"Cambooya is a drab little township - about two shops, a pub, and a railway station, about ten miles south west of Toowoomba. But on a day in 1915 it was a magical place. The Great Recruiting March from Wallangarra to Brisbane was to pass through there and the children from the surrounding schools were to gather at Cambooya to welcome and cheer the potential soldiers on their way. Dad drove us to Harrow Homestead in the sulky and Mr Ramsay's motor cars were to convey our school the rest of the way…..we arrived in plenty of time and presently away in the distance we could see the marchers approaching and hear the band that accompanied them. As they arrived, the school children lustily sang "Rule Britannia" and "Advance Australia Fair" and other patriotic songs we had learnt for the occasion."
~ Dora Berry
My grandfather died in the 1940's, many years before I was born. It wasn't until the last few years I discovered a little about my grandfather, thanks to information passed on to me by my father's cousins. So now I know my grandfather loved to sing and had a lovely singing voice, he had a pony named Tuppence and a dog named Digger and became a farmer like his father before him. I also learned my grandfather was an Anzac.
My Grandfather was 19 years and 10 months when he joined up in July 1917. His unit was the 11th of the 4th Pioneer Battalion.
I know from his service records that he was 5 foot 4 inches tall, about my own height. He had a medium complexion, his hair was dark brown and his eyes were grey. His looks must have come from the Welsh side of the family I think to myself as I read through the service records. I don't know why I think that, yet that is the thought that floats to the surface.
Less than two weeks from his joining he was departing from Sydney, on his way to England and then to France, to join the fighting. From his records I see he got into a bit of trouble when he overstayed his leave at Sutton Veny within a few days of his arrival in France. Had he run into his older brother while on leave at that time I wonder to myself? For his older brother had joined the war effort earlier on and was also stationed in France, and had recently been promoted to Lieutenant.
The following month, this lad from the Darling Downs in Queensland, was marching through France in heavy snowfall. Soldiers became ill, and their feet gave out, as did their boots. On Christmas day the company was given a holiday, and Christmas dinner consisting of roast veal, brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, Christmas pudding, nuts and one and a half pints of beer. I hope my grandfather enjoyed that Christmas dinner. On boxing day the whole battalion had a hot bath and a clean change of under clothing. The first they had had in over a month.
Pioneer battalions were trained to support the needs of both the infantry and the engineers. The RSL Virtual War Memorial site describes Pioneer battalions as "light military combat engineers organised like the infantry and located at the very forward edge of the battle area."
Day after day of travelling. Sometimes marching, sometimes by train. To bed at 4am, Reveille at 10 am. The Battalion arrived at Godezonne farm on the western front mid- January. So now my grandfather was in Belgium. Godezonne farm cemetary is the site of burial ground of the first world war. And so the reports continue. It is hard to keep up with where the battalion is stationed, as I read through the monthly records. From Belguim back to France? Marching and digging, cold and wet. I can imagine him making friends with the other soldiers, other farmers sons and people of very different backgrounds. The records show the capture of German soldiers. Could German prisoners of war be the source of the little bit of German my father spoke, passed down from his own father, and learnt whilst on the front?
I think of my grandfather's brother also fighting in France. My great uncle was wounded three times. So many heart stopping telegrams received by my great grandparents. My great uncle, like my grandfather returned from the Great War, as did another great uncle who served with the 4th Tunnelling Company and later the 1st Tunnelling Company. My great great uncles, my great grandmothers brothers also enlisted. One served in the 19th Battalion, he was 32 years old when he enlisted in November 1915, and the other was 38 when he enlisted and served in the 16th Battalion also on the western front.
As a lieutenant my great uncle's responsibilities included writing to the families of the soldiers who had been killed in action. This is an extract from one of his letters to the parents of a fallen soldier " I wish to express the sincerest sympathy of myself and all Sid's old comrades with you in your bereavement. He was one of the best boys we had in the platoon, and was one who was marked for promotion if he had come through the stunt. He was always cheery and willing to do anything that was required of him at all times." My heart aches when I read these words. Not just for the young man lost and the anguish of his parents. But for the young man who penned the letter, a young country farmer of 24 years of age, who would have had to pen this type of letter again and again. My heart aches for the bravado in referring to such a horror that he was living through 'the stunt'. This young man watched comrades die, and perhaps he knew too when he was writing this letter that his younger brother was just joining the fray. It is impossible to imagine the feelings endured under such hardships.
It has been a poignant experience looking through the service records of the Anzacs from my family, and then reading some of the monthly diaries of the battalions in which they served.
I shall remember them with humble gratitude for their service.
You can find service records of Australian soldiers from the website Honouring ourAnzacs.
The Australian war museum has on-line records of the war diaries of the battalions that served during World War I.