26 Roland King – MM
Roland King was born on the 9th March 1888 in Waverley, Wellington New Zealand.
He was 26 when he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces on the 22nd August 1914. A joiner by trade, he had served his 5-year apprenticeship with A.H Burn & Sons in Dunedin.
Roland signed up with the newly formed 1st Field Company Engineers, his father Joseph L King noted as his next of kin and he was now a Sapper with the designated low number, 26.
In the early days of training at Moore Park in Sydney, Roland forged a close friendship with fellow sappers, 14 Edmond Banks, 110 Gordon Wilson and 20 Alexander Finnie. The close friendship between these young men would survive the duration of the great war and their journeys throughout would not be too dissimilar.
On Sunday the 18th October 1914, Roland with fellow originals of the 1st FCE , embarked on the HMAT Afric with the Australian military fleet bound for Alexandria, Egypt, a journey well documented in a few rare diaries, such as 192 William Phillips, 151 Ernest Murray and 101 John Hoey Moore.
Roland would be among the first men to set foot on the shores of Gallipoli on the 25th and served until the 3rd August, when suffering with influenza and dysentery he was transferred to the 1st General hospital in Heliopolis, Cairo Egypt.
Roland wasn’t the only original from the 1st FCE at Cairo hospital at this time and not all was going well for some of his fellow engineers, 98 Frank Healey had been paralysed by a bullet wound to the spine and 192 William Phillips was suffering with enteric fever which had proved nearly fatal.
Will Phillips mentioned that while at hospital, 26 Roland King recovering from dysentery and 100 Roland McNair with his wounded leg , both decided they were well enough to go into town, get some tattoos and later returned with books for Will to continue his love of reading while recovering.
Roland returned to Gallipoli and rejoined the unit up to early October, but soon after suffering with diarrhea, he was on this occasion transferred to hospital in Mudros. Once again Roland returned to Gallipoli in October and remained until the evacuation in December.
After the company returned to Alexandria, Roland was stationed at Ismalia and promoted to acting 2nd Cpl and vice to his close friend 14 Edmond Banks. Within 4 weeks he is promoted to temp 2nd Cpl and vice to Banks. 7 days later he is promoted again to 2nd Corporal as 14 Edmond Banks is transferred to the newly formed 14th Field Company Engineers under the command of Henry Bachtold.
On March the 28th 1916 the 1st Field Company arrives In Marseilles, France and they made their way to the western front.
On the 6th June 1916, Roland along with fellow original 58 Percy Hirst, were both recommended for the Military Medal. 6 weeks later the company is in the thick of the war at the western front.
The Battle of Pozieres
The village of Pozières, is located in the Somme Valley, France. The main road running along the ridge, in the middle of the British sector of the Somme battlefields ran from the towns of Albert to Bapaume and close by stood the village of Pozieres, the highest point on the battlefield.
On the 19th July 1916 the men of the 1st Field company Engineers had bivouacked just outside of Albert, approximately 3 miles from the front lines. On the 21st July they marched into Albert and commenced helping to dig a communication trench that same night. The heavy bombardments from the Germans had already commenced and were relentless.
By Sunday the 23rd July the company had moved in closer to the front lines at Pozieres and commenced construction of a strong point for a machine gun placement.
Original 233 Cpl Thomas Arkinstall reported that the section was in front of Pozieres about 100 yards past the village, and were digging an advanced Machine Gun position overlooking two roads leading to Pozieres and Bapaume.
For four days, Pozieres would be pure hell for the men of the 1st Field Company Engineers.
Fourteen of the originals were included on the list of casualties. A list that proved that the 19th July 1916 to be one of the worst days in the history of the 1st FCE and ultimately the entire Australian Military Forces.
336 Alfred Girdler and 157 Frederick Newson were gassed, 26 Roland King and 242 Thomas Cook were both listed suffering from shell shock.
58 Percy Hirst was listed as killed in action, 215 William Allan (Whelan) was listed as missing, 234 Archibald Bland and 50 Lionel Burton-Fuller were listed as wounded, but all three would later die from their wounds.
Also wounded was 88 George Casburn, a gunshot wound to the right hand and shoulder and 163 William Rice also a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
123 William Goodwin, 76 James Hamilton, 184 Donald Clark, 237 Evelyn Lloyd were also all wounded.
336 Alfred Girdler and 157 Frederick Newson were gassed.
Interestingly the mother of original 15 George Bird had written a letter to the war records office in Melbourne enquiring about Roland. George Bird was also a low number and possibly in the same section as Roland.
