RHG’s final days in Blighty – letter home, May 1917

Reg wrote a letter to his father and step-mother from Rollestone Camp in the final days before he returned to his battalion in France, after his return from hospital with mumps:

The letter is held in Reg’s file at the Imperial War Museum in London, donated by Reg’s father (reference: Documents.14424)

:

28/5/17            Rollestone

                                    Salisbury Plain

 

Dearest Mum & Dad,

                        I arrived quite safely back
at camp, Jane behaved perfectly and took me
back in 3 ½ hours, which was good going. Thank
you awfully Mum & Dad dear for giving me such
a good time at home, I enjoyed every minute
of my few days and the time only sped too
quickly, unfortunately it always does in times
like that. I am expecting my orders any day now
the War Office have officially written me that I
am available for active service at short notice
so that may mean 24 hours, anyway I shall
cycle home & leave Jane & send my box on. I must
try and see Aunty Maud & Uncle before I go, as
they have been very kind to me, if I get 24 hours
I might go up to [Town?] after I leave you & stop
there that night. It is very hot & muggy to day,
it rained hard all day yesterday, I hope you
got it at home, it would do the garden a lot
of good. Have you any news of Dick since
I left, what a pity it is he is so far away. Will
you ask Dad to write to Horseferry Rd. & ask them
to inform him in [?] of casualty to me, I will
also, then you will be sure of hearing. Good bye
to you both. I will wire any news.

Yours,

Reg.

Jane was Reg’s motorcycle which it seems from his letters he purchased with help from his father sometime during his period of hospital and convalescence in England.

Reginald Gill

The Malt House, Lurgashall - presume after renovation copy

The Malt House, Lurgashall, West Sussex

Reg’s father, George Henry Gill (GHG), lived with Reg’s step mother in the Malt House in Lurgashall in West Sussex. GHG had moved here shortly before the First World War and Reg had first visited on his leave in June 1916 after the Raid at Armentières. Major Roy Phillipps MC DFC, Reg’s mate from Perth, also visited Reg’s parents on leave in December 1917.

Aunty Maud & Uncle” were Reg’s ‘Uncle Cliff’, George Clifford Bower and his wife, who lived with their family in Bromley a suburb on the southern outskirts of London. Uncle Cliff was the brother of Reg’s mother who died shortly after childbirth with Reg and it seems Reg was close to the extended Bower family. Reg mentions Uncle Cliff and family in affectionate terms in his letter home in June 1916.

Dick” was Reg’s half-brother, A.R.Gill who was over ten years Reg’s junior and was serving with 1/2 King’s African Rifles in the East Africa Campaign, seconded from the Hampshire Regiment. Dick had just been wounded in the thigh during an engagement with the enemy at Yangwani in German East Africa in April 1917.

Horseferry Road” was the administrative HQ of the AIF in England. Reg is planning for the eventuality of further wounding or worse – understandably so, but the tone of his letters has an air of concern and foreboding which is so different to the optimistic tone of his letter home the previous year in June 1916 after the successful ‘Black Anzacs’ raid at Armentieres.

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RHG injured at Gueudecourt – November 1916

Despite surviving the horrors of the Battle of Pozières, in July/August 1916, Reg was soon to face more of the same at Gueudecourt, near Flers, in November. According to C.E.W. Bean, the official historian “The Australian divisions, almost restored by their rest at Ypres, were now to plunge into the hardest trial that ever came to them.” Official History, Vol III, Chapter XXV – Flers. The Somme Battle Ends, p.894.

After Pozières in August, the 7th Brigade moved north to Flanders and spent most of September billeted at Steenvoorde, behind the lines near Ypres, training and refitting with a large batch of reinforcements and men returned from hospital. There were many promotions to replace the officers and NCOs lost in action during Pozières. Reg was promoted to Captain on 1 October 1917 to replace Capt A.S. Isaac in charge of C Company. Capt. Austin Stirling Isaac had been wounded in the arm at Pozières (which resulted in amputation but he survived the war) and was the only company commander to survive the night of 28/29 July:

Reg had previously complained to his brother about the delay in having this promotion conferred for the job he had been doing already for some time – I’m sure it was a typical complaint. (Reg’s letter to Theo 11 September 1916)

The rain during this period was incessant and the training ground reduced to a quagmire – which was rather fitting for what was to come. But the period was peaceful and a welcome respite – there was even a full sports programme with the 28th victorious in the football. During off duty hours the men were free to roam around Steenvoorde that the relationships with the local inhabitants were very cordial and it was a common sight to see the men of the brigade working in the fields, in the absence of the local men who had all been conscripted. [Neville Browning, The Blue and White Diamond – History of the 28th Battalion AIF 1915-1919 – pp146-7]

