a member of The Farmers Relief Board and the Government representative on the Egg Marketing Board of NSW.
Alan Wilson-Walker grew up in the family home “Coolagalla”, a grand home which still stands today on the corner of Station and Grandview street Pymble New South Wales.
Alan and his younger brother William both attended The Sydney Church of England Grammar School – today known as Shore school for boys in North Sydney and together they enjoyed golf with their stepfather as members of the Killara Golf club. The Killara golf club later becoming well known for replacing golf competitions with rifle shooting competitions in the spirit of encouraging recruitment rather than leisurely sporting pursuits during wartime.
Alan also had three years in the Scottish Rifles while also working as an electrical engineer for Warburton & Franki Ltd. prior to enlistment.
When war broke out in 1914, the war became a family affair for the Wilson- Walker’s in a very unique way. They were a family that together would make the ultimate personal sacrifice abroad and suffer great loss, but with unswerving dedication to the war effort at home, they made huge personal contributions to establish war funds, comfort funds and organisations in support of families and soldiers. They played a significant part in the Australian war time history at home, details that have been overlooked and never before been highlighted.
Alan was 21 when he enlisted as a sapper with the Imperial Expeditionary Forces. He was temporarily discharged possibly due to illness for a short time and was reinstated and placed with the 1st Reinforcements Field Coy. Engineers under Lieut. Bachtold on the 19th October 1914 and later embarked on the A35 Berrima and joined up with original members of the 1st FCE in Egypt.
His brother William Douglas Wilson-Walker, attended the University of Sydney, and became an Economics graduate perhaps planning on joining the family firm of C. A. Le Maistre Walker, Chartered Accountants, but the war interrupted any plans he may have had and he also enlisted in June 1915.
Meanwhile his parents Edith and Charles were also doing their bit for the war effort. Through his private firm of chartered accountants, Charles already connected to the most eminent citizens of New South Wales, put his position to extaordinary use.
Charles founded the Citizens War Chest Fund of NSW in 1914 and was Hon. Secretary for the duration of the War, he was also Hon. General Secretary of the Australian Comforts Fund 1916, he also organised the formation of the French Australian League of Help and organised the NSW Returned Soldiers Association in 1916.
Then in April of 1915 it was sapper Alan Alexander Wilson-Walker who would take the next step’s towards the making of Australian history.
Alan took part in the first landing at Gallipoli on the morning of 25th April and served up to 23rd July when suffering from Otitis, an acute middle ear infection, he was transferred to St Patricks military hospital in Malta.
Still unwell in September, he was eventually transferred to England and admitted to the 1st General hospital Birmingham.
During his time in recovery he took the opportunity to apply for an appointment in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) the air arm of the British Army during the First World War.
On December 6th 1915 he was discharged from the Australian forces and appointed to a commission in the Imperial Army Royal Flying Corp.
Original letter from Alan from Dover
Original letter from Alan from Dover
By January 20th 1916, Alan had qualified as an airman, flying a Maurice Farman Biplane and graduated from Brooklands with his Aeronautics certificate and was now Second Lieutenant No 13 Reserve Squadron Royal Flying Corps.
On March the 20th exactly two months after graduating, Alan was killed.
On the 24th the coroners findings confirmed “accidental death” and his funeral took place on the same day with full military honours.
The Dover Express reported the findings of the coroner and also reported on his funeral.
AUSTRALIAN FLYING OFFICER KILLED.
“The inquest on Lieut. A. Wilson Walker, who was killed near Dover in an aeroplane accident on Monday at 11.30 a.m., was held on Wednesday afternoon by the County Coroner (Mr. R. Mowll). The evidence was that the deceased officer was returning from a cross-country flight, and was seen near the Dover end of the Guston tunnel to be flying at a dangerously slow speed and then to turn. The machine sideslipped and nose-dived 1,500 feet, striking the ground and smashing to pieces. The deceased was found strapped in the machine dead, his spine being fractured, skull fractured, and both legs and one arm broken.
It was stated that he was an Australian, 22 years of age, and had served all through the Gallipoli affair, taking his ticket January 10th, and had done sixteen hours’ flying. The elevator, which was the only way of getting a machine out of a nose-dive, was in good order after the accident.
The Coroner expressed their sorrow at this gallant young officer’s death, and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.” – Source: – ‘ Dover Express ‘
Dover Express – Friday 24 March 1916
“FUNERAL OF LIEUT. A. A. WILSON-WALKER.The funeral took place, with full military honours, at St. James’s Cemetery, of Second Lieut. A. A. Wilson-Walker, Royal Flying Corps, who died on March 20th, at the age of 22 years. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. C. Haines, C.F.; and the band attendance was that of the 6th Royal Fusiliers. The mourners present were Mr. and Mrs. Muggleton, Mr. and Mrs. Theobald, and Mr. Keigwin. There were floral tributes from the officers of the R.F.C. (consisting of a large cross of white lillies 4ft. in length); warrant officers and sergeants, and from the corporals and air mechanics, R.F.C. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Flashman and Co., of Dover and Folkestone.”Source –Dover Express – Friday 24 March 1916.
During his time in England while preparing to be an aviator, Alan was having his correspondence sent to a C .Theobald Esq. at 11 Egerton Place London, possibly a relative of the Walkers in the UK. They were more than likely the same Mr.and Mrs Theobald who attended his funeral.
Four months later his brother 7162 William Douglas Wilson-Walker, also died from severe shrapnel wounds to his abdomen at Armentieres, France, on the 18th July 1916, aged 20 years. He had been a Gunner with the 110 Howitzer battery. The Rev. P Baker provided details to the Red Cross enquiry on the death of William.
