Surviving the Battle of Pozières, 29 July – 6 August 1916

After his special leave in England granted for the successful trench raid in Armentieres, Reg returned to the 28th Battalion on 30 June 1916 and was soon to experience the full horrors of the Western Front in the Battle of Poizieres of July/August 1916.

The next of Reg’s letters that remain was written to his brother Theo on 11 September 1916 and recounts his experiences:

1916.09.11 first page

“The Pater doesn’t look a day older and Mum is very well.

            Somewhere in Belgium

                                    11-9-16

Dearest Old Chap

I got your letter which the Pater forwarded on from Lurgashall the other day and was delighted to hear you are getting better from your attack of jaundice and fever. By Jove I would have liked to have been with you up in Darjeeling, do you remember our trip up there, leaving Manjhaul for Begusairas [1]  and the train journey to the station, losing your boy and the heat and then that wonderful trip up the hills in the little railway and how bally cold it was when we got there, 51º if I remember correctly.

If only those days could come once more, life is a very uncertain factor here old man, we have been having some terrific fighting since I last wrote you, on the Somme, the Australians made their name at Poziers which we took, also the Heights of Poziers, where desperate fighting took place, it doesn’t matter much telling you all this now as it is all over & is public property. In one charge (taking the Heights) we lost 19 Officers (14 killed & 5 wounded) and 670 men in about one hour.[2] 

Personally I was knocked down three times by the blast of shells and once buried and yet came out untouched, talk about luck or providence, our battalion came out with 67 rifles only. The trouble is when a position is captured, trying to hold on to it while the work of consolidation. trenches are absolutely obliterated and it is a hard job to find where they have been, one can only tell by a sense of position or direction and the bodies more or less [distutaled?] I pray you may never encounter a modern bombardment, it is simply hell let lose. The sights one sees are too dreadful to talk about, no chance of burial for the dead, they slowly rot on the ground, mangled and remangled by shells and the flies come in swarms, imagine trying to eat food under those conditions, also up to the knees in mud and water for 4 and 5 days at a time, I pray to God it will soon be over & this madness of slaughter come to an end. We have left the South of France now and are resting preparatory to going into the trenches at Ypres, another miserable hole, they are working the Australians for all they are worth just now, we have been fighting constantly since April 5thI don’t know how we are going to stand the winter here as our fellows are not used to the cold. I had hoped they would send us to Mesopotamia for the winter. I am now in charge of “C” Company and have been for more than a month, it is up to them to give me my Captaincy soon, as we are doing Captains work and taking responsibility for Lieutenants pay. It isn’t a  fair deal, but the military don’t care a damn as long as they can get the work done, however I suppose it will come in good time.[3] 

Did Finch take the Bulgy Snoukes up to Darjeeling or was the railway fare for one beastie too much for the pocket? I hear Simon is married! Congratulate him for me. It would be awfully nice for you to have seen all those nice people again, the Macs were awfully nice, and and the Finch tribe.[4] I would love to see them all again, besides I suppose Mac is very cocky these days as by now he ought to be a fairly decent billiard player, although he never will be a good snipe shot, tell him we’ve got good “sniping” over here. I had a splendid time at home.

I hope you don’t have to go back to Mesopotamia again, it seems such a hopeless business,[5] why not go to Australia and join up you would get a commission at
once and be sent to England to train and then we could meet again. Good bye dear old man take care of yourself, I am trying hard to do so.

                   Ever yours.

                                                Reg.”

 

[1] Manjhaul, Bihar Province, India  – where GT Gill (Theo) was working at an indigo factory in 1914. Reggie visited India for six months from 1914 to 1915 and stayed with Theo. Begusarai is nearby to Manjhaul in Bihar Province.

[2] In the first unsuccessful attack on the German trench called OG1 at The Windmill on the night of 28/29th July, the 28th BN were caught on the uncut wire and lost over 470 men. 8 of its officers were killed, including 3 of the 4 company commanders (Maj. Welch, Capt N.F. Macrae and Capt C.T. Gibbins). The fourth company commander (Capt A.S. Isaac) lost an arm and the Battalion commander (Colonel Collett) was also wounded.

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.33.47

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Presumably this is when Reg took over as company commander of C Coy. See the Official History, Vol III, Chap 18 for a detailed account of the action.

The second attack on 4th August was successful in taking the German trenches OG1 and OG2 but the 28th had to hold on in the face of fierce counterattacks for two more days.  This attack may have been successful in capturing its objectives, but the bombardment was so heavy that nothing of the tenches remained and the losses to the 28th Battalion and the rest of 7th Brigade were enormous.

The old ‘O.G. 1’ line [Old German 1 line] at Pozieres, France, looking north towards the Windmill from a point about 200 to 400 yards north of the junction with Pozieres trench. The photograph illustrates how completely the trench was filled up, so that only the muzzles of buried rifles are showing. This section of the trench had evidently been rebuilt at one time, as the sandbags seen in the foreground are on the German side.

October 1916 – The battlefield near Pozieres village, in France, showing how completely the trenches dug by Australians on 23 and 24 July, just south of the Bapaume Road, had been obliterated by shellfire.

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A number of messages written by Reg during the night of 4/5th August in the file of 7th Brigade:

RHG message - 04 08 16 
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[3] Actually, Reg had just been promoted to Lieutenant on 28 August, and in less than a month after writing this letter, to Captain on 1 October 1916.

[4] ‘Finch’? E.J. Finch perhaps?

‘Bulgy Snoukes’ may be a dog or a horse – GTG’s photo album has many photos of named dogs and horses. One dog is ‘Bully also known as Boolgy’

‘The Macs’? perhaps Mr and Mrs E.G. Macpherson

‘The Mauhns’ or Munns – perhaps Ferrers and Margaret Munns?

