“I have seen quite enough”

The Western Front 1916

Andy’s battalion sailed for France on the RMS Saxonia, the men disembarking in Marseilles on 3 April 1916. They quickly entrained for Strazeele, not far from Dunkirk. The three-day train journey across the lush French countryside must have been a welcome change from the scrubby gorse of Gallipoli and the sands of Egypt.

The next six weeks were spent training for the conditions of the Western Front, including drills for gas attacks. On 6 June the battalion went into the line for the first time at Fleurbaix, an hour’s march from Fromelles. 

Fleurbaix, France. c.1916 Soldiers walk along the path beside the row of front line trenches. Australian War Memorial collection P00437.017
Fleurbaix, France. c.1916. Soldiers walk along the path beside the row of front line trenches.
Australian War Memorial collection P00437.017
Soon they marched to join the ‘Big Push’ and the attack on Pozieres on 22 July. The 3rd Brigade was heavily shelled with poison gas and high explosive shells, but took Pozieres before dawn the next morning.

Andy was wounded in action. It was 24 July, the start of a fierce and relentless German artillery bombardment that continued for days. Suffering from shell shock and a leg injury from an exploding shell he was sent to the 10th General Hospital in Rouen, then to England. He was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth on 2 August 1916, then moved to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Southall.

Exterior view of the building which was occupied by the 3rd (London) General Hospital during the war. Australian War Memorial collection A01040
Exterior view of the building which was occupied by the 3rd (London) General Hospital during the war.
Australian War Memorial collection A01040
Despite having a long recovery ahead of him, Andy was fortunate to have been hospitalized before the intense fighting to hold Pozieres and take Mouquet Farm. By the time the AIF was relieved at Pozieres in early September they had suffered more than 23,000 casualties; almost 7,000 dead or missing, 17,000 wounded.

On 23 August Andy wrote from Wandsworth to a friend in Broken Hill

I would have written before, but our outward mail was stopped for some weeks owing to us proceeding from Flanders to the Somme to take part in the big push.

Our first job was the taking of Pozieres, which we took on Sunday morning, July 23. The same brigade was allotted that task as was in the original landing at Anzac. We took the village with only few casualties, but as soon as it came daylight on Sunday morning the Huns started counter-attacks, and when we beat them back they started shelling.

They kept on with counter-attacks and shelling up till Monday night, when I had an argument with one of their shells, and the shell won, as I remember no more until I was well away from the firing line on my way to a clearing station.

No doubt you have seen the big casualty lists, and it was mostly through the shells that we had so many killed and wounded. Of course, our own guns were going as well. We got so badly knocked about on the Sunday that we had to have the remainder of the division sent up to help us. On Monday morning they had to send the second division in to give us a hand. But we hung on to the village, or what was left of it, as it was a most important position, especially to the Huns.

No doubt the Huns are good fighters when they are in a good trench, but when it comes to close quarters then up go their hands, and they shout for mercy. I might say that they did not get much mercy at Pozieres, as all the prisoners taken there could be counted on your fingers and toes, and all wounded at that. But there were heaps of dead. Well, I have seen quite enough, and this is my second time wounded, and the only time I have been away from my battalion since I first joined it at Morphettville over two years ago.

I am hoping this may be a trip back to Australia for me. I arrived here from France on August 2. I am still in bed. but I am hoping to be out very soon.

Informal group portrait of unidentified Australian soldiers sporting helmets (Pickelhauben) and caps captured from the Germans in the battle of Pozieres. Some have their hands raised, possibly in a feigned gesture of surrender. In the front on the ground is a Lewis gun. Australian War Memorial collection EZ0135
23 July 1916. Informal group portrait of unidentified Australian soldiers sporting helmets (Pickelhauben) and caps captured from the Germans in the battle of Pozieres. Some have their hands raised, possibly in a feigned gesture of surrender. In the front on the ground is a Lewis gun.
Australian War Memorial collection EZ0135
Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

Limb, A. 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.

1916 AWM4, 23/27/6 – April 1916. First World War Diaries – AWM4, Sub-class 23/27, 10th Infantry Battalion.

‘Pozières, First Australian Division Memorial – Bombardment 24-26 July 1916’. Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918: The Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium.

‘Pozieres, The Windmill’. Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918: The Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium.

1916 ‘Sergeant-Major A. S. Duncan’. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 15 October, p.2.