William Wilson Walker Red Cross Files RCDIG1054629–1
A headstone had been placed in memory of both Alan and William in St.James cemetery, perhaps arranged by the Theobald family connection……it is showing some wear from 100 years of standing quietly, however it still reads well enough………….
Honoured and Loving Memory
Alan Alexander Wilson Walker 2nd Lieutenant RFC of Sydney, Australia, accidentally killed whilst flying at Dover 20th March 1916, aged 22 years. Listed in the Australian Imperial Force August 1914, took part in the first landing at Gallipoli 25th April 1915 and subsequently joined the RFC
per ardua ad astra
Also of William Douglas Wilson-Walker, Gunner, Australian Imperial Froce, brother of the above, who died of wounds at Armentieres, France, 18th July 1916, aged 20 years
“When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow these gave their today”
per ardua ad astra is latin for “Through adversity to the stars” or “Through struggle to the stars” and is the motto of the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces such as the RAAF, dating back to 1912 and used by the newly formed Royal Flying Corps.
The brothers were later memorialised back home in Australia, The Torch Bearer the magazine of The Sydney Church of England Grammar School reported in itsMay 1921 edition that the chapel had laid tablets in memory of Alan Alexander Wilson Walker, and William Douglas Wilson Walker.
Edith and her family would be shattered by the news, their hearts broken on two separate occasions within a four month period.
However Edith was quite a remarkable woman, and having been actively involved with the war effort at home, she was not going to let the tragic loss of both her son’s account for nothing or let the pain engulf her, she remained brave and stoic and in spite of the devastating setbacks to her family, she somehow found the strength to continue her extensive community work.
Husband Charles must have been a great support and was no doubt also a very influential partner. Edith and Charles together were a force that knew no bounds and after the war both continued there efforts in serving the community.
Edith was a remarkable woman and her sons although having died in the great war would have been as equally proud of her, as she was of them.
When Edith died in December 1935 her obituary and the list of mourners who attended her funeral reads like the who’s who of 1935. Family members of the retailer David Jones, distinguished members from the Arnotts family of Arnotts biscuits fame, Judges, lawyers, politicians, high profile property developers and prominent businessman of the time, all attended her funeral.
There was no doubt as to her popularity and the high esteem in which she was remembered.
Charles Alfred Le Maistre Walker for all his extraordinary charitable and humanitarian work was awarded an MBE in 1916, a CBE in 1920 and the Medaille de Roi Albert from Belgium.
158 James Johnston – Photo Courtesy Johnston Family Collection
The ‘Johnston’ Shower, made by the 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, July 1918. AWM4 14/20/43.
In the final year of the great war in France, a significant piece of engineering was designed for the welfare of the troops. It was designed and constructed by an ‘original’ from the 1st Field Company Engineers, a Scotsman who became an ANZAC legend.
He has been forever digitised in the war history books and made famous for all historians and followers of the 1st FCE to discover.
The Australian War Museum website has recognised the “Johnston” Shower invented by “original” 158 James Johnstonand today we celebrate his distinguished service and his story.
The men of the 1st Field Company Engineers – Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
AWM A02468 -Troops of the 11th Battalion and 1st Field Company Australian Engineers assembled on the forecastle of HMS London, part of the fleet which carried the Australians from Lemnos for the Gallipoli landing at Anzac Cove. HMS Bacchante is steaming ahead. Photo taken by Ashmead-Bartlett, Ellis
Gallipoli Landing – AWMJO3022
Courtesy – “Bob Lundy- Private Collection”
Group – Egypt Shoosmiith Family Private Collection
Big tent – courtesy “Bob Lundy Private Collection”
Trevor Lawton’s discovery decades ago of the ” FIRST ‘s “, challenged the war history books, and up against the heavyweights of Canberra, his research and the story of the men of the 1st Field Company Engineers fell on deaf ears. Trevor had “peaked too early” and his extensive research and his story has been patiently maturing like a good wine.
Now in the centenary years of ANZAC, that has all changed and Trevor’s early work and continued passionate campaign is not only welcomed but as he has so kindly stated, his work has found a home …”the ideal setting”.
Please read Trevor’s own story of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers. As he so fondly calls them the FIRST’S, he dedicates the opening chapters to the recognition of the Engineers both at ANZAC and the enormous work by the Engineers performed at Mudros before the landing campaign.
Trevor has no direct family connection to the men, and has no agenda other than being passionate about the truth, and that the fine men of this company be fully recognized and their true place in history is recorded.
He is a true campaigner. His story is rich with detail, it raises some intriguing questions and is enlightening. It gives great encouragement to continue to tell the story and share the lives of the men of the 1st Field Coy. Engineers AIF.
And as Trevor so simply states … it helps us continue to “join the dots”.
Trevor Lawton gives his own back story to his early discovery……..” Two letters to editor , Two buildings facing each other”
“So began my search to unravel the mystery of the presence of the engineers at the landing.
Sparked by the two letters I came across, more years ago than I care to remember. One misfiled at the Australian War Memorial, the other in a local paper both appearing early in WWI.
The other building, the (old) and (new) Parliament House where I worked for 20 years as a researcher and in management of Parliamentary Library….. when all was done without the aid of electronics, except ‘typing’…….only microform or hard copy. No button pressing, no instant answers. I took early retirement to spend hours of research on soldiers and their stories, not WW1 battles.