 

[5] see GTG in Mesopatamia with the 2/6th Gurkha Rifles

Maj Roy Phillipps, MC & Bar, DFC

Maj Roy Cecil Phillipps, MC & Bar, DFC

Roy Cecil Phillipps was a fellow lieutenant with Reg in the 28th AIF and was also one of the six officers on the Black Anzacs Raid at Armentières on the night of 6 June 1916 – as described in Reg’s letter to his brother.

Roy had also worked as an accountant in Perth before the war and according to the records at the Australian War Memorial, Reg and Roy were mates before the war. Roy had signed up for the AIF in April 1915, a few months before Reg and departed for Egypt aboard HMAT Ascanius on 9 June 1915. Reg enlisted soon after in August 1915 and joined the 28th as they were leaving Egypt for France in February 1916.

According to the account of the raid in the Official History, Roy was in charge of the covering party, who lay outside along the edge of the German wire to provide covering fire for the raiders who went forward into the enemy trench:

“Amid the wild uproar of bursting shells and the crashes of these big bombs, the party in No-Man’s Land at once hurried forwards. Although the bombs (of which twenty-two had been fired) had made a clean sweep of the enemy’s wire, it took some two minutes to reach the parapet. Foss crept up the front slope of the breastwork and lay down upon it, the left and right trench-parties and blocking-parties following him, the men lying down to right or left of the leader as each had done in practice, while the covering party under Lieutenant Phillipps extended itself along the edge of the enemy’s wire. When the assault party was ready, the men, on a signal from their leader, leapt into the trench. As he crossed the parapet, FOSS, looking to the rear of the German lines, which were lit by the shell-flashes as if by a conflagration, saw the barrage bursting on all sides exactly as planned, completely severing the raided area from the rest of the German position.” Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, p 247.

Roy suffered a gun shot wound to the right thigh at the Battle for the Heights of Pozieres on 5 August 1916 and was hospitalised to England. He was promoted Captain and rejoined the 28th AIF in October 1916. But was wounded a second time just a month later in the Guedecourt sector, and was again hospitalised back to England until March 1917. This time his leg was partially paralysed and he was incapacitated from further infantry service.

Normally this would have meant being discharched and returning home to Australia. But instead Roy engineered a transfer to the Australian Flying Corps, apparently falsifying his age to do so. He was awarded the Military Cross in February 1918, whilst flying with 68 Sqn, with the bar added in June 1918 whilst flying for 2 Sqn. He received the latter award from the King at Buckingham Palace on 9 March 1919. In August 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and in October 1918 he was promoted to Major and assumed command of 6 Sqn Training AFC at Minchinghampton in England.

Visit of General Birdwood to 6th Training Sqn at Minchinhampton – Maj R.C.Phillipps behind in the centre.

By the end of the First World War, Roy had a tally of 15 confirmed victories over enemy aircraft. More detail on his service in the AFC can be read here and here.

Roy married Ellen ‘Nell’ Hillman Robinson, daughter of Mr R.T Robinson, K.C., Attorney General for Western Australia, on 8 September 1917 at St Mary Abbott’s, Kensington. It was reported at the time that the bridegroom only obtained leave for the wedding the previous day.

Wedding party of Capt R.C. Phillipps to Miss Ellen Hillman Robinson at St Mary Abbott’s, Kensington – 8 September 1917

An album of photographs survives from this period of the couple’s time in England during Roy’s leaves from duty in France. A number of the photos were taken at the home of Reg’s father and step-mother, The Malt House in Lurgashall, West Sussex.

Roy Philips' album (AWM P08148) 1

Following the war, Roy purchased a grazing farm in NSW which he managed before being recalled to duty on the eve of the Second World War. Roy was killed on 21 May 1941 in an aircraft accident near Archerfield, Queensland, aged 45, survived by his wife, a son and three daughters.

 

RHG and the Raid at Armentières

Reg with the 7th Reinforcements of the 28th Bn AIF finally joined up with the Battalion just outside Alexandria in March 1916, just as the Battalion was preparing to embark for France.  Within a few months Reg took part as the Battalion Scout Officer in a successful trench raid at Armentières on the night of 6 June 1916 (a combined operation between the 28th AIF and the 26th AIF which was a battalion raised from Queensland and Tasmania) which was later nicknamed the ‘Black Anzacs’ raid. The events are best described in Reg’s own words in a letter he wrote to his brother Theo, who was at that time serving with the 2/6th Gurkha Rifles in Mesopotamia:

France 16th July 1916

My dearest Theo, I was more than delighted to receive your letter and enclosures yesterday, it is a long long time since I heard last from you, so it was more than ever welcome especially to know that you are safe and well. Well dear old chap I have had many exciting times and adventures since landing in this country, amongst other things I am now the owner of the Military Cross which I am sure you will be pleased to hear, I will tell you about that later on. I have also been home & have seen the dear Pater & Mother, all the Bowers & most of the relations. I suppose I had better begin at the beginning and tell you as much as I can of what has happened.

