Henry William Compow

Pre-enlistment studio portrait of Henry William Compow (Kong Pon), of Gundagai, NSW.

Born in Gundagai NSW, Henry William Kong Pow worked as a farm labourer in Wagga Wagga before enlisting on 9 January 1916. Using the slightly altered name of Compow he signed up aged twenty one, and joined the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. However, just two months into his military service he was caught “pilfering through other men’s lockers”[1] and was tried before a police court. Henry was sentenced to three months hard labour. Once he had completed his sentence he was able to reapply and joined the 19th Reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion.

Almost a year to the day from his enlistment Henry found himself on the Western Front ready for duty. The men of the 3rd Battalion had already fought in major battles at Gallipoli, Lone Pine, and at Pozieres in the Somme Valley on the Western Front. They had learnt how to deal with harsh living conditions and the prospect of potential death. As a new reinforcement to the Battalion, Henry had not yet experienced the grim realities of warfare. Health and hygiene issues quickly arose and for several months he battled with skin conditions which saw him go in and out of military hospitals. However, by the summer month of July his health was fully restored and he returned to duty in France.

The battalion participated in a short period of mobile operations following the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917, but spent much of that year fighting in increasingly difficult conditions around Ypres. In 1918 the battalion returned to the Somme valley and helped to stop the German spring offensive in March and April. The battalion subsequently participated in the Allies’ great offensive of that year, launched east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. The advance on this day by British and empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”.

The battalion continued operations to late September 1918 and on 20 September, was part of the 1st Division fought in what is now known as the Battle for Menin Road. Under General Plumer’s direction the men moved forward working with the artillery to push back the German Army position in “Bite and Hold” attacks. Plumer’s planned method of fighting worked. That day they were able to force the enemy back about 1000m along a 13 kilometre front. However, the success came at a cost. In one day the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions suffered 3,750 casualties.

Henry Compow lost his life on 20 September 1917. He was 23 years old.

At 11 am on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent. The November armistice was followed by the peace treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919. In the years that followed, Henry’s mother Jane was grateful for anything of his that was returned.

Notes

[1] National Archives of Australia, Service records, Compow, Henry William, B2455.

Activities for research and classroom discussion

  1. For what reasons might Henry have enlisted under the name Compow instead of Kong Pow? What do you think his family heritage was?

  2. When Henry first enlisted he joined the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. What tasks did a Pioneer Battalion perform?

  3. The term “Bite and Hold” is a military tactic that was used by General Plumer in the Battle for Menin Road. Why would the tactic be given this name? What did it involve?