There were few answers to those intriguing letters till electronics delivered up Sapper diaries this century…I had ‘peaked’ too early before digitization’s of records…then came Vance’s website, the ideal setting for what follows…. I hope readers of his site will continue the quest to join the dots up….on the engineers’ story! In a previous life in a galaxy not so far away, but long long ago, I was a high school teacher, and later a research officer in Bureau of Agricultural Economics, hence my attention/ emphasis on “local”. There was little interest in such a story in the nation’s capital………” TWL. (Trevor Lawton)
THE LANDING 25 APRIL 1915 ANZAC COVE
REMEMBERING THE STILL OVERLOOKED FEW -THE ENGINEERS
NEW SOUTH WALES – WAS AT THE FOREFRONT.
William Echlin Turnley stood on the crowded deck of the troopship Afric peering intently into the harbour the ship convoy was entering. What he saw alarmed him. He with several thousand Australian and New Zealand troops of the First Contingent (my “First Fleet”) was now ending his voyage, the Sydney-Emden triumph still fresh in their minds. The convoy was not entering an English port as expected when leaving Sydney but Alexandria Harbour Egypt. There moored unhindered in front of him were some twenty four German merchant ships, two-thirds the number of ships the soldiers had travelled across the seas.
A very confronting close-up first exposure to the enemy. There was nothing he could do. (These ships were as yet idle; captured German prizes-of-war).
William Turnley could not know then that he as part of 1,500 Australian troops the first of any troops to land that fateful day, would be swapping the 36 or so troopships for 36 small rowboats heading pre-dawn towards another foreign shore…Gallipoli…Sunday 25 April 1915…Anzac Day. The 1,500 in the First Wave were part of a Covering Force of 4,000 men to prepare the way for 1 and 2 Brigades to land, in reverse order.
He later knew as a survivor, New South Wales was represented together with the “outer states” in that First Wave. When back home he would try to explain it was.
Today we still do not recognise NSW’s presence. He, Turnley would later realise he and his mates in the lead or at the forefront of the first to land rowed not into the history books but historical oblivion.
Very few of the NSW recruits actually perished early morning or that day. They have simply been overlooked then or forgotten since in the past 100 years. On landing their skills were not immediately needed, for what they expected was not there. Their other non-combatant skills were needed: these too have been largely overlooked.
WHY GALLIPOLI ?
As part of General Sir Ian Hamilton’s “rapid flinging”of troops ashore at the Gallipoli peninsula that day to try to free up access to Russia, 1,500 Australian soldiers from the so-called 6 infantry companies (Coys) made the first landing that day. They landed at only one of the six beaches chosen by him. Unlike at the other five beaches the Australians ultimately landed pre-dawn for surprise, with no preceding naval shelling bombardment announcing their arrival.
Weatherwise, “the end of April offered up the chance of a few days of consecutive charm” … for such an enterprise. “If it had been British weather the adventure would have to be given up” Hamilton later wrote.
As it was, the 6 landings were postponed two days because of strong winds.
Overlooked in the story of the Australian First Wave were members of a 7th company – the engineers, who were soldiers but not infantry. These men, sappers, were members of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers (1FCAE), “the First engineers”.
In writing Volume I of the official history, 600 plus pages dealing only with the first phase to 4 May 1915 of the Gallipoli Campaign, the Official Historian CEW Bean lamented “Of the Landing…there exists no such record…from which even the shortest history could be written”.
His diaries, records of conversation and communication were all he had. (He acknowledged the contribution of 130 prominent soldiers etc and some 20 overseas official sources in enabling him to achieve publication of Volume I in only two years).
His history noted the First engineers were to be part of the First Wave ashore when the landing was being planned. To the detriment of subsequent histories thereafter, it did not give any reasons or other details for their presence. Recorded only was the number of First engineers landed up to 1 May 1915, 7 officers, 158 other ranks.
Consequently, 69 First engineers became the still overlooked few. Their omission from the official record and subsequent histories for the past century means now there are more questions than answers e.g. did the engineers land in their own boats or were they mixed with the infantry in the First Wave(?).
As fewer than 500 men from three Australian engineer companies landed that day out of some 15,000-16,000 men such an oversight is understandable. Lt Gen Birdwood reported at 4.30pm 13,000 men were ashore but the 13 and 15 Battalions (Bns) had not yet landed. They were too late for action that day.
Over 27,000 men landed at Anzac Cove by 1 May 1915 a tribute to the Royal Navy second squadron under Rear Admiral Thursby using over 20 ships including chartered vessels. In all over 200 ships were used for the landings at the 6 beaches.
One-fifth (some 5,400) of the 27,000 men at Anzac Cover were not in Australian or NZ Bns.
Most were from the Royal Naval Division, “Winston’s Little Army”. These soldiers surplus reservists to the Royal Navy were also sailors. On the day, they made a feint or dummy landing from the sea at Bulair north of the Cove before then rushing back to the Cove.
Landed also were the Ceylon (Tea) Planters’ Rifle Corps (151 men said to be Gen Birdwood’s bodyguards), the (Jewish) Zion Mule Corps (246), the Indian Mule Cart Transport Corps (229) and various gun batteries mainly from the Indian Army.
WHY WERE THE ENGINEERS THERE?
There were few clues or answers, either in the official records or to date in unofficial sources such as the soldiers’ letters, photographs, diaries and so on.
Official orders issued by Major General Bridges on 18 March 1915 (Operation Order No.1) and by Colonel Sinclair MacLagan to the 3 Infantry Brigade on 21 March 1915 contained virtually no information. These Brigade troops were recruited from the “outer states”, Qld, SA, WA and Tasmania. MacLagan’s orders simply listed three Engineer Demolition Parties (each to contain 23 First engineers, it transpired from two official Bn diary entries but their attachment to three of the six Bn Coys was not specified nor explained).