We landed in France on March 21st [1] and on a bitter cold night, after 3 days in the train in a 3rd class carriage all the way from Marseilles, at about 9.0 pm & they started to issue iron rations in a blinding snow storm, they finished the job in about 2 hours & then we had a 12 mile march to a camp, at which we arrived about 2.0 am. no blankets, cold & wet through we turned into tents the floors of which were a veritable sea of mud, however when one is tired mud doesn’t concern and I for one slept like a log.[2]

We spent about a week in camps and billets & then had a 3 day march to the firing line, our spells in the trenches usually being 16 days in the front line and 5 or 6 days out again in billets “resting”! Resting consists of fatigues.[3]

We were round Armentieres Salient for about 10 weeks and then shifted up to Messines. Our casualties have been very heavy on the whole from shelling and some shelling goes on I can tell you, one afternoon they put 1100 shells, HE & shrapnel on a front of 200 yards in 50 minutes. I can tell you Theo it is like hell. I had been made Scout Officer for the 28th battalion, and had all the patrols to do at night between our lines & the Hun’s, not a very nice job as flares are going up between the lines continuously throughout the night, we have had several exciting little encounters with hostile patrols, until in the end, just before we left that portion of the line, we were completely masters of “No mans land”, the Germans being afraid to come outside their own line, as a matter of fact we patrolled up & down outside their line & if any body was seen by us they were immediately bombed.

Men of the 2nd Australian Division in the front line at Croix du Bac, near Armentieres, 18 May 1916

Australian troops repairing a communication trench at Armentieres, May 1916.

 All this of course was leading up to one thing, a stunt we intended to carry out, and to carry it out properly “No mans land” had to be ours. A raid was to be made on the Enemy’s trenches and I, as Scout Officer had the job of cutting their wire entanglement. Our trouble of course was the short hours of darkness, as it did not get dark until 10.30 pm and was daylight by 1.45-2.0am however the raiding party went back to a farm house and  practised for nearly 3 weeks, trenches in replica of the point of entrances having been constructed, until everybody in the party (x6) knew not only his own job but everyone elses as well. My job was certainly the most trying of  the lot as we had to get up to their barbed wire and cut a  passage through it wide enough to admit the whole party 2 deep and it had to be done in absolute silence, as if we were heard the whole party would probably be seen and cut to pieces by machine guns before we could get back, our trenches here were 300 yds apart and the country between quite flat covered with long grass.[4]

Anyway off we started at about 10.0 pm with our faces blackened armed with revolvers, bombs, knobkerries & wire cutters, I took the lead with my Scout Corporal and 4 Scouts and we got over to their wire safely and started to cut,[5] we got on very well and cut away steadily for an hour and a half and were working up to what we thought was a bush when suddenly a head with a helmet appeared over the top and stared in our direction, we were then only 5 yards away from it, and had cut through at least 30 yards in depth of wire and were only about 15 yards away from their parapet wall we laid perfectly still & did not make the slightest sound I can assure you. Suddenly a flare went up from their trenches and fell a bit short and then 3 more heads, one with a helmet & 2 with the flat German forage caps ran round the side & stared in our direction & in the light of the flare we saw that what we had taken for a bush was a fortified listening post made of sand bags and steel loophole plates painted green. I was now in a quandary, the time was midnight and it  was too late to start a fresh path and quite impossible to cut away to the right or left as we had been observed & apparently so by this Listening Post, then I had to consider the safety of the main assaulting party lying outside the line.

Map

Captain Cecil Maitland Foss MC, 28th Battalion, of Babakin WA

You may be sure I had the Huns well covered with my revolver & some bombs ready to throw, so we laid there for 10 minutes and then watched each other and I then decided the only thing to do was to retire noiselessly whichwe did, replacing the wire as we retired and covering up our tracks.[6] Eventually we reached the main party & I told Captain Foss what had happened and he gave the order to return to our trenches. We all got back safely without a single casualty, and next day the General in an address to the Battalion complimented me on the work I had done the only thing possible under the circumstances and pulled my leg generally.[7]

Anyway the next night it has to be tried again, only this time with an artillery preparation, so once we crept out at 10.30pm and laid doggo until 11.15pm when we opened up a terrific bombardment also opened up and another similar one on the left, trench mortars with their 60 lb bombs played on the line and blew it to ribbons until 11.35pm when the scouts pushed forward and saw that the passage was clear the main party following closely and over we went into their trenches and stopped in them killing off any that were left alive (we bagged 25 and took 4 prisoners) for 10 minutes and then we retired back to a ditch in “No mans land” and laid low until their retaliation had ceased and then got back into our own trenches.[8]

Our casualties were 2 killed and 5 wounded, I got a crack in the left ear from a splinter of shell which amounted to nothing, so we were very lucky on the whole.

Nominal Roll - Appendix 6

Nominal Roll - Appendix 6 pg2

We got a lot of valuable information, papers, bombs rifles, ammunition, helmets uniforms, maps etc. A party was told off to visit the Listening Post and found it there exactly as I had stated also the remains of 4 dead Germans in small pieces, one of our trench mortar bombs had burst near & blown them all to bits, I can tell you it gave me immense satisfaction to have my story confirmed. We had all been promised a week’s leave if the raid was successful[9] and two days 
after I was told I could leave for England on the Friday.

By Jove Theo the joy of going home again after eleven years. We left Boulogne on Saturday at 6pm and arrived at Folkestone at about 7.15pm by the “Invicta”, do you remember her & got into the boat train arriving at Victoria at 10.30pm I called the Pater & Uncle Clifford and then went to the Hotel Cecil and to bed. At about 10.0 am Sunday Uncle rang me up and told me to come down to Bromley by the 1.0pm from Charring X. A few minutes after the dear old Pater rang up and could hardly speak from excitement. I arrange with him to go  down by the 9.28 am Wednesday to Haslemere, I had a parade on in London early on Tuesday morning so it was no use going down and coming back again, he quite understood the position, so I went on to Bromley & spent Sunday, Monday with them. Uncle, Aunty, Uncle Bert, Katie, Alf, Margy & her husband, Theo and Baish were there & we had a ripping time, can you imagine it all.[10] On Monday I went over in the afternoon to see Aunty Minnie  and Marjorie and in the evening Uncle Cliff, Aunty, Daphne and I went up to town & had dinner at the Trocadero & then on to a play called “A little bit of  fluff”. Awfully funny.

