Clarence (Jack) Hemphill (1893 – 1927)
Australian Regimental Number 8604
The Folly of War
“Jack” was born in Longford (Tasmania)
In Eighteen ninety three,
He was my maternal granddad,
Whom I would never see.
He bought the bakery in Scottsdale
Very successful in its time,
For he had boundless zest,
– Eighteen, and in his prime.
The horses in the baker’s cart
Were equines in disguise,
For Nance and Tim were trotters,
– Both special in Jack’s eyes.
His true love was Mabel Edwards
Whom he married in ‘Thirteen,
And late the following year,
Welcomed a daughter, ‘Reen.
The First World War was raging
Jack answered the call to war
He sailed on the troopship Runic
For a foreign ravaged shore.
Jack’s second daughter Jean was born
Four months after he had left.
The loss of Jack for three long years
Was best described as theft!
The ships all left from Albany
They waved goodbye as one.
The outward journey was exciting,
At first Jack thought it fun.
Colombo, like nothing he had seen,
Bartering was something new,
Eating topical fruit was nice,
There was much to see and do!
It was in Egypt Jack first tasted war
Fought in rolling desert sands.
Jack sometimes cooked for Officers
“Jack of all”, you understand!
He cherished receiving letters
From his loved ones back at home.
The sands of Suez in stark contrast
To Scottsdale’s fields and loam.
When Jack first tasted war at Suez,
He saw his first airplane flying there.
Battle ships squeezed passed Runic
And two thousand voices filled the air,
Singing, ‘Sons of the Sea’, which “sounded grand!”
But for Jack, disillusionment came to the fore
When casualties on the Western Front,
Exposed a much darker side of war!
The “smell got pretty strong, inside the stuffy helmet!”
When masks were tested within a gas filled trench.
They were told that gas on chemicals in the hat
Caused their running eyes and, as well, the stench!
Good Friday was spent near Outerstein
Within the battle fields of France,
At a First Aid Station where the wounded
Could be stabilised, given a second chance.
Jack missed his family, particularly his wife
Letter writing was his lifeline to family,
But war delayed the mail deliveries
And Jack waited for replies, expectantly.
The wounded were kept in dugouts
For their safety during daylight hours,
Then carried out late at night when
Invisible to German machine gun towers.
Shells “screeched“ past the ambulance,
Made “things fly when they burst!”
“If one lobs on my old bus, they’d find
My Australian Identity Disc, at worst!”
A short stay in Belgium at Neuve Eglise,
Then off to the Somme with First Division.
The casualties were exceedingly greater
Than anything they could ever envision.
The field ambulances took stretchers only,
With motor ferries being used as well
To carry thirty or forty Australian Soldiers,
Battered and broken by shrapnel and shell.
Day after day from Becount Wood to Albert
Those who survived German machine gunfire,
Were transported to hospital by ambulances,
The drivers of which refused to tire.
First Field ambulance suffered attack,
Such was the seriousness of war;
Eight killed, twenty-five seriously wounded
At the Somme, could have been more.
Exposed to gas in the trenches when the
Ambulance men retrieved the wounded,
Ignoring the dangers around them
As the big guns continuously sounded.
Jack’s first hand account of the war
Ended in August Nineteen Sixteen.
He continued in the First Ambulance
Until May Nineteen Eighteen.
The onset of pleurisy destroyed his health,
In England he saw out the rest of war.
Jack returned to his beloved Mab,
But nothing could be as before!
Jack had to reconnect with
His elder daughter ‘Reen,
And Jean, who due to the war
Jack had missed and never seen.
The life back home proved really tough
As his family grew each passing year,
Leon, Elaine, Dorothy and Joan,
Gave Jack joy when they were near.
Jack’s Scottsdale bakery was sadly sold,
Flour in his lungs had proved too much.
Work in the butter factory was also brief
For the damp affected lungs and such.
A sad time Jack and May endured,
They lost their Dorothy at two.
TB was diagnosed in ‘twenty six,
And the struggle for Jack began anew.
Springfield Post Office Store was bought
As security for the family.
Jack’s health was fading fast and he
Spoke to May of feeling chilly.
Sadly, Jack’s fight for life was lost.
In January ‘twenty seven, he died,
Before the birth of daughter, Clarice,
With whom he’d never walk beside.