The only clue to any attachment was given by William Turnley. The Firsts were to team with a 9Bn Coy for special demolition work at Gaba Tepe promontory. At the planning stage, it would seem 3 gun batteries were identified for capture hence 3 demolition parties(?).
Even the First engineers’ war diarist could record little of the landing as the three demolition parties were spread over three different battleships and later (three?) small boats. After landing all he could record was “it was some time before sufficient sappers could be assembled to commence a road (11.45am) to get guns, water and ammunition to the troops higher up”.
Overlooked were any of the engineers’ other activities that day particularly of some 14 First engineers who “beached” separately that afternoon in a very unusual landing. Complicating matters, the First engineers belonged to 1 not 3 Brigade.
The remaining First engineers minus two officers, ten horse drivers and unspecified Coy HQ details landed with the Reserve 12Bn as did the remaining 6 Coys of the three Bns from destroyers in the Second Wave. That wave seems to have landed sooner than the half hour behind the First Wave indicated in orders reflecting the urgency to get inland, or the efficiency of the Royal Navy.
The Firsts were to rendezvous at map reference Square 224Q6 to undertake their tasks; principally road making and water searching. Uncertainty still remains on when and where the First Engineers landed in the Second Wave.
By now 48 small boats were employed for the landings(?).
Letters to the press by engineers Tom Newson, Queanbeyan Age and William Turnley, Sydney Morning Herald in June 1915 and May 1917 gave intriguing clues (my first and only, over 25 years ago) to the engineers’ elusive presence. Newson wrote of a “barbed wire and demolition party”, Turnley of NSW’s presence in the first to land. The next batch of war news in the press or by dreaded telegram quickly led to any such unofficial clues being overlooked or forgotten in the tumult of those days.
Later, photographs also provided clues. One showed a First engineer demolition party on board a battleship (HMS London) with WA 11Bn soldiers going to the landing (AWMAO2468). Another showed the body of an Australian engineer on the beach the first engineer to fall after landing (AWM A1090). There is still no official identification.
Later research or mention of individual First engineers sometimes referred to them being “among the first to land”. These included Gordon Wilson from Minmi NSW (his funeral in1929 after a car accident was attended by Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm), Tom Newson from Duntroon, Ernie Murray from Canberra and Roy Denning from Yass. But the reasons for their presence still remained unexplained.
110 Gordon Campbell Wilson M.C, A.F.C, DCM and M.I.D
157 Frederick Thomas Newson
151 Ernest Murray
213 Roy Denning – courtesy ” Anzac Digger” Roy Denning
Unless the official records yield more answers, soldier accounts in their various forms including Reveille become the prime sources for answering these questions. Here the research of 229 First engineers being conducted by Vance Kelly offers hope. But as the Official Historian warned soldiers’ recollections will yield different and often conflicting answers as anyone who has read WWI Red Cross files will readily attest.
THE FIRST ENGINEER TO FALL
Five First engineers are recorded as dying that day, with four reportedly killed in action in the First Wave.
Captain Vernon Sturdee did not go ashore until 9am well after the Covering Force had landed. He accompanied the Chief Engineer HQ to inspect the search for water by the Second engineers near Dawkins Point. Later they would inspect the road at rear of Plugge’s Plateau commenced under shrapnel fire by the First engineers just before noon.
Even later the Captain would certify the burials at sunset in one grave of four engineers in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery. Sunset later became the safest time for conducting burials. Row 1C now contains these as separate graves.
In order they are of:
– Fred Reynolds, 20, single, electrical engineer from Manly NSW, (born Wellington,
– Walter Freebairn, aged 22-29?, single, tailor from Surry Hills, Sydney (born
– William Moore, 27, single, sawyer, originally a first reinforcement enlisting
Melbourne (born London, England); and
– Cleveland Edmund Page, 23, single, plumber, associated Auburn NSW, (born East
Maitland recorded as Newcastle, NSW).
191 Spr. Frederick Austin Reynolds
55 Spr. Walter Freebairn
246 Spr. William Moore
70 Spr. Cleveland Page – Photo Courtesy of Catherine Job – Family Collection.
Fred Reynolds, (regarded as the first man ashore by the family of one of his three cousins killed in the war) received posthumously a Special Mention in Despatches for Conspicuous Gallantry or Valuable Services 25 April– 5 May 1915 (MiD) by General Hamilton.
Accounts of his death vary from being the first killed in the boats to the first engineer to fall ashore.
One of his three cousins Cpl Claude Campbell 17 Bn (buried Cairo from wounds at Quinns Post) happened to be taught Sunday school at Nelanglo near Gundaroo NSW, where his father was school teacher, by my grandfather; my only connection with the engineers.
Gordon Wilson received a similar commendation for work later that day.
The fifth engineer died of wounds on the troopship turned hospital ship Clan McGillivray later that day. He was shot while giving orders that morning on the deck of an unknown destroyer. The Scourge has been suggested but as it was the ship used to convey the wounded to the now hospital ship Clan McGillivray the answer remains unclear. He was Alexander Joseph MacDonald, married, carpenter, aged 30 of Glebe Point, Sydney. (Born Braidwood, NSW, also buried row 1C.)
They were and are still five of the overlooked few….
Eyewitness accounts identified three of the five, only when three sappers’ diaries emerged this century. (These diaries were foremost in starting to unravel the mystery of the Firsts’presence.)
– William Moore by his namesake Jack Moore, (associated 10Bn from HMS Prince of Wales);
– Cleveland Page, by Thomas Drane, (associated 11Bn from HMS London); and
– Alexander MacDonald by Roy Denning. He, the last engineer to die that day was not in the First Wave, nor was Denning.
