Archive for the ‘Soldiers’ Category

Soldier profile – Bill Parker

24 April, 2010

William Henry Graham Parker grew up and worked as a farm labourer in the Cowra area of NSW, namely on the family property ‘Parkerville’.  Aged 20, he enlisted in the AIF on 2 May 1916 at Cootamundra (No 2722); then went on to the Goulburn depot and into the 6th Reinforcements for the 56th Bn.  After first going to England for further training in November 1916, Bill arrived in France on New Year’s Day 1917.  (more…)


Lt John Charles Watt

21 October, 2009

John Charles Watt (photo courtesy of his grandson John C. Watt).

One of the more important figures in the 56th’s history was a remarkable and brave young man named John Charles Watt.  Previously this post called for assistance in finding a photo of him and showed a blank silhouette of a man with a question mark on his face.  Happily, thanks to the assistant of a couple of readers of this blog (see comments below), contact was soon made with the Watt family and the photo shown at left made available.

John was born on 28 September 1896 at Stewart’s Brook near Scone, NSW, son of John Howard Watt and Eliza Jane Watt.  He later attended high school in Newcastle where he also completed four years of compulsory military service. At some stage the family (at least John Jr. and his mother) moved north to Emmaville, a tiny settlement in a tin mining area about 30 km north of Glen Innes.  There John became a miner.

When war broke out in 1914, John was not quite 18, but it wasn’t long before he enlisted in the AIF in Sydney the following July.  His father had recently died in Port Augusta, SA in March 1915.  At the time he enlisted, John stood 5’ 10” tall, weighed 156 pounds (71 kg), and had brown eyes and dark hair. His religion was Church of England. He was initially allotted to the 10th Reinforcement of 4th Battalion and embarked for service overseas in October, joining his unit in Egypt on 21 January 1916. Almost straight away he began his rise through the ranks, making lance corporal on 2 February.  (more…)

Soldier Profile – John Bermingham

4 September, 2009
John Bermingham, pre-war (Courtesy Darren Bermingham)

John Bermingham, pre-war, 1900 (Courtesy Darren Bermingham)

Born in Young in 1879, John Bermingham grew up in the peaceful surroundings of country New South Wales.  He soon showed a strong aptitude for working with machines, and eventually gained considerable expertise and employment in the field of mechanical engineering. With wife Sarah, daughters Annie and Edith, and sons Martin and Harry, the family settled in Narromine before the war.

Perhaps feeling that family duties outweighed those of King and Empire, John resisted the notion of joining up when war broke out in August 1914. Yet like so many others following the failure of the Gallipoli campaign and the resulting heavy losses, by early 1916 he had made his mind up to go and ‘do his bit’. Travelling to Cootamundra, the 36-year-old Bermingham enlisted in the AIF in March 1916 (No. 2128), and was allotted to the 4th Reinforcements for the 56th Battalion. By the end of April he was learning the routine and drill at the recruit training depot at Goulburn. The 4th Reinforcements, numbering around 150 men, left Sydney in early September aboard HMAT A15 Port Sydney. They arrived in the UK at the end of October and were immediately sent for a stint with the 14th Training Battalion at Hurdcott near Salisbury. (more…)

Soldier profile – Mack Macdonald

19 March, 2009


Mackenzie Macdonald was born in Carnoustie (near Dundee), in Forfarshire, Scotland.  At some stage he migrated to Australia and by 1914 was working as a labourer on a property named ‘Runnymede’, near Stockinbingal, NSW.  When war broke out, Mack as he was commonly known, enlisted on 29 August 1914 in Sydney.  He was 28 years old, with a strongly built 5’ 9” tall, 13 stone frame.