Life after Jack was tough for May
The “Great Depression” hit the store.
People could no longer pay their bills
As most were now so very poor!
. . .
Jack was a man I wish I’d known,
He’d be proud of his extended family.
Each has contributed in their own way,
Each taking their place in society.
Composed by Bill Edmunds, Son of Jack’s daughter Elaine.
Compiled from family records, March 2017
Transcript of Clarence (Jack) Hemphill’s war diary
By Bill Edmunds (grandson).
19 January 1916
Left Melbourne by 3.15pm train for Sydney. There was a beautiful sunset. We sat and watched it for a long time. It was beautiful. As the train sped on the sun seemed to be bidding us a good farewell as we watched it fade away. It was grand and was the talk of the troops on the special train which at times was doing over fifty miles an hour. We had very comfortable carriages. Reached Albury about midnight. Changed trains and found ourselves in a dim rough lot of carriages and told to stick it until we reached Sydney.
A few miles out of Sydney we passed Liverpool.
20 Jan 1916
Reached Sydney fresh and eager. ( Poor fools 13.6.18) Marched from the station to the steamer which took us up the harbour to the big black transport, Runic (or Military number A54). We got on board and at 4pm we were steaming out of Sydney Harbour amid cheers from several steamer loads of people (idiots) who followed us to the mouth of the Harbour. So our journey commenced. After a smooth passage and beautiful weather (I was crook in the gear box, one day only, so it speaks for itself. I mean the weather) (As it takes very little to reverse my gear).
29 Jan 1916
We reached the mouth of Fremantle Harbour Jan. 29 at about 5.45am and anchored in the harbour for a while. Went alongside the wharf 9am. Given two hours leave, from 10am till 12 o’clock. (I had one hour’s leave only, being busy in dispensary, did not get off until 11am. When I did get away posted a letter home to Mab. Had a good feed (bet yer life) as the food was pretty rotten and rough on the Runic and was good to get a good meal to tone up the inside of my machinery. I had a little time so got some postcards. Sent some to May, Doffery, Grannie – had no time to pick decent cards, or to write on them properly. Just scribbled a few words on each. Got back to boat at 12 o’clock. A lot of soldiers drunk and fighting. Several with faces cut and bruised – had stitched them up. Several with thumbs put out, and ankles sprained. It was a busy time in the dispensary dressing wounds all the afternoon. Anyhow we got away from the wharf at 2pm delayed by the stragglers, – when we left several behind. Some of the soldiers were brought after us (as we were leaving) in motor boats and were pulled aboard. Several fights on board before things settled down. Black eyes were quite common. The worst wound was a kneecap split open. The man fell over a broken bottle, bad wound, several stitches put in. The man was drunk and was called by our Captain, Bluey. All the time he was putting the stitches in, the Captain got that wild with him that I don’t think he knew where he was putting the stitches in. Anyhow the name stuck to him, so far, we are all starting to call him Bluey when talking about him.
There were hundreds of people on the wharf to see us off (and several motor boats followed us to the mouth of the harbour – crowded with people) waving us goodbye (that is what I’ll be doing next time). It is a great pity there is such stuff as beer. It would have been a pleasant stop only for the beer. However we soon left Freemantle behind and our next port of call is expected to be Colombo.
Well out to sea again. Weather fine. Lots of sore heads and limbs to dress after the brawl kept going all day.
Well out in the Indian Ocean. Weather getting hot. News on radio of two British liners sunk by torpedoes.
Weather still warm. Had seen scores of flying fish. Plenty of work in dispensary, – colds mostly.
In sight of Colombo – Plenty of niggers out in their quaint fishing boats manned by dirty niggers, who jabber like hell and are the greatest cadgers on earth. We anchored in Colombo harbour about 9am. The niggers started pitching the coal into the old Runic’s ribs, filling up the coal-bunkers. They were around the boat in swarms trying to sell us fruit and wanting to row us to shore, selling clothes, diving for money – the greatest battlers on earth. Half of the troops went for a march from 10.30am till 2pm then the other half went until five o’clock round the streets of Colombo. We did not see very much as we all had to keep together. Nearly all niggers. Seen a few white people. It was a very warm day. We were given a spell in the Barracks yard. Hundreds of ‘niggs’ followed us round the streets selling fruits and drinks of course. They always ask about three times as much as a thing was worth and a few of us got bit at first, but soon found out the right price. Then we could buy bananas at 2 pence a dozen, pineapples at 2 pence each – they were great. I was in the first lot and got back to the Runic at 2pm, wringing wet with perspiration, and bananas, pineapples, chocolate, lemonade, all having a … in my gearbox and was real full up to the last half inch with fruit. It was a sneezing hot day and was jolly glad to get rid of my clothes (or most of them).