Engineers Moore and Page were killed on the beach on landing most likely from sniper fire.
Diarist William Turnley, (associated 9Bn from HMS Queen) mentions a sapper, unnamed, who was shot and killed the third time he assisted a wounded soldier ashore. That assisted soldier may have been from the Second Wave. First engineer Warrant Officer (WO) Pantlin later recounted (1932) Spr Reynolds had safely gained the shore but on returning to assist a wounded man was killed by a head shot.
Colonel Lee, Commanding Officer (CO) 9Bn, told Pantlin he would recommend Spr Reynolds for a decoration resulting in the MiD. As WO Pantlin led the party which landed on North Beach north of the Cove, he relied on Col. Lee as the eyewitness, an example of how individual soldiers readily incorporated recollections by other soldiers into their accounts.
Turnley also referred to a “fellow” who on landing unconcernedly took out his camera and started taking photos(?).
A GLIMPSE OF THE ENGINEERS’ PURPOSE
In the landing story, time and distance have been two of the major bedevilments confusing what happened, when and where (on the water, on the beaches or on the ridges and gullies) as events unfolded that pre-dawn.
Another is not enough First Wave accounts, if extant, having been identified then and now.
The result is Second Wave accounts mainly from officers on the destroyers predominate in the Official History and subsequent histories. The First Wave has generally been passed over for lack of information or described only in the briefest of terms.
That the engineers were not infantry may have some small influence on how the story was told as did perhaps the overseas origins of many engineers. These are far less likely explanations.
The following glimpse should be viewed against such a confused background e.g. on times recorded in the official diaries, the Reserve 12Bn landed before the First Wave.
William Turnley, telephone mechanic originally from England as well as diarist, sat anxiously in his boat as did all the 1,500 during the long time of the tow of the 36 boats.
Discovery by the Turks was feared. They were seen. A shot was fired. They rowed frantically to shore. His boat was fouled on landing when another boat swung around. That boat carrying 9Bn A Coy(?) is believed by many to have landed before the first shot.
Turnley thought the engineers were among the first dozen to set foot on that part of the beach(?). He with 22 other sappers was to “blow up” the guns on Gaba Tepe promontory after the Qld Bn Coy had seized them. These guns, protected by barbed wire visible offshore, were 1 mile (1.6km) south of their intended landing, Brighton Beach south of Anzac Cove.
Because of the two deviations north in their tow, he estimated they were now 2,500 yards (2.6km) away. He heard “the spasmodic chatter”of a maxim gun on the leading steamboat to be fired as ordered “only if imperative to effect a landing”. Gun cotton was part of his equipment but he lost his spiking tool/s on landing.
9Bn B Coy was meant to take Anderson’s Knoll half a mile (800m) inland(?).
No-one got to the guns that day. The seizing of these guns, General Bridges stressed, was essential to the success of the Landing.
The main aim of the Landing, expected to be opposed, was to prevent Turkish reinforcements further north of the Cove and Mal Tepe inland from moving south to Cape Hellas, where the main attack was to take place. Hellas was not protected by “an elaborate network of trenches”- (Hamilton), yet six VCs were won that day.
If need be, the Anzac Landing could be a major feint but re-embarkation, as Birdwood urged, was impossible, leading to Hamilton’s “dig, dig, dig” entreaty.
Jack Moore (associated 10Bn, ? Coy) a mechanical engineer originally from NZ was detailed to an oar in his boat as it only had two naval ratings to row it. He thus had his back to the shore and was not first out of his boat. He did not mention the “skirmish” between two boats, one occupied by AG (“Gertie”) Butler 9Bn Medical Officer and the other boat Lt Talbot Smith 10Bn Scouts as noted by Bean. One possibility is he was in a separate engineers’ boat(?).
Moore’s boat may have been the first of all to land. He expected to encounter barbed wire and spiked pits on Brighton Beach. Carried by him were a wire cutter and grappling hook with stout rope 100 feet long (30m) to drag the barbed wire once cut aside so the infantry could charge.
There was neither wire nor staked pits, just largely recently vacated trenches. He did not mention any guns to be “blown up” so with no barbed wire he joined the bayonet charge.
Around noon the next day he was ordered back to the beach to help build a “wharf”.
Tom Newson (HMS London?), the English carpenter from Duntroon and letter writer to The Queanbeyan Age, was also in a barbed wire cutting and demolition party. He landed “2 miles (3.2km) north of Gaba Tepe ” promontory and “our boat was the first to land”.
He joined the bayonet charge and shouted till he was hoarse. He “would never forget that day”. He did not mention the guns…
Thomas Drane (HMS London, ? Coy), a tailor, also from England and Forbes NSW, was in the first boat “nearest the enemy” on the north side of Anzac, the one party meant to land on the Cove. His boat it seems landed last of those carrying the demolition engineers as it was further offshore. He did not know why they landed in the “wrong place”, later told it was “the current”. The associated 11Bn Coys were meant to seize the high ground at Scrubby Hill and further north Battleship Hill.
Drane did not state his purpose. WO Pantlin leader of that party stated later their objective was to “blow up” the guns.
Drane lost his sandbag containing a small pick and shovel on landing but kept his rifle. His “coldest Turkish bath ever” confirmed General Hamilton’s “like lightning they (theAustralians) leapt ashore”. He joined the bayonet charge and “must have gone 5 miles [8km] before 9am that day”, perhaps “one of the more adventurous spirits” noted by Bean.
