The Evacuation of Anzac is universally regarded as a triumph, partly because it was casualty-free. Mention is sometimes made of a couple of wounded, but the implication is that nobody died. That’s what I thought, until Kim Phillips asked me to wrote a foreword to her book The Spirits of Gallipoli – A Centenary of Anzacs. There I found that  Staff Sergeant Harry Bowser of the 2nd Light Horse  had died on 19 December, of wounds received on the beach, and was buried at sea.BOWSER-HL-Photo-01

Harry was the last Anzac to die at Gallipoli, remembered on the Lone Pine Memorial.

That’s the kind of new connection that can be made in this unique and extraordinary book and CD. The stories of 100 Anzacs are told in the book, and all available details of 7249 men who served in the Australian forces and who are buried or commemorated at Gallipoli are on the CD.

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Buy the book here:    http://www.spirits-of-gallipoli.com/

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Newfoundland Regiment

Too often Australians overlook the service of others at Gallipoli – French, British, Indian – and Canadian. The Canadians at Gallipoli were Newfoundlanders at the time, and while they and their casualties were comparatively small, they too, should be remembered.

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Poppies, Lala Baba, Suvla

Newfoundland, an island located off the north-east coast of Canada, was discovered by Europeans around 1000, and became the earliest permanent British colony in North America in 1583. The Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, and while Newfoundland was at the time a British Dominion (as was Australia and Canada) it joined Canada in 1949. (Some 650,000 Canadians enlisted in the First World War, suffering 236,000 casualties including 66,000 dead.)

Australians and New Zealanders fought at Gallipoli as distinct national units, and were not broken up brigade by brigade, or battalion by battalion, and distributed to British divisions. Not so fortunate was the Newfoundland Regiment – a battalion sized unit of about 1000 officers and men. It was raised on 21 August 1914, and the first 500 men (known as the Blue Puttees, as khaki puttees were not issued ) sailed for England on 4 October, 1914, for training at Aldershot and then in Scotland.

In August the regiment was sent to reinforce the British 29th Division which had landed at Cape Helles on 25 April. The landing was initially commanded by the wastefully incompetent General Aylmer Hunter Weston. The 29th suffered thousands of casualties in the battles for Krithia in May 1915. (Overall the 29th suffered around 34,000 casualties at Gallipoli, and won 12 Victoria Crosses. )

They Newfoundlanders would probably not have gone to Gallipoli except for a tragic train accident on 22 May 1915 at Quintinshill near Gretna Green in Scotland, which killed 214 and injured 218 men of the Royal Scots ‘Leith’ Battalion which was being sent as reinforcement to the 29th Division. This disaster claimed more lives than any train accident in British history.

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First ten men to enlist, August 1914. From ‘The First 500’ by Richard Cramm.

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Australian dead of the First World War are everywhere in France – 33,205 named and un-named are buried in hundreds of cemeteries, listed on memorials to the missing, or just lost in the verdant fields.

Bullecourt 1917 : The night is dark, and I am far from home.

Driving from the stunning Museum of the Great War at Meaux (not far from Paris, opened in 2011) to Fromelles via Bullecourt in July 2014, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission sign beckoned. Vraucourt Copse Cemetery. A few hundred metres up a one-way track, there is a small cemetery with 98 burials – 33 Australian and 65 British soldiers. They are among the 10,000 Australian and 9,000 British casualties of the two battles at Bullecourt in April and May 1917.

Private Albert Parkinson of the 12th Field Ambulance a 25 year old furniture salesman from North Fitzroy is there. He was killed on 11 April 1917 in the first battle of Bullecourt. He was one of seven soldiers killed by a German shell while working with the 13th Battalion doctor, Captain Norman Shierlaw who is buried next to him. Shierlaw had been awarded a Military Cross for looking after the wounded for two days and nights under heavy fire earlier in 1917.

Albert Parkinson’s father John requested this despairing inscription for his son’s headstone – ‘the night is dark, and I am far from home.’

 

Vraucourt Copse Parkinson

The night is dark and I am far from home

 

 

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Kanchanaburi – Thanbyuzayat

In a previous post, ‘I wonder what happened to them all’, I mentioned the action of the 2/30th Battalion at Gemas, Malaya 1942 – and the fate of those sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway in F Force.

Some 161 2/30th Battalion men are buried at Thanbyuzayat in Burma, and 100 are buried at Kanchanaburi in Thailand. (There are 125 more at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, including 82 on the Singapore Memorial within the cemetery, who were mostly died in the fighting in Malaya or Singapore.)

Unknown Australian - Thanbyuzayat

Unknown Australian – Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery,Burma

The 2/30th  Battalion and 2/10th Field Ambulance men were among the 22,376 Australians made prisoners of war by the Japanese – of whom 8,031 died while in captivity. Some 9,500 Australian prisoners of war worked on the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway and 2,646 of them died of illness, disease, starvation, overwork and savage punishment — including 1,438 men of F Force in Thailand and 479 men of A Force in Burma.

In 1997, I travelled by train from Singapore to Kanchanaburi, and then to Burma for my book Not Going to Vietnam (Sceptre 1999) tracing as much as I could of both ends of the railway, and came across men of the 2/30th Battalion and 2/10th Field Ambulance while looking at the cemeteries and memorials.

Back then the Australian Hellfire Pass museum and walking track was being constructed.  Rod Beattie, who I met for the first time in Kanchanaburi, was managing the project. Rod had cleared several kilometres of the track around Hellfire Pass himself, and came to know more about the railway than anyone else.

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Since then Rod has established the Thailand Burma Railway Centre http://www.tbrconline.com/  the most accessible, accurate and authoritative museum in Kanchanaburi, opposite the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Rod  manages tis and the nearby Chungkai War Cemetery on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  He has assisted many veterans and families in finding their stories, and has been a big help to me.

Sunset Kan'buri cemetery Rod 2008

Sunset, Kanchanaburi Cemetery (Photo: Rod Beattie 2008)

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