49 ATKINS, John Marshall

Searching for a Portrait
Searching for a Portrait

 John Marshall Atkins

49 John Marshall Atkins was born in Balmain in 1893, the eldest son to parents James and Mary A nee Marshall. John had two younger brothers James Alfred and Thomas and an older sister Elizabeth.

As a young man he had been employed as a shipwrights apprentice for nearly four  years at  shipbuilders  Davis Drake Ltd. of Rozelle.

He was nearly 21 years old  when he volunteered for the Australian Imperial Forces, his low number of 49 indicating his enthusiasm to enlist.

His younger brother James Alfred Atkins enlisted shortly after and was  No.2783 attached to the 5th Field Ambulance. He would later join up with  John at Anzac Cove in August 1915.

While serving at Gallipoli John was admitted to the Hospital ship ‘Gascon’ on the21st June with diarrhoea and transferred to 1st Australian General Hospital, Cairo, 30 June 1915 with gastritis. He rejoined his unit in late August and remained at Gallipoli until the general evacuation in December 1915.

The 1sf FCE embarked Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force, 21 March 1916 and disembarked Marseilles, France, on the 28th March 1916.

While on active service in the field he was admitted to the 1st Field Ambulance on the 30th October 1916  with a hernia  and was transferred back to England and admitted to 1st Southern General Hospital Birmingham, with what was described as a hernia and varicocele.

By March 1917 he had fully recovered and returned overseas to France, taken on strength and returned to the field on the 30 March 1917. In November of that same year his continued service saw him promoted to Lance Corporal.

John took two weeks leave to England  in February 1918 and a month later rejoined the unit in Belgium.

On 21 March, 1918, the Germans launched a massive attack on a 50 mile front on the Somme. The German army amassed its troops and launched what was known as the  German “Spring Offensive”  fought on a front south of Arras in St Quentin sector, Belgium.

There was extensive work needed on the defensive line trenches. Sections of the  1st FCE were engaged  in trench preparations,draining, setting communication lines, salvage work and erecting  accommodation and gas proofing trench shelters.

Heavy bombardments and enemy gas bombs  during this time was severe and continuous  with the Australian Forces suffering heavy casualties, many men dying within a few days from gas poisoning.

Trench mortar gas bombs launched by the Germans consisted mostly “Yellow Cross”  or mustard gas  and “Green Cross” (chloropicrin) with some phosgene and “Blue Cross” (diphenyl chlorarsine).  The gas would fill the trenches and surrounding valleys for days.

John Marshall Atkins was one of these casualties on the 21 March 1918  and was admitted to 1st Field Ambulance, and then ultimately  returned to England.

His condition had improved and he was discharged on furlough in April 1918. He remained in England stationed at various training camps and returned to the 1st FCE in France mid September 1918.

49 John Atkins finally returned to Australia on the troopship  ‘O’ –  ‘Durham’ on the 23/12/1918, also on board were 19 more originals  178 Walter Blattman, 228 William Davis Cohen,  193 Forde Leathley ,171 Keith Waterhouse,  148 Jas. Dickson (alias Jas. Dixson Spencer), 201 Herbert G. Eggleton, 92  William Fahey, C.Q.M.S. 168 John Flackfield (M.M.) 161 George. C. Gear, 24  Stanley Hense, 710 Dvr. George Hutley, 158 CMS. James Johnston, , 196 Spr. Fred. T. Meads, 68 Jack L. M’Mahon, 717  Fred. Pattenden, 37 Albert E. Shoosmith, 46 James Smith , 160 L/Cpl. Percy R. Thompson,  137 2nd Cpl. Geo. E. M.Woods.

In 1920 John married  Magdelene Robb.  Madge as she was known, like John, was also born in Balmain, perhaps they were acquainted before John went to war.

John’s  future with his now expectant  wife Madge was cut short and John died at Balmain hospital on the 27th June 1921 he was 27 years old. There is no doubt the gas poisoning in France had lead to complications and a rapid deterioration in health.

John’s  daughter Ellen Marshall Atkins was born five months later on 7th November 1921.

Although Ellen had never had the chance to meet  her  father, she was no doubt extremely proud of the young man, an ANZAC  who had given such a large part of his short life to the future of our nation.

Ellen would later apply for John’s  Gallipoli Medallion.

gallipoli medal

John Marshall Atkins is buried at the ‘Field of Mars Cemetery’ – catholic portion , section C grave 846, Sydney , New South Wales.

His daughter Ellen Marshall Atkins may have never married as she remained known as Atkins till her passing in 2012. Ellen is also buried at the ‘Field of Mars Cemetery’ – Roman Catholic, St Anthony, grave 413.

John Atkins brother James returned  safely after the war and the 1936 electoral rolls show his address at 36 Thomas st, Balmain, the same address John  and Madge had made their home 15 years earlier before tragedy had struck.  His mother Mary Anne and  James’ wife Florence May were also at this same address.

James and Florence had a son Leslie Graham Atkins. Leslie later married Mary Kathleen Lewis in Sydney 1960.

Leslie Graham Atkins at this stage is the last known link to John Marshall Atkins

Story©VanceKelly 2016