Friday, November 30, 2007

Quorn Mercury March 16, 1916 (extract)

Last week Mr. R Thompson received two letters from Egypt, one from Mr. Roy Bennett and another from Mr. C. R. Trathern. Mr. Bennett writes from Tourah Camp as follows:-

Tourah Camp, Cairo 15/1/1916.

Dear Mr. Thompson – We arrived here safely five weeks tomorrow. We disembarked at Port Suez then trained to Heliopolis Camp, where we camped for a week. Then we transferred to the above camp. Cairo is just as we heard of it from our first boys – nothing but a disgusting and immoral city – but you will see some of their buildings are very fine. We have had one or two days off to visit different parts. We went to the Pyramids, the ancient mosques around Cairo, and a trip on the Nile. We expect to move forward shortly. Kindest wishes to Mrs. Thompson and self, also our old town and the boys of sport, and trust it will not be long before we can join you again in the north of S.A. – Yours Sincerely R. A. Bennett.

Zietown 23/1/1916.

Dear Mr Thompson – Just a line to let you know all is well. Up to now we have not done anything to speak of, but expect to be doing a bit very soon. I saw Jim Cattle the other day. He looks well. Have had some very good pleasure trips round Cairo, and they are very interesting. Kindest regards to family and self – Sincerely yours C. R. Trathern.


Zeitoun was a training camp near Cairo. C R Trathern does not seem to have been a Quorn resident, he may have been enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces as Zeitoun was chiefly a New Zealand training camp. Roy Bennett was a native of Quorn who survived the war.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Quorn Mercury November 2, 1916 (extract)

Dear Mother and Father – I am in high glee on the receipt of your letter today of July 9, and they came as an extra surprise to me as we are again on our way to the firing line, and did not expect to receive any mail until after we returned from the firing line. I am going up for a second cut at the Germans and had a great experience the last time, but came through all right, although I had some pretty close calls, and I hardly know how to explain to you what it is like, but you can pretty well imagine what the feeling would be when you see others getting knocked over right near you and all the writing and talking would not give you any idea of the sensation of a big shell bursting around you: the only one I can give is that your inside all goes up into a knot and when you hear the whistle of them coming through the air you flop down and after the bang the place is all torn up terribly. We were on the ammunition fatigue carrying up material to the firing line, and had to go through a lot of this, but we sort of got used to it and if a shell burst anywhere near you, then you get covered all over with dust, and then you just get up and shake yourself and run like mad until the next one comes along.
I often have a good laugh now at our experiences, for there were certainly some very funny things happened which at the time I did not feel much like laughing, anyhow we all make up for it now. I believe we have to go to the front line this time, but I don’t think it will be much worse than the ammunition column. Anyhow, I hope and wish to be able to stand it as well as last time, and also that if I do happen to get knocked that you will not worry over me, for there are hundreds of other better fellows than me going out, and I will not write anymore about this sort of thing that we are going through. I would not mind some more of the old camp days back again that we had in Australia, for I can say they were the time of my life. I met Jim Turner as we were coming out last time. He was on his way up to the front, but I hadn’t a chance to speak to him, but he looked real well, and as fat as could be. I should have liked to have had a talk to him but still I may be able to do so some other time if I drop across him.
I would dearly like to get some nice souvenir to send home, but up to now we have not had the opportunity, being billeted in very poor places to get anything nice, but if I can get my eyes on to something you can be sure that I will get it for you. So I will now close with best love and wishes to all. – From your loving son, Roy J G Burr
(Since this letter has been received news has been received that Private Burr has been wounded).

The "Quorn Mercury" Newspaper

I spent a while at the State Library this evening and was able to find records from the "Quorn Mercury" newspaper.

It was interesting reading through them and trying to tie up articles from the war years with the men on my list.

The Mercury seems to have improved in quality from 1915 to 1918 but during that time it appeared to follow a fixed format.

It was published on Fridays and consisted of 4 pages. The first page carried the newspaper banner and advertising (this wasn't unusual as other papers I have looked at from that period also followed that format). The last page was taken up substantially by a serialised story and forthcoming events. The inside two pages carried most of the "news" as we would understand it, but it was also liberally spattered with advertorials and other pseudo articles. Luckily, a good number of the letters that soldiers wrote home were printed. I assume the letter recipient made them available to the newspaper for public interest.

As I progress with my Quorn project I will put up some of the letters and other relevant articles I find as well. We will kick this off with a letter written to his parents by Roy Burr. The letter as published ends with a note from the Mercury editors that indicated Roy had been wounded.

Sadly we know now that he was dead and had been for more than two months when his letter was published.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Marino Sunset

Just after I left the water Friday.
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Steve and the Stingray

It has been warm here in Adelaide this week. I took my first visit of the nearly summer to Marino on Wednesday. On Friday I returned and took my camera.

I spent a lazy hour after work floating around and then just before sunset I decided to get out.
As I approached the shallows and was just about to stand up, I came face to face with this fellow. He appeared silently in front of me, virtually from the shore and came cruising just over the tops of the rocks in the 30-40cm of water in the gaps. I fumbled for my camera and did a quick U turn as he passed within a couple of metres of me. I kicked out hard to catch up with him but he just lazed away from me. As I was doing this I was thinking of another Steve, another stingray and keeping an eye on the barb of this one. But there was no real danger. I couldn't get close enough to be a problem to this fish, no matter how much I was trying.

I got off about three shots before the distance became so great that there was no point in trying.

This picture is not so good, the water is quite mucky still, and visibility is not many metres. Also the light was poor as it was late in the day. Still, I will post this picture as it is the largest creature I have yet encountered at Marino.

