The Bower family

The details given on Reg’s records at the Australian War Memorial for contact address for any further information for the Historian, presumably given by Reg’s wife Laura after the war, are “George H Gill, Esq. c/o Newquay, Durham Ave, Bromley, Kent, England”. This was not the home address for Reg’s father G.H.Gill.

G.H.Gill had moved since Reg was a boy, firstly to The Copse, in Witley, Surrey and then, just before WWI, to the Malt House, Lurgashall in West Sussex, where Reg’s visited while on leave from the Western Front.

I have discovered that Newquay, Durham Avenue in Bromley was in fact the address of George Clifford Bower, Reg’s ‘Uncle Cliff” on his mother’s side of the family.

Reg’s mother Agnes Ellen Gill (nee Bower) tragically died in childbirth with Reggie in September 1883. Reg is recorded as being born in Putney. His elder brother, Theo, was also recorded as being born in Putney two years previously in 1881 and Theo’s photo album shows the following house of his grandparents Mr and Mrs Theodore Bower ‘the house in which I was born’. It is likely that Reg was also born in the same house.

Meadowcroft, Upper Richmond Road, Putney

GTG photo album - p.45Although Reg and Theo’s father remarried a year later in 1884, to Mary Agnes (nee Kingsnorth), Mary tragically died of Hodgkins disease less than eight years later in 1892, leaving Theo and Reggie motherless again, aged just 11 and 9. GH Gill remarried for a third time in 1893 to Eleanor Pritchard (nee Cook) who had been the specialist nurse of his late wife Mary during her illness. GHG’s third son, Albert Richard Gill, was born in 1894. However, despite the tragic loss of Reg’s mother, it seems from Reg’s letters home from the front (here and here) that Theo and Reg remained very close to their mother’s extended family.  I discovered a photo montage of the extended Bower family which seems to have been made from separate photos taken of the family members in around 1900-1903:

The family of Theodore Bower, Esq.

Written on the back of the photograph:

“Back Row L-R: Jack Richardson, Theodore Bower, Theodore Gill, Reginald Gill, Herbert Richardson, Mrs G.C.Bower, G.C. Bower, T.H.Bower, G.H.Gill, Violet Bower, Geoffrey Richardson.

Middle Row L-R: Marjorie Bower, Alfred Bower, Mrs Herbert Richardson (‘Aunt Edith’), Daphne Bower, Theodore Bower, Margaret Bower, Mrs. Theodore Bower, Mrs. T.H. Bower, Bernard Richardson.

Front Row L-R:  Phillip Richardson, Gerard Bower, Cyril Bower

Of those mentioned in Reg’s letters:

George Clifford Bower, stockbroker, and his wife Emily Maud (nee Earnshaw) – ‘Uncle Cliff’ and ‘Aunty Maud’ in Reg’s letters – lived at ‘Newquay’, Durham Avenue, Bromley. Their children were:

Violet Bower – not mentioned in Reg’s letters. Violet married Francis John Fane in October 1915 and so presumably had left home by the time of Reg’s visit in June/July 1916.

Capt. Theodore Clifford Bower MC – mentioned in Reg’s letters in his visits to Bromley as ‘Theo‘.

Theodore H BowerAt the time of Reg’s first visit on leave in 1915, Theo was a Lieutenant in the 2nd battalion the Honourable Artillery Regiment (2 HAC). The HAC was (and still is) a territorial regiment in the City of London and many city professionals served both in the ranks and as officers. Theo was a private in 1912 and was promoted to Second Lieutenant just before the outbreak of war in August 1914, to Lieutenant in May 1915 and to Temporary Captain in January 1916 and Captain in April 1917 and Acting Major while second in command in July 1918.

The Prince of Wales (Capt TC Bower commanding the honour guard of the HAC) at the Guildhall – Oct 1922

I understand that Theo had been hospitalised in France in December 1914 with frostbite and returned to England but rejoined his regiment at the front again in 1915. Theo was awarded the MC in 1917, presumably for the period of the 2 HAC in Bullecourt in May –  reported in the London Gazette 17 July 1917:  “before the attack he carried out a daring reconnaissance in daylight and brought back most valuable information. Later he led his company with great gallantry setting a fine example throughout.” He

 

 

 

Margaret Bower – mentioned in Reg’s letters as ‘Margy and her husband‘, who was John M Nussey

Alfred George Bower – mentioned in Reg’s letters as ‘Baish‘ or ‘Baishe

Baish Bower

Baishe was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in May 1915 before transferring to the 1st Battalion on 27 July 1915. Later in the war he was a temporary captain.

After the war Baishe became a stockbroker like his father. He played football as an amateur for the Old Carthusians (the old boy team for Charterhouse School, where he and his brothers had been to school).

 

Baishe also played for the famous Corinthians and made nine appearances for Chelsea in the 1st and 2nd Division between 1923 – 1926. He won five full caps for England between 1923 and 1927 as an amateur at a time when it was becoming increasingly rare for an amateur to play for the full international team. Baishe went on to captain England for 2 victories, against Belgium and Wales, also a draw against Wales in which he was the last amateur footballer to captain England.

Daphne Bower – born in 1901, and mentioned often in Reg’s letters with ‘Uncle Cliff’ and ‘Aunty Maud’. She would have been 15 years old at the time of Reg’s visits on leave from the Western Front.

