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Sun 26 Apr 2015

in focus

Issue 8

In this issue, we stay with the Australia theme but return to the UK, to Sutton Veny in Wiltshire. In the churchyard are the war graves of 141 Australian soldiers and 2 Australian nurses. Wiltshire Online Parish Clerk and One-Placer Cathy Sedgwick has been researching their stories and tells us how Sutton Veny marks Anzac Day each year …

Camps established

Sutton Veny's position close to the garrison town of Warminster and the training grounds of Salisbury Plain made the village and surrounding area an ideal place to base First World War soldiers before their deployment to the Western Front.

In total ten camps were established, housing more than 10,000 troops belonging to the Australian 26th and 34th Divisions, who'd been sent to fight alongside British forces. The 26th Division was concentrated at Sutton Veny in April 1915.

Sutton Veny also became home to No. 1 Australian Command from December 1916 to October 1919.

The combined camps of Sutton Veny and Codford just a few miles away were considered to be one of the major Australian bases in the UK.

Soldiers left their mark on the landscape by cutting the outline of the Australian Imperial Force cap badge into the chalk of nearby Lamb Hill in 1917.

The photograph above of the cap badge was taken in 2013.


Soldiers relaxing at Greenhill House YMCA

Military hospitals

There was a hutted Military Hospital with more than 1,200 beds at Sutton Veny for much of the First World War treating casualties returning from the front.

After the war ended, the No.1 Australian General Hospital relocated to Sutton Veny from Rouen in France on 15 January 1919, bringing its signboard (pictured below) with it.


Above - ‘B’ ward patients and nurses relaxing

Below - patients and nurse in ‘B’ ward

Research

For over five months, Cathy Sedgwick has been hard at work researching the 143 Australian men and women laid to rest at Sutton Veny.

Pictured right is a document Cathy has published that shows in tabular format all of the 141 Australian soldiers laid to rest at Sutton Veny, showing their rank, service number, which battalion or unit they last served with, the date, place and cause of death, their age and grave reference.

There is a similar document for the two nurses laid to rest there.

Cathy has also published biographies for the soldiers and nurses (see later).

Causes of death

Over half of the 143 deaths occurred in 1918 and over a third were in 1919.

A visitor information panel (see below) installed in St. John’s churchyard in 2014 by the Commonwealth war Graves Commission includes this text:

“Most of the Australians laid to rest in Sutton Veny, more than 100 men and women, were victims of the influenza pandemic which reached Britain in late 1918.”

Although influenza AND pneumonia contributed to 52 deaths (36%), pneumonia contributed to a total of 96 deaths (67%).

Of the 52 influenza deaths, 27 (52%) occurred in October 1918, 14 (27%) in November 1918, and the other 11 (21%) were spread over the following four months.

Four deaths were due to accidents, three of them motor accidents.

Two soldiers died of self-inflicted wounds and one soldier, Private Joseph Harold Durkin, was murdered (see later).

War graves

The photos below show the growing number of Australian burials. The bottom photo shows the original grave marker for Private James Podmore, one of the soldiers who died of influenza and pneumonia.

Prime Minister address


THE MILDEST TERMS

London, July 9

The Commonwealth Prime Minister (Mr Hughes), in an address to Australian troops at the Sutton Veny Camp yesterday, while on his way to Plymouth to embark for Australia, made reference to the peace terms which Germany was shortly to ratify. He said:-

The terms constitute, not a “peace of justice,”as Germany clamoured for. They are more than that; they are a peace of mercy. Some people say that the Allies’ terms are severe; but I declare to you my opinion, that severe as they are, considering all the circumstances of the case, they are the mildest that were ever imposed on a conquered nation.

Mr Hughes embarked on the steamer Friedricharuhe. In a farewell message to the people of Great Britain, he thanked them for their hospitality to the Australian soldiers, whom they had treated as their own sons; and said that the Commonwealth would never forget the kindness they had manifested.

(Observer, Adelaide, South Australia,

 Saturday 12 July 1919)

Sisters and staff of the 1st Australian General Hospital (1AGH) share a joke with Prime Minister William Morris Hughes, 8 July 1919

Standing on his left is Matron Ethel Gray, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS).

The original caption reads `Our "Billy" with Sisters of 1st AGH SV 8/7/19'


Soon be home


AUSTRALIANS HOMEWARD

Last Leaves in October

London, Saturday

The Australian military depots in England are being closed, except that at Sutton-Veny, which will be the final assembly base. There are 1500 Australians still in France on duty, 1400 of whom are engaged in re-burials and building up the Australian cemeteries in the neighbourhood of Villers Bretonneux. Others are transporting material and memorials from Pozieres, Polygon Wood, Villers Brettoneux, Mont St. Quentin and Bullecourt. It is expected that the last Australian will leave France on August 30, and the last will leave England at the end of October. The departures homewards totalled 522 daily between December and July, the full record of departures being 200,000 to June, while 6000 wives and families of soldiers will sail within the next few weeks.

