This blog is a companion to the Database of Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington

Friday, January 27, 2012

Christmas billies UPDATE

Alexandra Club Christmas billy, possibly at Gallipoli. The Alexandra Club had a program to provide  billies to interested citizens to fill with gifts for soldiers at Gallipoli. According to an article in The Argus newspaper on 22 September 1915, 20 000 billies had been distributed up to that date.  Australian War Memorial Collection

The Essendon Gazette published letters of thanks soldiers sent to local people:

"Mrs. Tankard, 44 The Parade, Ascot Vale, received the following:--   A note to thank you for the billy can and the many useful things which it contained. I am afraid your billy can should have gone to someone else, because on your postcard you, wrote   "Dear Hero." I don't think I am quite a hero yet. It is not three months since I left Australia, and I have never been to Gallipoli, or fought for my country elsewhere. I am simply a common private who is waiting his turn. However, I think there was no short age of billy cans. So as the real hero did not go without, perhaps I have not done much harm. I was surprised to find that so many useful things could be put into one small billy. I tried to put them all in again after I had emptied them out. I found I hadn't enough billy cans. One thing that I found in my can will be a source of pleasure to me these evenings. That is the insect powder. I did not forget to give my tame fleas a merry Xmas, I can assure you. PRIVATE H. O GREGORY."

CHRISTMAS BILLIES. (1916, March 16). The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter (Moonee Ponds, Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 4

 A group of soldiers at Lemnos with their Christmas billies.  They are wearing the lids on their heads.
From the Australian War Memorial Collection.

UPDATE:   Pte Leslie Morgan of Essendon listed the items in his Christmas billy in a letter to his parents:

"There I got a billy, packed and sent by Mrs. Weir, of Deniliquin, N.S.W. It contained - Cake of nut milk chocolate, butter scotch, lead pencil, pad and envelopes, mouth organ, safety pins, pair socks, wash towel, bootlaces, tin sardines, cherrywood pipe, tin tobacco, handkerchief, tube of soup tablets. Not bad, was it?"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ottoman War medal

This Ottoman War medal was awarded for bravery or merit in action from 1915.  Ern Warry brought this home from Egypt.  They were often taken from Turkish prisoners or dead bodies for souvenirs.  It is not known how Ern came by this souvenir.  Courtesy of Jenny Coates.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Commemorative scroll for Arthur Hill

This scroll accompanied a memorial plaque, sent to Arthur's father Thomas Hill.  Arthur had enlisted as a sixteen year old, and was killed in France four months short of his 17th birthday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stretcher bearer rescues own brother

Stretcher bearers placing a patient on a stretcher near Ypres, 1918.  AWM Collection

"Mr. J. Markham, Bacchus Marsh, has just been informed that his brother, Andrew, who was previously reported missing, and later on a Prisoner of War, was killed in Action on 11th April last. The detail supplied by the Red Cross Bureau show that the lost soldier was wounded, and rescued by his own brother (Corporal. Steven A. Markham, who was a stretcher bearer) and placed in safety in a dug-out, which was afterwards retaken by the Germans, and it is here that the confusion arose about him being a Prisoner of War. Corporal S. A. Markham (the stretcher bearer previously referred to) won the Military Medal at Gallipoli, and the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Bullecourt, for his exceptional bravery in recovering wounded men; but his brilliant career was brought to an end at the battle of Messines. Letters recently received from his superior officers speak in the very highest terms of praise of his conduct and general regret at his death. Two other brothers of this family are still in the ranks".
THE EMPIRE'S CALL. (1917, December 1). The Bacchus Marsh Express (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from

Details of the three Markham brothers who served in the AIF can be found here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Cab, cab, right into Brunswick!"

 Men of 11 Platoon, C Company, 21st Battalion, AIF, moving a 
collapsible boat away from the torpedoed Southland

How the "Anzacs" Saw It.