Theodore Herbert Bower, the other brother of Reg’s mother, and his wife Mary Whichelo (nee Rowe) – known as ‘Uncle Bert‘ and ‘Aunty Minnie‘ in Reg’s letters. Their children were:

Cyril Whichelo Bower – not mentioned in Reg’s letters presumably because he was on active service. Captain C W Bower DSC RN. He passed out from the training cruiser HMS Cumberland as midshipman in December 1910. Then  to HMS Hibernia (January – December 1911) and HMS Orion (January 1912 – February 1913), When the War broke out he was a sub-lieutenant of the destroyer HMS Laforey, 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, Harwich Force until September 1915. and then to the 5th Destroyer Flotilla, Eastern Mediterranean Squadron for the final stages of the Gallipoli campaign (October 1915 – January 1916). In March 1916, he was appointed first lieutenant of the HMS Harpy (also 5th Destroyer Flotilla) on patrol duties off the Dardanelles (May 1916) and in December 1917, on the new destroyer HMS Michael. Cyril was awarded the DSC in September 1918, for service in action against enemy submarines. In 1923-25 he served in the HMS Hawkins, flagship in China, and in 1928-30 as first lieutenant-commander of the HMS Despatch, flagship on the America and West Indies Station. He was then executive officer of HMS Champion, gunnery and torpedo school cruiser, at Portsmouth. And finally Cyril was appointed Captain-Superintendent of the Arethusa Training Ship in 1932. He died in 1973.

Gerard Rimington Bower  – not mentioned in Reg’s letters – He was serving as 2nd Lieut. with the 1/22nd London Regiment 1st Bn Royal West Surrey. Actually Gerard was killed in action on 15th July 1916 – the day after Reg’s letter home describing his visit to the Bowers. Gerard went to Tonbridge School leaving at  Easter, 1914. Three weeks after the outbreak of war he received a commission, dated August 24th, 1914, in the 2/22nd (County of London) Battalion London Regiment (The Queen’s) (Territorial Force), and in the spring of 1915 he went to France with his Battalion and was promoted Temporary Lieutenant, on 27th May 1915. After being in the trenches for five weeks he returned from the Front, as he had been given a nomination for Sandhurst. Passing out of Sandhurst at the end of 1915, Gerard was gazetted to The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regt.) as 2nd Lieut., December 22nd, 1915, and returned to the Front on 20 May 1916. He was killed in action on 15th July 1916, whilst leading his men in an attack in the Battle of the Somme, shot through the head right on top of the German wire, which at that point had escaped destruction during the preparatory bombardment. His C.O. wrote of him “He had only been a short time with us, but he gave every promise of a successful career and I much deplore his loss. He died in a gallant manner at the head of his platoon.” Various officers have testified that he was “an excellent officer and one of the smartest subalterns in the Battalion,” and the following are extracts from some of their letters: “His platoon was among the first to go over, and I hear he led the men splendidly, that it was a fine sight to see them all in line following him. He led them forward right in the face of a heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, with another machine-gun catching them in rear from a certain wood. He showed great bravery and a fine example.” “He was so high-spirited and such a good officer, almost the ideal type, and we were all so fond of him.” “He had that devotion to duty and that love of, and care for, his men which is the hall-mark of the English officer.”

Godfrey Bower  – not mentioned in Reg’s letters and I cannot find information for him.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any information on the Richardson family.

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Rejoining the 28th Bn, June 1917- Letter home to Laura

Upon arriving back at his battalion at Senlis in France , Reg immediately wrote a letter to his wife Laura in Fremantle, which has survived and is held at the Australian War Memorial (Ref: 1DRL/0314).

extract from letter to Laura 15 June 1917

C Coy                           France
28th Battalion              15.6.17.

Reg rejoined the battalion behind the front line at Senlis in France, during a period of rest, training and sports. He was back as company commander of C Company.

Dearest Kidds,

                        Just received three letters from you, the first for a whole month, I [?] an Australian mail was lost somewhere out at sea with all the mail hence the reason of the long wait. I got my orders for June 1st and on June 2nd at 5p.m. managed to leave Rollestone and get home on dear old ‘Jane’, which I did in 3 ½ hours (70 miles) arriving there just about 8.30 p.m. I left ‘Jane’ with Dad, he will look after her for me and went up to London on Wednesday afternoon by the 4 o’clock train, arriving at Waterloo about 6pm.

I  then booked a bed at the Royal Automobile Club and  then on to Victoria & caught the 8 pm train for Bromley, got to the house about 10 to 9 and had some dinner and then Aunty, Uncle & Daph came to the station to see me off by the 10 o’clock train for town & went to bed & in the morning was up at 5.30 and had a  swim in the swimming baths at the Club and on to Victoria to catch the boat train to Folkestone at 7.50. When we had passed through Shortlands Aunty, Uncle, Daph & the [?] were in the field at the back of their house to wave farewell so I saw them all for the last time. They have been most awfully good to me Kiddie, it has been like a home to me in England and I have always just skipped down whenever the opportunity offered.

