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.

4092671

6217338

408406659962286238248

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]

4167214

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.

4129800

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 .

RHG – still training for Third Ypres, August 1917

Reg’s next surviving letter is to his step-mother dated August 1917:

                                    “C” Coy

France[1]                        18. 8. 17.

 

Dearest Mum,

Very many thanks dear
for the magazines & papers which you
sent, they were thoroughly enjoyed and are
still being passed round. I didn’t answer
your letter at once & a few days have
lapsed since I received them, but I have
been very busy. Have not been too well
lately, suffering with my kidneys, pains
across the small of the back, nothing
serious but just annoying. There has been
an Australian mail in, posted Fremantle
June 13th so I ought to get some letters from
home soon if Laura has sent them care of
you. Am saving money these days, shall have
£18/./. in my book at the end of this month,
must send dad that 100 francs[2], but cannot
get a registered envelope, will you post
me one across as soon as you can, then
I will send the money on, it is no use
carrying money about with one here. I was
thinking of saving up till I get about £35/.
and then getting Dad to sell my bike and
buying a stronger & more powerful machine
about 3 ½ to 4 ¼ H.P. which would stand the
wear & tear of the Australian roads better
than ‘Jane’[3] . Am glad you had a nice
time at Broadstairs[4] dearest, I should
love to see the dear old place again, if I
get another lucky crack I must take
a run down that way and visit all the
old haunts. I can imagine that Canterbury
must well nigh be ruined with all the soldiers
there, how sick I am of the sight of khaki. I
think this year will see an end to it all.

Good bye dearest to you both.

Ever your affect. son

Reg.

[1] France, The Battalion was still training behind the front lines but had moved at the end of July to Renescure, about 50 miles from Ypres.

[2]  Reg had purchased his motorbike with assistance from his father and was paying him back.

[3] ‘Jane’, Reg’s motorbike made by The James Cycle Company Ltd.

[4] Broadstairs. On the Kent coast. I believe Reg’s family had lived there at some point when Reg was small.

RHG July 1917 – training for Third Ypres

The next of Reg‘s letters from the Front to survive is a letter to his parents dated 17 July 1917. The 28th Battalion were training hard in preparation for the upcoming Passchendaele offensive which would come to be known as the Third Battle of Ypres. 

The Battalion had moved from Senlis to Bapaume, still well behind the front line, and was engaged in lengthy and strenuous training sessions with frequent route marches. Lectures were given on gas, bombing, communications, signalling and tactics. reinforcements arrived and were absorbed into the companies. (Browning, p 220).

Reg was back as company commander of C company. During this month, “No.10 Platoon (C Company) under the command of Lieut. L.G. Allen, with the extremely capable Sergeant G.F. Kennedy as his platoon sergeant, was specially trained to such a level that it was reputed to be the best platoon in the 2nd Division. Allen’s platoon was called upon to give a demonstration of its ability before an assembly of British and Australian officers”. (Browning, p. 223.

                                    “C” Coy

                                          17.7. 17.

Dearest Dad & Mum,

Received your letter for which very
many thanks, it is awfully generous of you to
make me such an offer re the bike, I will send
you the money as soon as possible. Captain Pugh[1]
my second in command went home on leave on
Sunday and said he will bring back any parcel
for me, so will you ask Mum if she will pack my
small V.P. Kodak and my tennis shoes[2] up and
forward them to me care of Captain C.H. Pugh
4. Cleveland Park Avenue. Walthamstowe. Essex. Eng.
also some “Kolners” tooth paste, he, he will have 10 days
in England, so if you could post immediately on receipt
of this he ought to get them in time. What an extraordinary
thing the back tyre bursting like that, as far as I remember
I mended the last puncture, which occurred in Salisbury,
I picked up a horseshoe nail and I certainly remember
examining the [cover?] carefully. I am very glad to think
you are riding her, it will do her good, better than the
engine standing idle in a fixed position for a long
time.

Very glad to hear Dick is progressing favourably
and will be out of it for a time at least, the
climate must be rotten out there for wounds to heal
properly, wish he could come home for a spell, that
business ought to soon be finished.[3]

Haven’t heard from Theo for along time, hope he is
O.K.[4] I’m glad you liked Vera,[5] wish I had seen her
while I was at home, perhaps I will be able to next
time I get to Blighty. I can imagine how you felt
about [Mr?] Pain, fancy Mrs. leaving him all alone, but
he ought to get away himself for a spell. We are having
a lot of war weather out here, mud is thick as usual,
I often wonder if France is always like this, one doesn’t
seem to get so much mud in England. Must send this
up now, I have a tremendous lot of work on hand.
Dearest love to you both.

Your affectionate son

Reg.

 

[1] Captain Cyril Hunwick Pugh, 28th Battalion, AIF from Perth, Western Australia. A 23 year old clerk when he enlisted on 8 September 1914, he embarked for overseas as a 2nd Lt with A Company from Fremantle on 29 June 1915 aboard HMAT Ascanius. He served at Gallipoli where he was promoted to Lt on 1 December 1915 and on the Western Front where he was promoted to Capt on 12 March 1917. Capt Pugh returned to Australia on 1 June 1919.

[2] tennis shoes – During this period, the Battalion were also engaged in sports against other battalions in the 7th Brigade , with cricket and tennis.(Browning, p223)

[3]’Dick’, AR Gill – Reg’s younger half brother was attached to 1/2 Kings African Rifles (seconded from the Hampshire Regiment) and had been wounded in April 1917 at Yangwani.