There some fine big steamers in the harbour. Japanese and English mostly. Rather liked Colombo what little I saw of it, would like a month there on a holiday. I would put up with the smell of the niggers.
Still anchored here. Niggers still filling coal into the Runic, been working all night and when they were not working they were cadging tucker or shaking it. Niggers earn 2/- a day here lumping coal from daylight till dark. The boss nigger has a cane and dressed in some flash headgear or dress and if he came across a nigger that is taking things too easy he gives him a few across the (Bay Rhum) or shoulder with his cane, then the nigger toes in again, not even surprise on his face, takes it, as in the day’s work. Left Colombo 4pm. Got rid of niggers for a while although we will miss the fruit, it was welcome (bet yer life).
Well out to sea again and settled down to work. (Wrote to May, Doffery, Edwards’, Saunders from Colombo)
Had my fifth inoculation today.
Vaccinated, passed Aden 9pm
Well into the Red Sea. Passed several small steamers, also several islands and lighthouses.
3am. Warship passed us. Put a flashlight on us and then vanished after being assured we were A1 (French Boat). Passed several steamers through the day.
Reached Suez 9.30am, anchored in harbour. The battleships anchored in the mouth of the Suez Canal. Large boats – coming and going through the canal all day. It is a very busy shipping place.
Still at Suez. 6pm. Anchor up. We are leaving amid cheers from the boats anchored round us and a great rally as we passed the battle ships which we returned by singing Sons of the Sea (silly fools). The battleships looked grand. Just bristling all over with guns. Nearly two thousand singing sounds grand, and then gave them three cheers.
Well down the Canal which is about 79 miles long. It is just wide enough for two big steamers to pass. In places one has to be tied up while the other one passes. Our pace is all the way through from 4 to 6 miles an hour. Camps all along the Canal – English, Australians, Indians. The number of troops altogether is reckoned over a quarter of a million. I saw my first aeroplane up scouting along the Canal. Just like a great bird. We had a close view of him. Everywhere is great activity. Along the Canal trenches are all ready for defence. We had a good view from our deck. Everyone on board very much interested. Passed an Indian troopship chock full of Indian Troops – they were for Canal defences. It does one good (no, not now) to receive the hearty cheers and return them in the same spirit (we don’t cheer any more since … there is but half the men in ‘it’ – nuff said). I’m just beginning to think there is no place like England as we pass camp after camp. We are all looking forward to getting off the boat and doing something useful. I would not be out of this lot for anything. (Now I’m looking for a chance to get out). Reached Port Said 1.30pm. Niggers started coaling again.
Going for a route march through Port Said. 9.30 started. Went through the town. Had a look at the statue of Ferdinand De Lesseps the builder of the Suez Canal. Left P. Said at 7pm. Reached Alexandria at 10am Feb 26th
Left Runic at 11.30pm. Boarded train for Cairo. Reached there 8.15am Feb 27
From there on to Heilopolis and had a couple of miles to march to Zeitown Camp East Big Camp. Seen Cyril Richardson, Roy Patten, Sid Downs 12.30. Rough dinner.
Sleeping out in the open. Nights very cold- Days hot.
Food rough (Too true). Wrote to Mab, also received my first letter from home. Imagine my disgust when I found it to be a real old one posted when I first left Tasmania.
Visited Mary’s well, also the tree which she rested under after drinking at then well. Got a bit of tree in my wallet, supposed to be 3000 years old.
Left Zeitown Camp Monday, travelled all day. Reached Serapeum East Camp late at night. Very tired Tuesday March 5th. Started work, plenty of drill.
Wrote home to Mab, Doffery, Stan. Had my first swim in Suez Canal. Quite a treat. (Started to grow a moustache).