Shortlands‘ is an area in Bromley, a suburb of south London, and which is on the route of the train to Folkestone.  “Aunty, Uncle, Daph” are Reg’s Uncle Cliff, George Clifford Bower, his wife and daughter. G.C. Bower lived with his family at a house called ‘Newquay’ on Durham Avenue in the neighbourhood. From a map of 1919, you can see a footpath behind the houses on the north side of Durham Avenue leading through a field to the railway line:

Shortlands, Bromley 1919

It’s clear from Reg’s letters that he had a very warm relationship with the extended Bower family and he was touched by their farewell ritual.

Royal Automobile Club Pall Mall.The Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, and its famous swimming pool, is still going strong. During WW1 honorary membership was offered to convalescent officers.  In 1916 the Club expanded the sleeping accommodation which was available to officers arriving or departing to the Front. And in 1917 the Club agreed to extend membership to the Royal Overseas Officers Club and so provided a base in London for officers of the Imperial forces. The Club was extremely busy. By the end of 1917, 7,000 officers of British units had been registered as Honorary members, and 4,500 officers of Imperial units.

pool-3900-x-1380-4The swimming pool was covered over at some point in 1917 (after Reg’s visit in May) and converted into a dormitory and between 20 and 30 officers resided in the Turkish baths. 800 meals were served at the Club per day. (The RAC – The Pall Mall Clubhouse during the First World War).

The letter continues:

The boat sailed about 3.30 pm and so I landed in stinking old France again about 5.0 pm. My left wrist will be permanently stiff I’m afraid but that doesn’t matter much as long as they leave me my right so I can play tennis or some game or other. I wrote to Mum before I left England, hope she gets my letter. I didn’t cable you when I was leaving because it is no earthly use your worrying about me a month or so before it is necessary, so you will have a month extra peace in fact don’t worry about me at all Kidder darling, I’m perfectly happy & contented here with the old Battalion. I am anxious to do my job & get it finished and then get home to you all and pray God no more partings in this life. I think things will be over a great deal sooner than you anticipate & that next year we will be back in dear old Australia again. What a home coming it will be for us all.

The tone of Reg’s letters has definitely changed since the previous year on his arrival in France and the ‘Black Anzacs’ Raid at Armentieres.

Your three letters were dated to April, 6th & 7th May. I actually joined up the Battalion on Saturday afternoon June 9th and for a royal welcome from those who were left, not too many old faces alas. I was away 7 months almost to the day. Jack Roydhouse has got the MC and is in England with trench foot, it is a rotten thing, a high temperature and aches and pains all over the body, and seems to crop up at any minute, like malaria.

Jack Roydhouse MC, formerly a school master from Subiaco, West Australia. Adjutant 1916-17. A brigade-major 1918-19. Wounded on two occasions. Twice mentioned in Despatches. He arrived at the 28th Battalion in France with Reg as part of the 7th Reinforcements in 1916 and was on the Brigade Staff of the 6th Brigade at Pozieres in July/August 1916.

General Gellibrand (in his hat) and his staff  having breakfast in a shell hole in Sausage Valley in the forward area near Pozieres, France. (Jack Roydhouse MC, front right)

CEW Bean gives an interesting portrait of Brigadier-General John Gellibrand CB DSO DSM in the Office History: The commander of the 6th Brigade at Poziers “was a man of exceptional personality, Brigadier-General John Gellibrand, of whom some description has already been given in these pages. A cultured soldier, staff-college graduate turned apple-grower, usually wearing an old ” Aussie ” tunic (as worn by a private) and living as simply as his men, sardonically humorous but sensitive to a degree, he was, like many sensitive men, a riddle to his superiors. His judgments sometimes appeared to them oblique, and he seldom explained them, since he loathed to thrust himself forward and attributed to those who dealt with him an understanding of his motives which they seldom possessed. He had the sensitive man’s high code of honour-however unpalatable the truth, he told it bluntly and left it at that. These qualities made him a difficult subordinate-not popular with his superiors, but of far greater value to them than they were aware; for, in his ability to inspire his own staff and battalion commanders, and. through them, his whole brigade, he had no equal in the A.I.F. His brigade staff comprised a group of youngsters-E. C. P. Plant, brigade-major; R. H. Norman,’ staff-captain ; Lieutenant Rentoul, 2 brigade signalling officer; together with Captain Gilchrist ,engineer ; and Lieutenants Savige and Roydhouse “learners” (attached for staff-training). All these lived together as one family. Any morning they – together with ‘‘Gelly ’’ in his shirtsleeves and old felt hat – might be seen breakfasting in a large shell-hole outside brigade headquarters in Sausage Gully.” (Bean, p 601)

Jack was awarded the MC for action in the second battle of Bullecourt on 3 May 1917 , gazetted on 1 June 1917:

“Captain Jack Roydhouse, Infantry.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
He displayed great courage and determination in
organizing and carrying out bombing attacks,
setting a splendid example to his men. His work
helped materially to hold our positions”

Jack survived the war, returning to teaching, at Hale School, Perth (he is mentioned here in 1922, in charge of the school cadet corp).

Reg’s letter continues:

Hope you got my photos safely and you liked them, had them taken in Bournemouth one Saturday afternoon, I used to go in there on ‘Jane’ sometimes, it is only 44 miles from Rollestone & I could get down in 2 hours, Jane took me 1500 miles while I was at home, so I got about quite a bit, + cheaply at that, I couldn’t possibly have done so without her, I have only £17/13/3 to pay now and I am sending Dad money [out?] whenever I have a few francs to spare, so will soon have her paid for, I hope.