He worked on a captured trench that night on the second ridge and did not rejoin his company till two days later to find he had been reported missing-in-action. Both Turnley and Drane, wounded shortly after, were discharged medically unfit in 1916.
Moore severely wounded in the shoulder May 1915 did not resume front line duty until August 1916 with another engineering Coy, 14FCAE.
About 6.30am that morning the Nizam steamed slowly allowing Henry Bachtold, an honours engineering graduate from England promoted to full lieutenant that day and up to 13 First engineers (his accounts vary) to offload three rafts and “pontoon equipment” into the sea.
Lt Bachtold led the first reinforcements on Berrima from Melbourne in December 1914. By 8am they had linked these together but it would be 1pm before a destroyer could tow the assembly to within 200 yards (208m) of Anzac Beach. They succeeded in getting to shore to erect the first pier. The Australian Army Medical Corps used it immediately to evacuate the wounded, the severely wounded to the hospital ship Gascon, the less severely to the Clan McGillivray, the Firsts acting as traffic control.
Over four days 4 piers, two largely from broken barges, were erected, feats seemingly unnoticed in any Anzac history. THUS…
The First engineers recruited in NSW were a small and potentially significant part of the First Wave to land. The “mother state” as claimed by William Turnley in 1917 was at the forefront if not the lead of that wave.
There is now more to vindicate his claim. The absence of barbed wire and the failure of the infantry to capture the guns (other than three Krupp guns by 8am) largely explains the engineers’ omission from the Official History(?). Also missing was their other activities. (Even the engineers’ history is vague on that day)
One surprising aspect, however, was the1930s debate of the first man ashore did not lead to the First engineers being considered. At the time 1937-38 the Official Historian gave support to “tradition” i.e. Lt Duncan Chapman was the first man ashore. Seemingly Major JC Robertson for one had disappeared to be replaced by Lce Sgt Joseph Stratford, born NSW, promoted by The Sydney Mail.
Arguably given the role of barbed wire removal, a First engineer was likely first ashore(?). This “conclusion” may conflict with orders that an officer was to land first, other ranks remaining seated. These orders presumably applied only to the infantry(?). At an Afric reunion in 1932 WO Pantlin claimed Spr Reynolds was the first ashore. His statement did not gain much traction and failed to attract the attention of the Official Historian at that time(?).
By the 1960s Bean acknowledged that Chapman was probably the first ashore.
Perhaps by the end of the Centenary Years and the completion of Vance Kelly’s work many of these questions(?) will have more complete answers. Given the confusion surrounding the day’s events, definitive answers may not be forthcoming. Such outcomes will ease the angst of the citizens of Maryborough Qld who raised funds to erect a statue of Duncan Chapman before the Centenary and serve to modify Kiwi glee from thinking a Maorilander was the first ashore…
The Second engineers, also overlooked, landed 6.30-7am with similar tasks, water supplies and road making at MacLagan’s Ridge and Shrapnel Valley. They were to land with grapnels and bags to deal with barbed wire. Later, a party of them would be detailed to assist with pier construction.
Another, the Third engineers landed later that morning having been replaced by the First engineers in the First Wave even though they had returned from canal defence to Mena Egypt shortly before the 3 Brigade departed for Lemnos.
Their diary has no entry for that day but constructing water slides was an earlier activity.
The First engineers colours? A purple patch issued only weeks before to be worn on the shoulder.
REMEMBERING THE FIRSTS OF THE OVERLOOKED -FIRST ENGINEERS LANDINGS AND INTENDED LANDINGS.
The small boat grounded near shore. William Turnley may have followed Lt Mather in leaping over the side into the water to wade to land(?). Lt Mather was the first of any troops to land. He was a First engineer: an original of the company formed Sydney August 1914.
His landing was two days after the 3 Brigade and First engineers had reached their destination. Within four days two other sections of the Firsts had gone ashore.
Ahead of Lt Mather lay a windswept, stony landscape but green, unlike the familiar sand of Egypt. This land was to be a staging post for that now not-so-distant shore….. Gallipoli………the Greek island of Lemnos.
The First engineers could not know then that this might be their first rehearsal for a later first landing by them.
It was early March 1915. They did know a small party of 21 First engineers had already left from Egypt to go to the Dardanelles Straits to be part of an intended landing demolition party later on 18 March 1915: the day of the Royal and French Navies’ attempt to capture the Dardanelles Straits.
There was much to do on the island, and the First engineers with others may not get all done before they moved again. Troopships from England and France were beginning to mass in the area. The 3 (Australian) Brigade was already in Mudros Harbour, Lemnos.
MUDROS HARBOUR LEMNOS
The First engineers as the first ashore had first to ensure the adequacy of water supplies as instructed by GHQ, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. This included examining the water supply used by the “old town” from springs in the hills, digging wells for watering animals and erecting a new pier on a “spot considered suitable by the Naval Authorities”.
Then because there were no port facilities, they had to prepare aids to allow the transport ships to land their cargoes and have the harbour ready to cater for the coming vessels. William Turnley after two months in Egypt had more to occupy his mind now than the German merchant ships anchored in Alexandria Harbour Egypt. Leaving Australia in October 1914 with the First Convoy seemed so long ago. In sailing from Sydney the Firsts and the Australian Army Service Corps occupied the fore of the Afric with 1Bn 1 Brigade aft.
His unit had brought wagons and 56 horses with them on another ship from Sydney.
While at Mena Camp, the Firsts helped “terrorise” Cairo with subsequent pay fines or other penalties. As well as enduring training and routine drills in the sinking sand, they erected at least two bridges then dismantled them.
