Private Thomas Cosgriff, 59th Battalion, of Albert Park, Victoria, was one of 1,701 Australians killed at Fromelles on 19/20th July 1916. His remains and those of 74 others were positively identified through DNA testing.

Earlier this week the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Allan Griffin announced the results of the first Joint Identification Board held to identify the remains of 250 Australian and British soldiers killed during the battle of Fromelles on the night of 19/20 July 1916. The remains were recovered from a recently discovered mass grave at Pheasant Wood where 203 were identified as Australians, and through DNA testing, 75 were identified by name. News of the results bought closure for the families of the men who had been officially missing for nearly 94 years and have now been reinterred in the newly-created Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. A final burial will take place during a ceremony to mark the 94th anniversary of the battle on 19 July 2010.

In December 2008, the Memorial’s official magazine Wartime ran several feature articles on the discovery of the mass grave at Pheasant Wood by key researchers involved in the project: Lambis Engelzos, a retired Victorian school teacher, wrote of his research which ultimately led to the discovery of the mass grave at Pheasant Wood; Dr Tony Pollard, the Director of Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, wrote the story of the archaeological excavation conducted in May 2008; and Peter Barton wrote of his research in the archives of the Bavarian Kriegsarchiv in Munich, Germany. Memorial historians Ashley Ekins, Nigel Steel and Peter Pedersen gave accounts of the battle itself.

Due to the high level of public interest, copies of Issue 44 of Wartime are no longer available, but the magazine can be accessed here in digital form free of charge.

It is intended that the Joint Identification Board will continue DNA testing until 2014. People who believe their relative may be buried at Fromelles and have not already registered should do so at http://army.gov.au/Our-work/Unrecovered-War-Casualties/Fromelles/The-Australian-Fromelles-Relatives-Database or by calling the Australian Fromelles Project Group on 1800 019 090.

The Memorial holds a small, but important, collection associated with the sinking of the Hospital Ship Centaur, whose wreck site was discovered in December 2009.

Many of the survivors had little or no clothing after the ship sank. One, NX33029 Driver George McGrath, was in his underwear, which he lost when he leapt overboard and was left wearing only this watch when he made his way to a life raft. He later managed to cover himself with a Red Cross pennant he found among the debris. 

The hands are missing from the watch, but you can still make out the rust stains where the hands were located - they stopped at 4.10 [am] - when the ship sank. McGrath was a member of the Australian Army Service Corps, who was attached to the 2/12th Field Ambulance. He was one of only three men to survive from the AASC.

This flare handle was collected by NX97247 Private Fred Chidgey. He was woken by the explosions from the torpedo and after grabbing his life jacket, made for the deck with a cabin mate. The deck was already knee deep in water. The rafts closest to Chidgey were on fire and he could not easily get to the others, so he jumped overboard. He swam as far as he could from the ship, and managed to get on a raft holding other survivors. Pair of scissors from Hospital Ship Centaur medical kit

Items from a medical kit used by the only surviving Doctor, QX6475 Lieutenant Colonel Leslie MacDonald Outridge are also held in the collection. Outridge was also woken by the explosions. His life jacket, and the walls of his cabin caught fire. He tried to get to the deck, but was forced back by the flames. He made a second attempt to get through to the deck, which by now was covered in water. Water rushed down the companion way and filled the compartment where Outridge was located. He hit his head on the beams, but managed to find a pocket of air and made his way up to the deck. He got caught in some ropes, but managed to escape. Outridge boarded a loose raft and luckily a medical kit surfaced alongside him. He was assisted in tending the wounded by NFX76584 Sister Ellen Savage, the only Nurse to survive the sinking.

Interestingly, Outridge did not save any of the items from the medical kit. Instead he collected a small piece of the life raft he survived on (below) as a souvenir.

Life raft float from Hospital Ship Centaur

Some of the medical equipment he used was instead collected by the Centaur's Chief Butcher, Francis Thomas 'Frank' Reid.

Scalpel and tweezers from Hospital Ship Centaur medical kit

Reid was awake when the Centaur was torpedoed, as he had to get ready for work in the Butcher's Shop. Luckily his cabin was near the deck, and after the explosion he went up with his cabin mates. Reid had been unable to locate his life jacket before he went on deck, so while the other men tried to release a life raft, he returned to his cabin to look again. He located his jacket on the floor, while crawling on his hands and knees in the dark (sometimes the cabin was illuminated by the flames from the explosion) before returning to the deck. The men could not release the raft, so Reid jumped overboard with the Second Butcher, Frank Davidson. They managed to make their way to the main group of survivors, which eventually included McGrath, Chidgey, and Outridge. Reid's cabin mates also survived the sinking.

