Life Interrupted: Personal Diaries from WWI

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5 Jul 2014 – 21 Sep 2014 
Exhibition Galleries, State Library of NSW

I saw this wonderful exhibition at the State Library of NSW a few weeks ago.

From 1918 the State Library of NSW began collecting the WWI stories of servicemen doctors, nurses, stretcher-bearers and journalists so that future generations would know about their experiences.

This extract from the exhibition program gives an insight into the Library’s collection:

By 1921 the total number of war diaries in the Library had reached 247, complemented by collections of letters and in some cases photo albums as well. Today the collection stands at around 550 diarists and over 1100 volumes.

A small number of diaries were acquired from the families of men killed abroad but the majority in this collection were purchased from men who made it home, survivors, many of them diarists over two, three or four years.

The diaries take many forms. Some were written on odd sheets of paper or in memo books or signal message books. Others were cloth or leather bound.

The soldiers, airmen, sailors and nurses who kept a diary, knew they had a big story to tell. For some their diary was a way to connect to home. They were writing for an imagined audience, for the family and friends they left behind. The importance of a  ‘conversation’ with home can hardly be overstated. Along with letters and postcards and sometimes photographs, the diaries were the Facebook of their day.

Last but not least, these wartime chroniclers wanted a record of duty done. They wrote of hard times, of battle and death and ruin everywhere. There are lines, hastily scrawled upon the eve of battle, by soldiers who knew this entry might be their last.

These are voices full of life and fun and fear; and resolute purpose. They are voices from the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century, a tragedy that engulfed an age.

Peter Cochrane – July 2014

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Over 500 World War I diaries on display at the Sate Library of NSW.

The exhibition Life Interrupted: Personal Diaries from World War I is beautifully curated by Elise Edmonds. The chronicle of the war is highlighted by the captivating personal accounts of those who enlisted – farmers, doctors, nurses, photographers and artists – and is supported by newspapers, photographs, artworks, maps and ephemera.

Many of the photographs in the exhibition are by Private Henry Charles MARSHALL (1890-1915) who enlisted in Sydney in the same week as my grandfather Ernest Clive BUCK (1895-1974).  My grandfather’s service number was 571 and MARSHALL’s was 577. They were both in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), 1st Infantry Battalion, E Company. They served together throughout training billeted at the racecourse at Kensington. They embarked on HMAT Afric out of Sydney for the Middle East.

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Henry Charles Marshall (1890–1915). Kensington to Cairo and from Cairo to Gallipoli: Album of photographs, 1914–1915. [State Library of NSW PXA 1861]

Henry Charles MARSHALL photographed his journey from the military camp at Kensington in Sydney, to Cairo and then on to Gallipoli. He captured the daily lives of the 1st Battalion setting up camp and pitching their tents at Mena in Egypt near the pyramids.

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Pitching tents in sight of pyramids, Henry Charles Marshall (1890–1915). Kensington to Cairo and from Cairo to Gallipoli: Album of photographs, 1914–1915. [State Library of NSW PXA 1861]

MARSHALL photographed the 1st Battalion rowing towards the enemy shore at Gallipoli on the afternoon of 25 April 1915. He captured candid scenes of his mates from E Company in the trenches and relaxing with mugs of tea during a lull in the fighting.

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Uncaptioned photo of Australian servicemen at Gallipoli, Henry Charles Marshall (1890–1915). Kensington to Cairo and from Cairo to Gallipoli: Album of photographs, 1914–1915. [State Library of NSW PXA 1861]

 On 5 June 1915, both Henry Charles MARSHALL and Ernest Clive BUCK were severely wounded in fighting. Henry received a gun shot wound to the chest and died aboard a hospital ship and was buried at sea. Ernest was shot and bayoneted in the chest. He was evacuated to a hospital ship and then to the base hospital on the island of Malta a fortnight later; and then on to England to recover from his injuries. Ernest was one of the few who survived such severe injuries.

Private MARSHALL’s, films, photos, letters and equipment were sent back to his family in Devonport, Tasmania. His father and sister organised the photos in chronological order and created an album using information in Henry’s note books as a photo index.

I believe the Marshall family offered copies of the photos and albums to the ex-servicemen of the 1st Battalion. My grandfather Ernest had an album, Kensington to Cairo, but not the Cairo to Gallipoli volume. Maybe he did not need photos to remember the horrors of the Gallipoli campaign.