A parade at the main building of Administrative Headquarters, AIF, Horseferry Road.

On Tuesday morning I went up to town with Uncle and had to attend the parade and in the evening the Officers of the raiding party entertained the Colonel to dinner at Frascatis and after to “Tonight’s the Night”, we all had a very jolly evening and next morning I set sail from Waterloo for Haslemere & was met by the dear Pater & Mater in their car and driven out to the “Malt House”,

The Malt House, Lurgashall, West Sussex

The Malt House, Lurgashall, West Sussex

they have a lovely home old chap, it is very quaint and old, the house is over 400 years old and simply full of old oak, black oak beams everywhere and furnished beautifully in the mater’s good taste. They were both very good indeed to me. I had a splendid time, motored everywhere round the country and visited a lot of people. I managed to get an extension of two days from the War Office, so did not leave Haslemere until the Saturday evening train at 6.15 pm and Aunty Maud and Uncle Clifford met me at Waterloo Station and I took them to the Hotel Cecil and shouted them supper, after supper we had a lovely yarn and then I said good bye to them at Victoria Station & came back to bed.

The next morning I had to catch the 8.50 am at Victoria for Folkestone and when we got there I found we had 6 hours to wait before the boat left so went for a walk round the old familiar spots, and just for the fun of it called on Miss Bradwick little thinking that they were still there, but sure enough Beatrice came into the room and I said I’m sure you don’t know who I am & she said Oh yes I do, you are Reggie Gill and how is Theodore!  We had a long yarn & she was very interested to hear how we all were and what we had done.

General William Riddell Birdwood

Well the blasted boat had to go so I got back to this land of “strafe”[11] once more. When I got back to camp, the Btn had shifted up to Messines or rather opposite that place.[12] I was greeted by everyone with showers of congratulation, I found I had been awarded the Military Cross, of course I was very pleased for the family’s sake. I had a  personal letter of congratulation from General Birdwood &  then came showers of letters from home.

Well old man you must be dead tired of reading this by now, about the longest I have written, so I will say so long, look after yourself dear old man, won’t you, please God we shall meet again some day.

Ever Your affectionate brother.

Reg. H Gill

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[1] The 28th Battalion arrived in Marseilles on board the H.M.T. “Themistocles” from Egypt.

 

 

[2] see ‘Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918’, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (12th edition, 1941) Chap III – The Arrival in France, pp. 75-78

 

[3] see the Official History, Vol III, Chap IV – The Move to the Front, pp. 99-108

 

 

[4] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX The Raid at Armentieres, pp 243-245

 

[5] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, pp 246-247 ‘In order to cut a passage, Gill lay on his back beneath it with his head towards the enemy’s trench and the wire across his chest, while his scout corporal, Tozer (Lieut. H. J. H. Tozer, M C., M.M.; 28th Bn Clerk; of Perth, W. Aust.; b Footscray, Vic., 24 March, 1892) lying almost on top of him, pressed the wire down. Gill had adjusted his steel wire-clippers to cut only two-thirds of the way through each strand, so that there should be no “ click ” to betray the operation. Each wire thus partly severed was easily broken by the hands’.

 

[6] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, pp 246-247 ‘The wire-cutters had evidently run straight into a German listening-post. It soon became clear that they had not been actually seen; but to attempt proceeding farther would mean the certain discovery of the raid, of which the main body was then still assembling in No-Man’s Land. Gill and Tozer lay perfectly still for ten minutes, and then wriggled stealthily back, joining up the ends of the cut wire as they did so. The assault party had been waiting in a ditch near some willows in No-Man’s Land, and had just begun to crawl forward to its “ jumping-off ” position ’when Gill encountered it. The hour was then past 11.30, too late for an attempt to cut the wire at any other point. A message reporting the check was sent to Brigadier-General Paton, who had come up to a special headquarters in the line. By the time it reached him-12.30 a.m.-it was too late to adopt the third possible course and have the raid preluded by a preparatory bombardment, although that alternative had been previously discussed and plans for a bombardment were in existence. Paton accordingly decided to arrange for the attempt to be undertaken the next night after a short bombardment, and the party was withdrawn.’

 

[7] I imagine Reg took a lot of stick for effectively calling off the raid on the first night after all the painstaking preparations. One of the other raiders, Private Daniel Quinn of the 26th AIF, reported home in a letter published in the local paper “We started to cut Fritz’s barbwire and we came across a listening post, and we had to turn back very disappointed and wild. When we got back, to our trenches all the other fellows in the brigade roused upon us and said that we were frightened.” http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/1044231

A copy of Reg’s report is in the file of the 7th Brigade for June 1916:

RHG's report pg 1

RHG's report pg 2

 

[8] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, pp.247-249

 

[9] Official History, Chap IX, p. 251

 

[10] The families of George Clifford Bower (‘Uncle Cliff’, stockbroker living at ‘Newquay’, Durham Avenue, Bromeley, Kent) and Theodore Herbert Bower (‘Uncle Bert’). Uncles Cliff and Bert were the brothers of Reg’s mother, who died in childbirth with Reg in 1881.

 

[11] ‘strafe’ – verb, now meaning ‘to attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft’. Origin: early 20th century: humorous adaptation of the German World War I catchphrase Gott strafe England ‘may God punish England.’

 

[12] see Official History, Chapter XI – Opening of the Offensive and the Move to Messines

RHG with the 28th AIF

It seems that it was not until August 1915 that Reg volunteered to join the AIF. His application for a commission was signed 12 August. It is not known why he waited until August 1915 to volunteer but the Official History quoted below mentions a noted difference in the type of men and the reasons that they volunteered later, after the initial enthusiasm of August 1914.

