RHG’s final letter – 8 September 1917

                                            “C” Coy

September 8th 1917.               28th Btn A.I.F.

 

Dearest Mum & Dad.

                                    I haven’t heard from
you for a little while, the last letter I wrote
you was 9 days ago[1] about the motor cycle I
want to buy, so I might hear any day now
from you. This is the last letter I shall be able
to write you for some days as we are going
into a big stunt in a day or two and I am
leading my Company into it[2]. I pray to God I
shall do well, no one knows what one will do
until it comes to the actual thing, but you may
be sure I shall do my best whatever comes, &
hope to be going strong at the end of it, perhaps
you will be able to guess where it is[3]. I may get
a Blighty wound if I am lucky and then
I shall be able to see you all again. Will
send you a Field Post card as often as possible,
although as I hear there are no trenches left
and they are all living in shell holes it
will upset the postal arrangements somewhat.
Write me as often as you can, I often think
of the dear old home and wish this awful
War was well over so that the world could
live at peace again. From the papers I see
the swine have been having extensive bombing
raids again over England. I can’t think
what the Authorities at home are dreaming
about not to try and cope with them better.
I had a letter from Aunty Maud today
they seem very well & happy & have had
both Theo & Baish stopping with them, they
are very lucky having them at home so often,
Baish can’t have seen very much of the war
I should think[4]. How are you both keeping,
well I hope, as for me, I am “in the pink”,
have never felt better. We had a cinema picture
taken of our battalion to-day, we were specially
picked out from the Division as being the
best battalion, the photographer was Capt Hurley
who was photographer to the Scott & Mawson
Antarctic Expeditions, so is the best of his class[5].
Good bye dears for the present, I may be
seeing you again shortly, Believe me

            Ever your affectionate son.

                                                Reg.

Love to everybody.

(IWM: Documents.14424)

 

[1] See here for Reg’s previous letter. It was only 7 days previously, not 9, which may indicate Reg’s state of mind at the time, anticipating the coming battle.

[2] the 28th were soon to engage in the Battle of Menin Road and had been training hard since June for this, adopting new techniques.

Reg says he will be leading his company. He had only just expressed his disappointment, in his letter a week before to Laura, at being relegated to second in command due to the return to the Battalion of officers more senior to him. I don’t know what occurred in the previous week to lead to this change.

[3] RHG has underlined individual letters in the text to spell the name of the planned offensive – P O L Y G O N  W O O D.

1917.09.08 - RHG letter to Mum & Dad - underlined P and O      1917.09.08 - RHG letter to Mum & Dad - underlined L        1917.09.08 - RHG letter to Mum & Dad - underlined Y         1917.09.08 - RHG letter to Mum & Dad - underlined G, O and N

It seems the 28th Battalion’s zone of attack for the Battle of Menin Road was outside the northern border of Polygon Wood itself.

[4] Aunt Maud was the wife of Reg’s Uncle Cliff, G.C.Bower, Their
two sons Theo and Baish were Capt. Theodore Clifford Bower MC serving in the 2nd Battalion the Honourable Artillery Regiment (2 HAC) and Lieutenant Alfred George Bower with the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) – see here for the previous post with details of the Bower family.

[2] Captain James Francis (Frank) Hurley, OBE, the official photographer for the AIF Mentions visiting the “28th Brigade” [sic] in his diary:

“8th September – Saturday
All day with the 28th Brigade, 2nd division, near Renescue. Col. Reid gave me every assistance in his power and arranged routine drill for the camera and cine. The men are practically all W. Australians, – their training reflects credit on their commanding officer, – the men are well disciplined, their evolutions resembling a great machine. they performed exercises with the bayonet, Physical drill, Lewis gun exercise and Signal Exercise etc. with a perfectness only attained by continued training and rigid discipline. the men are in fine fettle and will give a good account of themselves in the very near future. Wintry conditions are beginning. The leaves are turning Autumn tints and the atmosphere is assuming typical fogginess of winter. The Hay is being stacked and the ground refilled. The country looks beautiful.”

(source: NLA)

A number of these photos survive and are available online, as well as the cine film.

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See here for the film: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C188273

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RHG – Letter to his step-mother, 1 September 1917

 

“C” Coy

                                    28th Battalion

1st September 1917                A.I.F.

