Arthur Malcolm Quong Tart was the eldest child of businessman Mei Quong Tart and his wife, Margaret. Arthur’s parents operated well-known tea rooms in Sydney and were highly regarded for their services to the Chinese community and to the New South Wales government. They were also great supporters of Australia’s involvement in the Boer War and of the troops and nurses who were embarking to serve in South Africa. Arthur’s father died a year after the end of the Boer War, in 1903.
Arthur Quong Tart enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 9 August 1915 and was posted to the 19th Infantry Battalion. At the time of his enlistment he was 23 years of age, five feet two inches in height, and of “fresh, brown, dark” complexion. On his enlistment papers, Arthur listed his occupation as “wool buyer”.
By the time Arthur enlisted the war had been in progress for a year. In Australia there was enthusiastic support for the war effort, as the Australian forces continued to earn a fine reputation with their exploits on Gallipoli. This enthusiasm was reflected in growing enlistments, and young men like Arthur would have been under considerable pressure to get involved and do their duty for Australia.
Arthur spent the final months of 1915 training in Egypt, and in February 1916 was transferred to the 4th Battalion. On reaching France the AIF became involved in some of the most horrendous and costly battles ever fought. Massive armies faced and attacked each other from complex trench systems which extended for hundreds of kilometres. Battles involved massed attacks of infantry rising from their trenches to advance across open ground against the enemy’s machine-guns, artillery, and barbed wire. It was the artillery barrages that caused the greatest number of casualties, and Arthur, in his first major battle at Pozières, would suffer terribly.
In the very first days the Australians, including Arthur’s 4th Battalion, achieved their objective – taking the town of Pozières. However, their position was exposed to the enemy on two sides and they were soon subjected to some of the heaviest and most sustained artillery fire of the entire war. Artillery fire devastated the landscape and obliterated the men as they struggled to reach their objectives. The incessant explosions shook the ground with nerve-shattering concussions, causing a condition in the men known as “shell shock”. Between 23 and 27 July, Arthur was buried four times by exploding shells. He was dug out by his mates each time and although physically uninjured he was traumatised by his experiences. He was evacuated from the front lines to England at the end of the month. The battle went on for more than six weeks, causing around 24,000 Australian casualties.
The army’s base records section wrote to Arthur’s mother, telling her that her son had been admitted to hospital with “mild shell shock”. From his official record, however, it is clear that his condition was much worse; he had “lost the power in his legs and stuttered” and suffered “recurrent hysterical attacks at night”. A later medical document in Arthur’s records described his condition as “disability permanent”.
Little is known about Arthur Quong Tart’s life after the war. By the time he returned, his mother had passed away. In 1925, he lodged an application to copyright a film script entitled The living dead, presumably an account relating to his terrible experiences at Pozières. It is unknown whether the film was ever made.
Arthur Malcolm Quong Tart died at Sandgate, Brisbane, on 30 May 1927. He was 35.
Activities for research and classroom discussion
1. When the First World War began, the Australian government implemented rules to limit enlistment of men who were not of predominantly European ethnic background. However, thousands of Aboriginal, Chinese, and other non-European men were able to join the AIF.
What were some of the reasons these men might have wanted to enlist? Think about things such as pay, discrimination, peer pressure, propaganda, patriotism, opportunities etc.
2. After the Anzacs were withdrawn from the Gallipoli peninsula at the end of 1915 they were reorganised and sent to the Western Front in northern France. They soon became involved in some of the bloodiest and most costly battles of the war. Lance Corporal Arthur Quong Tart was wounded at Pozières. Here, in July and August 1916, the Anzacs suffered around 24,000 casualties, with 6,846 killed.