Started to cook for 12 officers, also caught the first louse in our tent.
Had enough of cooking, going back to ranks – crook oven, not enough material and sand blowing amongst the food all the time (no good to eat).
11 of us washed in the same dish of water. It is very scarce here. Got my name down for motor ambulance driver.
Seen Jos Patmore. Jolly pleased to see him – well had a cup of coffee with him at 9pm. There are now about 100,000 Australian troops along Canal. Infantry coming in from all camps around Egypt. Light horse have been sent to relieve infantry on the Canal front, also issuing men with respirators and new gear generally. There is much talk about where we are going to. The general opinion seems to be France. There are several graves along the canal both of Turks and the defenders – Indians, N. Zealanders, English, Australian – a mixture. They were killed when the Turks attacked the Canal led by German generals. One German general is buried right on the bank. (as another attack here is reckoned to be impossible at present, although they keep hundreds of men in the trenches constantly and aeroplanes scouting two or three times a day.) We expect to be sent somewhere soon, the dust is rotten here- we get a dust storm here nearly every day so that we are eating sand as well as other food. I can feel pounds of it in my gearbox, it grates on the inside machinery. It’s absolutely impossible to keep it out of the food. We eat it, sleep in it, our water is full of it, drink sand and water, wash in sand and water. Blows into our eyes – they get sore as hell – nearly blinds a man.
March 19, Sunday
All Australian troops inspected by Prince of Wales and General Birdwood, the Commander of Australian Forces. The Prince of Wales is attached to the Australian Forces on General Birdwood’s staff. The troops (poor fools) gave them a great reception we Australians think it a great honour for the future King to be with us. General Birdwood said the fighting qualities of Australian and New Zealand troops are unequalled – only he thinks they want more discipline. The Tommies I have seen so far think the Australians are as good as any two of them, no doubt they think the Aust and Zeal troops are the men for a lash and big things are expected of them the next place they go to fight (in France I hope).
Left Serapium Camp 5.30am. Marched to Serapium Station. Had a few hours wait there. Boarded the train at 11.30pm for Alexandria, travelling in trucks, very cold.
Reached Alexandria at 12o’clock. We were put aboard the troopship (Simla) and left the wharf sometime during the night. We have on board about 1600 troops packed like tinned fish (quite correct) only a small boat, nothing as large as the Runic.
We woke up this morning to find ourselves well out in the Mediterranean Sea. Having a smooth passage.
Just getting settled down. The boat is supposed to carry one thousand troops and we have 1,600 to 1,700 on board – so you can guess what it would look like when we were all up on deck – there is hardly any standing room, but its only for a few days and it is kept very clean. We get splendid food and our officers look after us well, a lot better than the Runic as far as that is concerned.
Sunday morning. Raining hard. Been to church and heard two good preachers.
I also posted a letter to Mab from Alexandria and one to Mum.
Passed Malta – not very close, had a bit of a view, thought we were calling in, the anchor was ready to drop, then they got instructions to go straight on. A bit disappointing at not seeing it closer.
Reached Marseilles in France, Left troopship 1pm., marched to train, all aboard, off for a couple of days train journey.
Going through France. The country looks grand after the few weeks we had amongst the sand in Egypt, it is very pretty. The houses look very ancient – also seen a few old ruins of ancient castles as the train passed them. The farms are worked by old men, boys and French peasant women. All young men at the front. Their lingo has got me wet but suppose will pick up a bit soon. It is deadly in train, so slow and chock full of troops. The weather is very cold.
Still in train. Getting very tired. Eight of us in each carriage so we have to sleep sitting on Bay Rhum.
Reached Steinbecke at 3am where we were lined up shivering and tired and sleepy. However we got a start from the station about 4.30am and had a march of about 9 miles through Harzelbrouek (?) and several villages. After a spell or two we reached the place where we were to be billeted, a few of us in each barn or shed. I am up in a loft with 23 others. Its lousy so I guess we shall be busiy catching chats the next few days. We are at present camped about a mile out from a small village called Strazeele. We were up there in the afternoon to have a look round. We had afternoon tea or rather it was coffee. 1’ per cup.
The Germans had the place from August to October 1914. The English troops came to this part at . . . and recaptured the place. The coffee is very good. Strazeele is about 18 miles from the front. We can hear the heavy guns quite plain. From there they are firing all the time, just like one long sound, so it seems like business at last.
