Three Times A Soldier
75 Sapper Joseph Bedford Abel
During the great war Joseph stated he was a motor mechanic, a ships steward, a sign writer and a member of the grenadier guards. At first glance it is hard to believe he could have been all these things, however most of it is true except for some minor uncertainties.
Joseph was in fact a general steward on passenger ships between London and Sydney on several occasions between 1910 and 1912. His signwriting trade, a skill he still carried with him later in life, and his time in the Grenadier guards is on public record.
At some point in his capacity as a steward on a trip to Sydney, he stayed in Australia and in August 1914 he enlisted in the 1st FCE.
Joseph would ultimately enlist on three separate occasions within 2 years, under variations of his real name, birth place, and occupation.
As we discover his very irregular and unique war record, we also discover an interesting and determined character.
On his first attestation on the 19th August 1914 he was 75 Sapper Joseph Bedford Abel born in Leyton, London, he was 33 years old, and a motor mechanic who had been in the Grenadier Guards for 12 years.
On his second attestation on the 23rd April 1915 he was Joseph Bedford born in Sydney and was a ships steward and now a Private in the 8th Battalion.
Finally on his third attestation on the 1st June 1916 he returns to his correct name as Joseph Bedford Abel born in Leyton, England , he was a ship steward and a motor engineer but had been in the Grenadier guards for only 3 years…….he was now a Gunner with 1st Div.Ammunition Column.
His war records show that while stationed at Mena camp in Egypt he was unfit for soldering and was the first Sapper to be sent back to Australia and discharged from duty. Quite interesting details followed on his lack of ability to be a soldier, his lack of discipline and he was even planning to desert once arriving in England.
His initial service as a Sapper was not quite up to the high standards expected from someone who had been a member of the Grenadiers. Perhaps he was tired of all the discipline and thought the AIF may have been a bit more relaxed, perhaps he would have preferred to be placed with the infantry or as statements of his character suggest, enlisting for Joseph was merely a free ticket back to England……… or was it far more personal….. the sad news of his father’s death in October 1914 perhaps was the trigger for his disinterest in soldiering and therefore a more pressing desire to be with his family back in England.
On the 27th January 1915 Lieut. R. J Dyer No.2 section commander recommended that sapper Abel be discharged, not for “Misconduct” but for “Services no longer required as not likely to prove an efficient soldier .”
Lieut. R.J Dyer wrote….. “ No 75 Sapper Abel J.B is unfit to remain a sapper in this unit for the following reasons. – his attention to his work is not satisfactory; he does not show any interest and is slovenly in his habits. His technical knowledge is limited and he cannot be trusted with work that requires any responsibility. His moral influence on the section is not good and his general conduct is most unsatisfactory.”
The officer in charge of the Australian engineers concurred with the recommendation made by Lieut. Dyer and added his personal observations and stated….. “This man fails to satisfactorily carry out orders and is known to have stated his intention to desert upon reaching England – general conduct bad.”
Abel was discharged on the 2nd February 1915 and 3 days later left Suez per “Kyarra” and disembarked in Melbourne on 11th March 1915.
Within six weeks of returning to Australia Joseph managed to re-enlist in Melbourne in time to serve at Gallipoli, where his original unit the 1st FCE had been on landing day. He would have even met up with some of his old mates from the company.
While at Gallipoli Joseph was wounded in the left arm by shrapnel which splintered his humorous and in August he was transferred to Mudros and later invalided to England and then onto Australia where he was certified unfit for duty and discharged.
He was no longer interested in desertion, as an opportunity to do so went begging, but he returned to Australia again. No matter what the reason , he may not have had the right motivation initially, but something had turned Joseph around and when there was the opportunity to desert while repatriating in England, ….. he didn’t take it.
Joseph went back to Australia wounded and re-enlisted yet again. Joseph had become a gutsy determined soldier and was now a gunner, his soldiering skills were no longer questionable and he returned for duty, this time on the western front.
When the war was over he finally returned to Australia and disembarked in Sydney on the “Ormonde”on the 4th August 1919.
When Joseph Bedford Abel produced a Statuary Declaration in June 1918 declaring his “true name” he did not declare his first enlistment as a Sapper in 1914. This blemish on his character was perhaps a reminder of a troubled time in his life which he needed to forget and move on.
Whatever we make of Joseph Bedford Abel he was certainly a determined man and just as difficult it may be to pigeon-hole him today, perhaps this was what Joseph intended, perhaps he was a restless character and misunderstood 100 years ago.
Joseph was very much a brave man who had served in the Australian Imperial Forces and in four years had enlisted 3 times, held 3 different ranks as a Sapper, Private and a Gunner, he served at Gallipoli, was wounded and then served in France.
We will probably always remain unsure of who Joseph really was and what made him tick, however his achievements and his very unconventional war record make for a great story.
Joseph aged 48 returned home to England on the 9th March 1930 , his occupation noted as a Sign Writer and he gave his proposed address as Killarney, The Avenue, Chingford , Essex, close to his birth place.
1. Josephs parents were Arthur Henry Abel and Emily Abel and early searches indicate he had 2 brothers and 5 sisters all in England.
2. Public Records 1901 English Census record Joseph Bedford Abel as residing at the Victoria Barracks Windsor aged 19 and a Private in the Grenadier Guards – it is noted his birth place as Cardiff, Wales, which is in contradiction to his other birth record in Essex records.
3. The compiler is still investigating what happened to Joseph after his final return to Australia and then his later return to England. as well as checking Ancestry records for relatives and possible living descendants.
Sources: NLA, AWM
Story Copyright © Vance Kelly 2015