 

“The 28th Btn Comforts fund is quite the first thing of its kind, Col Read tells me he has [???] £150/./. from them besides numerous cases of sensible goods, the money is spent on all sorts of things, such as sports materials & games of all sorts, also vegetables and tucker is bought for the boys when we are in billets and they are fed up & fattened and enjoy life immeasurably, they look a wonderfully healthy lot and are all in the pink, including yours truly.

Col. Read was Lieutenant Colonel George Arthur Read DSO . Before the war he had been a manager of a wool export business and enlisted in the AIF in March 1915 as a private but rose astonishingly quickly ending up as to commanding officer. Read had been appointed Captain in August 1916, and then temporary Major in the same month. Appointed Major in November and then Lieutenant Colonel and CO of the 28th Battalion in January 1917. He was seriously wounded in the aerial bombarded after the Battle of Polygon Wood but survived, being invalided back to Australia. He died in 1929.

The Battalion Comforts fund was collected by volunteers back home from the local community. Laura was a tireless volunteer throughout the war, first as secretary for the Fremantle Soldiers Comforts Committee and then the Fremantle branch of the Red Cross Society. “RED CROSS SOCIETY, W.A. DIVISION. FREMANTLE FOODSTUFFS DEPOT. In connection with the work undertaken by the Red Cross Society and the supply of foodstuffs and extra comforts to the returned soldiers in the various Military Hospitals and on returning Transports and Hospital Ships, the Society are desirous of securing suitable Accommodation in a central position in Fremantle for the purpose of a depot for this work. All parties who have a room, or shop which they could place at the disposal of the Society for this work, either free or at a nominal rent, are requested to communicate with Mrs. R. H. GILL, of Essex-st., Fremantle who is Hon Secretary pro. tem for the Committee.” (The West Australian, 21 January 1918)

Reg continues:

Old ‘Newt’ has a Base job somewhere in France, about the best thing for him, everybody is sick of the Political soldiers who don’t know the first rudiments of soldiering, anyway he can’t do much harm where he is. No. 3 A.G.H. has left Brighton and is established somewhere in France, I think it is at Abbeville, should so much like to see Anderson again, perhaps I may yet! in his official capacity.”

I cannot find out the identity of “Old Newt”, but “Anderson” must surely be Major Thomas Lynewolde Anderson who had been a doctor in Fremantle at some point before the war and was a medical officer for the 3rd Australian General Hospital (3AGH) which was at that time in Abbeville in the Somme.

The State Library of Victoria (SLV) has an old photo album of TL Andreson‘s with fascinating photos of the 3AGH, firstly at Lemnos for the Dardenelles campaign, then near Cairo before moving to Abbeville in France. It includes many photos of Anderson’s following posting to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital (1AAH) at Harefield Park in England. Extracts from the album can more easily be seen here.

Panorama of 3AGH at Abbeville in TL Anderson’s album. (Source: SLV)

Reg finishes the letter:

The good old 28th kept its name up again quite recently, the Germans have a healthy respect for what they call the “diamonds” they reckon us about the best of British troops, but as they say “too reckless”. Must close this now ducky [one?], I love you plenty,  plenty. Good bye darling.

            Ever yours,

Reg. “

Reg is referring to the battalion’s part in the second battle of Bullecourt, for which the battalion was awarded battle honours. The nickname “Diamonds” must come from the 28th Battalion’s identifying colour patch, a blue and white diamond, which was worn on the sleeve of the soldiers’ tunics. Bean goes into detail on the Australian’s colour patches here.

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RHG’s final days in Blighty – letter home, May 1917

Reg wrote a letter to his father and step-mother from Rollestone Camp in the final days before he returned to his battalion in France, after his return from hospital with mumps:

The letter is held in Reg’s file at the Imperial War Museum in London, donated by Reg’s father (reference: Documents.14424)

:

28/5/17            Rollestone

                                    Salisbury Plain

 

Dearest Mum & Dad,

                        I arrived quite safely back
at camp, Jane behaved perfectly and took me
back in 3 ½ hours, which was good going. Thank
you awfully Mum & Dad dear for giving me such
a good time at home, I enjoyed every minute
of my few days and the time only sped too
quickly, unfortunately it always does in times
like that. I am expecting my orders any day now
the War Office have officially written me that I
am available for active service at short notice
so that may mean 24 hours, anyway I shall
cycle home & leave Jane & send my box on. I must
try and see Aunty Maud & Uncle before I go, as
they have been very kind to me, if I get 24 hours
I might go up to [Town?] after I leave you & stop
there that night. It is very hot & muggy to day,
it rained hard all day yesterday, I hope you
got it at home, it would do the garden a lot
of good. Have you any news of Dick since
I left, what a pity it is he is so far away. Will
you ask Dad to write to Horseferry Rd. & ask them
to inform him in [?] of casualty to me, I will
also, then you will be sure of hearing. Good bye
to you both. I will wire any news.

Yours,

Reg.

Jane was Reg’s motorcycle which it seems from his letters he purchased with help from his father sometime during his period of hospital and convalescence in England.

