Archives for category: War Memorials

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  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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Malaya 1942 – 1956

One of the stories my uncle Laurence Turner wrote when he was the Melbourne Herald correspondent ‘with the Australian troops in Malaya’ 1955-56 was headlined ‘Ghost camp in Malaya’. It was published on 1 or 2 February 1956.

laurence 2RAR

Laurence Turner (right) with 2RAR on patrol 1955

The story is listed in the Herald by-line file cards now at the State Library of Victoria, but not in the microfilmed copy of the paper. Luckily a battered copy of the story was found in my uncle’s papers. Perhaps the microfilmed copy was only published in an early (or late) edition of the Herald.

In January 1956, Turner ventured south to Singapore and some of the places in Malaya where Australians fought in 1942. He’d written about schools in Singapore, the Kranji war cemetery, Raffles hotel and other matters – none of which seem to have been used by the Herald, but may have been picked up by the Sun News-Pictorial Melbourne, the West Australian, Brisbane Courier-Mail, Adelaide News or the Sydney Morning Herald.

In his five months with 2RAR in Malaya, he scooped AAP-Reuters with stories on the first ambush of Australian troops, the death of Sergeant Cecil Anderson, the January 1956 peace talks at Baling, the bungling of housing for  the families of  Australian troops and the shoddy conditions of Australian troops, including the docking of the Malaya allowance of soldiers while ill or wounded in hospital. His stories were influential in improving conditions for the men and their families for the duration.

A keen student of Australian military history, Turner visited the Second World War sites in Malaya – Parit Sulong where 107 Australian wounded were massacred by the Japanese on 22 January 1942, and the site of the successful ambush at the Gemenceh River near Gemas on 12 January 1942.

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In  January 1956 Turner met Michael Mathews a high school teacher at Batu Pahat, now (and then) a small coastal town between Johore Bahru and Malacca.

In late 1941 it was the main Australian base in Malaya.

The men Mr Mathews met were mostly from the 2/30th Battalion and the 2/10th Field Ambulance, part of the tragic 8th Division. They had arrived in Singapore in August 1941, stayed at Birdwood Camp at Changi, and then moved some 90 kilometres to Batu Pahat in late September.

The 2/10th supported the 2/30th in January 1942 in the first Australian action against the Japanese – at the famous ambush on 12 January at Gemas on the Gemenceh River.

The 2/10th Field Ambulance was formed in 1940 and comprised 292 all ranks. Only 131 men returned after the war –  they were killed in action or died as prisoners of war at Sandakan or on the Thai Burma Railway.  [And 22 were detached as part of Lark Force on Rabaul, where 15 were either murdered at the Tol Plantation massacre on 4 February 1942 or lost on the Montevideo Maru 22 June 1942.]

The 2/30th suffered 20 killed or missing believed dead and 58 wounded in Malaya in January. The Japanese casualties were thought to be about 1,000. After the surrender in Singapore, 1150 of the 2/30th were made prisoners of war. Many were sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway, others to Borneo, or Japan. Over 300 men from the 2/30th died during captivity.

‘Mr Mathews still talks of “My friends, the Diggers.”  Then he says sadly:  “I wonder what happened to them all?”

Turner recorded nine names but couldn’t answer Mathew’s question. I have details of what happened to eight of the nine.

One name I have so far been unable to track down is NX 4377 Pte D.O.R Blair, C Coy 2/30th Bn.

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Christmas card 1956 from Michael Mathews to Laurence Turner and Bruce Reddaway, Herald photographer.

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