Of the 332 people on board, only 64 survived.

A  unique and remarkable ceremony of Australian national significance will be conducted in France on 19 July 2010.  It will be the culmination of the long search for those killed, and whose bodies were never recovered, in the disastrous Battle of Fromelles in French Flanders 94 years ago.  Now discovered, 250 bodies are finally being laid to rest in the specially constructed Fromelles Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery.  The first burials of these Australian and British soldiers commenced on 30 January this year. After the fighting in 1916, the Germans had gathered the bodies into pits.  Now, these soldiers have been reinterred through February, one by one, with each subsequent day’s burials conducted as a formal military funeral with a bearer party and padre in attendance.  Evidence has been taken from each of the bodies which may lead to some of them being identified.  From April permanent headstones will be placed over the graves, and it is expected that some of them will bear soldiers’ names.  The main concluding ceremony in July will commemorate the battle, honour all those who took part, and formally mark the completion of the archaeological excavations and the reinterment of all those whose bodies which were found on the outskirts of Pheasant Wood at the edge of the small village of Fromelles.  A large attendance of dignitaries, families, locals, and public is expected. British, French and Australian media will cover the event.  I will have the privilege of attending the ceremony accompanying a battlefield tour group arranged by the Australian War Memorial, and Boronia Travel Centre.  Anyone can join the party, and you are encouraged to sign up early by contacting the agent ph. +61 (03) 9762 2111) or the Memorial ph. +61 (02) 62434 3243).  The occasion will have special meaning for me.  I have made the journey to the Western Front more than 20 times and have seen numerous battlefields.  But the Fromelles ceremony will be a unique event.  The war cemeteries adjoining battlefields are always deeply moving.  Sometimes I have had the honour of being in the company of veterans or those whose father or a relative fought there. Looking at the surviving evidence, after considering the battles that were waged and the lives that were lost, one also sees the immense effort that occupied a generation of workers to ensure that those killed were remembered.  The cemeteries are still meticulously maintained.  The new Pheasant Wood cemetery is a revival of that activity; it is the first Commonwealth War Graves Commission First World War cemetery constructed since the immediate post war years.   Travelling in an Australian battlefield group is sometimes emotional, often fun, and always fulfilling.  Joining a group with a common interest and mutual sense of pride creates strong bonds.  I will accompany the group in my familiar role as historian-guide.  Our agent, the most experienced in the field, is there to provide personal attention and to ensure a high standard of accommodation, meals, and travel.  It is reassuring to know that things will go right.  Fromelles, and the unique ceremony there, is the special focus for this tour.  However it is important to remember that this was just one of many major battles fought by the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front.  Most were longer and in many the total casualties were higher.  Places such as Pozieres, Bullecourt, Ypres, Zonnebeke, Passchendaele, Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux, Peronne, and Mont St Quentin are among those of similar importance to Fromelles.  They too will be remembered.  The battlefield tour runs from 5 – 22 July.  It will go to all the First World War places of major importance to Australians.  We will visit the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and participate in the Last Post ceremony at the historic Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.  I will be there to provide historical background, an explanation of each place visited and to introduce you to our friends in France.  There will also be time to see Paris and go to Verdun and the famous Champagne region.  Battle of Fromelles in brief: Australians were thrilled by the stories of their troops’ exploits on Gallipoli in 1915. The next year, in early 1916, the Australian divisions finally joined the British army in France and Belgium.  At last they had arrived in the war’s main battle theatre.  Here, on the Western Front, they met a new form of fighting.  At first the Australians were in a relatively quiet sector in France.  Still, there were periods of stiff fighting, shelling, and some heavy raids; by the end of June over 600 men had been killed.  But by now the British main efforts had shifted to the Somme 100 kilometres away to the south.  Resulting from heavy British losses, the Australians were soon drawn in. While three divisions went to the Somme, the most recently arrived division, the 5th, remained in French Flanders.  There it went into the trenches opposite the shattered village of Fromelles which sat on commanding ground behind the German front line.  British troops had fought around Fromelles in 1915, with heavy losses, but the village would soon give its name to a fresh disaster.  On the evening of 19 July the Australian 5th Division and the British 61st Division attacked the Fromelles ridge in a diversionary attack intended to draw German attention from the allies’ Somme operations.  In the front line with bayonet fixed, a soldier of the 53rd Battalion, 5th Division, is captured by the camera shortly before the disastrous attack at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. The two divisions chosen for this battle were both new to the sector and lacked local battle experience.  The men had to assault over open fields criss-crossed with drainage ditches and in the face of heavy machine-gun and artillery fire.  Many fell, while others were overwhelmed by German counter-attacks.  The attack failed, with 5500 Australian casualties, and no ground was taken.  It was a cruel introduction to major combat, one from which the 5th Division was a long time recovering.  Brigadier General H.E. “Pompey” Elliott, a veteran officer who commanded the 15th Brigade in the battle, later said:

“Practically all my best officers, the Anzac men who helped build up my brigade, are dead.  I presume there was some plan at the back of the attack but it is difficult to know what it was”.