ANZAC soldiers wearing sheepskin jackets, and a mixture of slouch hats and steel helmets, resting on their way up to the trenches at the Somme, Dec 1916

In October the 28th AIF moved to Ypres, which was derelict due to two years of almost constant bombardment, and from there into the front line. The ‘weather was becoming wintry and the terrain and trenches were waterlogged due to the abundance rain that fell with monotonous frequency’. It was here that the 28th experienced the largest rats they had ever seen. “These unpleasant rodents, the size of well-grown kittens, infested dugouts and shelters and tunnelled into the earthworks…. One even had the temerity to bite the Regimental Sergeant Major’s nose one day when he was snatching forty winks!” [H.K. Kahan, The 28th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force : a record of war service ] The Battalion then moved back to the Somme, to the front line at Dernacourt near Albert, which caused some resentment, as the survivors of Pozières were not keen to return to the Somme believing that countless lives had been needlessly thrown away there for such little gain. The general feeling running through the AIF was that the Australians had done more than their share of fighting and dying. The weather was still dreadful and the condition of the trenches appalling. Mud oozed from the trench walls and communication trenches were reduced to canals. Reg’s mate Lieutenant Roy Phillipps was wounded at this time by attempting to walk across open country to inspect his Company post rather than attempt to negotiate 150 years of thigh deep mud in the communication trenches. He was almost half way across when a bullet struck the ground to his immediate front. he started to lope through the mud when another round went past his head. He wrote “the third got me, I tell you I was a bit blue crawling the rest of the way, some thirty yards expecting one in the neck”. Phillipps had been shot through the thigh and it took six stretcher-bearers nine hours to haul him two kilometres to an aid post through waist deep mud and slush.  (Browning, pp152-4)

The Battalion moved up to Gueudecourt, near Flers, for an attack on a German trench system named The Maze scheduled for 5th November. The 28th were detailed to take Gird Trench (known to the Germans as Gallwitz Stellung) on the left hand size of the Maze.

The Maze (Browning, p172)

Captain Charles Bean, Australian Official War Correspondent, knee deep in mud in Gird trench, near Gueudecourt in France, during the winter of 1916

Horses haul ammunition forward in deep mud outside Flers. November, 1916.

But the conditions were appalling. The mud caused havoc for the attack, preventing the men exploiting the creeping artillery barrage that preceded the attack and was supposed to cover the advance across no mans land. There was a gale, which preventing reconnaissance by air. Leading to poor execution of the barrage, with plenty of time for the Germans to emerge from their dug outs and face on the oncoming assault. The 28th, struggling through the mud, were decimated by the German machine guns, pinned down in no mans land, some for many days, in what we now see as typical of the First World War. The mud hampered the evacuation of the casualties and of the remaining men, most of them suffered from trench foot  – 90% of the 27th Battalion (Browning, pp157-9; Bean, Ch XXV, pp 917-920) The 28th’s Battalion War Diary for November 1916 typically records the horror of this period in its tragically understated way:

“3rd/4th   Took over front line from 53rd Bn AIF. Trenches in very bad order. In mud from 12 inches to 3 feet deep. Location M. 24. A. GUTDECOURT. Map [?]

4th   General work improving front trenches and preparing for attack of next day.

5th  The Bn in conjunction with 27th Bn & Coys of 25th & 26th Bn who were on our Right and the British Division on our left made an attack on the German line known as GIRD TRENCH. Owing to the inaccuracy of our Artillery fire, through lack of observation, the enemy were not kept down in their trenches by our barrage and the advancing troops were subjected to very heavy rifle & machine gun fire which prevented them reaching the objective. Our losses in this attack were 1 officer (Lieut W R Moore) killed and five wounded (2/Lieut F Muller, Lieut A W Curran) Previous to the attack four officers were wounded. Capt. R C Phillips, 2/Lieut MG Hammond, 2/Lieut CC Flower, Lieut RH Gill. The casualties of other ranks were as follows. 58 Killed, 166 wounded, 50 missing, 27 Other ranks were evacuated to Hospital suffering from effects of wet & [exposure?] ”
Battalion War Diary, 28th Battalion, AIF – November 2016

Australian Pioneers making a duckboard bridge across the trenches of the ‘Maze’.