(Sunday Times, Perth, Western Australia,

Sunday 3 August 1919)


A.I.F. SICK

BRITAIN PRACTICALLY CLEAR

A small clearing station will replace Sutton Veny Hospital, which will close down on September 22. Bulford  Special Hospital will remain open for a few weeks, when the War Office will take over the general treatment of Australians.

General Howse’s command after September will be reduced to 30 doctors, nine nurses and four dentists.

General Howse and Miss Conyers (matron-in-chief) will leave for home by the Orvieto on October 17.

Practically no Australian sick now remain in England except mental cases, who will be repatriated in specially-fitted ships at the end of October.

(Advocate, Burnie, Tasmania,

 Tuesday 23 September 1919)

Every year, the people of Sutton Veny remember the Australian soldiers and nurses that are laid to rest in their churchyard.

The tradition of schoolchildren placing flowers on each grave started in 1920 as the letter (below), sent to each family of the deceased. And the newspaper report (below) confirms.



May, 1920.

Dear Friend

You will be pleased to know that on Anzac Day, 1920, the graves of the 144 Australian Soldiers buried at Sutton Veny, Wilts., were specially visited, and that on each was placed floral tributes, to which was attached a copy of the enclosed Memorial Card.

Throughout the United Kingdom, as in 1918 and 1919, great interest was taken in the Pilgrimage, and those who co-operated with me regarded it as a privilege to remember in this way the memory of the brave lads who gave their lives that we might live. At Sutton Veny, the Rector (Rev. Arthur Sewell), in his letter to me writes:

“For Anzac Day I arranged that the school children decorated all the Australian graves in our Churchyard with flowers and left a Memorial Card on each.

This was done. And in our Service special prayers were offered for all those whose bodies lie interred in our God’s Acre, and whose souls are now in God’s safe keeping.

We shall be pleased if the next-of-kin of our deceased brothers are informed that their dear ones were remembered by us.”


by Stefan Mackley

PUPILS at Sutton Veny Primary School and dignities from as far as Australia came together as one earlier today to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC Day.

The 172 students from the school laid posies and wooden crosses at the foot of every ANZAC grave, before standing for a minute’s silence to remember those killed during World War One and other conflicts.

The Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 is seen as the defining moment in the history of both Australia and New Zealand, after a combined total of more than 10,000 soldiers lost their lives from these countries.

Headteacher at Sutton Veny Primary School, Rachael Brotherton, said: “It was very moving and we’re very proud of the children because they just showed such heart and respect.

“I’m also proud of everyone at the school who worked to creating such a special day.”

The ANZAC Day service tradition is one Sutton Veny Primary School has carried out for decades.

One of many Australian’s to make the 9,400 mile trip was former Royal Navy officer Mike Bennett, who will be attending another service at the Church of St John on Sunday and will be presenting Certificates of Appreciation from The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott.

“I thought the service was inspiring and it made you feel very proud,” he said.

“It was beautiful and so impressive the way it was run.”

Also from Australia were Connecting Spirits, a group of teenage students from the Land Down Under who have been visiting Europe to see other ANZAC grave sites.

Tour manager Julie Reece said: “We were gobsmacked, it was very moving and so powerful.”


Sutton Veny Primary School pupils get ready

to lay flowers on the ANZAC graves

Photo by Glenn Phillips

The Rev Jane Shaw, who held the service at the Church of St John and will be holding Sunday’s service, said: “It was very emotional and we had lots of people come, some who have been before and make a point of coming every year but then we have had people who have come for the first time.

“All you need to do is look at the guest book to see people have come from as far as Australia and America.”

(Wiltshire Times, Friday 24 April 2015)

Remembered then …

Remembered now …

 … 2015

 … 2013

Photo courtesy of Jeremy & Kerrie Gask

A SPECIAL ANZAC DAY FOR THE GASK’S IN SUTTON VENY

The 25th of April is always a big day for the Gask’s as the ANZAC service takes place for the school. All the children are involved as well as Australian High Commission involvement and a terrific turnout from the local villagers to the Australian War Cemetery where 142 soldiers and 2 sisters are buried in the largest ANZAC cemetery in England.

The fact our children sit in class not more than 20 metres from the graves of these great ANZACS gives us great pride and everyday they are reminded of their history. The fact the school classes are named Auckland, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin, Elliston, Geraldton and Nelson and regularly sing the Australian and New Zealand National Anthems, as they did today, may add to this also however. The service today was visited by a number of Australians on an ANZAC tour as well as members of the Australian High Commission, not to mention the ABC Australia who filmed the service and beamed it back home! The village also holds a major service on the Sunday following the school service.

(Jeremy’s Blog–25 April, 2013.

Extract courtesy of Jeremy & Kerrie Gask

Photo by Clare Green

Biographies

Cathy Sedgwick has prepared detailed biographies for all 141 soldiers and the two nurses (pictured below).

You can see an example biography for Private John William Laidlaw who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct medal.




Sister Fanny Tyson

Matron Jean Walker

Under Age

Private Edward Rose (pictured below) was one of two Australian soldiers who lied about being under-age to serve.