[4] ‘Theo’, GT Gill – serving with the 2/6 Gurkha Rifles in Mesopotamia in 1916 and then as an instructor at the Young Officers’ School at Sabathu in the Simla Hills 

[5] ‘Vera’ – Annie Vera Chapman served in the war as a V.A.D. nurse at Bevan Hospital, Sandgate, Kent. Vera married Reg’s brother Theo (GTG) in St.Thomas’s Cathedral, Bombay on 30 December 1918.

Vera’s brother Lieutenant Lawrence Vaughan Champman was serving with the 2nd Rifle Brigade. He was killed, aged 28, on 25 September 1915 in a bomb explosion holding a captured trench for four hours in spite of counter attacks. Before the war Lawrence had been a solicitor. He had been a prizeman, medalist and exhibitioner at King’s College London University. He is commemorated on the Ploegsteert memorial, King’s College Chapel, Sunbury-on-Thames War Memorial and at St. Mary the Virgin, Sunbury-on-Thames.

“Chapman, Lieutenant Lawrence Vaughan B.A., LLB, of the 2nd Rifle Brigade, killed in Flanders was a son of Mr. L. Chapman, of Sunbury-on-Thames, and grandson of the late Rev. I. M. Chapman M.A., Fellow of Balliol and rector of Tendring, Essex. He was educated at King’s College School and the University of London; of the latter he was a prizeman, medallist and exhibitioner, taking his degree in both arts and law with honours. After serving his articles he passed the solicitors articles with honours and was appointed by Sir H. Holden a member of the legal staff of the City and Midland Bank. He was gazetted from the Reserve of Officers to the Rifle Brigade on May 5, 1914, and left for the front on May 13, 1915. He was promoted lieutenant in July last.” The Times 4 October 1915 (source: Kings College Memorial List)

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Mum & Dad – 15 July 1917 (or June?)

The next surviving letter of Reg‘s is to his father and step-mother dated 15 July 1917. But the content so closely matches his letter to his wife Laura dated 15 June, and mentions that he only just left them ‘last Wednesday’, that I have to assume this is incorrectly dated and must have been written on 15 June 1917, the same day as the letter to Laura.

                                             France.

                                                 15. 7. 17.

 

Dearest Mum & Dad.

Just a line to let you know I am still alright, will give you a short history of happenings since I left you last Wednesday afternoon. When I got to Waterloo I at once enquired after my valise, only to find it had not arrived and was no where to be found. I went to the Station Master and kicked up a deuce of a row about it and he came to the conclusion that it could not have been sent from Amesbury Station[1] because it had not been prepaid on! So he telegraphed and told them to forward it at once. Then I went to the Automobile Club[2] and booked a bed and on to Victoria to catch the 8 o’clock train to Bromley, arrived at the house about 10 to 9 and had some dinner and caught a train back to town at
10.0pm & went on to Waterloo but could get no satisfaction
from them about my gear, so went back to the Club and to
bed & was waked up at 2.0 am with information that
my valise had arrived at Waterloo, so I made arrangements to have it sent round at 6.0 am. Caught the 7.50 am at Victoria and saw the Newquay family waving in the field at Shortlands[4] as the train went by. The boat did not sail until 3.0 pm so one or two others & myself went for a swim & had some lunch and then went on board. Got to Boulogne safely & was told by the R.T.O. that our train did not leave until 10.30 am next day (Friday) so we had to put in the night there & next day caught the train. She stopped at Etaples[4] and did not go on any further until Saturday ay 7.30 am so had to stop the night again at our own expense. Eventually arrived at Albert and walked out to the Battalion where I got a pipping welcome from every one. We are going forward now, so will write you again shortly. We get paid in a few days and I will send some money home
for Jane[5], will try & get some registered envelopes. It is very hot indeed out here and is very trying, it doesn’t improve the smells at all, as you can imagine. I can just picture the dear old garden at home, only wish I could see it
again. Everyone is very hopeful that the war will be over by September or October and we have every reason to think so, I cannot say any more about that however, but it is what we call in Australia the “Dinkum Oil”[6].
I wrote a line to Newquay. Will you forward any
letters or parcels to me at the same address. I have
got my old Company back again thank goodness, but
alas there are very few of the old faces left. By Jove
wouldn’t I love to have a ride on dear old Jane once more,
I know she is in the best of hands however. If anything
happens to me I want Dick[7] to have her, so please give her
to him with my love. I am awfully well & quite happy here
this time.

Good bye to you both.

Ever your affectionate son.

Reg

 

[1] Amsbury, Wiltshire, near Stonehenge. The station, which served the military camps on Salisbury Plain during WWI, including Rollestone, closed in 1963

[2] Royal Automobile Club – see previous post

[3] The family of G.C. Bower – ‘Uncle Cliff’ living in Shortlands, Bromley – the railway passes a few streets from Durham Avenue just after Shortlands railway station. See previous post.

[4] Étaples or Étaples-sur-Mer

[5] ‘Jane’, Reg’s motor cycle

[6] Australian slang for the real truth or hard information.

[7] ‘Dick” was Reg’s half-brother A.R.Gill – serving in the 1/2 Kings African Rifles in East Africa at the time.

 

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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