Featured image: Postcard – Private Albert Edward Kemp to Annie Kemp, ‘Australians Parading for the Trenches’, circa 1916. The postcard depicts the ‘men who shortly after midnight of Sunday, July 23, 1916, took Pozieres by a splendidly dashing advance through shrapnel, shell, and machine-gun fire.’ Museum Victoria collection MM 90948

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Brothers go to war

Stories handed down from generation to generation can be both important family histories and frustratingly light on detail.

My father told me the family story: there were three brothers who enlisted to fight for King and Country in the First World War. The brothers had to lie about their ages to enlist. After the war one brother emigrated to Canada, another to South Africa, and the third to Australia. The brothers never met again, but kept in regular contact through letters.

The brother who settled in Australia was my great-grandfather, Andrew “Andy” Stewart Duncan. Any detail about his brothers was lost. I wanted to learn more about this story.

Birth and census records on the ScotlandsPeople website soon found the Duncan family of 12 Duke Street, Newton on Ayr, Scotland.

John Duncan and Elizabeth Stewart had ten children, one of whom died in infancy. Including my great-grandfather there were four brothers, not three: John, Andrew, Anthony and Hugh. They were born in 1879, 1882, 1884 and 1893 respectively.

Which three brothers enlisted? 

Army records identified that John, Andrew and Anthony had enlisted.

  • John joined the British Army Reserve in January 1916, transferred to the 5th Army Reserve Scottish Rifles and later the Royal Army Veterinary Corps.
  • Andrew had emigrated to Australia in 1912. He enlisted in the 10th Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Force in August 1914.
  • Anthony had emigrated to Canada in 1910. He attested for the 74th Battalion, Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in July 1915.

I found service records and Medal Rolls Index Cards for soldiers named Hugh Duncan and Hugh Stewart Duncan but could not connect any of them with my great-grand uncle. I was unable to determine whether Hugh had joined up or not.

Who lied about their age?

A common part of the narrative of the First World War is that underage lads added a few years to their age, so as not to miss out on going to war.

John, Andrew and Anthony were all in their 30s when they enlisted. And yet the family story was that the brothers had lied about their age to enlist. Where had that come from?

  • John had misrepresented his age, dropping it from 36 to 35 years
  • Andrew had lied about his age – but in 1899, at the age of 17, when he enlisted for the Boer War.

Who emigrated to South Africa?

Anthony had sailed for Canada.  Andrew had made Australia home. John survived the war and was back in Scotland to register the death of his father in 1922, and his mother in 1927. The only one unaccounted for was Hugh Stewart Duncan. There was no trace of him emigrating, or returning home.

There was no Duncan emigration to South Africa after the First World War.  Memories of Andrew’s Boer War travels had become mixed with later stories.

What happened to Hugh Stewart Duncan?

The launch of Scottish soldiers’ wills on the ScotlandsPeople website sent me looking again for confirmation of whether Hugh had enlisted. My query returned three possible wills. The first will I viewed had no connection to the Duncans in Newton on Ayr. The second will made me sit upright in my chair. It read,

In the event of my death I give the whole of my property and effects to my father Mr. John Duncan 12 Duke St. Ayr.

13/5/15

Pte. Hugh Duncan

No. 7029

1/5 R.S.F.

Hugh had joined the 1/5th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. On 7 June 1915 he landed at Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsula, where he was critically wounded.

Hugh died on 23 June 1915 of wounds received in action. He was buried at Lancashire Landing cemetery not far from Cape Helles.

In searching for the truth behind the story of three brothers in the First World War I uncovered a forgotten brother. Hugh, the baby brother, died and was buried far from home.

Lest we forget.

 

Featured image: Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Cape Helles. Photo from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

Meanwhile on the home front

While Andy was overseas Jane Duncan was a dutiful wife. She took an interest in the newspaper reports of the Gallipoli campaign and later the Western Front. She clipped newspaper articles for Andy to read when he returned home.

Elizabeth Jane Duncan nee Stewart c. 1918
Elizabeth Jane Duncan nee Stewart c. 1918. From the author’s collection. Copyright Andrew Palmer.

Jane wrote regularly to the Department of Defence, advising frequent changes of address and seeking updates on Andy’s situation. She also wrote to the newspapers in Broken Hill, Adelaide and Melbourne to share any news from the front.

On 27 May 1915 Jane wrote

I suppose you know that Sergt. Duncan enlisted at Broken Hill and after his departure I sold our home & came to Beaufort to be with my mother till such times as Mr. Duncan returns

Jane Duncan's letter to the Department of Defence, 27 May 1915.  B2455/3525935 © Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia) 2013.
Jane Duncan’s letter to the Department of Defence, 27 May 1915.
B2455/3525935
© Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia) 2013.