Had a long route march, very cold (Sad)
Had third vaccination.
Off to look after Baths 3 miles from Stazeele, arrived here 12 o’clock. 3rd letter from home written 17 Jan 14.
Hot and cold shower baths for troups, also Belgian women here to do all troops washing. We are not here for long, great bombardment going on 12 miles from here.
Back at Stazeele again. Had our gas helmets tested by putting them on and going through a cloud of gas in a trench. As soon as I got in the gas the smell got pretty strong and inside the helmet stuffy. The only way anyone can get gassed with a helmet on is by a leakage so that the gas can get in around the eyeholes or mouth piece through fitting badly. A sound helmet will last (or rather has been tested to stand up to four hours of the strongest gas) probably will last much longer so we have nothing to be afraid of a gas attack does not last anything like that time. The reason of the eyes running and the smell getting so strong is caused by the gas working on the chemicals used in the helmet. Also we have orders to write our letters (an infernal lot of not poor fools – we are like a lot of school kids) home today as we are all moving tomorrow to the front. Wrote to May, Doffery, Rudie all in the one envelope.
Left Strazeele 8,30am. Marched 4 miles to Outerstein. Reached there after a few delays on the road. 10.30 am and find we are to stay here for a time, a couple of days or so. Billeted in a big dirty house which it will take us at least two days to get clean. This town was also held by the Germans and the house we are in now has been drilled with shrapnel, also several others the same, also outside the town are several trenches. Barb wire entanglements and several graves where the soldiers have been buried.
Stayed at Outerstein until 8.30. This day left for the front, reached our place or 1st Field Station. We are one mile and a half from the trenches and are going to work the trenches after we fix up our gear and get ready to receive the wounded men here for first dressing of wounds, or if not first dressing, to change bandages and operate on patients if necessary, before they go on to the hospital.
Getting settled down. 2.00pm news came through that some of our lads had been blown up in their billets by shells. The ambulances started bringing in the wounded about 3.15pm. Some bad wounds, 49 in all wounded and 20 odd killed. About the first man I had to carry had his leg off just below the knee. They were knocked about (some). One chap died after he arrived here, it is sad, great wounds in legs and body and face alike. Several had to be operated on before going on to hospital. This happened on Good Thursday so it’s a bad start.
Good Friday. Just as we were getting up this morning a shell lobbed in the paddock ½ mile away from where we were and burst (nuff said) The aeroplanes are active this morning. I watched a German plane going along our lines and our shells bursting all round her. She was hit but not enough to bring her down. Also some of our planes as well as well as German planes have been chasing round all morning, and the guns doing their utmost to bring them down but no falls happened. Also the batteries are going constantly, so its quite a different Good Friday to what I have been used to before. I have written several letters home lately but have not received any as per usual.
7.30am. German plane brought down. 10.30 one of the pilots in one of our planes was shot and died but the plane got back to our lines safe. The guns have been going constantly all day (some noise).
Received letters from Mab, also letter from home, paper and parcel, letters from May dated 7 February to 18 February.
Wrote home long letter to Mab, Mother, Uncle Gus.
Appointed car orderly on the universal car.
Between April 28 and May 6
Wrote home to May 2 long letters, Dad and Mum, Rudie, & Doffery. Sent 2 cards to May, one each to Doffery, Rudie, D & M, Lucy, Ivy, Two to Longford, one to Bessie Ulverstone. Also sent two souvenir handkerchiefs to May, one to Doffery. Received two more letters from May dated 5th and 7th of March. Been out to trenches in ambulance while waiting for stretcher bearers to bring patients from trenches (I had 24hr shift) We read, watch aeroplanes being shelled, watch where the German shells lob. Seven big shells lobbed a few hundred yards from where the ambulance was waiting. They whistled past us making a terrible screech through the air then hit a few old places, old houses and barns but never hurt anyone. Gee whizz they do make things fly when they burst. If one ever lobs on my old bus there won’t be as much as a bolt left, as for the occupants they might find the dead meat ticket with a lot of Australian Identification Disc. I had a quiet time, only one case in the 24 hours so things were quieter than usual. The shells were flying around too, its marvellous that they don’t get more casualties, still the less the better. (I had a letter from Robbie a few days ago & I dropped him an answer.) I also got a hell of a big attempt at a letter from Doffery. It was enclosed in one of May’s letters. I swore I would not write another line until I had a letter from her. The next one I got from May told me that Doffery had written again. So although I have not got the letter yet I have written again. I sent her a card and handkerchiefs. I’m expecting to go out to the trenches tonight with a lot more of our chaps to dig a dugout to keep the wounded in in daytime and they are going to bring them from the trenches at night only as it is too dangerous getting them out in daytime. We have got to dig all night and spell in daytime so it ought to be rather exciting work, May. (nah it was nothing, we learnt a lot since then) Had one night fixing up the dugout. Things are quiet, a few machine guns rattling, a few shells dropping, but none very close to us. We worked hard in the dark for five hours and then shouldered our spades and picks for home which we reached at 3am. Turned into bed and stayed until dinner time today.