Reginald Gill

The Malt House, Lurgashall - presume after renovation copy

The Malt House, Lurgashall, West Sussex

Reg’s father, George Henry Gill (GHG), lived with Reg’s step mother in the Malt House in Lurgashall in West Sussex. GHG had moved here shortly before the First World War and Reg had first visited on his leave in June 1916 after the Raid at Armentières. Major Roy Phillipps MC DFC, Reg’s mate from Perth, also visited Reg’s parents on leave in December 1917.

Aunty Maud & Uncle” were Reg’s ‘Uncle Cliff’, George Clifford Bower and his wife, who lived with their family in Bromley a suburb on the southern outskirts of London. Uncle Cliff was the brother of Reg’s mother who died shortly after childbirth with Reg and it seems Reg was close to the extended Bower family. Reg mentions Uncle Cliff and family in affectionate terms in his letter home in June 1916.

Dick” was Reg’s half-brother, A.R.Gill who was over ten years Reg’s junior and was serving with 1/2 King’s African Rifles in the East Africa Campaign, seconded from the Hampshire Regiment. Dick had just been wounded in the thigh during an engagement with the enemy at Yangwani in German East Africa in April 1917.

Horseferry Road” was the administrative HQ of the AIF in England. Reg is planning for the eventuality of further wounding or worse – understandably so, but the tone of his letters has an air of concern and foreboding which is so different to the optimistic tone of his letter home the previous year in June 1916 after the successful ‘Black Anzacs’ raid at Armentieres.

From Hospital to Training Battalion – January to June 1917


Reg was discharged from the 3rd LGH on 19 January 2017. In a letter to his wife Laura written in June he says that his left wrist will be permanently stiff. From Hospital in London, Reg followed the standard route back to fitness and rejoining his Battalion at the Front, via the Command Depot for convalescence, followed by the Training Battalion for ‘hardening off’, both of which were on Salisbury Plain in the south of England.

First Reg was sent to No. I Command Depot, the A.I.F. convalescent and training camp at Perham Down on the edge of Salisbury Plain, arriving four days later on 23 January 1917. This was a temporary camp receiving men “likely to be well within 3 months” and getting them quickly up to the fitness required to move on to the Training Battalion, as soon as possible. By October 1916/January 1917, there were 5,600 men at No. I Command Depot, with men arriving at 630 per week. The structure and purpose of these depots for the AIF is covered in great detail by  Section II, Chapter XVI of the Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914–1918 by Colonel AG Butler DSO and this excellent website about the 22nd Battalion, AIF: Following the Twenty Second.

Reg was only at No. I Command Deport for one week, moving on to 7th Training Battalion at Rollestone on 28th January. Rollestone Camp is about ten miles as the crow flies from Perham Down on Salisbury Plain. The Training Battalion was not for new recruits but for experienced soldiers returning from convalescence. It was designed to harden them off after the Command Depot ready for their speedy return to their battalions at the Front and involved a mixture of military training and sports.

Rollestone Camp & huts Sailsbury Plain

Rollestone Camp shewing troops going through musketry in snow.

bayonet training at Rollestone camp

A group of soldiers of the 3rd Division AIF taking part in a training exercise on the Salisbury Plain simulating trench warfare.

brothers Frederick Benedict (Ted) Alsop and Bernard Michael (Bern or Barney) Alsop training at Salisbury Plains on the machine gun.

 

Crowds of soldiers and officers watch a boxing competition at an Australian camp, possibly on the Salisbury Plain.

soldiers playing ‘Catch the greasy pig’ during a sports day

Two soldiers applying grease to a pig for the ‘Catch the greasy pig’ contest that was part of a sports meeting held to celebrate the birthday of King George V

Three unidentified soldiers enjoy the snow at a camp in Wiltshire. Jan-Feb 1917

 

A group of unidentified soldiers playing ‘two-up’ at a camp on the Salisbury Plain. The player would toss two coins into the air, and the ring keeper would take bets on the coins falling ‘heads’ side up.

Reg’s recovery was delayed and he was back in hospital at the end of March, “N.Y.D.’ (“not yet diagnosed”), at Cobham Hall – a country house outside London in Kent, a wing of which was converted into a hospital for Australian Officers – and then to Tidworth Hospital on 6 April, now diagnosed with mumps. Tidworth was the location of the operational headquarters for the AIF (the administrative HQ was at Horseferry Road in London).

A view of the south front of Cobham Hall, Lord Darnley’s residence in Kent. A wing of the hall was used as a convalescent home for Australian officers.

The top ward of the Australian convalescent home at Cobham Hall, Kent. Otherwise known as the picture gallery.

convalescent officers playing croquet on the lawn before the west front of Cobham Hall, Kent

Reg is not recorded back to the training battalion at Rollestone until 21 May 1917. But within two weeks of his return to the training battalion, 7 June 1917, the AIF Depot at Tidworth records him “proceeded O/Sea’s France”:

 

 

Investiture at Buckingham Palace – November 1916

Reg was still recovering at the 3rd LGH in Wandsworth from his wound at Gueudecourt when attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace on 22th November 1916 to receive his MC from King George V for his action in the Raid at Armentières.