The other was Private Albert James Anderson who was later found out to be under 18 years of age and discharged, only to rejoin as James Hegarty (his mother’s maiden name).

Both soldiers died before their 17th birthdays.

 

Twin loses battle …

Ernest Henry Wilkes & his twin brother Hector Burns Wilkes from Tasmania both enlisted on 20 August 1918 and were given consecutive service numbers.

Ernest embarked from Melbourne on SS Zealandic on 5 October 1918 and disembarked at London on 5 December 1918. Reinforcements were only given basic training in Australia. Training was completed in training units in England.

Ernest was marched in to 1st Training Battalion, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire on 5 December 1918 & allotted to Reinforcements of 12th Battalion. He was admitted to the 1st Australian General Hospital at Sutton Veny on 27th January, 1919 with Influenza. He was reported as dangerously ill with Pneumonia later that day. He died at 7.45 am on  12 February 1919 at the 1st Australian General Hospital of Broncho Pneumonia.

Ernest died never having made it to the war front - his twin Hector survived & returned home to Australia.



I have lost my sole companion,

A life linked with my own,

Day by day I miss him,

As I wander through life alone.

In a soldier's grave

My brother is sleeping,

One of earth's bravest and best;

In my heart

I shall miss him for ever,

Though I know he is only at rest.

My thoughts are always with you

In your sad and lonely grave,

Sweet thoughts will always linger

Round my dear brother's grave.

Forget not him who died

Now peace has reigned once more,

Remember still that lonely grave

Beyond a distant shore


Inserted by his loving twin brother,

Private H. B, Wilkes, Sandhill.

(Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania–

Thursday 12 February, 1920)

Murdered

SUTTON VENY CAMP MURDER

AUSTRALIAN SOLDIER PAYS EXTREME PENALTY

For murdering a fellow soldier at Sutton Veny Camp, Private Vernon Asser was, in November last, sentenced at the Wilts Assizes to be hanged, and his appeal to the High Court and petition to the Home Secretary having been refused, he paid the penalty of Tuesday morning in Shepton Mallet Prison, where he was last confined.

It will be remembered that Asser and Private Durkin occupied the same camp hut. In the next hut was a man named Milne. Durkin was found, at 10.30 pm, on the information of Asser, shot through the ehad in bed. Milne state that on three occasions between 9.30 and 11 o’clock Asser came into his hut but went to some Lewis gun ammunition which was kept there, and said that he was taking away empty magazines. After the crime two unused magazines, each containing 48 cartridges were found in Asser’s hut. No-one else had visited the hut, and it was shown by expert evidence that the deceased could not have committed suicide.

The sentence on Tuesday was carried out privately by Ellis, the executioner, and the notice subsequently posted on the prison gates that the death sentence had been fulfilled was signed by the Under-Sheriff for Wilts, the Prison Governor, Chaplain and doctor.

The inquest was held later, before Mr D. Mackay (deputy coroner) and was purely formal. The evidence of the Governor was of sentence passed on the prisoner, and that it was properly carried out, the doctor adding that death was instantaneous.

The verdict was that death resulted from hanging, according to law. The body was buried in the precincts of the prison.

(Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser,

13 March, 1918)

[Shepton Mallet Prison is pictured below]


Click here for more information

Copyright © 2015, Wiltshire OPC Project / Cathy Sedgwick

All rights reserved.

With special thanks to Cathy Sedgwick and to Teresa Lewis of the Wiltshire OPC Project


Cathy Sedgwick, who lives in Sydney, Australia is a volunteer for the Wiltshire OPC Project and is Online Parish Clerk for many Wiltshire parishes. Cathy has prepared similar biographies for Australian soldiers buried in other parishes too.

In focus’ is intended to shine the spotlight on individual studies, individual one-placers or aspects of one-place studies you may wish to explore further.

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Previous ‘In Focus’ issues:  

7 - Shadowland - uncovering the lost village of Sherbrooke

Remembered in England

Mrs A. Barter, of Caringbah, has forwarded us some touching descriptions of tributes to the memory of colonial soldiers which were made at the gravesides around Salisbury Plains by the country people on Anzac Day. “The plains and downs are dreary and desolate again now,” said the “Wiltshire Times.” “The colonials are once again beneath sunnier skies, but we still have something to remind us of what has happened during the past years. The little groups of wooden crosses dotted here and there away through the countryside are always there to bring back thoughts and memories of many happy associations with the open-handed boys from the antipodes. On Anzac Day many were anxious to take part in paying a silent tribute to the memory of those who had to remain behind. At Sutton Veny, at Codford, and away again among the military activity at Tidworth, to mention only a few places, bands of pilgrims wended their way to the cemeteries, and placed flowers on the graves, and joined in brief little memorial services.

Children, having gathered bunches of fresh spring flowers, lovingly placed their tokens on the graves, and many who could not attend sent bunches of flowers or wreaths.”

(The Sydney Morning Herald, NSW,

 7 July, 1920)