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This is why we wear our hats turned up on the side, Lieut PV Ryan (1881-1950). Sketchbook purchased by the State Library of NSW in 1919.

The exhibition doesn’t only focus on Gallipoli, it gives a voice to all the brave servicemen and women, from the beginning of the war in Ausust 1914, through all the desert campaigns of the Middle East and the muddy trenches of France.

One of the diaries featured in the exhibition is that of Anne DONNELL, a nurse stationed near Ypres, France. On New Year’s Day 1918 she sat on her bed and wept, homesick and exhausted. She had been away from home for three years. Sister Donnell was working in the acute medical ward. Her patients were mainly suffering from gas poisoning and there were lots of pneumonia cases. As she wrote in her diary, she could detect the smell of sickly sweet pineapple in the air – the tell-tale sign of poison gas:

‘10 p.m. Will this restless life never end. As I write the shelling is going on again – heavier too. I am not undressing – It’s a terrible life this’.

The Life Interrupted exhibition at the State Library of NSW is free and runs until 24 September 2014. I recommend you block out a day in your diary to visit the Library, and reflect on the personal accounts of these extraordinary men and women of the global conflict a century ago, which profoundly affected and shaped Australia and its people.

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SOURCES: State Library of NSWKensington to Cairo and from Cairo to Gallipoli: Album of photographs, 1914–1915. Henry Charles MARSHALL [State Library of NSW PXA 1861]; Kensington to Cairo: photo album, 1914–1915. Henry Charles MARSHALL, Buck/Brooks family collection; WWI service records of Henry Charles MARSHALL and Ernest Clive BUCK.

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anzac – lest we forget

Today, 25 April 2013 is the ninety-eighth anniversary of the landing of the allied forces at Gallipoli on the Turkish peninsula in WWI. It is a time for us to reflect on the sacrifice of the men and women who have served in our armed forces and who have fought on foreign soil to ensure our safety and protect our shores.

Private Ernest Clive Buck, 1914

Private Ernest Clive Buck (AIF Service No. 571).

My granddad, Ernest Clive BUCK enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) when he was 19 years and 5 months old, on 22 August 1914  – less than three weeks after the British Commonwealth of nations entered the war. Ernest was posted to the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Brigade.

Ern Buck took part in the Allies landing at Gallipoli, coming ashore with the second and third waves on 25 April 1915 and was wounded in the head by a bullet receiving a slight scalp wound in 21 May 1915. Ern was shot in the abdomen and bayoneted in the chest by the enemy and left for dead during trench fighting about 5 June 1915. Thankfully he was found and evacuated from ANZAC Cove to the military hospital on the island of Malta, then by ship to the base hospital in Manchester UK.

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli in December 1915, the 1st Battalion returned to Egypt. Ern was admitted to hospital in Tel el Kebir at the end of February 1916 when his chest wound became badly infected and he was evacuated by train to Cairo and later to hospital in Mudros. Private E C BUCK returned to Australia on the hospital ship HMAS Kanowna which left Suez 11 May 1916, he suffered from an irritable heart due to wounds received.

You can read more about his service in my post private ernest buck – anzac.

Tom Basil ‘Gunner’ Gascoigne – 1914 was a gunner on the Navy on HMAS Sydney

Thomas Basil ‘Gunner’ GASCOIGNE, AB, of the Royal Australian Navy on HMAS Sydney.

Ern’s future brother-in-law Thomas Basil GASCOIGNE joined the Australian Navy in 1912 at the age of 21. Tom was a gunner on HMAS Sydney and was wounded, losing an eye, in the Sydney’s celebrated victory over the German light cruiser Emden in the Indian Ocean in November 1914, soon after the beginning of WWI.

Tom also claimed to be the first, or among the first, Australian servicemen to set foot on enemy territory. This was immediately after the outbreak of war when a party from HMAS Sydney landed near Rabaul, the capital of the German colony of New Guinea, in order to destroy the radio station there.

When he returned home wounded in March 1915 he was given a hero’s welcome and presented with an illuminated address and a purse of sovereigns by the Wyong town leaders.