Reg’s application for a commission was signed 12 August, his medical examination signed on 27 August, and his ‘Attestation Paper for Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad’ recording him as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 7th Reinforcements, 28th Battalion, AIF was signed by Reg on 16th September 1915.

Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad - 16 Sept 1915

The AIF

The AIF was the ‘Australian Imperial Force’. At the declaration of the war on August 4th 1914, Australia did not have a standing army for overseas service. Australia had no obligation to assist Britain in the war but, as with the other colonies, immediately volunteered an expeditionary force to fight overseas, wherever needed by the Empire. At first Australia volunteered a force of 20,000 men, but not a collection of brigades as had been sent to assist Britain in South Africa in the Boer Wars:

“It was quite clear that any force so composed would be dismembered and incorporated with units from other parts of the Empire in such a way that its national character would be lost.”

But the man in whose hands the Australian Government had placed the organisation of Australia’s contribution to the army of the Empire abroad was one who saw far ahead, and who realised something of  what it would mean to her that this force should go to the war as a national unit. William Throsby Bridges, Inspector-General of the Australian Military Forces, had been in  Queensland when the war broke out, but had been recalled to Melbourne. He was a man of great knowledge, slow of thought, but always thinking and thinking deeply, and when he arrived at a purpose lie held inflexibly to it. From August 5th, when he reached Melbourne and was entrusted with the organising of the expeditionary force, he was determined that Australia should send to this war an Australian “division”-a compact unit, to be kept and fought as an  Australian unit wherever it might go.” The Official History, Vol I, Chap II  p.30

“The contingent now being raised seemed an immense one for Australia. No  provision for anything so large as a division existed in the Australian Army system; a brigade was the largest formation yet provided for. Even Great Britain herself had never, before the present war, sent a fully organised modern division across the seas as one compact unit. No  one at this time dreamed that further contingents approaching the same size would be needed from Australia. For nearly a year the infantry division which Australia sent was commonly known as “The Australian Division” simply.” The Official History, Vol I, Chap II p.35

But because of the huge number of volunteers in Australia, which far exceeded the numbers of the initial division, including the reinforcements necessary to keep that initial division in the field, a second Division was formed:

“In June and July, 1915, there arrived in Egypt from Australia reinforcements of special importance. For some time after the departure of the Gallipoli expedition the only Australian troops regularly arriving had been the monthly drafts to maintain the strength of units already at the front. These came forward with absolute regularity, the quotas being whatever was laid down for the British Army. For example, when in December, 1914,the British War Office, after experience of the heavy losses in France, decided to send forward monthly 15 per cent. of the full strength of each infantry unit and 10 per cent. for each unit of cavalry, Australia adopted the same scale. At that time the force consisted of-

One (1st) infantry division,
One additional (4th) infantry brigade,
Three (Ist, 2nd, and 3rd) light horse brigades, and Certain base or L.-of-C. units.

For these the increased monthly reinforcement would be 3,227 officers and men. This number was therefore regularly despatched from Australia. But the recruits who continued to offer were more numerous than could be absorbed in these drafts. The great tide of enlistment which set in after the Landing had not, indeed, yet commenced, but since the sailing of the early contingents there had been steadily enrolled a somewhat different class of men from that which had first rushed to the recruiting offices. They were men who perceived that the war was likely to be longer and more difficult than had at first appeared; men who waited to settle their family or business affairs before considering themselves free to enlist ; men who had begun to realise that, if the war was to be won, each individual citizen must put his shoulder to the wheel. A high proportion volunteered not so much from impetuosity of spirit as because of a reasoned patriotism. The newspapers, in the effort to encourage enlistment, pointed out that these men were perhaps more truly representative of Australia [p.420] than the adventurous 1st Division, and that they were impressing all beholders as the finest troops yet raised in the Commonwealth. Men of the 1st Division, reduced, war-worn, sickening in their trenches at Anzac, read such eulogies with sardonic comments, and at once christened these future arrivals the “ Dinkum ” (that is, “ the genuine ”) Australians.

When this class began to maintain the flood of enrolment and the camps in Australia were found to be receiving far larger numbers than would he required for mere reinforcements, the Commonwealth Government cabled to Great Britain offering to organise, despatch, and maintain fresh units of a strength of 10,000. This proposal was accepted, the British Government asking that as large a percentage as possible should be infantry. On February 2nd, therefore, the Commonwealth notified London that the new force would comprise-

Two (5th and 6th) infantry brigades.
One (4th) light horse brigade.

On April 1st this was increased I)y the additional offer of-

One (7th) infantry brigade.

The three infantry brigades were raised as follows :-

In New South Wales –

5th (17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Battalions).

In Victoria –

6th (21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th Battalions).

In other States – 7th Brigade

25th Battalion (Queensland).
26th Battalion (half Queensland, half Tasmania).
27th Battalion (South Australia).
28th Battalion [Western Australia).”

The Official History, Vol II, Chapter XV pp.419/420

 

The 28th Battalion

The 28th AIF was a unit comprised exclusively of men recruited from Western Australia. An excellent history of the early years of the 28th Battalion from 1915 until arrival in France in 1916 is written by its first commanding officer Colonel H.B. Collett and is available to read on-line here: The 28th: A Record of War Service in the Australian Imperial Force, 1915-19, Vol. I, by Herbert Brayley Collett. The 28th Battalion was created in April 1915, trained at Blackboy Hill Camp outside Perth, and departed for Egypt on the ss Ascansius on 9th June 1915 from Fremantle.