Eagle Ray, Myliobatis australis

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Marino Fish

This Little character is the Smooth Toadfish, Tetractenos glaber. There were a few of them near the sandy areas between the rocks and the sea grasses at Marino. When they were swimming they were very difficult to take pictures ofas they were so fast. This one (and another nearby) were half buried under the sand. The other toadfish was hiding deeper in the sand and left before I could take many pictures. This one was by a rock and was happy to stay there for a short time while I took some photos. In the end he didn't stay around for long and took off too.

The "Six spined" Leatherjacket. The spines are clearly visible just in front of the tail. Meuschenia freycineti.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Story of Francis James Dennis

Picture: "Balcony of troopers' ward, 14th Australian General Hospital, Abbassia"

A painting by George Lambert, held in the Australian War Museum.

Francis spent some time in this hospital with fever.

In January 1915 a 20 year old Francis Dennis signed his Attestation papers as the first step in joining the Australian Army. At the time he nominated his mother, Frances, as “next of kin”. A few days later he was taken on as a private in the Third Light Horse Regiment. From 26th January till he embarked on the 28th April he trained with his unit, possibly in Mitcham. On the 28th he embarked on the A41 “Bakara” from Port Adelaide.

At the beginning of June he was taken on strength by the 3rd Light Horse reserve at Tel el Kabir. At the time Tel el Kabir was a training camp and also a prisoner of war camp. It is in Egypt between Cairo and Port Said.

In early July Francis was attached to the Imperial Camel Corps and taken on strength in their 13th Company.
In November 1916 he was transferred to the 3rd ANZAC Battalion and then in March 1917 to the 4th ANZAC Battalion.

On the 28th June, Francis began a trying period of illness and transfers when he was admitted to hospital with “Pyrexia”. In the earlier part of the 20th century, medical science was not as formalized as currently. Pyrexia is simply a more formal way of indicating an unspecific fever and later in Francis’ records he is noted as POUO, or “Pyrexia of unknown origin”. In the first couple of days of his illness, Francis was passed through the hands of the 53rd Casualty Clearing Station in Palestine/Sinai, the Imperial Camel Corps Field Ambulance and the Second Australian Stationary Hospital at El Arish. A week later, on the 7th July he was still in the Stationary Hospital and noted as NYD (“not yet diagnosed”). On the 10th he was transferred to Cairo where he was admitted to the Citadel General Hospital and six days later transferred to the 14th Australian General Hospital, Abbassia. On the 20th of July he was on the mend and passed into the convalescent depot, finally being discharged on the 31st after more than a month in hospital and traveling almost 300km between hospitals.

After his spell in hospital Francis was taken back on strength by the 4th ANZAC Battalion and spent a week in the Camel reserve depot. After leaving the reserve depot he was designated Trooper instead of Private and as of 20th August he was taken on strength by 4 Battalion again.

The next record we have of Francis is the notification of his death on 6 November 1917. At this time the ICC was conducting operations to destroy the Turkish defensive line between Gaza and Beersheba. Francis was killed by a bullet to the head near Tel-Khuweilfe, 18km north of Beersheba. This was less than a week after the famous Light Horse charge on the town.
Francis was buried near where he was killed in grave “F4”. The service was conducted by Chaplain C Scott-Little.

In January Francis’ mother began to receive a pension of 20 shillings per fortnight due to his death, but it was not till May that the family learned of the exact circumstances of his death.

At the end of 1919 the family was advised that Francis had been reinterred at the military cemetery in Beersheba. This was a fairly common practice after the war when soldiers buried in small groups due to the needs of battle were “bought in” to consolidated major cemeteries.

A word on the organization of the military:
A light horse brigade (eg First Light Horse Brigade) was made up of three regiments (eg First, Second and Third Regiments). The 3rd Light Horse Regiment which Francis joined was originally raised in Adelaide on 17 August 1914. The Imperial Camel Corps was not attached to any of the light horse brigades and it consisted of 4 battalions. The 3rd Battalion was wholy Australian and the 4th was a mix of Australians and New Zealanders.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Story of Alfred James Bell

Alfred was the older of two Quorn brothers. He enlisted in October 1916 about 14 months after his younger brother Richard.

Richard would serve out the war, even winning a Military Medal near Ypres for digging out men as they were buried by shell explosions during a barrage.

Alfred was subject to the normal medical and dental examinations during October and was attached to the 8th Reinforcements of 50 Battalion as a private. He then embarked from Adelaide in December on the HMAT “Berrima”. The records show he disembarked at Plymouth in mid February. About three weeks later Alfred marched into the 15th Training Battalion at Hurdcott on the Salisbury plains about 5.5km to the north east of Salisbury itself.

After nearly 4 months of training Alfred traveled from South Hampton to le Havre on board the “Private”. He arrived in France on 26 June 1917 and was officially taken on strength of 50 Battalion shortly afterwards. Alfred’s time in Europe was not to be long. Exactly two months to the day after arrival in France, Alfred suffered bad face wounds from a bomb. Alfred was transferred to the Second Australian Casualty Clearing Station. Alfred died later that same day at the casualty clearing station before he could be transferred to a rear hospital.

The Trois Arbres Steenwerck Cemetery near Armientiers was used by the casualty clearing station from July 1916 to April 1918 and it contains the remains of 1704 Commonwealth servicemen, including 435 who are unidentified. Alfred is one of the 1269 identified casualties buried there.

A small parcel of Alfred’s private possessions was returned via the HMAT “Barambah” in 1918 and returned to his father as indicated in Alfred’s will. During the period from 1921 to 1923 Alfred’s father William received Alfred’s British War Medal, Victory Medal and Memorial Plaque.
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