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Private Roy Everett GASCOIGNE (AIF Service No. 7731A)

Tom’s younger brother Roy Everett GASCOIGNE joined the army on 13 December 1917, near the end of WWI. He sailed for England in February 1918 and spent several months training there before transferring to the 34th Battalion reinforcements. When the German Army launched its last great offensive in the spring of 1918, the 34th Battalion was part of the force deployed to defend the approach to the city of Amiens around Villers-Bretonneux.

Roy arrived in France in mid-August with the 34th reinforcements to aid in the Allies’ rapid advance, and he fought in the battle of St Quentin Canal – the operation that breached the Hindenburg Line at the end of September, and sealing Germany’s defeat. Roy remained with 34th Battalion until the Armistice on 11 November 1918 and disembarked in Sydney on 19 August 1919.

Roy GASCOIGNE joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1920 and served through the inter-war years at naval base HMAS Cerberas, as well as on board HMAS Marguerite. At the outbreak of WWII Roy served on HMAS Perth – thankfully he was transferred to another post before the ship was torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of Sunda Strait. You can read more about the Gascoigne family in my post the gascoignes of wyong shire.

Harold C VENESS

RSM Harold Charles VENESS (AIF Service No. 3286)

Tom and Roy’s sister Muriel GASCOIGNE married Harold Charles VENESS. Harold was a 2nd Boer War veteran and served as Staff Sergeant Major for nine years training the 5th Australian Light Horse before he enlisted in the AIF on 16 February 1917.

Harold was appointed a Sergeant of the 1st Light Horse Brigade which was raised in response to a promise from the Australian Government to supply a division of 20,000 Australians comprising infantry, artillery and cavalry to be used at the discretion of Britain. The Brigade was recruited exclusively from the various New South Wales militia regiments including the 5th Australian Light Horse.

The 1st Light Horse Brigade reinforcements sailed on HMAT Port Sydney on 9 May 1917 for Suez and the troop bases in Egypt. Harold was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major and trained and led mounted troops in fighting to advance on Turkish outposts on the Palastine frontier. With the fall of Gaza on 7 November 1917 the regiments participated in the advance to Jaffa that followed and the operations to clear and occupy the west bank of the Jordan River. Harold was involved in the battle for Amman in late February 1918, and the raids on Es Salt from 30 April to 4 May, as well as the repulse of a major German and Turkish attack on 14 July 1918.

Harold contracted Malaria while in Africa during the Boer War. He suffered another severe case in mid-September 1918 and spent a month recuperating at the base hospital at Port Said, Egypt before returning to the field in Jordon just after the Turkish surrendered on 30 October 1918. The 1st Light Horse Regiment sailed for Australia in March 1919 without their horses, which were either transferred to Indian cavalry units or shot. Harold was discharged on 24 May 1919.

Halifax harbour on Dec. 6, 1917 shortly after massive explosion leveled much of the city. [Photo: Canadian Press]

Halifax harbour on 6 December 1917 shortly after the massive explosion leveled much of the city. [Photo: Canadian Press]

Richard Lionel PICKERING was a cousin of my grandad Ernest BUCK. Richard was the 2nd Officer on the British merchant SS Curaca. Richard died tragically from shock due to massive injuries sustained in an explosion of ships in Halifax harbour.

The cataclysmic explosion occurred on 6 December, 1917, when the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada was devastated by the detonation of the SS Mont-Blanc, a french cargo ship that was fully loaded with wartime munitions. The Mont-Blanc caught fire and exploded after colliding with the Norwegian SS Imo in a part of Halifax harbour called The Narrows. About 2,000 people were killed by the force of the blast and flying debris, or in fires and collapsing buildings. It is estimated that around 9,000 others were injured.

SS Curaca was docked at Pier 8 loading horses bound for the war in Europe. The force of the blast was so great the ship was blown across the harbour by the tidal wave and sank with the loss of forty-five of its crew. Until the test explosions of the atomic bombs, this was the largest man-made explosion in recorded history.

Donald BUCK RAF

Pilot Officer Donald BUCK (CFA Service No. 79168)

Donald BUCK was born in Catford, Lewisham, England and emigrated to Canada as a young man. Donald joined the cavalry in Edmonton on 16 November, 1914 as a dragoon in the Alberta 19th Horse. He then went to Calgary to join and train with the 31st Battalion.