 Extract from: Peter Burness, Anzacs in France, 1916. (2006). Peter Burness is Senior Historian at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra More information:

It has been a year since the first blog entry went up about Marthe Gylbert and her letter. In this time, with the help of some very generous people, I have been able to discover much about Marthe and her wonderful love letter. If you have not seen the previous blog entries, they can be found here and here.

Marthe‘s nephew Jean Marc Gylbert has been very helpful and interested. He has provided much information about his family and his aunt although some part of the story remains a mystery even to him. This blog is based on information Jean Marc Gylbert has provided.

Courtesy of Jean Marc Gylbert and Rose Rae

Marthe was born on the 24th April 1901 to Louis and Marie Louise Gylbert. She was the fourth child in the family of six children, two of whom died while very young. The family came originally from Nieppe, a village about 3 km from Armentières, on the left bank of the Lys River. Jean Marc Gylbert describes the family as ‘very poor' with Marthe’s father working as a farm labourer and her mother employed as a servant.

Marthe met her Australian sweetheart in Armentières not Saint-Sulpice-les-Feuilles as I said before in my previous update. Armentières had been briefly occupied by the Germans, in October 1914, but was taken back by the British, who occupied the village until the 10th April 1918. Amongst the troops in Armentières were Australians and this is when Marthe appears to met her ‘Darling Little Sweetheart’.

Jean Marc Gylbert has always known that his aunt had an Australian sweetheart as his father has told him the story since his childhood. Unfortunately, this was a long time ago and he cannot recall the man’s surname other than it ended in ‘on’ and his first name seemed, to the young Jean Marc, a common Anglo-Saxon name.

During the summer of 1917, the Germans heavily bombarded Armentières, including the intense use of gas shells, and the military authorities decided to evacuate the civilian population.  The Gylbert family, without Marthe’s father who had died, was sent to little village in the centre of the south of France called St-Sulpice-les-Feuilles where life for the family was not easy. The refugees were not welcomed by the locals who equated these northerners with Germans. Jean Marc Gylbert describes it as ‘the life of peasants’ during which his father, then 12, worked at various agricultural jobs including as a shepherd and a butcher.  

Courtesy of Jean Marc Gylbert and Rose Rae

It was amongst these difficulties that Marthe sent her sweetheart the letter that is now in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. Jean Marc Gylbert believes that someone else must have written the letter on Marthe’s behalf as he knows that his aunt would have been unable write a letter like this at the time and certainly not in English.

It is not clear when the family returned to Armentières but Jean Marc Gylbert does know that the civil authorities insisted that the inhabitants of the town come back after the war.  The houses and factories needed to be rebuilt and they needed as many people as possible to do this.

Coutesy of Jean Marc Gylbert

The living members of the Gylbert Family do not know what happened to Marthe’s sweetheart and cannot recall his name. So his identity and fate seems destined to remain a mystery.  But we do know what happened to Marthe. After the war, Marthe married twice and went to live in Paris. She died in Issy les Moulineaux (part of Paris) on 27th February 1977. She had one child who died in infancy during her first marriage.

The letter is on display as part of the Memorial’s Of Love and War exhibition which is showing at the Memorial until 5th May 2010. The exhibition will travel to other venues but these are yet to be confirmed.

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.

 A general view of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade tent and horse lines at Heliopolis, near Cairo.

'We marched to the 4th Brigade camp at Heliopolis, and got our blankets from the 4th Field Ambulance during the afternoon. The buildings here are splendid structures, the well-to-do people live here only, it is situated about 4 miles from Cairo and has an up to date electric railway and tramway service. Our rations are a bit short, but will be alright when we draw 6d* a day extra allowed each man for rations.'

 *d is the abbreviation for pence (penny). The average rate of pay for a soldier was 6 shillings per day (One shilling = 12 pence) this is higher than any other army at the time.

