168 John Flackfield – MSM
John Flackfield was born in Middlesex London England in 1880 , to parents Henry and Amelia Ann nee Barnard. He had five bothers and three sisters. His father was originally Heinrich Flachfield born in Bavaria Munich, his name like many German immigrants was anglicised to avoid discrimination.
Henry was a successful merchant affording all the children a good education . John’s first occupation was as a stableman and in 1901 he also enlisted with the Militia. It wasn’t long after that he made the firm decision to join the military and enlisted in the British army with the Royal Engineers. John served up to 1913 and completed his 12 year engagement, including serving 2 1/2 years in South Africa in the Boer War. During his term of service he was promoted on several occasions, the Major O.C of the Royal Engineers noting that John’s character during his entire service was exemplary.
He left his career as a professional soldier and considered Australia as a place for a new start arriving in Sydney as a passenger in July 1913 from London on the ‘Beltana’.
In 1914 the announcements of war was always going to draw John back into the military. His brothers Edwin and Henry back home in England had enlisted in the Royal Army Corps, so no doubt John would enlist as well.
John enlisted on the 21st August. He was 33 years old and declared he was simply a labourer. He did however highlight his 12 years service with the Royal Engineers and rank of Corporal. Based on John’s extensive experience and training with the Royal Engineers and his experience with horses as a stableman he was promoted on the 15th September to NCO Sergeant in charge of the mounted section of the Company and responsible for the designated drivers, the shoeing smiths, horses, wagons and equipment.
On the 18th October 1914, John Flackfield and “14 others, and 56 Horses” embarked on the HMAT A6 Clan MacCorquodale, they would later reunite with fellow originals in Alexandria, Egypt.
On the 25th April 1915 landing day Gallipoli, John Flackfield and his section were once again separated from the main body of the company and this time, standing on the deck of the “Nizam’ offshore awaiting orders to land.
Watching the events of the morning unfold with the mounted section, John would find out that his section, the horses and equipment could not be offloaded. He was in the company of approximately 25 fellow drivers, and farriers, 16 Marcus Clarke, 178 Walter Blattman and 218 Mervyn Lambert a New Zealander and also a Boer War veteran.
Very little information is available regarding the mounted section and particularly John Flackfield however the diaries of Driver 160 Percy Thompson and scattered accounts from farriers such as 16 Marcus Clark continue to add another dimension to the story of the original’s. 16 Marcus Clark had sent a letter home to his family detailing the landing day events and his birds-eye view while anchored just 1/2 a mile offshore from Anzac Cove.
“Where they landed was just one mass of high hills, supposed by the Turks to be impregnable………Pinnaces took the men ashore from the troopships. The water was too shallow for the boats to go in close….there were only 1000 of our boys in the first charge and as they charged they let out a murderous yell…………….We were anchored within half a mile of the shore. We could hear the rifles (sic?) and see the shrapnel bursting over our boys heads…..the cruisers were continually planting shells among the Turks. The hospital ship was near and she got full in no time for the snipers played havoc with our chaps and were very keen on shooting Officers and Red Cross men. By about sundown we were in close…………..All day Sunday and Sunday night the firing was terrific. Although we were so near the fighting we would not get any news until about four days after when about twenty of our wounded chaps came on board. All the above happened on Sunday the 25th April, on Tuesday 27th the “Goebens” (German destroyer) started shelling…… several shells landed close by us and one went through the ships rigging……………On Friday the 7th May she started shelling us again and hit one of the boats, but did very little damage. We have not been able to land the horses as the country is too rough, they have to use mules. We left this morning 12th May, on our way back to Alexandria……..we arrived back in Alexandria on May 14th.”
When the drivers of the 1st FCE had returned to Egypt and settled back in camp they were just five miles from Alexandria and only a mile from the sea. The weather was dry and extremely hot, however they were able to enjoy bathing every night. Marcus described the daily work schedule of the farrier’s……………..
“We are camped with New Zealander’s and English, and there are a lot of horses. We have reveile at 5.30, and my mate and I shoe from 6 to 7.30, and knock off at 11, when we are finished for the day. None of the troops work after dinner…… Our food is good now, being supplied by the English A.S.C. It is too hot to wear long trousers and leggings, so we cut off our trousers at the knees, and wear white shoes without socks, which is far more comfortable. Only five of us sleep in one tent which is supposed to hold 15, so we have plenty of room. We have as much leave as we want, but without pay. All of our officers are at the Dardanelles and a Sergeant is in charge of us……We may be here for a couple of months and then we take the horses to England very soon.” ……….Marcus Clark (The Sergeant that Marcus makes reference to is John Flackfield)
According to the ‘1st FCE short account’ the mounted section left on the ‘Knight Templar’ from Alexandria on the 21st March 1916 and disembarked at Toulon France and would later join up with the sappers on the 18th April at Bac St.Maur, with pontoon, G.S wagons, tool carts and were all billeted in factory.
John Flackfield was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, his citation helps to describe how important the drivers were . “ For general good work during the period from the 28th February to September 1917. He has had charge of the pointed section of the 1st Field Company since its formation and has always carried out his duties in a most satisfactory and efficient manner. Owing to his efforts a very high standard of discipline and efficiency has always been maintained in the mounted section. During the recent operations from the 15th September to the 20th east of Ypres , this N.C.O did very valuable work, at times under very heavy shell fire, in pushing forward engineer supply in the forward area.”
John Flackfield returned to Australia on board the “O”- HMAT Durham with Seventeen other originals, disembarking on Australian soil on the 23rd December 1918.
37 Albert Edward Shoosmith, 49 L.Cpl. John M. Atkins, 178 2nd Cpl. Walter J. Blattman, 228 Spr. W.J. Davis (Wm. J. Cohen), 148 Spr. James Dickson, 201 Spr. Herbert G. Eggleton, 92 Spr. Wm. Fahey, C.Q.M.S. John Flackfield (M.S.M.), 161 Spr. George. C. Gear, 24 Spr. Stanley Hense, 158 CMS. James Johnston, 193 Spr. Forde Leathley, 196 Spr. Fredrick T. Meads, 68 Jack L. McMahon, 247 Spr. Fred. Pattenden, 160 L/Cpl. Percy R. Thompson, 171 Spr. Keith W. Waterhouse, 137 2nd Cpl. George E. M.Woods.
Little more has been discovered about John and his life after the war. He married very late in life and when he was 66 years old he married Helena Marjorie Jones in 1946.
John Flackfield died in 1969, he was 89 years old. His wife Helena died in 1975.
Sources : AWM, NLA, NAA