Another night out. Tonight I expect damned hard work and dangerous.
Had another go at the dugout (Oh yes, it was not pleasant).
Still another night digging (but since we have learnt what shells are like with a vengeance).
Been out to the dugout all day. 4 only as too many would attract the notice of shells or m-guns, anyhow, it’s nearly finished. The guns were lobbing a few shells about today. None dropped very close to where we were working, still too close to be pleasant. Our batteries were in action for a while and were within a few yards of where we were working, shaking the head off one when they were fired. I landed back to my billet with a headache caused by the guns making such a hell of a row. The aeroplanes were also busy, five of ours being up at once watching the effect of our shells on the German lines and giving the different ranges to the gunners. The German guns were bombarding the planes with shrapnel but never hit any. It’s interesting to watch as the planes were very close, right over our heads at times and we have to watch ourselves as the shrapnel that is fired at the planes was coming down all around us so that when the planes are above us and the Germans are firing at them we have to take cover or else run the risk of stopping a bit of shrapnel (in the block perhaps).
I have been writing a letter home to Mab this last few days. I will finish it tomorrow.
Finished letter. Posted it to Mab also received a letter from Mab yesterday. It was dated March 15th. Jolly glad to get it (Savvy).
Germans shelled our place. Put four shells round our ambulance yard and temporary Hospital but no one was hit. One shell fell and burst fifty yards away from where our chaps were having dinner. About 40 or 50 in the building and I reckon they were dead lucky. If the shell had come a bit further before dropping it would have burst right among them and that would have meant finish for most of them. Two just missed the hospital that had a good many patients in. It’s marvellous that no one got knocked. I was working across the road at the time. As soon as I heard the shells screaming over the top of the place I was in and then heard them burst in our yard I thought that the number of the mess was gone. I expected one to lob right on my joint and put the acid on me. But it never came much to my relief. I forgot to mention that a few days ago, about May 12th a German plane flew over and dropped bombs near our joint. One fell about 150 yards from where I with others were working. It fell in a paddock and blew a hole in the ground big enough to put a dozen men in. I have a bit of the shell in my wallet as a memento or souvenir. (since learnt better and tossed them out.-) I don’t know what was their mark. I think it must have been some billets where some of the New Zealand troops were batching. Another bomb fell within a couple of hundred yards of our yard but did no damage. They are getting too close to be pleasant. Still we don’t take much notice of them now (we know them much better now) Got broke in whilst working on the dugout and whilst in the ambulances. A big mail in today so I’m waiting anxiously for some letters. It is now 6pm, May 16th Posted letter to (Aunt) Launceston.
Received three letters from Mab dated March 23, 24 and 26th. It’s rotten, terrible, slow coming through. Mab says not getting my letters. Have posted dozens to her and some very long letters too. Also have sent Doffery a lot and several all round to the others (including my adopted Dad and Mum). Wrote to Roy today. I’m afraid I swore when I only got three letters and no papers – enough to make me use Claude Hazelwood’s term. What do you and Doff think?
Started another letter home to Mab.
Shifting our gear, etc., -and going back for a rest from the front. – Going about 4 miles back from the Nouveau Monde. 3rd Field Ambulance relieved us, not that we need a rest for every one of us are well. (Speaking for myself, I’m feeling great.) -Busy packing up all the morning. Left about 2pm. Reached our new joint 3.15pm. Name of this place is Doulieu.