No letters from Reg survive of this occasion. We don’t know how much freedom he was allowed out of hospital, or if he was joined by his father and step-mother or members of the Bower family. But there is an account written by Vera Brittain‘s brother, Edward,  receiving his MC shortly afterwards on 17th December 1916 which gives an interesting insight into the proceedings:

“I came up to town on Tuesday the 16th, went to Buckingham Palace on the 17th at 10.30 am. Mother came with me in the taxi from home and I dropped her just outside the gates and drove in alone; I ascended a wide staircase and deposited my hat and stick in a sort of cloak room, keeping my gloves (your gloves), went up more stairs, was asked by an old boy in a frock coat what I was to receive, was then directed to another old boy who verified my name etc and told me to stand on one side of the room – a large room with portraits of royal personages round the walls. There were 3 C.M.G.’s, about 12 D.S.O.’s and about 30 M.C.’s so it was a fairly small investiture.

“We were instructed what to do by a Colonel who I believe is the King’s special private secretary and then the show started. One by one we walked into an adjoining room about 6 paces – halt – left turn – bow – 2 paces forward – King pins on cross – shake hands – pace back – bow – right turn and slope off by another door. The various acts were not read out, but the Colonel just called out ‘Receive the C.M.G.’ etc. Colonel so-and-so.

“The King spoke to a few of us including me; he said “I hope you have quite recovered from your wound”, to which I replied “Very nearly thank you, Sir”, and then went out with the cross in my pocket in a case. I met Mother just outside and we went off towards Victoria thinking we had quite escaped all the photographers, but unfortunately one beast from the Daily Mirror saw us and took us, but luckily it does not seem to have come out well as it is rather bad form to have your photo in a ½ d rag if avoidable.”

source: Great War London

Although Reg’s casualty form only mentions a GSW (gun shot wound) to his left wrist, he is seen in the photograph walking with a stick. I can only assume the stick is merely part of his uniform or just for fashion, rather than a medical necessity.

‘Back to Blighty’ – RHG recovering in England at the 3rd LGH

cartoons18

Reg had received a gun shot wound to the left wrist in the preparations for the attack on the German lines which took place at Guidecourt, near Flers on 5th November 1916.

His casualty form records the date of the injury as 4 November and that he was admitted to the 8th Stationary Hospital at Rouen on 6 November. He was only there for two days and was sent on to the 3rd London General Hospital, traveling across the channel by the hospital ship HS Asturias and arriving in London on 9th November.

The HS Asturias was a hospital ship and it seems one of Reg’s companions on the short voyage was a young 2nd Lieutenant named JRR Tolkein:

extract from Garth, John (2013). Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780544263727.

HMHS Asturia

Reg arrived at the 3rd London General Hospital (the 3rd LGH) on the same day 9 November 1916. The hospital was located in Wandsworth requisitioned in August 1914 from the Royal Victoria Patriotic School. Initially the hospital only had 200 beds and rapidly grew, with many huts and tents,  so that by February 1916 it had 1,800 beds.

 

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News of Reg’s wounding reached Fremantle bit by bit:

The West Australian, 16 November 1916: ” WAR CASUALTIES …. Mrs. R. Gill, of Fremantle, has received word that her husband. Lieut. Reg. Gill, 28th Battalion, has been wounded while fighting in Belgium. Lieut. Gill is now an inmate of Wandsworth Hospital London and is progressing favourably.”

The West Australian, 28 November 1916: “WESTERN AUSTRALIA. THE ROLL OF HONOUR. 24th CASUALTY LIST…. WOUNDED….  Lieut. R. H. Gill (Fremantle): Second Lieutenant G. C. Flower (North Fremantle); Second Lieutenant M. G. Hammond (England). second occasion”

Daily News, 28 December 1916: “Among last month’s admissions to the No. 3 London General Hospital, Wandsworth were: — .… invalided from Ypres Lieut R, H. Gill, of Fremantle, WA., formerly connected with the P. and O. service; injured in the left arm at Gueudecourt“.

Reg remained at the 3rd LGH over Christmas and New Year.

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A number of talented writers and artists among the staff and the patients (many orderlies were recruited from the Chelsea Arts Club, including the futurist and war artist CRW Nevinson)  collaborated to publish a regular and accomplished newsletter, The Gazette of the 3rd London General Hospital, which no doubt boosted moral.

front cover

The hospital became a specialist centre for facial reconstruction (whose pioneering techniques were apparently initiated by one of the volunteers at the hospital, a famous sculptor of the day who was too old to enlist, Francis Derwent Wood) and shell-shock cases. The Gazette deals quite often with such issues. Almost all of the editions from January 1916 to July 1919 are all available to read online and provide a fascinating insight into how like must have been for the recovering casualties especially those just beginning to cope with lifelong injuries and disfigurements – of course, all delivered in the characteristic black humour of servicemen. (source: Lost Hospitals of London).

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cartoons12It seems that there were many soldiers there from Australia but also from all the different colonies and British units. There were witty observations, accomplished caricatures and humorous cartoons -many highlighting the cultural differences of the antipodean troops, the black humour of the soldier, as well as a keen observation of the nurses.