28th AIF - Some of the Original Officers

28th AIF – Some of the Original Officers

THE MARCH THROUGH PERTH - 3rd June, 1915 - The crowd in St George's Terrace

THE MARCH THROUGH PERTH – 3rd June, 1915 – The crowd in St George’s Terrace

THE FAREWELL AT FREMANTLE - 9th June, 1915

THE FAREWELL AT FREMANTLE – 9th June, 1915

Of the initial battalion that sailed that day, Col Collett’s history records that half the battalion were Australian born, and nearly all the remaining half were British born. The average age was approx. 24 years and (from approx 1,000 men) there were only 143 married men. 150 civil occupations were represented, the principal ones being: labourers 199, farmers and farm hands 109, miners and prospectors 70, timber workers 64, clerks 60, carpenters and joiners 27, horse drivers 18, pearlers 17, grocers 16, engineers 13, and butchers 13.

The battalion arrived at Gallipoli in September 1915 and was there until the evacuation in December 1915 before moving back to Egypt to reorganise and restore their numbers and then on to France for the Western Front in March 1916.

The 28th AIF, Cairo, August 1915

The 28th AIF, Cairo, August 1915

RHG visit to India – November 1914

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and many men in Australia rushed to volunteer for the army that was speedily being raised to fight in Europe. But Reg did not volunteer at first.

In late 1914 Reg visited his brother Theo (GTG) who was on the staff of an indigo plantation in India (Manjhaul, Bihar State). Reg is recorded in a local paper as visiting India for six months, returning in March 1915 (Daily News, 12 March 1915). Six months seems a long time to be away, especially if Reg had his own business or was working as an accountant or clerk for a company.  It is interesting that Reg’s wife Laura does not seem to have gone with him. According to the same local paper, Laura had been on her own six month trip to the UK and Europe in 1912 ‘Mrs. Reginald Gill, of Fremantle, who is on a six months’ holiday In tho old country, leaves this month (says an English paper) on a tour of Holland, Switzerland, the Rhine, and Norway.’ (Daily News, 12 July 1912)

It is not known whether Reg spent all six months with Theo or just a part of this time. From the dates of the photos Reg was with Theo from at least November 1914 to January 1915 – click the following photos to enlarge:

GTG photo album - p.25

Theo is seen on a 2½ hp Singer motorcycle and Reggie is on a 2½ hp Motosacoche.

GTG photo album - p.43

 

GTG photo album - p.14a GTG photo album - p.14b

Reg’s letters to Theo from the Western Front nostalgically mention a trip they took with friends up to Darjeeling.

The letters also mention The “Munns” and the “Macs” and the “Finch tribe” – possibly Ferrers and Kathleen Munns and their daughters Margaret and Helen,  Mr and Mrs E.G. Macpherson and E.J. Finch pictured in later years in Theo’s photo album.

The Munns

J.W. Spencer & E.G. Macpherson - 1919

J.W. Spencer & E.G. Macpherson – 1919

GTG photo album - p.8 c

 

 

 

GTG photo album - p.14d GTG photo album - p.14 copy

E.J. Finch was a manager at the Indigo estate at Manjhaul in the state of Bihar where GTG worked.

 “MUNJHOUL

One has to give but a cursory glance at the 4,500 acres of land on the Munjhoul estate, in the district of Monghyr, cultivated on behalf of the proprietor, to see that farming operations have been conducted on thoroughly up-to-date principles, chief among which are a systematic course of manuring and the draining of superfluous water from the soil.

The whole estate comprises an area of about fifteen square miles in extent, and the control of this huge property is vested in Mr. F. H. Holloway, for whom Mr. E. J. Finch is manager. About 4,500 acres are kept in hand, and Java indigo (700 acres), wheat, chillies, tobacco, and other, native crops are grown successfully.

An indigo factory was built at Munjhoul, on a bank of the little Gandak River, in or about the year 1836, and the produce, manufactured under the old system of beating by the hand, may be put down at an average of 9 seers to the acre. The only steam power used on the premises is in connection with the processes of boiling and the pumping of water for the vats. Tobacco, cured on racks, yields 8 maunds to the acre, and all crops are sold where grown, with the exception of indigo, which is sent for disposal to Messrs. Begg, Dunlop & Co., the agents in Calcutta.

The four out-stations are : Sisanni, seven miles distant in an eastwardly direction from headquarters ; Bundwar, four miles to the south ; Gurkpura, nine miles to the north ; and Bissenpore, four miles to the west.

The buildings are substantially constructed, and include five very nice bungalows, factory, carpentering and other shops, sheds, and stores. Constant work upon the land is found for sixty-five pairs of oxen, and about three hundred permanent labourers are required for other duties.

Mr. Finch is assisted in the management by Messrs. P. F. Baddeley-Holloway and H. N. Philiffe.”  extract from ‘BENGAL AND ASSAM, BEHAR AND ORISSA, Their History, People, Commerce, and Industrial Resources’, Compiled by SOMERSET PLAYNE, F.R.G.S. (1917)

 

close up of Reggie and Theo - Nov 1914, Munjoul, IndiaGTG photo album - p.31

 

close up - Reggie's last day in India

RHG with the 11th AGA

Having settled in Fremantle with his wife Laura, in 1913 Reg joined the 11th Australian Garrison Artillery (11 AGA).

The AGA was a militia unit (i.e. part time).

“4.         The departure of the last British troops from Australia in 1870 precipitated the raising of a new category of local military force. While the ‘volunteers’ provided a basic local defence capacity for a very modest cost, successive reviews of defence preparation in the colonies highlighted a need for higher standards of training, stricter discipline and the introduction of more modern equipment. The gold rushes and associated economic prosperity also generated a climate in which colonial administrations felt that they could afford to build more capable defence units. Consequently, volunteers were sought for a new, partially paid, colonial militia force. Militia volunteers were supplied with uniforms and essential equipment as well as cash payments for periods of service. In return, the training periods for these units were compulsory and their exercising and discipline were far more rigorous than for the ‘volunteers’.

