WE SENT away about 1500 men from Tamworth to World War I and the historians tell us more than 200 of them never came home.
In Tamworth yesterday, at a centenary function, military historian Iain Spence captured another more detailed look at our Anzac history.
The Anzac Park gates record 194 who died in WWI, but Mr Spence told us that of those, 57 served at Gallipoli. Thirty-two of them died there – eight of those in the first week of the landing.
They are the poignant reminders of a history that can still chill our spirit but warm our hearts with gratitude.
April 25, 1915, was a Sunday in Australia. It would be Thursday before we would see news in the papers of a landing that was to become part of the Aussie psyche.
On Friday, April 30, Tamworth read of the splendid gallantry and magnificent achievement in the Dardanelles. We were told little else was known except the Australian forces had “landed successfully, fought splendidly, and advanced magnificently”.
“The progress was being continued. No casualty lists had yet been received.”
Ten days after the dawn landing on Gallipoli, we knew about the first soldier from Tamworth to die there.
That tragic honour apparently belongs to Lieutenant David Heugh, whose death was contained for all to read in the fifth casualty list released and published in The Observer, (which became the NDL in 1921) on May 6.
Lieutenant Heugh had been, for the previous three years, a storekeeper at Somerton. He’d come from Newcastle, he was single, just 25, and his brother was carrying on the business while he’d gone off to fight. He apparently died not long after that first assault on the Gallipoli shores.
His name lives on today, 100 years later, in the sweeping circular road off Edward St in south Tamworth that is called Heugh St.
On May 8, there was a death notice for Richard Jarman, 23, killed in action, and news of the wounding of Sergeant RJ Vidler and Corporal Frank Butler, a son of Alfred Butler of Peel St.
On May 15 came news of Quartermaster Sergeant William Grayston’s wounding. He was 21, said to be a crack shot, and had been on the literary staff of the Observer.
In March, Grayston had written to the paper telling them of meeting up with other Tamworthians in Gilbert Anschau, George Smith, George Palmer, Louis Curnow and Harry Wall in Egypt, after the First Expeditionary Force had landed.
In mid-May of 1915, the casualty lists began to include the towns of origin of the wounded and dead, and they got longer and longer, and took up more and more space. By war’s end, we’d seen about 445 lists.
But back to the day, and soon there was news of injuries to privates RG Johnston, WE Lambert and GT Miller of the 13th Battalion.
About the same time in the Observer, we read that the total “losses” so far were 3042 men, with 349 killed, 2687 wounded and six officers missing in action.
On May 29 came news of the Gaba Tebe fighting, with information eight days old. We learnt the Anzacs had driven the Turkish attack back and were holding them easily. The Turks and Germans had little ammunition – and were using shrapnel loaded with pebbles and shells, often with the inner casing made of wood.
We read of wounds to Private T F Gilks of the 5th Battalion – and if you fast-forward nearly 70 years, there’s a wonderful postscript to that. More research by a fascinated Leader journo uncovered a story in 1984 this journalist wrote of two war brides interviewed after that year’s march.
One was Peg Gilks – and this is part of that tale.
“Peg was a nurse in Birmingham when she met Tom. He’d been blinded by shrapnel at Gallipoli, but she came to live with him in Australia after the war. In 1984, Peg was then 92. Tom had died 27 years before. She wore his medals alongside those of her brother, who’d been killed in action in France before he even turned 19.”
Peg died in 1988 at Burnside convalescent home.
In about June 1915, the paper began a column, Soldiers of the North, and also, At Home and Abroad, in which all the happenings, news and chitchat of those who were serving was included each day of publication.
On June 3, we reported that Baynard Powell, of Westdale, was killed in the Dardanelles.
“He was a universal favourite,” the paper said.
“By his bright and winning ways, he had endeared himself to all around him and his many friends will mourn his loss.”
On June 30, we saw pictures of Signaller Harry Bourne, Driver Travers Broughton and Private JAH Heyman, 32 of Nundle, who had died in action. Years later, the Leader would report on his younger brother Lan Heyman in a special 1990 news item (see pgs 4-5 today).
Among the war news were stories with an almost stupefying pathos, like that of June 1918 which reported a goodbye to a Private Quibbs, who’d been farewelled at a party of the Ollera, Wandsworth and Tentenden knitting class.
Then there was the letter from his commanding officer to Corporal HE Crawford’s father, George, of Armidale Rd in Tamworth. He had died on June 15, 1918.
“He met a very large party of the enemy but refused to retire, holding on all night with his men, because they knew the lives of their mates depended upon them. Your boy was one of a very noble band who died rather than that their comrades would suffer by their withdrawal,” it read.
And there was news of the young Nemingha boy, Sergeant Archie Young.
He’d been awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the battle of Messines Ridge, five months before.
Apparently young Archie, who was 24, had been in charge of his “moppers-up” and had led his party with great vim and courage. While consolidating, he’d been buried, uncovered, injured by the fall, told to go off to medical orderlies, but asked to stay, and did.
We read a letter from Lance Corporal Norman Robson, a brother to Mrs A G Warner of Gunnedah Rd.
He’d written in July, during the Messines campaign, and spoke of lovely hedges, beautiful rows of trees, dilapidated villages, churches without roofs.
“The Fritz (Germans) were going in all directions,” Lance Corporal Robson wrote.
“Most of the prisoners we took were only too pleased to be taken. But they were afraid they’d be killed by the Aussies if captured.”
At Westdale, the Mellon family had three sons – Jack, Ernest and Harry – on active duty overseas.
We read about wounds to gunners like HG King and J Cumming of Tamworth, and of the deaths of privates like AM Hogan from west Tamworth, and R Morrow.
Former mayor Doug Campbell’s dad Errol served with the 1st Light Horse in that war. When he landed at Gallipoli, he carried with him, besides his rifle and ammunition, three days’ worth of rations, three empty sandbags and a shovel. In one postcard home from Heliopolis in Egypt in July 1915 to his sister Jessie, he said little of war but sent a message to let her know he was OK and would be sending some photos later on.
We read stories endlessly. Even well after the Armistice in November 1918, there was war news.
Two weeks later, we still had Tamworth families getting news that their sons had died – some of them, like Mr Lock from Westdale and Mr Turner on Goonoo Goonoo Rd, where the deaths were more than two months old.
It was ‘the war to end all wars’. It didn’t, but we salute, respect and pay homage to those who fought for that, for us.