To be with my mother. Not her father? Family memories suggest that Jane and her father, John Stewart, only got along in small doses. Jane’s relationship was with her mother.

It wasn’t long until Jane’s free spirit saw her leave Beaufort again, though she returned regularly to her parents’ home. Jane’s letters to the Department of Defence record her travels.

• In August 1916 she was in Broken Hill “for a month or two”, staying with friends.

• On 24 October 1916 she changed her address to Beaufort, “as I have left Broken Hill & have returned to Victoria”.

• In April 1917 Jane wrote, “I am in Sydney for a few months” and gave her address as 146 Flinders Street, Moore Park, Darlinghurst.

• By 31 January 1918 Jane was lodging at the Dunolly Coffee Palace and planning to stay “for some considerable time”.

• On 5 April 1918 Jane was back in Beaufort, but by mid-May she was residing at 11 Victoria Road, Malvern with her aunt, Elizabeth Anne Downes White (nee Stewart). Jane stayed in Malvern until news came of Andy’s repatriation to England in January 1919, then she returned to Beaufort for a month or so.

• By 11 March 1918 she was in Bung Bong, near Maryborough. It is possible that Jane’s travels to Dunolly and Bung Bong were associated with family, as the Whites and the Stewarts were mining families with connections to the central Victorian goldfields.

• The Riponshire Advocate of 29 June 1918 reported that Jane was in Banyena.

• On 19 April 1919 Jane wrote to advise that she would be leaving Bung Bong for Beaufort and requested any further news of Andy be sent to the Stewart home.

 

Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

1918 ‘FOR THE EMPIRE.’Riponshire Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 29 June, p. 2.

Wounded, then back to Anzac Cove

Crammed full with wounded from the Gallipoli landing, the S.S. Ionian made for 17th General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. If Andy was lucky, he would have been dosed with morphine for the journey, but he may not have received decent medical treatment until he reached Egypt.

P01016.002
The wharf at Alexandria, showing ambulances waiting to take from the steamship Ionian men wounded in the Gallipoli landing. Australian War Memorial collection P01016.002

Andy was admitted to hospital on 1 May. His condition was recorded as “dangerously ill”, but Jane Duncan received the standard notification

Sergeant Duncan is not reported seriously wounded. In the absence of further reports Egypt advises all wounded to be progressing satisfactorily.

Jane probably provided The Adelaide Chronicle with its 29 May article

SERGEANT A. S. DUNCAN. Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) 29 May 1915, p. 45
SERGEANT A. S. DUNCAN. (1915, May 29), Adelaide Chronicle, p. 45. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Andy’s hospital stay gave him some respite from the dysentry and enteric fever that swept through the men at Gallipoli. He was treated at Alexandria for 37 days, then spent another 12 days at Tanta Government Hospital.

On 17 June 1915 Andy was discharged from hospital, carrying in his back the Turkish shrapnel that was to torment him in later years. He was judged fit for duty, and rejoined his unit at Gallipoli on 8 July 1915.

At the start of the great August offensive Andy was promoted to Company Sergeant Major. During the battle for Lone Pine Andy’s battalion was in support at Silt Spur, holding the existing lines.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915-08-17. A soldier from the 10th Infantry Battalion in a tunnel trench at Silt Spur. Shafts of light beam into the tunnel from firing positions (right), while on the same side bombing tunnels lead off from the main corridor. Australian War Memorial collection P02321.026
Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915-08-17. A soldier from the 10th Infantry Battalion in a tunnel trench at Silt Spur. Shafts of light beam into the tunnel from firing positions (right), while on the same side bombing tunnels lead off from the main corridor.
Australian War Memorial collection P02321.026

September’s cooler weather turned wintry by the end of the month. On 23 September Andy was reprimanded for neglect of duty at Anzac. Details of the reprimand are not recorded, but it appears to have come at a time of relative quiet. During lulls in the fighting some men took the opportunity to move about the trenches more freely, and some received reprimands for not staying below the trench parapet.  One officer had been reprimanded earlier for setting a bad example for his men. Perhaps Andy’s reprimand was of a similar nature.

November brought violent storms and heavy seas. On 21 November, in bitterly cold weather, the 10th Battalion left Gallipoli, rotated out of the line for a rest at Mudros on Lemnos island.  What Andy did not know was that he was leaving the peninsula for the last time.

