Friday, 12 September 2014

Australian Soldiers in the UK in WW1

At the outbreak of The First World War, there became an urgent need to accommodate the increasing requirements for Military Training and Transit camps. Towards the end of 1914, John Combes, of East Farm at Fovant in Wiltshire, was informed that part of his land was to be requisitioned for one such camp. 

Subsequently, land to the east and west of his farm was also commandeered and an area stretching from Compton Chamberlayne to Sutton Mandeville became one vast Military Camp. A single track railway connected the camps to the main line.

The camp located at Compton Chamberlayne became known as Hurdcott Camp, as it was on land that was part of two farms - Hurdcott and Naish's. In March 1916, this section of the camp was taken over by the Australian Imperial Forces and became their No. 3 Command Depot.

Chalk Badges on the Downs - Rising Sun & Map of Australia

In remembrance of their colleagues that had not returned from the War, many of the Regiments staying at the Military Camps carved replicas of their cap badges into the chalk hillsides near the village of Fovant. By the end of WW1 there were some 20 badges, the largest of which was the Australian Commonwealth Forces Badge - The Rising Sun. A large map of Australia was also carved into the Downs above where Hurdcott Camp was situated at Compton Chamberlayne. Sadly, the chalk map of Australia is no longer financially supported and is being left to nature. 

George Herbert Cross (1884 – 1972) was my paternal Grandfather’s friend and business associate and also Father’s best friend.

After the death of Father’s stepmother in 1960, Mr Cross contacted us to send his condolences and so renewed his friendship with Father.   Until Mr Cross’s death in 1972, my family went regularly to visit him at his home in Compton Chamberlayne, Wiltshire, having moved to Salisbury in 1967 to be closer to him.

In the chapter of his memoirs "Suffolk Punch" entitled “Wiltshire” George Cross shares with us a “very human record of Australia’s share in the Great War.  On a number of beech trees in Compton Park, probably planted before the discovery of Australia, are the names or initials, wrought with their own hands, of young men who came from that far-distant land to give themselves to the Empire in her hour of need.  They were encamped in their thousands at the foot of the Wiltshire Downs, in Compton Chamberlayne and the adjoining parishes, and many a strong man’s thoughts as he sauntered through the silent woods and saw the smooth grey skin of the beeches must have turned to his dear ones, and he felt irresistibly impelled to leave some record of himself before he faced annihilation.

George wondered “how many of those fine fellows are alive and well today?  Of some hundreds of names and initials, many partly obliterated, I mention a few:

C. Delarvillers was no mean woodcarver, R.M. of Sydney was madly in love with his Nina; her name in his hand-carving is still all over the wood.  I trust he survived and between them they now have grown-up children.  J.A.B. was a good designer as well as a carver;  C.D. climbed twenty feet up the tree to leave his mark.  C.A.W. of London, NSW, had a big bulbous heart; let’s hope he proved a better lover than a woodcarver!  Tom May – I suppose it is Tom May? – the design is ingenious but rather cryptic – is a man of ideas and if he lives has probably made a fortune. Private G. Penny and E.J. Rowlands were evidently great chums.

On the Downs overlooking the main road these handy lads outlined in the chalk a map of Australia as large as St. Paul’s Cathedral, and although overgrown by grass it can still be clearly seen.

Some of the AIF have, dead or alive, left their tangible mark behind – those strong, dare-devil, handsome cousins who had come to our aid from beyond the seas.  In the little cemetery off the village street rest the bodies of thirty or forty who died before they were vouchsafed an opportunity of firing a shot for their motherland.” (pp 419 – 420).

From the autobiography “Suffolk Punch A Business Man’s Autobiography” by George Cross. Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1937.

Note:  The badges are still clearly visible on the Downs but the map of Australia was too expensive to maintain.

Compton Chamberlayne Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

Compton Chamberlayne Commonwealth War Graves cemetery is located on High Street. The War Graves Cemetery contains the graves of thirty four (34) World War 1 soldiers - Twenty eight (28) Australian Soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), three (3) Soldiers from the London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers, one (1) Soldier from Royal Engineers, one (1) Soldier from Royal Irish Fusiliers and one (1) Soldier from the Royal Irish Rifles.

The graves date from February, 1916 through to February, 1919. 33 of the graves are commemorated with a Commonwealth War Graves Headstone. The graves are laid out in three rows, with a stone plinth or cairn located at the front of the burial ground.

From the engraved lid of the cairn - "The severe winter of 1916-17 caused hardship amongst the troops encamped around Salisbury Plain. Between December, 1916 and April, 1917, eleven AIF deaths were directly associated with respiratory disorders. The majority of the casualties had only enlisted six months earlier and two of the months since enlistment had been spent on a sea voyage from the Australian summer to the British winter."

 Australian Soldiers:  W.J. Arnold, Allan Ernest Evans, P.W. Haywood/Amoore, A. Le Tisser, W.J. Park, T.J. Skipper, I.H. Turnbull, T. Cass, C.W. Ferrow, H. Howard, H.W. McCarthy, W.E. Riley, W.C. Snell, S.H. Turner, J.E. Cook, W.R. Finn, E. Jones A.H. Oliver, S. Ross, J.H. Trengove, J.T. Wehrmann, A.A. Dreckow, W. Gilbert, P.R. Knowles, A.G. Pairman, Roy Allen Sillar, C. Tull, T.H.W. White.

Cathy Sedgwick (see post on 17th March 2016) has researched all the Australian soldiers buried in Wiltshire and posted details on this website  Cathy is currently researching Australian nurses who died serving during the First World War and has kindly given me permission to share her research with you.

Photo of Badges taken in 1917 by George Donohue courtesy of the Facebook Group Mud, Mining, Medals