Demolition training seems not to have been mentioned at all, other than very early training in Sydney Harbour. Some engineers did examine the guns on the battleship before resting to be ready for landing pre-dawn.
On 28 February 1915, the remaining First engineers sailed with 3 Brigade from Egypt to Lemnos island. They took 1 NCO, 10 (horse) drivers and 22 horses with them on another ship, Devanha. Earlier, on 14 February 1915, two pontoon wagons and one trestle wagon each constructed at the railway workshops Cairo and 19 draught horses were taken on strength. Eleven more men followed on 23 February as drivers of the pontoon and trestle waggons, the Chief Engineer HQ recorded. These additions cannot be confirmed as there was no 1FCAE diary for that month. No engineers’ horses nor waggons landed at Anzac Cove because of the terrain. All horses were thus returned to Mex near Alexandria, Egypt in June under WO Pantlin. He was then retired from the Army on age grounds. Some (one?) of the drivers possibly beached with the first pier(?).
As part of the attempted Naval Forcing of the Dardanelles, the landing demolition party comprising 20 sappers under Lt Huntley of the First engineers had combined with four officers and 200 other ranks of Chatham Battalion of the Royal Naval Division. They sailed on the Cawdor Castle to the Straits only to witness the loss or damage to French and British naval ships from Turkish mines.
They did not land for demolition work so arrived back at Lemnos on the Suffolk late March. [Lt Huntley, the First engineers’ leader for that party, from the delightfully named Snail’s Bay Balmain, later died of wounds 4 May 1915. He had two funerals: a burial at sea from the hospital ship Gascon; and a burial on Gallipoli as a photograph of his grave later showed(?).]
“DOINGS” OF THE FIRSTS
Water supplies remained inadequate despite engineer efforts in building a reservoir. They sank six wells to an average depth of 26 feet (6+ metres) but total supplies were reckoned to be adequate only for a few thousand men. The 1 and 2 Brigades from NSW and Victoria respectively were thus shipped back to Egypt. So was the Royal Naval Division minus
engineers. The 3 Brigade, apart from 9Bn and sometimes 10Bn, stayed mainly on board ships in Mudros Harbour.
Raft construction was an onboard engineer activity. However barrel piers were not used for the first piers. The ship Armadale apparently carried them(?). [No further information has been sought by me].
To remedy the lack of port facilities at Mudros, the engineers in the few weeks they were there combined at times with the Royal Naval Division engineers and 9 (Australian) Bn to build port, landing, communications and navigation aids. Shore beacons and signal hut/barracks were erected for the Royal Navy at the narrow mouth of the harbour.
The First engineers also began to erect, as instructed by “the Naval Authorities”(?) a stone jetty 75 yards (78m) long with assistance from 9Bn making a road to it from Mudros village mid March in “cold wet windy conditions”. The jetty may not have been completed. As well the Firsts unloaded HMS Pickaxe. Further unloading and restowing of ships wrongly loaded before leaving England and Egypt was completed as was assisting moving a stationary hospital ashore, using a hopper dredge from the Royal Navy. Some road repairs were done.
This following photographs are from an album of a R.N.D. officer [courtesy of Maurice Stokes (UK) and Bernard de Broglio (Aus)].
These show, as captioned –
“Pier building at Mudros March ’15
1. The R.N.D. Engineers
2. The Australians”
Note the shipping in the background.
Also noteworthy was the Firsts’ attempt to float assembled rafts and pontoons as a pier across Mudros Harbour only to crash on landing and the assembly break up.
THE LANDING TAKES SHAPE
On 10 April, the Firsts learned they were to be part of the first landing party on Gallipoli together with 5 or 6 unspecified infantry Coys. They practised for a few days with the chosen 6 companies in disembarking from troopships (battleships on the day) rushing ashore from small boats etc. The intended landing was postponed two days by strong winds.
Because of other equipment to be carried the engineers were to carry 50 rounds only of ammunition. So 69 First engineers came to land at North Beach (23) and Anzac (46), rather than the Cove and Brighton Beach to the south. The first pier was erected and within a few days sandbag walls were erected for shelter from shrapnel around an Australian and separate NZ dressing station on the beach.
Many of the skills practised previously, including pier erection(?), were used by the First engineers that day. And a few of them had extensive military or militia experience at times as long as the time they had spent training for their professional/trade vocations. On route from Australia to Egypt, this experience showed when the Firsts easily defeated the infantry in a rifle drill competition, winning first and second prize, the Australian Army Service Corps coming third and fourth, the six infantry entries thereafter.
To the then official press representative CEW Bean in his first report on the landing, reproduced in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 17 May 1915, the First Wave seemed to consist “largely of miners from Broken Hill and Westralian goldfields”. He was not sure which boat landed first as many seemed to land at the same time. That time was 4.18am. He did not go ashore until about 10am that morning.
No First engineers were miners. Yet they well and truly earned the titles of “sapper” and “digger” in the next 4 years. The Engineers motto then? “We make and we break”.
REMEMBERING THE FIRST DAY FALLEN THE BIGGER PICTURE
In recounting the Australian Landing story the bigger picture has prevailed to the detriment of detail such as knowing how many died that day, their names or who they were. Our story and remembrance have suffered from such oversights.
Some First Day Gallipoli Honour Rolls e.g. by the then now revived former ADFA AIF Project or by the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre have appeared in recent years mainly on the internet without seeming to attract much widespread public attention(?).
The still overlooked few thus increases to more than one thousand men when added to the overlooked First engineers.
Unknown until 2014 were the names of those who perished in the landing’s First Wave of 1,500 men.
