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Centenary of the Great War

HELL FOR MEN AND HORSES: The reality of the Western Front, a sea of mud. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan MahonyNewcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for February 26 –March 4, 1917.

MEN WELL CARED FORMr Thomas Grant, of Awaba, has received a letter from his son, Second-lieutenant John Grant, who left as a sergeant with one of the battalions recruited in the Newcastle district and received his promotion in France. Lieutenant Grant, in the course of his letter, bears testimony to the excellent way in which the troops at the front are treated. He says: “We are being treated fine. It would be a revelation to people who draw pitiful pictures of bad food, etc., to see how we get treated under very adverse conditions. You can take it from me, there is very little cause to grumble. We have warm gloves and vests issued to us, and great rubber boots coming to the thigh for use in the trenches. Every possible care is taken of the men, and during the night watches in the trenches, we get hot soup and tea at intervals; in fact, everything is done to make our lot as comfortable as possible. I was never physically so well as I am at present, the keen bracing air makes you feel fit for anything.

BURIED IN THE MUDPrivate Reuben Frith, writing to his father Mr. Thomas Frith, of Wickham, from the Nethercourt Hospital, England, says: “You will get a shock to learn that I am in the hospital. I was a fortnight in the hospital in France, then they sent me on to England. It is a bit better in England. I am afraid I will lose half my right foot, and a couple of toes off the left foot. I have got trench and frostbitten feet. They are very painful. I can’t sleep at night for the pain. We were in the trenches four days. The trenches are nothing but mud and water, and I was glad when we came out. How I got back to where we camped I don’t know. We had six miles to walk. I had to crawl about half a mile in the mud. I will never forget it. I was covered with mud. Tell mother not to worry. I suppose when I get right they will send me home. The nurses are very good to us. With four other fellows I was on a bombing outpost and it was connected with the German lines, and we could see the Germans working. Our place was full of mud and water, and we set to to clear it up. We made it nice and dry, when the artillery blew it in. Two of us got buried in the mud, but none got hurt. We had to get out while the bombardment lasted and then go back and clean up again. Our bombs were scattered all over the place. We were only about 35 yards off the Germans. I will never forget it. Shells were falling all around us. You would think it impossible for anyone to live there, but for every shell he sent over we sent 10, so they got it pretty hot.”

IN SNOW AND MUDMajor Street, writing to his wife on December 31, describes graphically the severity of the conditions from mud and cold experienced by the men. He says: “We have had a fair amount of snow lately. Every night the temperature is below freezing point, and you can imagine what it is like to be out in that every night without shelter. The men’s feet naturally get very bad as a result of the cold, and unless we can keep them supplied with plenty of dry socks, and get them to rub their feet with whale oil or frost-bite grease, grave troubles arise, which may result in men losing their feet. The first time we went into the line down here we went in in front of the town of __. The approach to it was fairly good for a little way, but after that it was simply atrocious. Horrible, slimy mud, which in places got so sticky that we had to pull one another out. It was useless to try to get out by yourself, as the more you struggled the bigger fix you got into. Several times I saw men being dug out. The consequence was that when you got to the front line you were so exhausted that it was next to impossible to do anything but fall down in the mud, and sit there until you got some breath. All this time you were being shelled practically without a minute’s pause. We were in this sort of thing for four days and nights. Nothing hot could be got, so you can imagine what it was like. The men were badly off for socks, and naturally had wet feet the whole time. Some of them got very tender feet, and others got neuralgia and several other complaints. After doing about 14 days in the area we thought it would be our last flutter, and that we would be sent back to another part of the line further north. Our hopes were rudely shaken, and we were sent out for a rest. We left in motor busses for our rest billets, and stayed there for 10 days. We got the men pretty fit again, and had to return, but this time we went into a different part of the line. It was fortunately a little better piece of line, but nevertheless we had quite a lot of men with bad feet, who had to be sent to hospital. We came out of the line after doing six days and nights, and the men were badly knocked up. They had a couple of days’ rest, got a bit brighter, and then we had to move up again. This time we were more fortunate, for we had received packages from Newcastle with socks, shirts, etc., which we issued to the men, and with what we had issued, each man had at least two pairs, and many three. It was a god-send to have got those goods from you hard-working people at home, and the men appreciate very much the work you are doing. Quite a lot of the socks had notes in them, and I am quite sure the men will answer them. If they don’t the donors should not be down-hearted, or think the men ungrateful, because they are not; it will only be the conditions they are labouring under that will prevent them answering these notes. As a result of the socks we did not have a man with bad feet that trip, and I hope the donors will realise what that means to us.”