5.         The Australian colonies were very cautious about raising regular military units. There was a widespread aversion to the dangers of militarism and wariness about the potential for permanent defence forces to be used to suppress workers’ movements. There was also little interest in generating an officer ‘caste’ along the lines fostered by the British. Most Australians did not want to compromise their egalitarian spirit by creating a more formal, permanent, professional military force. Thus when the first full-time defence units were raised in some of the colonies in the 1870s, they were very small in size and tasked with supporting the much larger militias, primarily in manning the expanded network of coastal fortifications. This meant that by the 1880s the following categories of military service existed in several of the colonies: permanent, militia, volunteer and school cadet and rifle club reserves.”  History of the Army Reserves

11 AGA was the militia unit based at Fremantle:

“Up to [1903], the sole artillery defence of Fremantle was in the hands of No. 2 Battery W.A. Field Artillery, armed with 15-pounders, and the increased importance of the chief port of the State necessitated some improvement in its defences.  Up-to-date armament was installed in two forts, Fort Arthur’s Head being completed some time before Fort Forrest. The erection of these forts entailed an increase in the personnel of the Royal Australian Artillery in the State, and also the provision of more volunteers. To provide for the latter, No. 2 Field Battery was, in October 1907, changed to No. 2 Battery Australian Garrison Artillery.… In 1911 the numbering of the batteries was changed, Fremantle becoming No. 11 and Albany No, 12.” West Australian (14/07/1928)

The permanent artillery units were distinguished from the militia units by carrying the name Royal Australian Garrison Artillery (RAGA):

“The title Royal was exclusive to the permanent gunners who formed both Field Batteries and Garrison Companies (Coastal). The volunteers, now called militia, also formed field and garrison units.” History of Australia’s Artillery

It seems that service in the militia units was compulsory at the time:

“Between 1911 and 1929 Australian males aged between 18 and 60 were required to perform militia service within Australia and its territories. The Defence Acts of 1903 and 1904, empowered the Australian Government to call up ‘unexempted’ males in time of war. The Defence Act 1909 made training and service compulsory in time of peace.” National Archives of Australia – Fact Sheet 160

Reg’s application for a commission upon joining the AIF in 1915 records that he served just 15 months as a Provisional 2nd Lieutenant in 11th AGA from early 1913 until resigning in March 1914. It is not known why he resigned.

At some point between the end of 1910 and before 1915, Reg had left the Fremantle Port Authority. It is not clear where he worked after this. A later news article in the local paper, The West Australian (31 June 1916), mentioned that before the war ‘For some years he was an officer on one of the steamers, trading between Singapore and Fremantle – He resigned that position to take up an appointment with the Fremantle Harbour Trust, and subsequently started business on his own account’.  In various military records Reg’s profession before WWI was listed as ‘accountant’ or ‘clerk’ but his employer or company name is not mentioned. It is interesting that a notice in the local paper in 1912 concerning a lost tie pin (The West Australian, 2 August 1912), says that the pin can be returned to Reg either at his home in Essex St., Fremantle or at the office of ‘Chas Sommers’ in Perth. Chas. Somers was an ‘auctioneer, land, estate and general commission agent and sworn valuator’ at 56 St. George’s Terrace, Perth. Maybe Reg worked for Chas Sommers in 1912?

Chas Sommers

 

RHG in Fremantle

In Reggie’s enlistment papers for the AIF in 1915 he says that he had been in Australia for 23 years. So he would have arrived around 1906.

Reggie would have called at most of the main Australian cities during his time with P&O but he chose to settle in Fremantle.

I have discovered the name of R.Gill reported as an arriving passenger in Fremantle on 18 September 1906 on the RMS Mongolia, a P&O steamer, from London and Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka):

“Shipping – Port of Fremantle – Arrivals …
September 18.
Mongolia, R.M.S., 10,000 tons, Commander Preston. R.N.R., from London and Colombo. Passengers:- Mr. C. G. Stewart, Mr. W. Chillimare, Mr. R. Gill, Mrs. Harvey and child, Miss Lawrence. P. and O. Co.”
Shipping Notes, The Western Mail (Perth), Saturday 22 September 1906

Reggie first worked for the Fremantle Harbour Trust (now known as the Fremantle Port Authority) which managed the Fremantle Harbour. Fremantle was a new town, booming on the back of the gold rush in Western Australia in the 1890s. The harbour had only recently been completed in 1897 and became the premier port for Western Australia and port of call for the mail packets:

“Fremantle is named after Sir Charles Howe Fremantle (1800–1869). On 2 May 1829, as commander of HMS Challenger, he hoisted the Union Jack on the south head of the Swan River to take formal possession for the British crown ‘of all that part of New Holland which is not included in the territory of New South Wales’….

Until the 1850s, Fremantle was an important whaling centre and, as early as 1839, plans were proposed to provide shipping with more adequate shelter so that vessels would not have to anchor at sea and have cargo lightered ashore.

In 1892, work began to develop the mouth of the Swan River into a port. Under the direction of CY O’Connor, the harbour was opened in May 1897. Recognition of Fremantle over Albany as the premier port in Western Australia came in August 1900 when the first mail steamers called there.”