The History of the 10th Battalion records that on arrival at Mudros

the blizzard which caused so many casualties on Gallipoli came upon them. That blizzard “which in four days by flood and frost caused 200 deaths, 10,000 unfit for further service, and 30,000 sickened and made old”.

During this severe weather Andy was reprimanded a second time for neglect of duty at Serpi rest camp.

While at Mudros Andy would have learned that Gallipoli was to be evacuated. How did he feel on hearing the news? There must have been relief, certainly. But he would not have the chance to visit the graves of the fallen and say a final farewell. Did he feel that he was letting his mates down by evacuating after all they had fought for?

Composite view of Mudros Harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos near the Turkish coast and tent lines at Serpi Camp. The camp at the time was occupied by the 3rd Brigade, after the evacuation of Gallipoli. Australian War Memorial collection A02170C & A02170D
Composite view of Mudros Harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos near the Turkish coast and tent lines at Serpi Camp. The camp at the time was occupied by the 3rd Brigade, after the evacuation of Gallipoli.
Australian War Memorial collection A02170C & A02170D

Andy spent Christmas day 1915 on Lemnos. The next day he sailed for Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 29 December and entraining for Tel-el-Kebir Camp.

Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

Kearney, R. 2005. Silent Voices: the story of the 10th Battalion AIF in Australia, Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium during the Great War 1914-1918. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.

Limb, A. 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.

Walsh, M. 1997. War Diary of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick E. Forrest MC.

Bean, C.E.W. 2007. Bean’s Gallipoli: The diaries of Australia’s official war correspondent. Edited and annotated by Kevin Fewster 3rd ed. Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Gallipoli. 25 April 1915

THE DARDANELLES. ALLIES IN GALLIPOLI. (1915, April 30) Bendigo Advertiser (Vic) p. 7. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
THE DARDANELLES. ALLIES IN GALLIPOLI. (1915, April 30) Bendigo Advertiser (Vic) p. 7. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

In the early hours of 25 April, Andy Duncan was on board a destroyer – possibly the Scourge – anchored about 5 miles from the Gallipoli shore. A hot breakfast and a tot of rum gave some comfort in the chill night air.

The NCOs including Andy were responsible for enforcing the rules of no noise, no lights, no smoking while the men waited for the moon to set and orders to embark.

Andy’s battalion was part of the covering force for the Anzac landing and the first ashore. The 10th Battalion war diaries give some idea of Andy’s arrival at Anzac Cove

At 3AM on Sunday 25th April B & D Coy & Hd Qr Battn Staff Signallers & Scouts left the Prince of Wales in cutters life boats &c being towed to within about 50 yd of shore by steam boats. Absolute silence was maintained by all in our boats & directly the boats were cast off by the steamers we quickly rowed towards the shore. Dawn was just breaking 4.15  & no sound was heard except the splash of the oars.

We thought that our landing was to be effected quite unopposed, but when our boats were within about 30 yd of the beach a rifle was fired from the hill in front of us above the beach, right in front of where we were heading for. Almost immediately heavy rifle & machine gun fire was opened upon us. We had to row for another 15 yards or so before we reached water shallow enough to get out of boats. This was about 4.15 AM – we got out of boats into about 3 ft of water & landed on a stony bottom. The stones were round & slimy & many officers & men slipped on them & fell into the water, but all bravely & silently made all haste to reach the beach, under a perfect hail of bullets. Many men fixed their bayonets before reaching the shore. I ordered the men to lay down, fix bayonets & remove packs. This was done in a couple of minutes.

The men of 9, 10 & 11 Bn were all mixed up on the beach but there was no time to organize so I ordered all to advance. The men sprang to their feet at once & with a cheer charged up the hill held by the Turks & drove them off it, following up their success by firing on the quickly retreating foe.

For the next 96 hours the men of the 10th Battalion experienced continuous fighting, shattered nerves and little or no sleep. If Andy was with the parts of his battalion fighting around 400 Plateau, then he was where the shrapnel was the heaviest. Shells burst just above the Australians. Red-hot pellets whipped through the air, flaying the unprotected backs of the men as they sought cover from enemy rifle and machine-gun fire.

Andy was hit.

He was ferried from the beach out to the ship Ionian with severe shrapnel wounds to his back. Medical staff on board classified the wounds of the soldiers arriving, sending the dead and those beyond help to a makeshift morgue in the ship’s hold.

Andy’s condition was assessed. He heard a voice say, “put him in the hold”.

As Andy was being consigned to the morgue he managed to say, “Give us a bloody drink”. Those words probably saved his life. He was moved to lie with the wounded.