Late, in August a fresh draft of troops left camp at Heliopolis en route for the front. As they passed the Luna Park hospital they greeted their wounded comrades with rounds of cheers. One man swathed in bandages leaned from a window and called   out, "Are you mugs off at last?" The reply went back, "Yes, we are going to dish the Turks who gave yon blokes a hiding." "Are you downhearted?" yelled the man from the window. The warriors to be were taken in completely. "No," they cried in chorus. The bandaged man grinned with triumph.  At the top of his voice he shouted, "Well, you soon will be." Anzac humour is ironic and poignant, but purely Australian.   

It was men from that same brigade who had good reason to be downhearted a few days later. They were aboard the torpedoed transport Southland. This is how they showed it. When the rescuing ships arrived they found men facing death to the strains of "Tipperary" and ''Australia will be There." One boat party at least was thinking of home. The cries from old Broadmeadows were not forgotten. They were shouting "Cab, cab, right into Brunswick, right into Brunswick," and " 'ot pie or a pastie."

Having transhipped to a light, fast vessel the men of one unit left Mudros a few evenings later for the front. A submarine guard was posted around the vessel to the extreme disgust of the unfortunate few. One man took mild vengeance. Waiting until a certain nervous subaltern was behind him he raised his rifle and took meticulous aim apparently at some object in the water. The officer became excited, and anxiously asked the man what he was aiming at. The reproachful look he gave the man when he learned that it was only a piece of seaweed spoke volumes.

The battalion landed that night, and the next day saw a fatigue party going to the beach for stores. An observer on Gaba Tepe saw them, and Beachy Bill opened out with shrapnel. This was their first taste of shell fire. The strategic retreat back to the shelter of a communication trench was one of the quickest movements seen on the peninsula. One man who was noted for his "good oil" about racehorses shook his head sorrowfully at the sky where the shells were bursting! "This is no place for a parson's son," he declared solemnly. "They'll miss me in   the old home," he ruminated a little later. They'll see me name on the roll of honour, and be sorry they ever cut me off."

It was a hot, broiling day when the battalion wound its way wearily up Bridges road, to the head of the gully, each man was in full marching order - 200 rounds of ammunition, four days' rations, and firewood. How each man longed for the time when he could strip himself of impeding habiliments and stand half naked in the sun like the grinning veterans from the landing standing by. A well-preserved new arrival raised the first laugh. "How far to the next pub?" he asked plaintively as the perspiration rolled down his face. A brown, bearded boy answered him, "Yer'll get a ration of rum before yer go out on a charge, cobber."

It was General McCay who said that the keenest soldier possible was the Australia during his first week at Anzac. He will watch like a hawk, and snipe continuously. All fatigue work is done by eager volunteers. Then he becomes at home in the trenches, and is a little wily. Men need to   be detailed. One night a new arrival was observing from his post when he heard a rattling among the empty bully beef tins just in front of the sandbags. Crack, bang, crack went his rifle as he emptied his magazine into the spot, and the tins strewn in front rattled like castanets. Then there was silence. "Yell out Allah, yer cow," he cried as he let loose another fusillade. Patrolling officers rushed to the spot, and being unable to see anything warned the man against hallucinations. A careful scrutiny next morning, however, revealed the body of the midnight marauder. There was a mutilated rat 6ft. in front of the parapet.

The schemes to lighten work were many. Carrying ammunition up to the firing line was a job which would make, a coal lumper grunt. There were thousands of rounds   of captured Turkish ammunition, and several Turkish rifles about the trenches. These were quickly commandeered, and made to serve a double purpose. They saved the  olders the need of going down the gully for cartridges, and enabled them to keep their own rifles clean. Owing to the  broken hours of duty sleep was naturally not hard to woo. During the bombardments men hiding in dug-outs and saps waited anxiously to see the destructive effect of the shells on the trenches. It was they who had to do the rebuilding. While a heavy bombardment was on one day a shell was heard to burst with a roar in the trenches.  Sitting at the mouth of a sap one man was heard to say sorrowfully to himself, "There goes my bit of shut-eye."

THE LIGHTER SIDE. (1916, January 19). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 7.