Mrs. Nellie Bird had lost her son George at the Battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli in August the previous year and was no doubt keeping track of her son’s fellow Engineers. She received some good news and confirmation that Roland was still alive.
Roland was listed among the wounded and suffering with “Shell shock’ he embarked at Calais on the H.S Brighton and was admitted to the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester England. Following his recovery he spent 3 weeks on Furlough.
In April 1917 Roland was officially awarded his Military Medal, his citation was as follows….
“Landed at Anzac on the 25th April 1915 and has been constantly with his unit since that date. This N.C.O. has, at different times, had charge of difficult and dangerous work, which has always been carried out well and satisfactorily. He has also done excellent work in the trenches in France”
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 62 – Date: 19 April 1917
As the war progressed there were opportunities for many of the engineers beyond being a sapper or a driver. The options of officer training and the chance of being a commissioned officer or returning to England to train reinforcements were often taken on by many of the originals, and for a few there was the newly formed Australian Flying Corp. (AFC)
Late in the war four particular sappers later joined the Australian Flying Corp. It is not likely this was by chance but by design as four of these men although separated on occasions throughout the war, had remained in close contact and followed each other’s footsteps in the final stages of the war.
26 Roland King was often vice to 14 Edmond Banks. 110 Gordon Wilson and Banks were together at the assault at the German officer’s trench at Gallipoli, and 20 Alex Finnie may well have been involved as he was likely in the same section as Roland.
Even after the experiences of Gallipoli and the Western Front these men remarkably had a unique view on the war and the challenges and adventures it presented.
On the 3rd May 1917 20 Alex Finnie had transferred to Flying school in England and graduated as a flying officer and was appointed 2nd Lieut and posted to the Australian Flying Corp. He proceeded overseas to France and reported for duty with the No 4 Squadron AFC, the last squadron to be formed during the first World War.
On the 25th May 1917, 14 Edmond Banks was transferred and joined the No.1 Royal Flying Corps training school at Reading England and after 2 months training graduated as an observer in the flying corp and was appointed 2nd Lieut . and reported for duty in France and served with the renowned 3rd Australian Flying Squadron
110 Gordon Wilson was commissioned as a second lieutenant, A.F.C., in April 1917 and graduated as a pilot. In June he joined No.68 Squadron (later designated the 2nd Squadron) A.F.C. He was later detached to the Royal Flying Corps squadron in France to gain practical experience in war flying. Wilson joined No.32 Squadron, R.F.C.
On the 24th May 1917, 26 Roland King was transferred to AFC and was mustered as a rigger, and in August 1917 he became a 1st Air mechanic and was promoted to Corporal. In October of that year he was promoted to sergeant of the 29th training squadron AFC. and later transferred to the 32nd.
The 32nd became the 7th Training squadron. In May 1918 he was remustered as chief mechanic of the 7th Training squadron AFC.
The 7th Training Squadron AFC was formed at Yatesbury on 24 October 1917. It was originally identified as 32 (Australian Training) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, but was renamed, along with all of the Australian squadrons, in January 1918. The squadron relocated to Leighterton on 23 February 1917, where it remained until it was disbanded in March 1919.
The squadron’s principal role was to prepare personnel for service with what was at first 69 (Australian) Squadron, RFC, and subsequently 3 Squadron, AFC, which was operating with British forces over the Western Front.
Roland maintained his posting at Leighterton and spent his final few months at Sutton Veny .
Nine days after the signing of the Armistace calling an end to the war, Roland married Doris Alice Collins in Leicester on the 20th November 1918. Roland had spent some time in Leicester in 1916 while recovering from shell shock, perhaps meeting Doris during this time.
On the 21st January 1919 Roland had taken his 1914 leave of 75 days and his war record indicates he returned to Australia on the ‘Kindonian Castle’ and was discharged on the 24th May 1919.
Research efforts have not been successful in establishing what happened to Roland after the war. Remarkably there are no further connections to Roland or his wife Doris.
Many questions on the life and times of Roland King MM remain unanswered and the great man, who certainly had some stories to tell, remains somewhat of a mystery.
AWM, NAA, NLA