FIRST WAVE DEATHS
Research Professor Peter Stanley ADFA Canberra gave us the number, their names and much about these men. His research now enables comparison of First Wave losses with later and total losses that day. We can also learn how various units fared and where and when their time came to rush ashore thanks to Brigadier Chris Roberts (Rtd ) and the Australian Army History Unit.
Professor Stanley did well to challenge us to name just one Anzac soldier who perished that day, highlighting such oversights. To me he reinforced our “one day of the year” only approach to remembrance despite growing Anzac Day attendances.
First engineer William Turnley survived though retired early medically so he can be farewelled in appreciation of his contribution, then and now, with the hope he and his fellow engineers receive some overdue recognition in the Centenary years.
First Wave deaths can now be identified by country and Australian states. (Incidentally, Professor Stanley’s List of Lost Boys coincides very closely with data in AWM Honour Roll Series 148 (microform) in 1999. Only two deaths recorded in the latter as 1 or 2 May and another four with probable dates e.g. 25-27 April are now recorded as 25 April as a result of his findings).
DEATHS BY COUNTRY/AUSTRALIAN STATE:
SOURCES: Derived from: (1) Professor Stanley’s List of Lost Boys 1914 in “Lost Boys of Anzac”
(2014); (2) AWM Series 148 (microform) Trevor Lawton (1999 unpublished).
Almost one-third of those killed in the First Wave were born overseas, with UK including
Ireland making up one-quarter of the total. These men were going home to fight for their own countries not to fight at Gallipoli. Queensland lost the most 44 with WA 32 and SA 25, when those figures are added to Australian state figures.
FIRST DAY DEATHS
The following listing shows how various units fared against rushed in Turkish reinforcements when their time to land came.
(1) Battalions in action 25 April only: excludes 13 and 15 Bns.
(2) Court of Inquiry could not establish a definite date of death so probable date ranges given e.g. 25-27 April.
(3) The covering force of 4,000 men.
(4) All Landing times are approximate only. Actual times could vary significantly from those stated.
(5) Total includes 6 deaths now ascribed to 25 April
(6) Times landed are uncertain: both am. and pm.(?)
(7) Totals may vary from other rolls (a) disputed or uncertain dates (b) errors and omissions (c) later updates/corrections to AWM Honour Roll. (d) different time period or date range covered.
Includes additional 4, 1 from HQ, 2 from 3 Field Ambulance, 1 First engineers
SOURCE: Derived from: AWM Series 148 (microform). Trevor Lawton (1999 unpublished)
When deaths from 25 April – 2 May (where a court of inquiry sometimes over 18 months later could not establish a definite date) plus died of wounds (DoW) 25 April are included, SA lost the most another 26. The chief reason is the wounded could not be found in the dense scrub. At day’s end Qld still lost the most some 90 while SA and WA had similar losses 56 and 62 respectively.
The Reserve 12Bn losses were higher than either 10 or 11 Bns at 73.
Almost half of each of the 9, 10 and 11Bns’ losses occurred in the First Wave of the six Coys e.g. 44 out of 90 for Qld, 84 of whom were killed that day. If deaths from died of wounds to 2 May (inconclusive dates again) some 140 could be added giving a total of 886, too high a figure to reflect actual first day losses.
Again at day’s end, Victoria suffered the most, the 7 and 6Bns (in order landed) losing 150 and 110 respectively.
The (Jewish) Zion Mule Corps landed 6 officers and 240 other ranks as supplies and water carriers on Anzac Cove up to 1 May 1915. When that component was disbanded and returned, minus mules, to Egypt 20 May 1915 it reportedly lost 15 men and 55 wounded.
These figures suggest a high casualty rate but are difficult to verify.
So too are deaths of naval ratings (“blue jackets”) of the Royal Navy at Anzac Cove difficult to reconcile with those given anecdotally in Anzac accounts e.g. the midshipman killed after handing AG “Gertie” Butler his satchel on landing. Recent research overseas with more required as acknowledged yields only 6 Royal Navy deaths in the second squadron.
Similarly the numbers killed in the boats or drowned on landing will never be known. There are no facts to match against the somewhat fictional (like AB Facey’s landing) accounts.
To give the Official Historian the last say on the Landing “Neither then nor anytime later was the beach the inferno of bursting shells, barbed wire entanglements and falling men that has sometime been described or painted”.
Finally losses each day in the landing period as defined by him did not approach those of first day losses of Bns in action that day until 2 May 1915. On that day, 16Bn (WA) lost 151, 2Bn 102 and 1Bn (both NSW) 64, 317 out of some 450 deaths. These 450 deaths do not include deaths from 13 and 15Bns. Thus the 450 figure shown should not be construed as total deaths for 2 May 1915.
THE SPIRIT LIVES.
Yet we cannot remember what we do not yet know or have forgotten.
The Official History of Australia in the War 1914-18 Volume I. The Story of Anzac
by CEW Bean (1 & 4 edition)
Australian War Memorial, National Archives and National Library of Australia
microform and digitised records etc
Naval-history.net for Royal Navy deaths: Zion Mule Corps various websites
Professor Peter Stanley, Catherine Job, “Amazing” Jack Moore, son of Anzac Jack,
Terence King, belatedly Vance Kelly
My son Stephen for keying over 2+ years endless drafts…and yes, Stephen there is
still one more…this is it!
Trevor Lawton Canberra, December 2015
(Thus ends my “Magnum Opeless” sparked over a quarter of a century ago by happenstance: two letters to the Editor. In that context, “make
or break” seems apt to describe my efforts in finding answers to the questions those letters raised). TWL 2015