Bugler Frederick Ashton 11th Battalion – 25 April 1915

Frederick Ashton was a highly literate clerk aged 21, when he joined up on 18 August 1914 in the 11th Battalion. Born in Sydney, he enlisted in Geraldton W.A.

He was captured on 25 April while tending the wounded on Baby 700 – Bean wrote that he was the only Australian remaining prisoner on that first Anzac Day aside from  McDonald, Lushington and Elston of the previous post. I

He was clearly well educated, with a dry sense of humour judging from a surviving letter, and his report on captivity made in London after his repatriation from Turkey. This report is full of fascinating detail on food, treatment by the Turks and work, as you will find when you read on … someone should make a movie.

At around 4.30 pm on 25 April Bugler Frederick Ashton was bandaging a wounded Kiwi on Baby 700 when the poor soldier was hit again

72 dpi ASHTON-F-Photo Western Mail, 27 August 1915

Fred Ashton (Photo Western Mail, 27 August 1915 – courtesy Kim Phillips, Spirits of Gallipoli)

‘He was in terrible agony and asked me to finish him off. I told him to lie still while I went and sought a stretcher-bearer. But when I looked around me I could see no sign of our former firing-line, nor could I see anyone – they seemed to have vanished completely,’ Ashton wrote in his report after the war.

The Australians and New Zealanders on Baby 700 had been attacked by a strong force of Turks. Men came running back – “Get to buggery! The Turks are coming on – thousands of them!” (Bean Vol 1 ,p 315)

Ashton still looking for a stretcher-bearer became disoriented and instead of descending through Monash Valley, was in Mule valley, heading the wrong way.

Here he fell in with a wounded man from the 1st Brigade. He was shot through the hip, and I asked him if he required assistance. ‘I helped him down the gully till he could go no further, while I went on to see if I could find a stretcher.

[Ashton’s report is contained in his record in the National Archives of Australia at  NAA: B2455, ASHTON F]

I ‘heard a shout, and on looking up, saw about 8 or 10 Turks covering me with their rifles. At the same time bullets were coming from the rear on the right. I immediately threw up my hands and the Turks immediately came forward and knocked me on the head with their rifle-butts, dazing me.’

Ashton was interrogated here, and then at ‘a place on the coast’, and then t inland again to what appeared to be a Turkish headquarters.

‘I was taken into a tent and interrogated in Turkish by some officers, who gave the job up as hopeless, and sent for another officer who could speak about four words of English. They produced a big map of Egypt, the Suez Canal, and the Dardanelles, and made me try to understand that they wished me to tell them how long it had taken me to come from Egypt; and also whether I had been to Cairo, Lemnos, Mudros etc.

‘Amongst my papers was a money order from Australia drawn on the Post Office at Cairo, and when they saw that, they knew I had been evading the truth. So they ceased questioning me, giving  the job up as hopeless.’

‘One of the officers signed to me to follow him and I went into his tent, where he provided me with a two course meal, after which I was sent into his orderly’s tent, and was given an old Turkish overcoat to sleep under. After I had been asleep some hours, I was waked up and taken out of the tent, and found three more Australians standing outside.’

They were Captain McDonald, Lieutenant Elston and Private Lushington.

Reg Lushington, rear centre, AWM C01052

Fred Ashton, standing on far left (AWM C01052)

‘In the morning we were marched to another Turkish Headquarters, where we were given some boiled eggs and bread for breakfast.

After a ferry boat took them to ‘the seaport of Gallipoli’ where they were placed in a ‘military school and examined by a German officer. ‘After the examination we were taken to an empty house and placed in a small room, where we were given a meal (Lushington and I were there) [and then] taken to another room furnished with two beds. At this place we received exactly the same treatment as the officers, our Battalion colour patches having apparently misled the Turks as to our rank.’

This happy misapprehension was short-lived – a few days later when examined with a couple of French officers (in French) and ‘for failing top show p[roper respect, as they considered to the [French] officer we were sent into another room with French soldiers.

They then went to Haidar Pasha on the Asian side of the Bosphorus (where there is a CWGC cemetery today), and then to the Stamboul (European side).

‘We were marched through the street and exhibited to the public gaze. We were marshalled … and our photographs taken, after which we were placed in an underground room. After several days in this room we joined the crew of the Submarine A.E.2., who had been in another room.’

‘Towards the end of May we were all sent to  a  prisoner of  war  camp  at  Afion  Kara  Hisar, where  we  found  the  survivors of  the  crew  of  the [British submarine]  B.15.

‘We were not  actually  ill-treated  at  this  place, but the  food  was  very  poor, consisting  for the  main  part of  thin lentil soup,        and  a small  handful  of  boiled  wheat.   About a month  later  a  Sergeant  Delpratt of  the  Light  Horse  came in,

And Privates Troy, Allen and  Cliffe.

‘In  August,  39  of  us           left Afion  and  went  to  Angora, where  we joined  up  with  a  lot  of prisoners  who  had  been  captured  about  the  time  of  the landing at  Suvla  Bay. We were here  for  about a  week  when  we  were  all marched  to  Changri. This was about 80  miles  from  Angora,           and we  marched  the  distance in  four  days. We were overjoyed to  find  beds  for  us  at  this  place  –  one  bed  to  two  men  –  and  we lost  no  time in falling into  them.