Donald saw action with the 31st in many battles including St Eloi, Ypres, 1st battle of the Somme, Neuville St Vaast, Passchendaele as well as the battle of Vimy Ridge. The brutal nature of the fighting is shown by the statistics – 941 fatal casualties in the 31st Battalion over the duration of the war (including death of replacements).

A friend in the British Flying Corps told Donald that they would be recruiting for a new air force. Donald joined the Flying Corps as a student pilot late in 1917 and trained in Sopwith Pup, Dolphin and Avro fighter biplanes. On 2 May, 1918 he resigned as a Sergeant of the 31st to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a Pilot Officer where he took further training in an SE5a, a single-seater fighter aircraft. He saw action in France and at the end of the war was flying close air support out of a field in Belgium.

After the war Donald stayed on as part of the Ruhr occupation force and flew out of a field near Cologne. He was very lucky to survive so much action with only relatively minor wounds to his neck and back. He was exposed to gas whilst in the cavalry, but was not hospitalised for it. Donald was demobbed on 4 December 1920.

Harold BUCK

Sergeant Harold Lambert BUCK, MM & Bar (CFA Service No. 86016)

Donald’s younger brother Harold Lambert BUCK was a Canadian National who enlisted on 8 December 1914 in Winnepeg. He was 21 years old and was assigned the rank of Corporal with the 2nd Divisional Signal Company, Canadian Engineers.

Harold quickly proved himself to be a brave and trusted soldier in battle and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant of the Signal Section of 5th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery (CFA).

The Canadian Corps participated in many battles and engagements against German forces throughout France and Flanders between 1915–1918. The 5th Brigade made a name for itself in the battle of Vimy Ridge which began at dawn on 9 April 1917. All four divisions of the Canadian Corps were ordered to seize the heavily-fortified seven kilometre ridge above the Douai Plain in France. The ridge was held by the German 6th Army and had a commanding view over the Allied lines.

To capture this difficult position, the Canadians carefully planned and rehearsed their attack. To provide greater flexibility and firepower in battle, the infantry were given specialist roles as machine-gunners, rifle-men and grenade-throwers. Soldiers underwent weeks of training behind the lines using models to represent the battlefield, and new maps crafted from aerial photographs to guide their way. Engineers dug deep tunnels from the rear to the front, in order to bring the men forward in safety for the assault.

Historians attribute the success of the Canadian victory in capturing the ridge to a mixture of technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training. The Canadians earned a reputation as formidable, effective troops because of this victory. Harold won the first of his two Military Medals (MM) for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire during the four days it took to capture Vimy Ridge.

Harold died in Arras, France on 21 September 1918 during military operations near Marquion, when he was hit in the chest by a fragment of bursting shell and seriously wounded. He was attended by a medic in the field and evacuated to a casualty clearing station where he died. Harold was buried at Duisans Military Cemetery, Etrun, France, he was 24 years old.

The following is an extract from a letter to Harold’s mother from his commanding officer, dated 5 October, 1918:

Your son was a very fine chap and was one of my most valuable and trusted men. He was an exceptionally brave man and one whom no danger stopped him from doing his duty. I had recommended him for a commission and he was about to receive it. His loss is indeed a grief to me for many reasons, being one of my original men, I had got to know him personally and truly loved him for his own sake.

Sergeant Harold BUCK was the recipient of the Military Medal as well as a silver, laurelled Bar for subsequent acts of bravery and devotion under fire.

Marry Maxwell Clark's casualty record.

Private Harry Maxwell Clark’s casualty record. (AIF Service No. 1002)

Donald and Harold’s cousin Harry Maxwell CLARK was born in London, England but enlisted on 26 August 1914 in Sydney, Australia – just three weeks after Britain declared war on Germany. Harry was 38 years old when he landed at Gallipoli with the 2nd Battalion AIF as part of the second and third waves between 25 April and 2 May in what is known as the Battle of the Landing. Harry was reported wounded and missing in action on 2 May 1915 during heavy fighting to gain Quinn’s Post. His body was never found and he was finally pronounced killed in action by a Court of Inquiry ten months later. Harry is remembered with honour on the Lone Pine Memorial at Anzac Cove at Gallipoli.

The traditional recitation of the Ode on Anzac Day is taken from the fourth stanza of the poem For the fallen by Laurence Binyon (1869–1943).

