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!

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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.