Sources

Plowman, P. 2013. Voyage to Gallipoli. Rosenberg Publishing, Kenthurst, NSW.

1915 AWM4, 23/27/2 – March – April 1915. First World War Diaries – AWM4, Sub-class 23/27, 10th Infantry Battalion.

Pedersen, P. 2010. The Anzacs: From Gallipoli to the Western Front. Penguin Australia.

The worst news a father could hear

Researching the goings-on in the Australian Imperial Force’s Mena camp, I came across this December 1914 newspaper article in Trove:

DEATHS IN EGYPT MELBOURNE, Saturday The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has received information that Miles Standish Cox, of the Fourth Battalion, died from pneumonia on December 16. His next of kin is his father, Mr. E.S. Cox, of Woy Woy (N.S.W.). Another message to the Minister states that Roy Gartside Cullan, of the First Battalion, died on the same day from pernicious anaemia. His next of kin is his wife, who resides in New Zealand. WAGSTAFFE POINT, Saturday Following the death of Edward King Cox, the deceased’s father received a cablegram last night announcing the death of his second son, Miles Standish Cox, at Mena Camp, Cairo, Egypt, on December 16

Two sons dead at Mena Camp within days of each other. Sadly deaths like these were not unusual. The soldiers would return from drills soaked with sweat; the desert winds would then chill them and put them at risk of pneumonia.

Egypt

On 6 December 1914 the 10th battalion disembarked at Alexandria and entrained for Cairo.

The men arrived in Cairo around midnight and were given a mug of cocoa, a bread roll and cheese. Then they boarded trams for Mena camp.

Troops entraining at Alexandria. Australian War Memorial collection PS0470
Troops entraining at Alexandria.
Australian War Memorial collection PS0470

As the trams neared the terminus, the men could see the pyramids in the moonlight, wrapped in light fog.

The battalion marched into camp only to find no tents, blankets or bedding. Exhausted from the day’s activities, the men fell asleep on the sand. The desert night was freezing, and Andy had only his greatcoat to keep him warm.

A second night was spent sleeping in the open – this time huddled under waterproof sheets in the rain.The following day the tents arrived.

The NCOs would have been kept busy establishing discipline and routine. Andy would have had to deal with men more interested in climbing the pyramids or seeking out the delights of Cairo than in military routine.

Mena-Camp-SRG-435_1_281
The camps of the 9th and 10th Battalions of the AIF, located 10 miles from Cairo. Two pyramids can be seen in the background. Handwritten note on back: ‘This is a photo of part of the old camp at Mena. It shows the road between our lines (on the left) and the 9th on the right. I picked it up when in Cairo last.’. State Library of South Australia SRG 435/1/281

For the next three months the battalion underwent vigorous training at Mena camp. A typical day started with Reveille at 6am then breakfast at 7am. After breakfast the men marched for about four miles across the desert to the drill ground. There they would rest for ten minutes before drilling until 12 noon.

Lunch was a small bread roll and tinned sardines.

Troops of the 10th Battalion taking a rest break during training in the desert.  Australian War Memorial collection A02135
Troops of the 10th Battalion taking a rest break during training in the desert.
Australian War Memorial collection A02135

In the afternoon the men drilled from 1pm until 4pm. Then they headed back to camp. They wore full kit, marching and skirmishing their way through the desert.By the time Andy arrived in camp his clothes were soaked through with sweat.

After dinner the men would wash and change clothes, then drill from 7:30pm until 10 or 11pm.

At the beginning of January 1915 the battalion structure changed from 8 companies to 4. Andy’s G Company was disbanded and he was now in D Company. About this time the ‘Australian Expeditionary Force’ was renamed the ‘Australian Imperial Force’.

By February night drills had lengthened. Soldier Archie Barwick wrote of practising at night “taking up positions, digging trenches, attacking, scouting, silent marches, bayonet attacks, rapid movements”.

On 2 March 1915 Andy left with the battalion on the S.S. Ionian for the island of Lemnos. Here they would make their final preparations for a landing at the Dardanelles.

The 10th Battalion camp lines at Mena 'packed up ready to move' on the eve of departure for the Gallipoli Peninsula. The remains of the Officers mess is in the right foreground. Australian War Memorial collection A02141
The 10th Battalion camp lines at Mena ‘packed up ready to move’ on the eve of departure for the Gallipoli Peninsula. The remains of the Officers mess is in the right foreground.
Australian War Memorial collection A02141