Detail of navigation map kept by William Gourlay, showing Nuremberg

Detail of navigation map kept by William Gourlay, showing Nuremberg

The Australian War Memorial has recently received important documents relating to the Nuremberg bombing raid of 30-31 March 1944 and the iconic Lancaster bomber ‘G for George’.  Through a generous donation, the navigation log and map made by William Albert Gourlay, navigator on board ‘G for George’ for the fateful raid, have been added to the Private Records collection (PR04522).  These will complement our holdings relating to Bomber Command, and the Nuremberg raid in particular.

Detail from the navigation log of William Gourlay

Detail from the navigation log of William Gourlay

A massive bombing raid was planned for Nuremberg on the night of 30-31 March 1944.  Nuremberg was a strategic and symbolic target, being both the symbolic heart of Nazism and a major centre of war production.  It was also part of the long ‘Battle of Berlin’, the months of bombings devised and ordered by the Commander of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, intended to crush the morale of German civilians and deliver a fundamental blow to the fighting capacity of Germany. 

William Gourlay was a member of 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force at the time, and had only recently joined it in February 1944.  But for the failure of another Lancaster bomber, Gourlay and his fellow aircrew would never have flown in ‘George’.  During their preparation at RAF Base Binbrook, their designated Lancaster was found to be unserviceable, and so, after a race with another aircrew whose bomber was also unserviceable, Gourlay, under the pilot Flight Sergeant Vic Neal, was fortunate to fly in the renowned ‘G for George’. 

In his memoir, Gourlay described the task and experience of a navigator: ‘In a small cubicle separated from the pilot’s cockpit by a black curtain, the navigator worked continuously throughout the trip, calculating and checking all the time, it being essential that both log and chart were properly kept up to the minute.  The pilot was always advised of all turning times and the new course to be flown, and he would often ask—“Pilot to Navigator, how long to E.T.A.?”’

Members of 460 Squadron RAAF in front of and lined up on the wing of Lancaster Bomber 'G for George'

Members of 460 Squadron RAAF in front of and lined up on the wing of Lancaster Bomber 'G for George'

The Nuremberg raid was problematic from the outset, principally because the raid would occur in full moonlight, and its flight time was over seven hours.  When the raid began, problems escalated when there was no cloud cover to protect the bombers. 

Like other bombing raids, the raid on Nuremberg assembled a significant complement of bombers: 795 aircraft were despatched, including 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitos.  The bombers met resistance at the Belgian border from German fighters.  In total, 95 bombers were lost, making it the largest Bomber Command loss of the Second World War.  Reconnaissance following the raid found that the mission had in fact been a failure: little damage was caused to the city of Nuremberg, and most of the bombing occurred, incorrectly, at Schweinfurt, 50 miles to the north-west of Nuremberg, and even there the bombing caused little damage. 

Reflecting on the Nuremberg raid, Gourlay thought it was ‘grim, enemy fighters really got onto us, and all along the route there were blazing four engined bombers falling out of the sky.’  Unlike so many other airmen, Gourlay was lucky enough to return to base, having seen so many others downed by the German fighters.  In September 1944, Gourlay was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his continued excellent service.

'G for George' on display at the Australian War Memorial

'G for George' on display at the Australian War Memorial

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.

 Courtyard, 14th Australian General Hospital, Abbassia By George Lambert

'The Field Ambulance reinforcements for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd disembarked at 9am and entrained for Cairo* at 9.30am. We arrived at Abbassia at 5pm and marched to the camp behind the barracks. We slept in a mess room for the night, but it was too cold to sleep comfortably, we had only a small blanket. All the Field Ambulance reinforcements were under the charge of Sgt, Baker. Our camp is about 4 miles from the city.'

 *Originally soldiers of the AIF were going to finish their training in England but after the bitter winter experienced by Canadian soldiers the men of the AIF were sent to Egypt to train in a more ‘suitable’ climate.

For the classroom: What other reasons might they have to send the troops to train in the Egyptian desert?

Please note: Care has been taken to transcribe these entries without alteration to preserve the original language of Herbert Vincent Reynolds.

Herbert embarked on the HMAT A35 Berrima at 12pm on the 22nd of December 1914

Herbert embarked on the HMAT A35 Berrima at 12pm on the 22nd of December 1914.  C382998

'Arrived at Alexandria at 8am the harbour was full of wind jammers most of which are prizes. We pulled into the wharf at 2pm, the Light Horse Ambulance reinforcements went ashore and proceeded to the camp. No leave was granted, but I got ashore with a couple of other chaps and we went to the city, returning at about 1am. We got a cab man to drive us back to the wharf, could not see much of the place at night, visited a couple of music halls.*'

 *After so long on a ship the many soldiers looked forward to the excitement of Alexandria.  The men wanted to partake in recreational activities such as music halls.

For the classroom: If you were a soldier and spent a long period at sea how would you spend your first day in a new land?