 

Dearest Mum

                        Thanks very much indeed
for your letter & the [?] magazine which
I got to-day. I have been up to my eyes in
work lately, we are all tightened & polished
up ready for the fray, but so far we have
had nothing allotted to us, but expect big things
very shortly. There are all sorts of wild
rumours flying about over here, re the termination
etc, but I’m afraid it is too good to be true,
[?] time will tell.[1] Am writing to Theo
very soon, he seems awfully busy one way
& another, but is getting jolly well paid for
it by all accounts. [2] I was awfully pleased to
get all those letters from Laura at last, mails
for the month all at once, she seems O.K. from
her letters, she didn’t know what to make of the
Flying Corps stunt but seems quite worrying
about it, I had told her all about it in my
letters, (so don’t you worry Mum dear) but
evidently at that time she had not my letter
Saying it was all off & that I was back in
France once more.[3]

I have definitely decided to purchase a
James 4 ¼ H.P. motor bike an sell dear old
‘Jane’[4]. I wonder if dad could manage to
arrange the sale for me, I should like if
possible to get £30/./. for her (minus the speedometer)
as I really think she is worth that amount.

I am saving up [?] & already have about
£30/./. in my pay book! Strange to say. If Dad
could manage to get £30/./., & my £30 added
(the bike costs £69/10/.) I should soon be able to
buy one, and he could ride it about for me
until I could get home, they are magnificent
machines. Will you ask him to write me on
the subject. I enclose a letter I received from
the James people. We are all having a tremendous
lot of rain here & I hear they have had
disastrous floods in dear old Blighty, lots
of crops ruined. Will you please enclose a
registered envelope in your next letter & I will
at once post Dad the 100 francs he so kindly
says is remaining to complete the purchase of
‘Jane’ of happy memories. Dearest love to you both
            Ever your affectionate son.

                                                            Reg.

My moustache is again in a flowing condition[5]

IWM: Documents.14424

[1] It was not to be. “The Third Battle of Ypres was the major British offensive in Flanders in 1917. It was planned to break through the strongly fortified and in-depth German defences enclosing the Ypres salient, a protruding bulge in the British front line, with the intention of sweeping through to the German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. The battle comprised of a series of limited and costly offensives, often undertaken in the most difficult of waterlogged conditions – a consequence of frequent periods of rain and the destruction of the Flanders’ lowlands drainage systems by intense artillery bombardment. As the opportunity for breakthrough receded, Haig still saw virtue in maintaining the offensives, hoping in the process to drain German manpower through attrition.” AWM

[2] Theo, Reg’s brother GT Gill was currently an instructor at the Young Officers’ School at Sabathu in the Simla Hills 

[3] Flying Corps – no other information survives but maybe Reg had applied to join the Australian Flying Corps whilst recovering from his wounds in England earlier in 1917, just as his mate from Perth and former member of the 28th battalion, Maj Roy Philipps, MC & Bar, DFC, had done after recovering from his own wounding at Guedecourt and return to service in March 2017. If so, it seems that Reg’s step-mother may be concerned that she has accidentally revealed this information to Reg’s wife Laura. In any event, it seems that any such application was turned down. The difference with Roy Philipps is that his leg was partially paralysed and he was incapacitated from any further infantry service.

[4] Jane, Reg’s motorcycle.

[5] No photos survive of Reg’s ‘flowing’ moustache!

RHG – review of the 2nd Division by Sir Douglas Haig, 30 Aug 1917

Reg’s next letter home to Laura on 30 August 1917 is the only other surviving letter in Reg’s file at the Australian War Memorial (Ref: 1DRL/0314).

Flanders                         “C” Coy
30.8.17

 

Dearest Kiddie,

As promised I am beginning
another letter to you in answer to some of
the six I received from you in a heap.

We are still in the same old position[1] and have
been here for quite a long time but expect
we shall very shortly be moving forward into
the scrap again. To-day the whole 2nd Division
was reviewed by Sir Douglas Haig and
we marched past him after, the 28th Btn
was especially mentioned & praised & our
Divisional Commander told us that the
28th Btn was by far the best in the Division
for smartness & appearance, which as you
may imagine has really bucked us up,
all our tails are well up in the air now.[2]

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Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief, reviewing the 2nd Australian Division. Field Marshal Haig (left); Major General Neville Maskeline Smyth VC, Commanding the 2nd Australian Division (extreme right). Marching past is the 17th Battalion.

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Campagne, France. The 2nd Australian Division formed up en masse for inspection by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. It was an impressive sight which elicited favourable comments from the Field Marshal.

This is quite nice paper, I got the block
in St. Omer, it is rather large though! My
favourite paper is small! I have the pip
to write properly, am fed up with everything,
sometimes one gets quite despairing of the
War ever ending, things seem so hopeless, I
don’t think it ever will be won by force
of arms, the economical position in Germany
will eventually put an end to it, war is too
mechanical these days, if only they would
stop artillery & gas & burning oil flames etc
and let us finish up in the good old style
with the bayonet, it wouldn’t take long.