‘On the whole, we had a good time at Changri; we had a football of which we  made  good  use.

‘The food here was a little better, and  we  had  our  own cook.

‘In  January  1917  we  were  transferred  to  a  German  railway camp  at  Belemedlk.  I  spent some  time  helping  to  assemble  a motor’draisine’ and  was  then  put into  a  German  engineer’s  office.

[A draisine is a light rail vehicle – used for transporting a small number of people. Originally pedal powered, it is related to the handcart. Has been put to military use.]

‘On  the  4th  August  1917, Sergeant  McAneny  of  the  Wellington Battalion  (N.Z.) and  Private  Lushington, 16th  Battalion  and myself  escaped  from  the  camp,    and, following  the  river  which runs  through  Belemedik  endeavoured  to  reach  the  sea  in  the  hope of  being  picked  up  by  one  of          our  warships. Failing  this  we would  try  and  find  a  boat, or  build  a  raft.  After being out  for

15  days, we  were  recaptured  and  taken  to  Adana,   where  we  were court  martialled, and  sentenced  to  20  days  close  confinement.

‘When  we  had  completed  our  sentence  we  went  to  Tarsus  by  rail where  we  were imprisoned  along  with  a  crowd  of  Turks.

‘Next  day  we  were  marched  to  a  village  on  the  road from  Buzanti  to Tarsue  where  we  picked  up  some  donkey  carts  which took  us  into  Buzanti. At Buzanti  we  were  put into  a  filthy stable  for  two  days  and  were  then  sent  on  to  Afion  Kara  Hlssar. We remained here for about a  week, when  we  were  picked, with  a party  of  about 100 to  go  to  Ismidt. [Izmit]

‘On  our  arrival  in  Ismidt  we  were  put on  the  top  floor of  a  large  warehouse, which  was  devoid  of  all sanitary conditions.

‘While  we  were  here  15  men, most of  whom  were  prisoners from  Kut-el-Amara, died  as  a  result of  continuous  neglect.

‘Trooper Kennett, V, 2nd LH Regiment died here in February.

On 11 February, Ashton wrote to the Red Cross.

‘Dear   Madam,

I  have  received  an  amount  in  Turkish  currency  approximately  equal  to  £l  stg.     Not  having  been  advised  of  the despatch  of  a  like  sum  from  any  other  source,     I  conclude  it  is the  amount  sent  by  you  &  advised  in  your  P.C.  of  22/10/16.

I  therefore  take  this  opportunity  of  expressing  my gratitude,  for  all  you  have  done;  altho’  perhaps,  this  may  be premature,  as,     I  am  sorry  to  say,  not  one  of  the  parcels,  of which  we  Australians  here,  have  received  advice  has  reached its  destination.

I  find  on  enquiring  that  I  am  the  only  Aust. who  has received  this  sum,  which  is  a  “con”  against  the  “pro”  in paragraph  one.

I   am   sorry   to   have   to   inform   you   that   Bo.2146   Tpr. V.I. N.  Kennett,   2nd   L.H.   Regt   (Aust.) passed   away   on   the   9th  February   1917 of  consumption.     Could   you   do   anything   re informing   his   relations?

Believe   me,

Yours   faithfully,

Sgd.  F.  Ashton.’

[Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Files 1DRL/0428]

[Trooper Victor Iredale Norman Kennett  a dairyman aged 21, 2146 2nd Light Horse was captured at Romani in Palestine on  3/4 August 1916. A witness at Board of Enquiry into the disappearance of Kennett and Driver 142 Andrew Day Beaudesert said  that they fell from their horses after being attacked by Turks while on camel escort duties near Hill 110 , Romani.  Their horses returned.

Trooper  Ashton was only taken on strength on 5 May. He died of consumption and  is buried in Haidar Pasha Cemetery on the Asian side of Istanbul.

SONY DSC

Haidar Pasha War Cemetery – Istanbul (Photo Rene Degryse- Spirits of Anzac)

Andrew Day also died of TB, on 11 February 1917 and is buried in Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery. He was 23.]

‘The German, who ran this place, showed his hate in every possible way. His methods were typically Teutonic. We were place on a ration of 180 grams of bread per day with water. While we were here we worked six days a week making ‘bunds’ (dykes, carting stones, and making roads.

‘After about 10 months of this place, the 85 of us who had survived were sent to Ada Bazar, an inland agricultural town. From  here we went to Karghali, about 17 kilometres out, where we were lodged in a farm house. We worked on the roads, and after about 5 months we were sent to San Stefano, a seaport on the  Sea of Marmora (the camp is where the Istanbul airport is now located).  We were put to work here at unloading and loading railway trucks and barges, and while there the Armistice with Turkey was signed [30 October 1918].

‘As soon as we heard the news we marched out of the place past the guard into Constantinople, and were put up at Crocker’s Hotel, run for our benefit by the Dutch Legation.

‘On the 16th November, 1918 we left Constantinople by the SS Katoomba and arrived at Taranto [Italy] on the 25th …’

Bugler Fred Ashton made his statement in London on 10 December 1918, returned to Australia on 13 April 1919, and was discharged in 23 July.