In 1944, Yvonne Jobling was a schoolgirl studying shorthand.  Every evening at her home in Geelong, Victoria, she practiced her shorthand by listening to the radio.  On Friday, 17 March 1944, she happened to be listening to the short-wave broadcast of Radio Tokyo, and heard messages from Australian prisoners of war. 

Collection of letters sent to Yvonne Jobling, March 1944

Jobling took the messages of five prisoners of war, and sent them to their families across Australia.  A few days later families in Katoomba (NSW), Fairfield (NSW), Petersham (NSW), Adelaide (South Australia) and Sunshine (Victoria), received these welcome messages.  Each family responded with deep gratitude.  Mrs Barber of Petersham thanked Yvonne for her kind letter, and told her that ‘my heart has been aching for news of him’.  Nancy of Adelaide, sister of Robert Louis Whitington (SX8121), wrote: ‘If you have a friend or brother a prisoner I sincerely trust you have received news of him ‘ere this.’

These letters have recently been received by the Australian War Memorial in a generous donation from Yvonne (Private Records Collection PR04494).  They form a small collection that speaks eloquently of the kindness of strangers on the home front during the Second World War, and the capacity of such kindness to bring hope to anxious families.

Messages from prisoners of war became a regular and integral feature of Japanese propaganda efforts, beginning in 1943.  Radio Tokyo, along with stations in Batavia (Jakarta), Saigon, Shanghai and Singapore — all stations of the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), an important part of the Japanese war machine — broadcast the messages alongside so-called ‘news’ in an effort to lure listeners, and further the general aim of disheartening a war-weary nation.  Indeed, broadcasts were made in many languages, and intended for soldiers and civilians alike.

The Radio Tokyo building, Tokyo (DUKJ4432).

The Radio Tokyo building, Tokyo

The Japanese took care, unlike their German counterparts, to announce the service number, name and regimental details of the prisoner whose message was being announced.  It also seems that most of the messages were genuine, another strategy to keep Australian audiences listening.  During the course of the war, however, the Japanese began subtly editing the messages to include stock phrases about good food and good living conditions, hoping Australian audiences would be fooled by these false hopes.  Unfortunately, and perhaps deliberately, some messages were read months after writing, which led to confusion and false hopes on the part of families who had already received word that their relatives were dead.

As with all propaganda, these radio broadcasts were all made in the hope that Australians might be deluded into accepting the expansionist desires of the Japanese.  And as with most propaganda, the target audiences were usually unreceptive.  Australians took heart from the messages, but were advised by their government that all messages should not be accepted at face value. 

Even if the messages Yvonne heard were only partially the works of Australian prisoners of war, her action in transcribing and posting them to the families around Australia was a truly kind and generous act.

Official Records is pleased to announce the acquisition of original nominal roll cards of the 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion into the National Collection. The nominal roll has been catalogued as AWM359 on the RecordSearch database.

Card of Lt-Col John Mitchell DSO*, first CO of the 2/8th Battalion

 

Provenance

Each card presents a record of service for an individual unit member. Their creation during the Second World War appears to have been an initiative of the battalion itself; i.e. they were not required to keep them, nor are they on official forms. Responsibility fell to each of the four company clerks of the battalion to create, manage and safeguard the cards. At the end of the war, the cards were transferred to Secretary of the 2/8th Association. The collection was managed as a membership database of the Association until they ceased activity in 2007.  Later that year the cards were offered to the Memorial.

Content

AWM359 consists of index cards, one for each individual of the battalion, upon which detailed service information is entered. The top section identifies the soldier’s regimental number, name and rank. The middle section (‘Remarks’) records the date and nature of his service. Typically, these consisted of routing, embarkation, battles and operations, injury, evacuation, promotion and home leave. The bottom of the card lists next of kin (relationship and address), date of birth, religion, civil occupation, date of enlistment, date of joining battalion and previous unit or regiment (if applicable).

Men of 2/8th Battalion at Wewak in June 1945

Arrangement

The nominal roll is arranged alphabetically, reflecting the way the cards were used by the association secretary.  They were subdivided as follows:

  • Main roll (Items 1-8)
  • Soldiers as members of the battalion for only a short time (9-10)
  • Officers (11)
  • Members killed in action (12)
  • Members taken prisoner of war (13)

In order to safeguard the handling of the collection, the cards have now been divided into manageable quantities and housed in archival quality containers.

These records form an additional valuable source of information useful to researchers of individual soldiers or those researching the battalion as a whole.  They should be used in conjunction with the official service records held by the National Archives of Australia and the 2/8th unit war diaries held by the Memorial.

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