An original member of 4th Battalion, he was a private in E Company and would likely have felt quite at home, given the high proportion of Scotsmen in that battalion.  He was promoted Lance Corporal just prior to the Gallipoli landing, and to Corporal the day after, no doubt due to high losses.  Mack’s luck held out and he survived, later taking part in the attack at Lone Pine in early August.  During his time on the peninsula, his efforts did not go unnoticed; (more…)

Soldier profile – Pte Leopold Meek

11 November, 2008


Leopold William Meek was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand on 23 June 1893.  At some stage he and his family moved to Sydney, New South Wales, where in September 1912 he signed on with the Royal Australian Navy for seven years.  During part of this time he served on HMAS Australia.  Gaining a discharge in mid 1914, he apparently became a carpenter; something he’d probably had experience with during his time in the navy, as his service card records an injury from a circular saw.  In 1914, now 22 years old, he was residing in East Zetland, Sydney.  Upon the outbreak of war in August 1914, he immediately joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, and took part in the seizure and occupation of German New Guinea between September and January 1915. (more…)

Harold Williams and the Gallant Company

5 September, 2008

In writing a history of the 56th Battalion, we feel blessed that at least one its members published his story, providing us with much valuable information and insights not found in the official papers.  Lieutenant Harold Williams is our saviour in this respect, as he produced two books in fact; The Gallant Company (1933) and Comrades of the Great Adventure (1935).  Both are well-written works being very informative and descriptive (particularly of people and landscapes), and not at all dull to read.  Early reviews of the books seemed very good.  5th Division commander, Lt. Gen. Sir John Joseph Talbot Hobbs in writing the foreword called it ‘the best soldier’s story I have yet read in Australia.’

From the two books we have learned quite a bit about Williams himself, but not enough.  We would very much like to find any of his descendants to learn more.  We know basically what he looked like, yet have no photo of him.  We know some of his thoughts through his books, but nothing more; nothing about his life after the war for example.  We know he kept letters and a diary, so what became of them? Surely they must have survived.  At the beginning of The Gallant Company, Williams noted: (more…)

My brother’s keeper

26 July, 2008
Roy and Sid Whittle from Kenmore, near Goulburn NSW.  Roy was killed at Bullecourt, Sid was wounded but survived the war (AWM photo P05921.001 A).

Roy and Sid Whittle from Kenmore, near Goulburn NSW. Roy (R) was killed at Bullecourt, Sid was later wounded but survived the war (AWM photo P05921.001).

With most AIF infantry battalions recruited on a state basis, it was common to have quite a few men from the same suburbs or rural districts together, and often groups of mates who knew each other before the war serving in the same companies or platoons.  In many cases, perhaps to a greater degree than I previously imagined, family members were also an important factor in a unit’s make-up. 

Having a brother in your battalion could be a mixed blessing.  On one hand it might be good to have a familiar face close by, someone who knew you well and you could also look out for each other; whether that be on leave, or in the front line.  On the other hand perhaps a younger brother could be viewed as an encumbrance, cramping your style and an unwelcome family witness to what you got up to on leave. I suppose it would have depended on the age difference and whether you saw each other as mates or not. (more…)

Soldier profile – Private John Jameson

27 June, 2008

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.


An online nominal roll

14 February, 2008

Abbott, Frank
Abbott, Samuel
Abbott, William
Adams, Bert
Adams, Frank
Adams, James                               
Alchin, Charles…

In most good unit histories, a substantial chunk of paper at the end of the book is taken up by long lists of thousands of men who served in the unit.  Such nominal rolls are essential I believe, and not only simply record the names, but also form a part of commemorating the men and the unit as a whole.  However…


In search of Humphrey Scott

24 January, 2008


Obviously when writing a unit history, one of the most important characters will be the commanding officer.  Much of the unit’s fate, success or failure would depend upon this man, as well as its level of morale, skill and discipline.  To many of the rank and file he would become something of a father figure, and indeed their lives would often be placed in his hands.

The longest-serving and most influential commander of the 56th Battalion was Alan Humphrey Scott, DSO.  He took command of the unit from its creation in February 1916 in Egypt, and led it for nearly two years, until his tragic death in action in October 1917.  For our history it is vital to find out as much about this man in order to better understand the organisation he led.

We do have a few resources on him at present, including a few mentions in the Official History, an article in Reveille and an Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.  We do also have a few brief insights on him from Williams’s two books.

But of course what we’d really like is to find the descendants of Humphrey Scott, if any remain.  We’d be delighted if we could turn up personal letters, diaries or perhaps a photo or two (hopefully a better one that that shown above from Reveille).  There are only two other known photos of him, both whilst still a major in 4th Battalion; one on Gallipoli, the other in Egypt just before taking over the 56th.

Any leads or suggestions on finding Scott’s family would be most welcome.

Devilishly handsome looking chap wasn’t he?