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 .

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

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

extract from letter to Laura 15 June 1917

C Coy                           France
28th Battalion              15.6.17.

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

Dearest Kidds,

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

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

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

Shortlands, Bromley 1919

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

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

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

The letter continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reg’s letter continues:

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

 

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

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

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

Reg continues:

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

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

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

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

Reg finishes the letter:

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

            Ever yours,

Reg. “

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

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