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Interestingly it was at this very time, that the 3rd LGH was the first hospital to employ female staff in the role of orderlies (often called ‘orderlettes’) because of the shortage of men, and there are numerous editorials and articles dedicated to what must have been a groundbreaking and fundamental social change:

orderlettes editorial

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RHG injured at Gueudecourt – November 1916

Despite surviving the horrors of the Battle of Pozières, in July/August 1916, Reg was soon to face more of the same at Gueudecourt, near Flers, in November. According to C.E.W. Bean, the official historian “The Australian divisions, almost restored by their rest at Ypres, were now to plunge into the hardest trial that ever came to them.” Official History, Vol III, Chapter XXV – Flers. The Somme Battle Ends, p.894.

After Pozières in August, the 7th Brigade moved north to Flanders and spent most of September billeted at Steenvoorde, behind the lines near Ypres, training and refitting with a large batch of reinforcements and men returned from hospital. There were many promotions to replace the officers and NCOs lost in action during Pozières. Reg was promoted to Captain on 1 October 1917 to replace Capt A.S. Isaac in charge of C Company. Capt. Austin Stirling Isaac had been wounded in the arm at Pozières (which resulted in amputation but he survived the war) and was the only company commander to survive the night of 28/29 July:

Reg had previously complained to his brother about the delay in having this promotion conferred for the job he had been doing already for some time – I’m sure it was a typical complaint. (Reg’s letter to Theo 11 September 1916)

The rain during this period was incessant and the training ground reduced to a quagmire – which was rather fitting for what was to come. But the period was peaceful and a welcome respite – there was even a full sports programme with the 28th victorious in the football. During off duty hours the men were free to roam around Steenvoorde that the relationships with the local inhabitants were very cordial and it was a common sight to see the men of the brigade working in the fields, in the absence of the local men who had all been conscripted. [Neville Browning, The Blue and White Diamond – History of the 28th Battalion AIF 1915-1919 – pp146-7]

ANZAC soldiers wearing sheepskin jackets, and a mixture of slouch hats and steel helmets, resting on their way up to the trenches at the Somme, Dec 1916

In October the 28th AIF moved to Ypres, which was derelict due to two years of almost constant bombardment, and from there into the front line. The ‘weather was becoming wintry and the terrain and trenches were waterlogged due to the abundance rain that fell with monotonous frequency’. It was here that the 28th experienced the largest rats they had ever seen. “These unpleasant rodents, the size of well-grown kittens, infested dugouts and shelters and tunnelled into the earthworks…. One even had the temerity to bite the Regimental Sergeant Major’s nose one day when he was snatching forty winks!” [H.K. Kahan, The 28th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force : a record of war service ] The Battalion then moved back to the Somme, to the front line at Dernacourt near Albert, which caused some resentment, as the survivors of Pozières were not keen to return to the Somme believing that countless lives had been needlessly thrown away there for such little gain. The general feeling running through the AIF was that the Australians had done more than their share of fighting and dying. The weather was still dreadful and the condition of the trenches appalling. Mud oozed from the trench walls and communication trenches were reduced to canals. Reg’s mate Lieutenant Roy Phillipps was wounded at this time by attempting to walk across open country to inspect his Company post rather than attempt to negotiate 150 years of thigh deep mud in the communication trenches. He was almost half way across when a bullet struck the ground to his immediate front. he started to lope through the mud when another round went past his head. He wrote “the third got me, I tell you I was a bit blue crawling the rest of the way, some thirty yards expecting one in the neck”. Phillipps had been shot through the thigh and it took six stretcher-bearers nine hours to haul him two kilometres to an aid post through waist deep mud and slush.  (Browning, pp152-4)

The Battalion moved up to Gueudecourt, near Flers, for an attack on a German trench system named The Maze scheduled for 5th November. The 28th were detailed to take Gird Trench (known to the Germans as Gallwitz Stellung) on the left hand size of the Maze.

The Maze (Browning, p172)

Captain Charles Bean, Australian Official War Correspondent, knee deep in mud in Gird trench, near Gueudecourt in France, during the winter of 1916

Horses haul ammunition forward in deep mud outside Flers. November, 1916.

But the conditions were appalling. The mud caused havoc for the attack, preventing the men exploiting the creeping artillery barrage that preceded the attack and was supposed to cover the advance across no mans land. There was a gale, which preventing reconnaissance by air. Leading to poor execution of the barrage, with plenty of time for the Germans to emerge from their dug outs and face on the oncoming assault. The 28th, struggling through the mud, were decimated by the German machine guns, pinned down in no mans land, some for many days, in what we now see as typical of the First World War. The mud hampered the evacuation of the casualties and of the remaining men, most of them suffered from trench foot  – 90% of the 27th Battalion (Browning, pp157-9; Bean, Ch XXV, pp 917-920) The 28th’s Battalion War Diary for November 1916 typically records the horror of this period in its tragically understated way:

“3rd/4th   Took over front line from 53rd Bn AIF. Trenches in very bad order. In mud from 12 inches to 3 feet deep. Location M. 24. A. GUTDECOURT. Map [?]

4th   General work improving front trenches and preparing for attack of next day.