Sunday. (Typical day – Tasmanian). Getting settled in our new quarters. I found myself told off for duty in the Officer Cook house.
(from 21st) Still in Officers’ Cook house. Today is the last day of it. In the meantime I have passed for an Ambulance Driver. Start tomorrow, also I have posted letters home to May (green envelope) also to Doff, Rudie, (Dad and Mum) – green envelope, and today posted and registered letter home to Mab with two postal notes for 1.0.0 – (one pound) each made payable to Mrs C Hemphill. I have had a good time in the kitchen, plenty of good food, but long hours and some parts of the day we have an hour or two off. It is now about 8.30pm nd I have just finished. Any how, tomorrow I’ll have a change. I guess Doffery would be shocked when she received my letter posted today (oh, gee whizz she will not go crook at all) but I’d only laugh at her even if I could see her reading the letter.
From May 27 till June 8th
Posted registered parcel home to Mab also letters (3), also posted letter to Doff, Rudie, Dad and Mum. Been through two driving tests for Ambulance Driver and passed all right so it’s goodbye to the cooking although am still going for tucker in the Officers’ kitchen. My mate is cooking for them now so I’m going to live there until I get the boot out. Plenty of good food to be had there. I also pinched a pair of pyjamas and a good pair of sox. They were laying about in the kitchen so I got down on them and had them washed. So am wearing them. I find out later that they belong to the Colonel, but there is nothing like having plenty of cheek so I’m going to hang on to them (bet yer life). There is nothing much doing here at present. Got news of the battle at sea, which is a victory for us. Also had news of the death of Lord Kitchener. Everyone is sorry and think that England can’t replace him. Terrible for such a brilliant man to meet such a doom. Well, I suppose it can’t be helped – we all have to go sometime. Things are quiet here.
I am seeing a good bit of France since being on the Motor Ambulance. I like the work, good, although I would like to be taking you Bronc and Doffery about instead of driving wounded men. It would be so different. Up until about ten days ago the Tommies were driving the ambulances. Then they called for drivers out of the unit and got them. My oath, didn’t the Tommies go crook. It is a sore point with them. They expected us to smash the cars up (told us so), but if an Australian is not as good as these chummie coots – (well I won’t play.)
June 8th to 12th
Still feeding in Officers’ Kitchen. I received a letter from May, one from Doffery, Thos. Saunders, Jones and one from Grannie. I have posted two long letters to May, one to Doff, one to Thos. Saunders, one to Mother and Grannie and Jones, so that I have answered them all except Doffery’s. The letter I sent her was written before I got her letter, but will write later. It is the first letter that I have had from Doffery and am waiting for one from The Point. To date I have not had any Advertisers fro May. I have neglected to keep account of my doings for some weeks now but will try and make a note of them from memory.
From June 13th to Aug 26th
We left Doulieu for Belgium (Neuve Eglise) or Plug Street as it was called by Australians, but we were there for seven days only. However, we had the bad luck to have one killed (Stan Ball) and two slightly wounded of our mob whilst we were there. We left Neuve Eglise for the Somme Front a distance of about eighty miles, and it was a great run through some large French towns and some very pretty country. I only wish I had the other members of the Company with me, namely, Mab, Doffery and the Broncs. It would have been a very enjoyable trip indeed. However, we stayed the night t a small town called Canaples where we had a look around the village after we had tea. And went on three miles only, next day, where we camped at a farm for a couple of days. After that our next stop was Warloy where part of our chaps run a dressing station and part went out stretcher bearing. Warloy is about seven miles from Albert. Albert is once a shell of what was once a big town. A magnificent cathedral there which has been about half blown down and the ambulances worked about three miles from Albert, down to Warloy, or rather from Becount Wood through to Warloy. We had the ambulances stationed in a lane on the out skirts of Albert and were fairly safe from shells – being somewhat protected by a rise in the ground. We built our dugout in the side of a hill in the lane where we camped when off duty, (and so we were ready). The night our chap’s 1st Division were to attack, everything was made ready for getting the wounded away quickly. After first aid had been given them Field Ambulances were to take stretcher cases only. They had motor ferries for carting the slight cases and could put 20 – 30 on them. They made capital conveyances for non-stretcher cases and it also left the ambulances free for serious cases until some of the chaps that were wounded in the hand walked three miles to Albert so as to let their more serious wounded mates to get away first. It was a great sight. We were all standing on a hill watching the bombardment by our artillery on the German lines. They were pumping shells of all sizes into Fritz from the 18 pounder batteries to the 12 inch guns that made the earth shake when she spoke. Hundreds of guns of all sizes plugging at Fritz. The air was thick with smoke, or one imagined it was smoke – it was very heavy and warm. Already some of the ambulances had gone out to pick up wounded for Fritz was replying as fast as he could put the shells over. It was a grand sight – the star shells lighting up the place all along the line, mostly used by Fritz to see when our chaps were attacking.