I see you contemplate changing round things
in the house[3]. I’m sure whatever you do will
be very nice and should imagine you would be
quite competent to do without any help from
W.J.   Fancy Maggie Young getting married, I
reckon she is pretty lucky, in these hard
times. I am very nearly 35 by now, shall be
in a very few days and am getting as grey
as a badger, I wonder if you will remember
my birthday in your next letter, if you do
I’ll bet you are the only one.[4] The Mater is
very good in writing me every week and
often sends me vegetables from their garden
etc. The garden at Malt House is beautiful
and it is really all their own hard work,
it is quite true, they are both always working
hard at it, my visit came in handy
when I was stopping there! I couldn’t dig
in any case I have had enough digging
in France to last me all my lifetime
though most of that digging has been done
at mighty high pressure[5]. The new bicycle
I’m thinking of getting is a 4 ¼ H.P. model
capable of taking a side car, so I could take
you out. I wonder if you would go with me.[6]
What a damnable shame docking Rs £15/./.
for blankets. I will remember the argument
we had before leaving the ship in Egypt about
the beastly blankets, but I’m absolutely sure
we didn’t use £15/./. worth. I can foresee plenty
of trouble with our deferred pay when we
get back (mine must amount to about £100)
but I’ll fight like a tiger for mine as I consider
every farthing of it has been well earned.

I got two more letters from you forwarded
from Newquay[7] containing enclosures, letters
from one man re pyjamas & Ru’s. What a
clever little beggar he is, it was a beautifully
composed epistle and quite like him, I can
imagine I see him writing it. You will be
more than surprised dear when I tell you
I am second in command of “C” Coy now.
Jack Roydhouse came back and as he
is senior to me of course I had to hand
over to him, the reason of it is this. Montgomery
came back after being away from the
Battalion for 12 months or so & he is the
senior Captain by many months, B Coy Major Brown
has “D” Coy, Capt Glyde has “A” & so of
course Jack had to take “C”. He has had
none or very little experience as a Coy Commdr[8]
while I have had a Coy for over 12 months.
It was a very bitter pill to swallow but I
gulped it down, and as Col Reed[9] says “the
next stunt there will be plenty of vacancies”
so I don’t suppose it will be long before I
get a Coy again. We are having heaps of
rain here & there have been disastrous
floods in England, destroying valuable &
much needed crops. Fate seems against us,
One can’t fight in the awful Flanders mud,
already it is thigh deep, God knows what
the winter will be like, we’ll have to have
land submarines! However, the Germans are
getting hell alright. How are dear Mum & Dad
going now, I do long to see them again, perhaps
I may be back by June next year, anyway
they will send Australians back first on
account of the pay. Give my love to everyone
Ever your loving hubby,   Reg.

I still love plenty you know, in case you forgot.

 

[1] Renescure, behind the lines in France. The 28th Battalion had been there since the end of July.

[2] “Training was carried out in earnest and route marches were conducted in the request downpours, which taxed the morale of the troops. Leave was issued to St Omer, six miles distant and a cinema at the Y.M.C.A hut at Abbaye de Woestine was a welcome distraction. On August 23rd the 2nd Division was reviewed by Lt General Birdwood, on the southwest bank of the Canal de Nerf Fosse, near Campagne. On August 27th the officer commanding the 2nd Division, Major General N.M. Smyth, inspected the 28th Battalion and selected it to represent the 7th Brigade in a march past Sir Douglas Haig, at a review of the 2nd Division held two days later near the Arquesaire road. The Diggers (the term ‘Digger’ came into general use around this time) arched past with fixed bayonets, in slouch hats with heads held high.Browning, p 224

[3] 16 Essex St., Fremantle

[4] Reg’s Birthday was 2 September – the very day that I am typing this post. Reg would certainly have been surprised that his birthday would be remembered 100 years later!

[5] Digging! see 2 above.

[6] Reg’s motorcycle, ‘Jane’.

[7] Newquay was the house of Reg’s Uncle Cliff and family.

[8] Jack Roydhouse had been attached to the hq staff of 6th Brigade during the Battle of Poziers in July?August the previous year. He had returned to the 28th Battalion at the beginning of the year and was a company commander during the battle of Bullecourt where he won the MC, during Reg’s absence recovering from his wounds received at  the battle of Gueudecourt. Jack must have just returned from his own absence, suffering with trench foot (see Reg’s letter of June 1917 here).

[9] Col. Read, Lieutenant Colonel George Arthur Read DSO .

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.

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

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 15.55.37

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.

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 
Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.46.37 Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.48.58 Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.50.48

[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

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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.

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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.

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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 ‘Black Anzacs’ 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.

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, known as The Soul of Anzac

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