Trench sign "Medicine hat trail" : Lieutenant Colonel J B St Vincent-Welch, 13 Field Ambulance, AIF

Accession Number RELAWM06262
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Wood
Maker Unknown
Place made Western Front
Date made c 1914-1918
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Sign constructed of single plank of wood painted black with bevelled edges. 'MEDICINE HAT TRAIL' is stencilled in white letters. The white paint is considerably faded with black starting to show through in some areas. There is a nail in each of the four corners as well as in the centre on the bottom edge. Located on the top edge in the centre is a nail hole, there are some minor chips and scratches.

History / Summary

Medicine Hat Trail was part of a network of Canadian communication trenches, along with Calgary Trench located in the vicinity of Ploegsteert, near Messines. This sign was collected by John St Vincent-Welsh some time between 31 May and 17 June 1917 while the 13th Field Ambulance was stationed a few kilometres away.

Part of a collection of material collected by John Basil St Vincent-Welsh, born Burwood, NSW, on 10 October 1881; a married medical practitioner of Neutral Bay, NSW and graduate of Sydney University who enlisted on 20 August 1914 at Sydney. Since 1908, he had held the rank of captain in the New South Wales Army Medical Corps, and retained the rank of captain upon enlistment. St Vincent-Welsh was assigned to 1 Field Ambulance which embarked from Sydney aboard the transport Euripides (A14) on 20 October. He participated in the Gallipoli landing on 25 April and was promoted to major in early May, and acting commander of the unit in August, when he was mentioned in despatches.

He was made acting lieutenant colonel in November, and when 1 Field Ambulance were withdrawn from the campaign in September, he returned to Gallipoli in November as acting commanding officer of 2 Field Ambulance, but was evacuated on 30 November with jaundice and reverted to the rank of major. He returned to 1 Field Ambulance after the evacuation and on 24 February 1916, at Serapeum in Egypt, 'C' Section of 1 Field Ambulance, commanded by Major St Vincent-Welch with two captains and 48 other ranks, was seconded from the unit to make up a new unit, 13 Field Ambulance, as pat of the re-organisation and enlargement of the AIF; they were joined by 'C' Section of 7 Field Ambulance and assigned to the newly-formed 4 Division. St Vincent-Welsh was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and thereafter commanded 13 Field Ambulance throughout the Western Front Campaign, to 1918.

St Vincent-Welch was mentioned in despatches again on 13 November 1916 for 'distinguished and gallant service and devotion to duty in the field'; and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, gazetted 1 January 1917, for 'general good work during the operations near Pozieres between August 27 to September 5'. He returned to Australia on 22 January 1918 as senior officer in charge of wounded; the Sydney Morning Herald for 4 January noted 'he now returns to Australia to avoid further rheumatism, the result of more than three years lying in the open'. In fact, he had sought release from active service in mid-September 1917 on the grounds that his parents had grown very frail, and that his service had prejudiced him financially - he feared his local practice had 'practically disappeared'. He pointed out that he had run 1 Field Ambulance from the start of the Gallipoli Campaign and had commanded 13 Field Ambulance continually from its inception. The Surgeon-General noted 'his work has been excellent but he is an exceedingly difficult officer to control', and thought it easier to accede to his request, rather than potentially reject a promotion.

Once back in Sydney, he was in demand as a lecturer, displaying and discussing his collection of photographs and objects at various Sydney town halls and theatres during 1918 and 1919, which raised funds for the Royal North Shore Hospital, where he held a post as honorary surgeon.

John St Vincent-Welch died unexpectedly at Royal North Shore Hospital on the afternoon of 21 May 1920, from complications caused by pneumonic influenza. This was considered to be a war-related casualty, and his name appears on the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour. His wife, Mildred, was then pregnant with their only son John. In May 1923, after consultation with his mother, she wrote to the Memorial offering a range of over 70 objects which he collected on battlefields and hoping that one day she could bring her son to view it in memorial of his father; they are held as numbers RELAWM06222 to 06296.