Friday, 13 June 2014

Practice War No More

I come to this war memorial, the Australian War Memorial at the base of Mount Ainslie in Canberra, when it is quiet.  

Along the walls of remembrance, red poppies are placed in honor of the dead.

A little while back, I noticed a flock of Sacred Ibis feeding in the late afternoons near the memorial and this week I found them in front of the building.

My grandfathers were very unlike.  One, of Irish decent, was as poor as a sparrow.  The other was from a wealthy pastoral family. They shared the same first name and service in the first world war.  Further, after the war, neither man would talk about it. 

A long time ago, at his sheep farm in the outback, Victor Bootle paused to briefly consider a line of toy soldiers I had inexpertly arranged on the dining table.  After quickly rearranging the pieces, he paused.  He caught my eyes in a steely grip and said gruffly “Don’t practice war”.

Victor Roseberry Gladstone Bootle

In 1917 Victor was living near Dubbo, with his parents at their property “Moonara” at Rawsonville.  He was a member of the Church of England and trained as a farmer.

On 4/12/1917 Victor Bootle joined the army and was drafted into the Veterinary Corps of the Australian Imperial Force (Reg 1292).  After initial veterinary training, he left Sydney on the Port Darwin on 30/4/1918 for Egypt.  Before embarkation, he received 5s. per day.  After embarkation he received 7s. per day and opted to have an additional 3s. per day paid home in Australia.  In addition, the Government allowed 1s. per day payable at the completion of service.

On 4/7/1918 he was at Moascar in the Palestine (HQ and training camp) where he was drafted into the newly formed 10th Mobile Veterinary Corps.  On 12/7/1918 the troop moved to Surafend and on 23/7/1918 they started to treat cases.  By 31/8/1918 they had treated 150 animals of which 13 had died.  On 17/8/1918 they received orders to move to the front with the Light Horse Brigade. From that time on until the end of the war the troop travelled to all the major hot spots on the advancing line.  On 18/8/1918 they had reached the Agricultural College on the Jaffa Road.  At 6:00pm they left for Mulebbis and they dismounted on arrival at 11:30pm.  By this stage they were at the front line and under continuous fire. On 19/8/1918 the Corps advanced across the Auja River and then to Tul Keram (reached at 1am on 20/9/1918).  On 21/9/1918 they set up base at Kakon and started to take casualties from the action at Ras-el-am.  On 27/9/1918 at 6:15am they left Kaken and at 4:00pm they dismounted at El Lejjun.  The following day the Corps arrived at 9:00am at El Afule.  At 10:50am on 30/9/1918 they left for Beison arriving at 4:30pm.  October 1918 must have been the most exhausting and telling month as the Brigades finally broke opposing lines and advanced to Damascus.  During this stage the commanding officer and a number of men were injured.  The War diary for that month is missing for the 10th AVC - probably being lost when the commanding officer was wounded.  On 2/11/1918 the Corps had advanced to Homms and at 27/11/1918 they were at Baalbek.  

With the declaration of peace, the Corps attained greater independence of movement.  It undertook a census during January 1919 around Damascus, travelling to Rayak, Muallaka and Stora.  In early February 1919 the Corps got a taste of the cold Syrian weather when it was snowed in.  On 6/2/1919 the DUS inspected and addressed the Corps in laudatory terms commending its work at the front.  On 20/2/1919 the most hated order of the war was given - for the Corps to destroy all the remaining Light Horse mounts in Syria.  The Corps reluctantly carried out this order but managed to negotiate many of the horses to safety  (a Board of Enquiry was convened to examine this matter). 

On 1 March 1919 the Corps regrouped at Baalbek.  On 3/3/1919 they travelled to Sard Nail, moving on to Ain Sofa on 4/3/1919  and on 6/3/1919 they arrived at Beirut.  On 7/3/1919 the official photographer photographed the Corps at Beruit.  On 25/3/1919 they were at Port Said and on 27/3/1919 they returned to Moascar.  From 20/4/1919-30/4/1919 they were in the United Kingdom on leave.  In May, back at Moascar, they were inoculated against cholera.  Victor returned home on 26/7/1919 having been promoted to a Sergeant.

Victor Raymond Martin Quinton

Victor Quinton was born in the Coonabarabran district in 1896.   His father, Francis, died when he was 13 years old.  In 1915, at age 19, he had left home and was working as a labourer in Gilgandra.  He was single, living in Miller St, Gilgandra and was Roman Catholic. 

On 9/10/1915 he joined the army (his Regtl. Number was 4880).  The next day he left Gilgandra as one of the original members of the Coo-ee recruiting march from Gilgandra to Sydney arriving 12/11/1915.  The small band of recruits marched this distance by foot, stopping at towns and farms, the group growing as young men enlisted.  Very few were to return.

He undertook training at Liverpool Camp before embarking for Egypt on the Star of England on 8/3/1916.  Before embarkation, he received 5s. per day.  After embarkation he received 6s. per day and opted to have an additional 4s. per day paid home in Australia.  In addition, the Government allowed 1s. per day payable at the completion of service.

Victor was placed as a private in the 15th reinforcements to the 13th Infantry Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force. He was not a model soldier - his record is dotted with petty transgressions - most associated with going off for a quiet drink.  For these, he was occasionally reprimanded and his pay docked.

The 13th Battalion had just withdrawn from the catastrophic campaign in Gallipoli.  In Egypt some of the Coo-ee marchers opted to join the 45th Infantry Battalion (which had recently been formed by dividing the 13th). The 13th and the 45th went on to fight in some of the bloodiest trench fighting in France and Flanders.  In 1916 they took part in the Battle of the Somme and experienced hard fighting in the battles of Pozieres, Mouquet Farm and Stormy Trench.  In 1917, the 13th participated in the Battle of Arras, the desperate 1st attack on Bullecourt on 11/4/1917, the offensive at Messines and the Battle of Ypres at Polygon Wood.  In 1918, the German offensive brought the line back to the Somme.  Stubborn defence of the Hebuterne in March and April stemmed the tide.  The 13th captured Hamel on 4/7/1918 and then participated in the Victory Battle of Amiens on 8/8/1918 and the battles of the Hindenburg Line.

Early in the campaign, Victor's group came under artillery attack.  Seriously wounded and shell-shocked, he was lost in no man’s land for three days, and reported dead.  He was finally discovered and hospitalised.  He was unable to return to the front and was placed in the Supply Corps, based in London.   

He returned to Australia in 1919, in poor health, never to completely recover from his wounds.  I remember his gaunt face, bent and twisted, with a far away stare.

Peter Quinton
June 2014

No comments: