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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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.

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.