5th  The Bn in conjunction with 27th Bn & Coys of 25th & 26th Bn who were on our Right and the British Division on our left made an attack on the German line known as GIRD TRENCH. Owing to the inaccuracy of our Artillery fire, through lack of observation, the enemy were not kept down in their trenches by our barrage and the advancing troops were subjected to very heavy rifle & machine gun fire which prevented them reaching the objective. Our losses in this attack were 1 officer (Lieut W R Moore) killed and five wounded (2/Lieut F Muller, Lieut A W Curran) Previous to the attack four officers were wounded. Capt. R C Phillips, 2/Lieut MG Hammond, 2/Lieut CC Flower, Lieut RH Gill. The casualties of other ranks were as follows. 58 Killed, 166 wounded, 50 missing, 27 Other ranks were evacuated to Hospital suffering from effects of wet & [exposure?] ”
Battalion War Diary, 28th Battalion, AIF – November 2016

Australian Pioneers making a duckboard bridge across the trenches of the ‘Maze’.

Conditions for those wounded lucky enough to be rescued from no mans land and taken to the aid post were not much better. The aid post was incessantly shelled and there were no rations, water or blankets for the wounded. Those unable to walk were left lying on stretchers out in the open during the cold night. One casualty was discovered to have died of exposure over night. (Browning, p163)

 

 

 

 

 

Is it not recorded exactly when or where Reg was wounded – only ‘previous to the attack’ like Roy Phillipps and M.G. Hammond. Reg’s casualty list on his file at the AWM records a ‘GSW’ – gun shot wound – to his left wrist. The wound was serious enough for Reg to be sent for treatment to England.  Reg was heading back to England once more.

 

Place of Casualty

 

Date of Casualty

Date From whom received
10.11.16 CO 28th Bn, List Wounded in action France 3-6/11/16
19.11.16 A.I.F.List 114 Placed on Seconded list France 4.11.16
7.11.16 8th Sty Hosp. Adm. GSW Lt Wrist. Rouen 6.11.16
9.11.16 do To England. GSW Lt Wrist ,, 8.11.16
9.11.16 HS”Austurias” Embarked for England
GSW Lt Wrist
Havre  

9.11.16

Of the other people mentioned by name in the Battalion War diary:

Lieut W.R. Moore: killed in the action “MOORE. Killed in action on November 6, Lieutenant W. R. Moore, fourth dearly beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Moore, 193 Newcastle street. Perth; Deeply mourned. – His duty nobly done” The Western Mail, 8 Dec 1916

Capt. R C Phillips: Reg’s mate from Perth, Maj Roy Phillipps, MC & Bar, DFC – previously covered in this post here.

2/Lieut MG Hammond: Captain Meysey George Hammond MC MM – was one of the wounded had only just returned to the battalion on 23 September, having been wounded in the leg at Pozières. He ‘walked with a pronounced limp and with the aid of a walking stick’. During  the deployment before the attack, his left elbow was shattered by enemy fire and he had to be forcibly received of his command and sent to the dressing station. It was a wound that would have seen the end of active service of most men. The 3rd London General Hospital back in England (the same place Reg was treated) found that “there is almost complete fixation of the elbow at right angle, and at present no use in forearm or hand, although there is no organic lesion of nerves”. Despite this wound, rendering his left arm permanently useless and needing to be supported in a sling, Hammond convinced the authorities to return him to front line service. In January 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant and for his actions as an Intelligence Officer near Westhoek on 20 September 1917  he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for his actions at Polygon Wood. While having only one functioning arm and the added handicap of a walking stick, he managed to single-handedly capture 20 German prisoners and gather important information. On Christmas Day 1917 near Ploegsteert, Hammond had a narrow escape from a sniper when a bullet was stopped by his field notebook and his cigarette case as it tore through his breast pocket. In early 1918 Hammond was posted to the Australian War Records Section in England but following numerous appeals to his superiors he returned to his battalion in France in May as captain in command of ‘A’ company. His actions near Morlancourt on 10 June 1918 were recognised with the award of a bar to his Military Cross. During the fighting he moved across no-mans-land, ten metres in front of his men, directing the attacking line with his walking stick hanging from his useless left arm and a watch in his right hand. Despite the danger he frequently had his back to the enemy while following closely behind the creeping artillery barrage, and would occasionally straighten the line with a wave of his stick. When his men followed him into the German trench, Hammond had already captured a number of enemy prisoners. He was mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet the following day and died on the 14th June 1918. A fellow officer said of Hammond that ‘I am quite sure that [he] did not know what fear meant never once saw him duck for either a shell or a bullet’. He is buried in Vignacourt Cemetery. [https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C118771]

2/Lieut CC Flower: Cyril Cecil Flower, a clerk from Perth, was also wounded at the same time. He had been promoted from Sergeant to Second Lieutenant on 16 August 1916, after Pozières. He was wounded again, severely, on the fateful night of 28 September 1917 but survived the war returning to WA in May 1918. He is recorded as Captain CC Flower as a contributor to Herbet Collet’s History of the 28th AIF in 1922.

Lieut AW Curran: was wounded for the second time. Appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 30 August 1916 having being Mentioned in Despatches on 9 June 1916 after the Raid at Armentières “For consistent goodwork during 3½ months on Gallipoli and two months in France; As Signalling Sergeant he displayed great resource and coolness in repairing lines whilst under fire.” He became Battalion Signally Officer ad was Mentioned in Dispatches again on 2 January 1917 “For conspicuous work in maintaining communication and excellent conduct under fire. Am original member of the battalion, his work through has been of the highest order. He distinguished himself on three separate occasions since March 1916.”