After the bombardment had lasted for some hours and our little band of drivers were gradually getting smaller, for cars were beginning to go out on their errand of mercy to collect wounded and what was once a tall stalwart wiry Australian hero (for heroes they are, every one of the infantry) now laying on a stretcher, broken and shattered by German shrapnel or shell, but still contented. The first words they ask the doctor – How long will it be before I’m coming back to my comrades (They ask now is there any chance of me getting to England – just the opposite – all fed up with it), or perhaps he has been unconscious for a few hours. When he comes to he wants to know how did the lads get on? Did they take the German trenches? When he hears that they have taken all they went out to take he lays back contented. Never a word about the pain of his wound. They are grand. Could only some of those shirkers in Australia see them – it would make them bow their heads in shame, specially single men. It was exactly 12.30pm on July 23rd when Australian soldiers made first charge on the Somme Front. 1st Division climbed the parapet to try conclusions with Fritz and they met with stubborn resistance from the Germans until they got within bayonet reach. Then it is easy. Fritz won’t face the bayonet and surrenders immediately. Our casualties were heavy, about 45% so God only knows what the German casualties were like.
Our chaps advanced, took the trenches, took prisoners and in short played hell with Fritz. Just about daylight the wounded started to come in from stretcher bearers and a never ending stream all that day and for days after. I’ve had them die on the way down in the car. Some were wounded on the first night and perhaps were not found until a couple of days after – crawled into a shell hole perhaps and there waited for help. – Out of the way of machine gun bullets and rifle fire they would lie exhausted . . . but not an ounce of give in in them. After the first night’s advance we could go two more miles out in the ambulances. It was very rough and took some driving, dodging shell holes all the time. And when we had wounded on it was awful and gave me as much pain as it was causing them. All the time shells were coming over and shrapnel. Gordon’s dump was the name of the place, 2 miles from Beecourt Wood and from Gordon’s Dump till we got out of Albert. We were under shell fire after knocking out . . . Carts and troops, several ambulances and horses on the road. After a few days the Second Division came in and relieved the First.
Our First came out of the trenches, dirty, unshaven, clothes torn and gaunt looking, but they were victorious and were singing. These sons of Australia that had faced death a thousand times are something to be proud of. I’ll take my hat off to them any day.
The ambulances still had to stay on with the 2nd. They also took trenches off the Germans and it was something the same performances as when the 1st Division went in, – the same amount of wounded, almost. And they advanced as well and held all they took.
I have seen a lot of German prisoners, also a lot of German wounded have passed through our dressing station and are looked after as well as our chaps are. Of course they are attended to second on the list. We have lost to date – killed eight, 2 died of wounds and about 25 wounded, so the 1st Field have copped their share. Died of wounds includes one of our Captains (Grahame) then we went back for a few miles for a rest – about a week. It was while there Agnew got his commission. Then we went back to the Somme again and again went through the same performance, for a week or a little more.
Then we were relieved by the 4th Division and we are now back in Belgium on the Ypres Front. To date we are in a rest station. It seems pretty quiet here now, specially after the Somme dose.
My field glasses arrived today. No letters.
There is a lot of gas let loose on this part of the line by the Huns and we are always ready to don the helmet.
Received a letter from Bess. Answered it same day. I have written to May, Doff and all the rest regular, all through and have been getting mail fairly well, also a parcel or two from Mother.
Well, Dear May we did not know what war was until we went to the Somme and ever since, off and on it has been pretty hot at times. Several of our cars were riddled this last stunt (battle).
. . . end of diary