WITH NEWCASTLE’S OWNPrivate James Inman, of “Newcastle’s Own” Battalion, writing from France on December 30th, to Mr. A.A. Stirling, of Kenrick-street, Junction, said the battalion had then been in France nearly six weeks. “We had a good trip across the Channel,” he continues. “On arrival at the French port we disembarked and marched off to a rest camp. On the following day we left at about four o’clock for the front, arriving at the railhead about two days after. It was the toughest ride I have ever had. It was night time when he got there. Then we were on the march again for seven hours, arriving at our temporary billets about 6 a.m. After resting there for two days we all left in motors for the trenches, 15 miles away. On getting into the trenches the majority seemed to be quite at home, which is more than the other regiments of the Division have been. Part of our third line trench is made on three sides of a burial ground. Most of the headstones were broken by shell lire. We have been in the firing line twice. Our front has been very quiet as regards a scrap, but nearly every second or third day there is a heavy bombardment on both sides. It is nice to see Fritz’s sandbags and parapets going sky high. We have lost a few killed and wounded both times we have been in the front line.” Private Inman refers to the death of Sergeant-major Hillier, and adds, “I was sorry to hear of the death of Bill, as he was such a nice chap.”

35TH BATTALIONThis week the Comforts Fund of the 35th Battalion (Newcastle’s Own) sent away to the front, through Messrs Scott’s Ltd, 10 cases of flannel and knitted goods, games and sports materials, and private parcels, and through Messrs H. and O. Wills 10 cases of smokes, comprising 30,000 cigarettes and 1000 tins of tobacco, making in all 20 cases. A space in the industrial pavilion at the Newcastle Show Ground has been allotted to the 35th Battalion for the display of goods made at the depot.

YOUNG WALLSENDMr Ridley, father of Private William Ridley, who was killed in action in France on December 2nd last, has received a letter from Private H. L. Raine, a member of the company to which the late Private Ridley belonged, who says: “Our company were holding the line when the Germans opened up a severe bombardment, during which your son was hit. He was killed outright, and suffered no pain whatever. Along with others, I assisted to bury him. A better mate I could not wish to find. A favourite with every man in his section, and was thought a lot of by his platoon officer for his cheerfulness under all circumstances. All that I could say to soften the cruel blow to you is that your son died game, a good n soldier. With my sympathy in your sorrow.” The letter was addressed to Mrs Ridley, but before it came to hand she too had died, her death occurring on the 18th December.

ENLISTMENTSFrederick James Barry, Hamilton; Frederick Bell, Newcastle; Alexander Weir Brown, Aberdeen; James Brown, Aberdeen; George Edward Chapman, Merewether; Herbert Alfred Davies, Merewether; William Charles Dick, Hamilton; John Joseph Dunlop, Kurri Kurri; Thomas Dunn, Newcastle; James Edward Ferguson, Bolwarra; Clifton Fitton, Mayfield; John George Graham, Hamilton West; William John Hall, Fassifern; Edward Thomas Harnett, Merewether; John Joseph Harnett, Merewether; William Henry Harris, Cooks Hill; John Joseph Heaton, Dora Creek; Thomas John Hickey, Adamstown; William Rayden Hicks, Woodville; Guy Reginald McClintock, Morisset; William Thrift McDonald, West Maitland; William McMillan, Awaba; Thomas Percival O’Connell, Islington; William Arthur Outrim, Bulahdelah; Jonathan Payne, Cooks Hill; John Phillips, Muswellbrook; Alexander Clyde Rae, Hamilton; Lyle Ripley, Hexham; George Augustus Smith, Merewether; Hunter Lawrence Smith, Wallsend; John Stanton, Merewether; Ernest Joseph Tracy, Merewether; George Turner, Cessnock; Thomas Llewellyn Williams, Newcastle.

DEATHSPte John Anderson, Cessnock; Pte Archibald Arbuckle, Cessnock; Pte William Henry Brown, Maitland; L/Cpl Arthur Byrnes, Gloucester; Pte Alfred James Cowie, Singleton; Pte Herbert William Everett, Barrington; L/Cpl George Graham, Kurri Kurri; Pte William Percy Hungerford, Morisset; Pte Julius Illfield, Vacy; Pte Thomas Jackson, Cessnock; Pte John Kinnaird, Stockton; Pte Wilfred James Leake, Gresford; L/Cpl Reginald Francis McGregor, Broke; L/Cpl William Arthur Richards, Islington; Pte Kenneth Maitland Skinner, West Maitland; Pte Edmond Young Edgar Slater, Tighes Hill; Spr Charles Smart, Abermain; Pte William Edward Witt, Limeburners Creek; Pte Frederick Wray, East Maitland.

David Dial OAM is a Hunter-based military historian. Follow David’s research at facebook苏州夜网/HunterValleyMilitaryHistory

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