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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