Soldier profile – Private John Jameson

John Jameson (No 3151), 56th Battalion AIF

One of the better and more comprehensive collections of personal letters from a 56th Battalion soldier is that of John Jameson (No. 3151).  I was very fortunate to be contacted by his daughter, Pam Shadie, who kindly lent me his collection of letters and portrait photograph.  So I just thought I’d introduce Jameson and provide some brief biographical details on one of the characters who will likely surface in the book from time to time.

John George Coles Jameson was known to his family and friends as ‘Don’, and enlisted in September 1915 as a 20 year old carpenter from Guildford in Sydney.  He was originally assigned to the 7th Reinforcements of 20th Battalion, and embarked for overseas service on 20 December 1915.  But not long after arriving in Egypt, along with many others from the pool of reinforcements for 20th Battalion, he was put into the newly formed 56th Battalion.  Jameson spent these early months training with the battalion in the Egyptian desert, but he was held back when they departed for France in June 1916, suffering from debilitating problems with his feet.  He finally rejoined the battalion in France in September 1916.

A recurring topic in Jameson’s letters is that of his younger brother Freddie, whom he was continually trying to discourage from enlisting.  This is the sort of thing I’ve read many times in soldiers’ letters.  One example from Jameson circa October 1916 reads: 

‘… the quicker you get it out of your head about enlisting the better for yourself.  I don’t want to see you over here and it is worrying the life out of me to think that you will come.  It’s not a picnic over here … The life here is knocking stronger men than you to pieces … Mum has quite enough to worry with me without you coming … so for my sake as well as Mum’s stay where you are.’

Jameson received slight shrapnel wounds to his face during fighting in the Flers Sector on the Somme on 1 November 1916 and this led to a dangerous infection in his mouth and tongue.  He was back with the unit by March 1917 (assigned to cooker details) and brought hot food up to the troops during their ordeal at Louverval.

For reasons unknown, he didn’t write so much during 1917, however at the end of the year after Passchendaele his letters become more regular again.  He was in the battalion’s big battle at Polygon Wood on 26 September 1917 (as a Lewis gunner) where he eventually copped a gunshot wound to his left shoulder.  His spirits remained high however, as he wrote enthusiastically to his father about the Polygon Wood battle:

‘It was better than rabbit shooting while it lasted with the machine gun as old Fritzys were running everywhere and you could hardly have missed him. ‘

His recovery from the shoulder wound was long and frustrating, and he also managed to get into a regular strife with the authorities, culminating in a court martial for going AWL in England. He finally returned to the 56th in France during June 1918, now one of the rapidly diminishing group of veterans who’d been around since the battalion’s creation in February 1916. 

In the weeks following the big Allied breakthrough on the Somme front at Amiens, Jameson again wrote to his father of this period of action:

‘The fighting in the Past has been nothing to speak of in comparison to Bullecourt and Polygon Wood.  He [Fritz] seems to be frightened of us and put his hands up as soon as you get near him.’

And finally when the war came to an end a few months later he casually wrote:

‘How did the people take the end of the war out there?  Kick up much row?  Things were very quiet amongst the boys here. The civvies made a bit of a noise…’

John Jameson had managed to survive the war and returned to Australia in June 1919.  He had been lucky.  Writing at the end of 1917 he told his parents that of the group of fifteen mates he’d originally been with at Liverpool Camp, only he, his best mate Tom and little ‘Bluey’ Grace (who stood only 5′ 3”) were still alive.

After the war he returned to his birthplace of Goulburn, resumed his carpentry work, then married and started a family.  In 1938 the family moved to Sydney where they eventually opened a milk bar in Manly.  After unsuccessfully trying to enlist again (aged 44), Jameson ended up doing  his bit making Beaufort bombers at Chullora. 

Like many diggers, he didn’t talk much about the war, except to his old comrades, namely Jimmy McHugh who he’d served with in the 56th.  But a constant reminder of his war was the shoulder wound and the after effects of mustard gas, both from Passchendaele, which continued to plague him. 

John Jameson died of pneumonia in July 1967, aged 72, still with the German bullet in his shoulder from Polygon Wood.

Lest we forget…

* Many thanks to Ken and Pam Shadie for permission to use the photo and quotes from Jameson’s letters

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