36 LITTLER, Alexander Bruce – MC

Littler
36 Alexander Bruce Alexander LITTLER

36 Alexander Bruce LITTLER – MC

 36 Alexander Bruce Littler was a 23 year old Engine driver originally from Rockhampton Queensland, and was with the Royal Australian Engineers for 2 years prior to enlisting. His older brother Ernest had also enlisted and was with the 2nd Light Horse.
Alex arrived at Gallipoli shortly after the landing, and as a Staff Sergeant was attached to administration and logistics roles and spent considerable time travelling between Egypt and Gallipoli right up to the evacuation.  At Gallipoli his rank afforded him little luxury and he was more than happy to spend his time on the front line with his mates.

Alex wrote a letter to his mother Sarah on the 4th June 1915 which was published by the Morning Bulletin newspaper in Rockhamptom Queensland two months later.

“ I received your letter last week and acknowledged my postcard. I suppose postcards of our description are rather unsatisfactory, but letters cannot be sent as a rule. Ernie was well when I saw him last. I have hosts of old friends here at the front, Jim Rankin, Fred Small, Perry Bate, George Lynch (Rockhampton) and a lot of others from various places whom you would not know. I am sending you a cable for your birthday and trust it reaches you all right.

We are living in holes in the ground called dug-outs. Off course we have a name plate on the front gate. I camp with my lance corporal, and we are reckoned some class. Our space measures 7ft by 5 ft and we have a chest of drawers, sideboard, kitchen pantry, and bedroom 6ft by 5ft all in it.

We are on the side of a hill, with the sea at the foot. None of our neighbours are more than 6ft away, so you can guess there is plenty of scandal over the back fence. I get a swim twice a day and three moderate meals and plenty of hill climbing in the day’s work, so I am in pretty good condition.

I will not talk war because there is nothing romantic about it, and it is a horrible business right through. We are all getting awfully callous. The country is absolutely rugged, but not stony, covered with dense scrub. The only thing we want is a change of diet and plenty of chocolates so we are not so badly off. Paper and postcards are very scarce. I may be transferred to a position at headquarters at the base any time now and will let you know if I go”
Source: NLA news article 69400529

Alex Littler was very careful not to worry his mother Sarah with this letter, he reassured her that he was with friends and had seen his older brother Ernie, who was keeping well.
He describes the living conditions with typical Aussie humour about his neighbours, the furnishing of the dug-out, the name plate on the front gate, and tries to paint a perfect picture of it being just like home.
He lightheartedly describes his daily routine as more like a fitness regime and refrains from telling her the horrible business of war. Alex omitted the dodging of shrapnel while he had a wash on the beach, the run up and down the steep cliff dodging sniper bullets and he even exaggerates  and describes the very meager rations as being three moderate meals a day. There is also no mention of the sleepless nights from constant bombing and shelling overhead.

It wasn’t long after this letter from Alex was published, that the reality of life at Anzac and the horrible business of war was slowly being revealed and the mood at home was starting to change.  At this point in time Alex or his family were probably not aware that his other brother Wilson Fitzroy LITTLER who had also enlisted with the 2nd Light Horse, was now a Turkish prisoner of war.

Villers – Bretonneux – 8th August 1918

Fast forward more than three years and 36 Alexander Bruce Littler the 1st FCE administrative Staff Sergeant and letter writer from the Gallipoli, was now Lieutenant A. B Littler a commissioned officer and now in command of his own reconnaissance troop.
During the years leading up to the 8th August 1918, Alex had been promoted six times, transferred to two different divisions, and had been a member of four different Field Engineer Company’s. He had taken very little leave and had been on active service for most of his time while in Egypt , Gallipoli and France.

Alex appears to have thrived in the war environment  and now was finally with the highly skilled and seasoned 14th Field Company Engineers.
It is hard to imagine what Alex was thinking so late in the war and he certainly had no idea that the war would be over in another three months, but with all his war experience behind him, on this particular day in 1918 Lieutenant Alex Littler was to do what so many Australian officers and N.C. O ‘s were always willing to do, lead by example, and get amongst the action and some even willing to go beyond the front line …………..

“On the morning of the 8th August 1918 during the attack east of Villers-Bretonneux near Amiens, immediately after the capture of Harbonnieres, Lieut. LITTLER went forward beyond the front line along the right brigade sector, immediately south of Harbonnieres, in order to ascertain the earliest possible opportunity for wiring front line. In spite of heavy machine gun fire and under extreme difficulty owing to lack of cover, Lieut.Littler went out again and again during the day to reconnoiter the position. His reports on this occasion were of the utmost value and enabled the transport and distribution of wiring stores to proceed with a minimum of casualties, and to be dumped at their destination during the very early stages of the operation.
This officer has been a splendid example of the highest courage, and absolute devotion to duty regardless of risk to himself, under the worst and most dangerous conditions of enemy shell fire.” Source AWM RCDIG1068171–113-

On this day for his conspicuous gallantry, great devotion to duty and what was described as brilliant leadership Alexander Bruce Littler was awarded the Military Cross.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack. Under heavy fire he went forward beyond the front line to ascertain the earliest opportunity for wiring the front line, after a position had been captured. His reports were of the greatest value in enabling transport and wiring stores to be dumped at their destinations during the very early stages of the operations. He did fine work.”
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 31
Date: 4 March 1919

The Military Cross awarded for Conspicuous Gallantry in the face of the enemy.

The Military Cross awarded for Conspicuous Gallantry in the face of the enemy.

Group portrait
Lieut. Alex Littler back and centre , the tallest man in the photo.

Hamilton Island

Fast Forward again, and now 40 years have passed since Alex had enlisted, and in 1954 he was living with his wife Vivienne Kathleen Mary Littler (nee Evans) at Hamilton Island, and was a grazier.

Alex had been a grazier for many years after the war in Wagga Wagga NSW, and had taken on a gentler lifestyle, far from his engine driving days and the Great War experiences. He and his wife had distanced themselves even further from the world on a remote piece of Australian island paradise. Quite a pleasing discovery in the post war life of an original.

His brother Ernest Littler had also returned after the war and continued his work in the Public Service as private secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Edmund Maher in the Queensland Parliament and later member of the Australian Senate. The eldest brother Wilson Fitzroy Littler was a Turkish prisoner of war for two years and was repatriated and returned to Australia for a short while in 1919, but embarked for the United States in August of the same year.

Vivienne Littler
Vivienne Littler

The following article published in Queensland Country Life in June 1954, gives us a unique glimpse into the idyllic island life Alex and his wife were enjoying, Vivienne with her art and hobby  making  puppet’s and the occasional visits to the mainland on their launch to stock up on supplies. Alex and Vivienne had two daughters, one living in England and the other in The United States. They seemed to be very happy, the simpler life was just what the Littler family deserved.

Article Queensland Country Life in June 1954………….Article – Queensland Country Life – June 1954

Story Copyright © Vance Kelly 2015

Sources: AWM, NAA,NLA

Footnotes:

1. Alex’s father Weaver Wilson Littler was Mayor of Rockhampton Queensland in 1896 and 1897.

2. Eldest brother Wilson Fitzroy Littler arrived in California USA in Augsut 1919, some attempts to locate him in 1927 , by family members.

3. Alex and Vivienne were still both living in Surfers Paradise in 1977 at Anembo st, Chevron Island Queensland, Alex was now 86 years old.

4. Alex also had two sisters, Ivy Littler, and  Dorothy who married and became Dorothy Spotswood.

5. It would appear possible direct descendants of Alex and Vivienne would be from the marriage of thier daughters, one in the Uk and the other in the USA…. the search continues.

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