Conditions for those wounded lucky enough to be rescued from no mans land and taken to the aid post were not much better. The aid post was incessantly shelled and there were no rations, water or blankets for the wounded. Those unable to walk were left lying on stretchers out in the open during the cold night. One casualty was discovered to have died of exposure over night. (Browning, p163)

 

 

 

 

 

Is it not recorded exactly when or where Reg was wounded – only ‘previous to the attack’ like Roy Phillipps and M.G. Hammond. Reg’s casualty list on his file at the AWM records a ‘GSW’ – gun shot wound – to his left wrist. The wound was serious enough for Reg to be sent for treatment to England.  Reg was heading back to England once more.

 

Place of Casualty

 

Date of Casualty

Date From whom received
10.11.16 CO 28th Bn, List Wounded in action France 3-6/11/16
19.11.16 A.I.F.List 114 Placed on Seconded list France 4.11.16
7.11.16 8th Sty Hosp. Adm. GSW Lt Wrist. Rouen 6.11.16
9.11.16 do To England. GSW Lt Wrist ,, 8.11.16
9.11.16 HS”Austurias” Embarked for England
GSW Lt Wrist
Havre  

9.11.16

Of the other people mentioned by name in the Battalion War diary:

Lieut W.R. Moore: killed in the action “MOORE. Killed in action on November 6, Lieutenant W. R. Moore, fourth dearly beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Moore, 193 Newcastle street. Perth; Deeply mourned. – His duty nobly done” The Western Mail, 8 Dec 1916

Capt. R C Phillips: Reg’s mate from Perth, Maj Roy Phillipps, MC & Bar, DFC – previously covered in this post here.

2/Lieut MG Hammond: Captain Meysey George Hammond MC MM – was one of the wounded had only just returned to the battalion on 23 September, having been wounded in the leg at Pozières. He ‘walked with a pronounced limp and with the aid of a walking stick’. During  the deployment before the attack, his left elbow was shattered by enemy fire and he had to be forcibly received of his command and sent to the dressing station. It was a wound that would have seen the end of active service of most men. The 3rd London General Hospital back in England (the same place Reg was treated) found that “there is almost complete fixation of the elbow at right angle, and at present no use in forearm or hand, although there is no organic lesion of nerves”. Despite this wound, rendering his left arm permanently useless and needing to be supported in a sling, Hammond convinced the authorities to return him to front line service. In January 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant and for his actions as an Intelligence Officer near Westhoek on 20 September 1917  he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for his actions at Polygon Wood. While having only one functioning arm and the added handicap of a walking stick, he managed to single-handedly capture 20 German prisoners and gather important information. On Christmas Day 1917 near Ploegsteert, Hammond had a narrow escape from a sniper when a bullet was stopped by his field notebook and his cigarette case as it tore through his breast pocket. In early 1918 Hammond was posted to the Australian War Records Section in England but following numerous appeals to his superiors he returned to his battalion in France in May as captain in command of ‘A’ company. His actions near Morlancourt on 10 June 1918 were recognised with the award of a bar to his Military Cross. During the fighting he moved across no-mans-land, ten metres in front of his men, directing the attacking line with his walking stick hanging from his useless left arm and a watch in his right hand. Despite the danger he frequently had his back to the enemy while following closely behind the creeping artillery barrage, and would occasionally straighten the line with a wave of his stick. When his men followed him into the German trench, Hammond had already captured a number of enemy prisoners. He was mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet the following day and died on the 14th June 1918. A fellow officer said of Hammond that ‘I am quite sure that [he] did not know what fear meant never once saw him duck for either a shell or a bullet’. He is buried in Vignacourt Cemetery. [https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C118771]

2/Lieut CC Flower: Cyril Cecil Flower, a clerk from Perth, was also wounded at the same time. He had been promoted from Sergeant to Second Lieutenant on 16 August 1916, after Pozières. He was wounded again, severely, on the fateful night of 28 September 1917 but survived the war returning to WA in May 1918. He is recorded as Captain CC Flower as a contributor to Herbet Collet’s History of the 28th AIF in 1922.

Lieut AW Curran: was wounded for the second time. Appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 30 August 1916 having being Mentioned in Despatches on 9 June 1916 after the Raid at Armentières “For consistent goodwork during 3½ months on Gallipoli and two months in France; As Signalling Sergeant he displayed great resource and coolness in repairing lines whilst under fire.” He became Battalion Signally Officer ad was Mentioned in Dispatches again on 2 January 1917 “For conspicuous work in maintaining communication and excellent conduct under fire. Am original member of the battalion, his work through has been of the highest order. He distinguished himself on three separate occasions since March 1916.”

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.