MICA long field
1352 Sergeant Claud Charles Castleton was born at Kirkley, South Lowestoft, Suffolk, England on 12 April 1893. The son of Thomas Charles and Edith Lucy (nee Payne) Castleton, he was educated at Morton Road Council School before winning a scholarship to Kirkley Grammar School. After completing his studies he worked as a teacher at the Morton Road School before emigrating to Australia in 1912. Driven by a curiosity for geography and nature, Castleton became an itinerant worker, following a series of jobs from Tasmania through to Queensland before prospecting for gold in New Guinea.
After the outbreak of the First World War, Castleton made his way to Port Moresby where he joined a local force and was put in command of indigenous troops for communication and coastal defence. He returned to Australia soon afterwards and enlisted in the AIF at Liverpool, Sydney on 10 March 1915. Posted to D Company, 18 Battalion (18 Bn) he embarked on HMAT A40 Ceramic on 25 June, arriving in Egypt on 24 July. The battalion moved to Gallipoli on 20 August and, as part of 5 Brigade, was initially placed in reserve. The following day the bloody assault on Hill 60 began.
At dawn on the 22nd, though inexperienced, 18 Bn was led through the dark to Damakjelik Bair for an attack on a vital communication trench on Hill 60. The attack was to be made with bombs (hand grenades) and bayonet only. When it was revealed that the battalion had no bombs they were told to 'do the best that was possible without them.' At 5.00 am the battalion charged the 150 yards to the enemy trench, taking it with little resistance, but any respite was short lived. Enemy counter-attacks soon eventuated and were resisted by using bombs found abandoned by the Turks in the newly won trench. This, however, gained only enough time to tear sandbags from the parapet to build defensive barricades.
Ultimately the attack on Hill 60 failed though a tenuous corridor had been opened between the troops at Anzac and Suvla Bay. Of the 750 troops of 18 Bn who took part in the attack, over 380 became casualties, half of that number killed. Castleton survived the assault but was evacuated from Gallipoli suffering from dysentery on 15 September. Promoted to corporal on 7 December he rejoined his unit on Gallipoli the following day. In January 1916, following the withdrawal of the allied forces from Gallipoli, Castleton was again hospitalised, this time for malaria.
On 8 March he transferred to 5 Australian Machine Gun Company (5MGC). He was promoted to sergeant on 16 March, and proceeded to France the following day. On 20 July 5MGC, as part of 5 Brigade, were moved up to Warloy-Baillon, west of Pozieres, in preparation for an assault on Pozieres Heights by the Australian 2nd Division. Pozieres, though successfully taken at great cost by the 1st Division on 23 July, was under constant bombardment and observation by the Germans who were still in control of a commanding position on the ridge overlooking the town. 5 Brigade moved to the front line, relieving 3 Brigade on the 25th.
Late on the evening of the 27th the Brigade was moved forward in an ill planned and ultimately futile assault on enemy trenches OG (old German) 1 and OG2 between the Bapaume Road and Munster Alley. Preparations for the attack were made in view of the Germans who constantly lit the area with flares, doubling their efforts as allied units moved into position. This was accompanied by an escalating heavy artillery bombardment and withering machine gun fire. Even before the jump-off time of 12.15am on the morning of the 28th was reached it was clear that the assault had failed. The fire from the enemy positions kept the allied units pinned down, unable either to proceed or withdraw.
It was not until the hour before dawn that the German bombardment eased sufficiently for the allied troops to withdraw in relative safety. In the shell holes and depressions of no-man's land casualties, unable to move, remained. Seeing this, Castleton crawled out from the trench, under intense fire, and retrieved a wounded comrade. After depositing him safely in the Australian trenches, he again ventured out and brought back another casualty. Immediately he returned for another man, but on this occasion was shot in the back and killed while bringing him back. For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The recommendation for the award reads:
'For conspicuous gallantry and bravery on the night of the 28/7/16 N. E. of Pozieres when the Infantry made an attack on the German Trench.
During the attack on the enemy trench the infantry were temporarily driven back owing to intense machine gun fire. Many wounded were left lying in shell holes in No Man's Land.
Whilst No Man's Land was still under intense M.G. and shrapnel fire, Sgt Castleton went out and twice brought in wounded men on his back; a third time he went out and was bringing back in his third wounded man when he was hit in the back and killed instantly.'
Initially recorded as being buried '[b]etween Pozieres and Bazentin-le Grand-Petit, 4 ¾ mls: N.E. of Albert.', Castleton was later re-interred in plot IV. L. 43 of the Pozieres British Cemetery at Ovillers-la-Boiselle. His VC came into the National Collection in 1988.