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

In Flanders fields, by the Canadian officer Lieutenant Colonel J.M. McCrae (1872–1918), is another popular recitation. McCrae was a professor of medicine at McGill University before the war. He served as medical officer with the first Canadian contingent in WWI and wrote this poem at the second battle of Ypres in 1915. It was published anonymously in Punch. McCrae was wounded in May 1918 and died three days later.

Lest we forget.

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Sources: Australian War Memorial; Commonwealth War Graves Commission; National Archives of Australia; Nova Scotia Archives – Halifax Remembrance Book; The Regimental Rogue – Canadian battle honours; and thank you Geoffrey BUCK for providing his research on his father Donald and his uncle Harold.

private ernest buck – anzac

Ernest Clive BUCK enlisted in the army on 22 August 1914 when he was 19 years and 5 months old. He was indentured as a carpenter’s apprentice at G & T Hastings, Kogarah after he finished his schooling at age 14. Ern had served in the regional cadets for 2 years and at the time of enlistment had served 1 year with the 34th Infantry reserves.

Private Ernest Clive Buck, 1914

Private E C BUCK (Service No. 571) was posted to the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force (AIF). The battalion was raised within a fortnight of the declaration of war on 4 August 1914. The troops were bivouaced for basic training at Randwick Racecourse, Kensington, Sydney. The soldiers marched from Kensington to Circular Quay just two months later and embarked on “HMAT Afric”. After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Cairo, Egypt, arriving on 2 December where they undertook further training and served in a static defence role around the Suez Canal.

1st Battalion, 1st Infantry, 1st AIF, route marching near the Pyramids. Photos by Henry Charles Marshall (1890–1915). Kensington to Cairo: Album of photographs, 1914–1915.

Ern Buck took part in the Allies landing at Gallipoli, coming ashore with the second and third waves on 25 April 1915. In the days and weeks after the landing men fought a hundred fights – attack and counter attack followed in wearying succession, trench to trench, the fighting was hand to hand, bayonet and bomb and man to man.

Ern was wounded in the head by a bullet receiving a slight scalp wound in 21 May 1915. He was shot in the abdomen and bayoneted in the chest by the enemy and left for dead during trench fighting about 5 June 1915. Thankfully he was found and evacuated from ANZAC Cove to the military hospital on the island of Malta, then by ship to the base hospital in Manchester UK.

Pte Ernest Clive BUCK (second from right) in hospital in England, between July and Dec 1915

Much later, when Ern spoke to his son Mick of his brush with death, he said he felt no
ill-feeling for the Turks. He remembered the Turkish soldier who shot him was as young as himself and he clearly saw the fear and shock in the man’s eyes during the attack.

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli in December 1915, the 1st Battalion returned to Egypt. Ern rejoined his unit at Tel el Kabir, Egypt at the beginning of February 1916. Tel el Kebir was a training centre for the 1st AIF reinforcements, the site of No 2 Australian Stationary Hospital and also of a large POW camp. Around 40,000 Australians camped in a small tent city at Tel el Kebir. A military railway was constructed to take troops from the camp at Tel el Kebir to Battalion HQ at Serapeum, Alexandria, and the Suez Canal for embarkation to other theatres of war.

The Australian camp on the Suez Canal

Ern was admitted to hospital in Tel el Kebir at the end of February 1916. His chest wound became badly infected and he was evacuated by train to Cairo and later to hospital in Mudros on the small Greek port on the Mediterranean island of Lemnos.

In March 1916, his battalion sailed for France and the Western Front. From then until 1918 the battalion took part in operations against the German Army, principally in the Somme Valley in France and around Ypres in Belgium. 1st Battalion casualties are recorded as 1165 killed, 2363 wounded (including gassed).

Private E C BUCK returned to Australia on the hospital ship “HMAS Kanowna” which left Suez 11 May 1916, he suffered from an irritable heart due to wounds received.

The colour patch for 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry, AIF, worn on each sleeve with a brass letter ‘A’ which denoted service in the Gallipoli campaign.

At 11am on 11 November, 1918, the guns fell silent. The November armistice was followed by the peace treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919. The “war to end all wars” was over.

Private Ernest Clive BUCK received the 1914/5 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.