The archives of the Australian local newspapers have revealed a large amount of information:

Reggie – or as he was now know, Reg – married a local girl, Laura Jane Back, within six months of his arrival:

“Social Notes
My Fremantle correspondent writes: A large and fashionable assemblage of friends and well-wishers gathered in St. John’s Church on Thursday afternoon last to witness the ceremony of marriage between Miss Laura J. Back, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Back, of Essex-street. Fremantle, and Mr. Reginald Henry Gill, second son of Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Gill, of Brook, Surrey, England. The Ven. Archdeacon Glyn-Watkins, of Perth. officiated, and Mr. Arthur Taylor presided at the organ. The church was charmingly decorated for the occasion by Mrs. Gee. O’Halloran. Miss Boys, and Mr. R. Congdon, with a profusion of handsome pot plants, trailing creeper, and beautiful white flowers, a crimson carpet being laid from the church gates to the chancel steps. The bride, who was given away by her father, looked very handsome and was greatly admired in her graceful bridal dress of cream crepe-de-Chine over rich lace. The full skirt was made perfectly plain, and finished with wide rolled hem, ornamented with silk French knots. The bodice was designed with a soft chiffon vest outlined with revers of handsome cluny lace shaped on the shoulders, and tapering to waist, ending with smart high belt. The sloping Victorian sleeves were finished with broad band of lace and softly-tucked chiffon. A handsomely-embroidered veil was worn in Swedish fashion, tucked through a high crown of myrtle resting on a tiny wreath of orange-blossom, and nothing could have been more becoming to the wearer. A corresponding bracelet of myrtle was an effective and pretty idea. She carried an exquisite bouquet of tuberoses and fern, together with a beautiful kerchief of point d’alencon, the gift of the bridegroom’s mother. Misses Effie Cameron and Maud Back were attendant bridesmaids, the former wearing a dainty dress of white silk richly adorned with Oriental embroidery and finished with flutings of French Val. lace. A becoming tuscan hat was swathed in pink and blue tulle, and caught  up with drooping ostrich feathers. Miss Maud Back’s dress was of soft white silk inlet with Val. lace. The bridesmaids carried lovely bouquets of Easter lilies tied with pink and blue chiffon, and wore the gifts of the bride groom, a gold necklet and pendant, and pin and pendant. The duties of best man were carried out by Mr. Ernest Brewis, with Mr. Robbie Congdon as groomsman. At the conclusion of the service a short address was given by the Archdeacon ere the wedding party left the church. A reception was held later at the residence of the bride’s parents, when the usual toasts were honoured. During the afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Gill left for Applecross. Mrs. Gill travelled in a smart costume of cedar-brown crepe-de-Chine and rich cream lace ornamented with shaded French knots, silk crin. hat of brown, with crown of velvet foliage and clusters of pink roses and pink chiffon fall. The pot plants used for decorating the church were kindly lent by Mr. Ritz, of Pine Grove Nursery. The bouquets were supplied: by Beisleys, and the bride’s dresses were made by Messrs. Foy and Gibson. Many presents were received.”
The West Australian – 12 March 1907

And within a year Reg and Laura had a son, Geoffrey Theodore Gill. But tragically the baby died after only a few days:

“BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS.
DEATHS.
GILL – On January 8, 1908. at Fremantle, Geoffrey Theodore, dearly-beloved infant son of Reginald and Laura Gill, aged 10 days.”
The West Australian – 17 January 1908

Reg and Laura did not have any more children.

They lived at no. 16 Essex Street (now no. 18),  named “Valala”, next door but one to Laura’s parents at number 22. Both buildings, modest cottages in the classic ‘Federation’ style, are still standing and listed on the State Register of Heritage Places:

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 17.33.18

16 Essex Street (now 18 Essex Street):

Essex Street is named after the English county, as per Norfolk and Suffolk Streets.
House 18 Essex Street is on Lot Pt 171 and was formerly known as number 16. The cottage was thought to have been built between 1845 and 1879 as it does not appear on the 1844 Snell – Chauncey plan and is in the Fremantle rate books for 1880.
From 1880 to 1886 the cottage was owned by Frank Bateman. From 1887 until at least 1907/08 the house was owned by Mrs Annie Bateman. The Batemans had a series of tenants in this time including Mrs Mitchell in 1880, Captain Leidicke in 1881, Frank Bateman, a master mariner in 1882 – 1886, Mrs Annie Bateman, widow, 1887 – 1890, Jane Welby, a widow, 1900, Mrs Jensen, a boarding housekeeper in 1902/03, Mary Jordan 1903/04, Mrs Panton in 1905/06, Henry Harkens, a tobacconist in 1906/07 and Reginald Gill in 1907/08.State Heritage Register

In 1910, Reg was involved in a nasty accident at work whilst cleaning his revolver (I recall hearing a story about this from my Grandfather ARG when I was a small boy but had incorrectly remembered this as taking place in London):

Shooting Accident at Rottnest.–R. Gill. one of the Fremantle Harbour Trust’s officers, met with a painful accident at Rottnest Island yesterday morning. It appears that Gill, who had been sent over to the island to relieve one of the signalmen, was engaged in cleaning a revolver, when the weapon went off, the bullet entering his leg in the region of the knee. Word was at once sent to Fremantle and during the morning the injured officer was brought to Fremantle in the Lady Forrest and removed to his home.
The West Australian – 19 December 1910 

More amusingly there is also a notice in the local paper of a missing pet:

LOST, on Sunday afternoon. Grey and Pink Galah. Reward returning Mrs. Gill, Essex-st., Fremantle. ” The West Australian, 16 December 1913

and a diamond tie-pin:

LOST, diamond and opal Tie-pin, either in 6.50 p.m. train to Perth or His Majesty’s Theatre, on 31st. inst. Finder liberally rewarded on return to R. Gill, Essex-st., Fremantle, or Chas. Sommers’s office, Perth.” The West Australian, 2 August 1912

It is not known if Reg and Laura ever recovered the tie pin, or the Gala! The Theatre, known locally as “The Maj” is still standing and is an impressive piece of contemporary architecture.  I have not yet been to Fremantle or Perth but it seems that many impressive  buildings from that era still remain.