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. Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Progress update – slowly but surely

18 June, 2008

Fletch and Dan coming back to Igri Corner from Lagnicourt

Well I haven’t posted anything on the blog for three months which is probably a bit slack of me, so I thought I’d provide this quick update – just so you know we haven’t turned up our toes or anything…

Nick and I have both been very busy with work commitments, managing our sections at the Memorial, preparing the next Memorial exhibition, Advancing to Victory, 1918  (due to open late October), and Nick has also been over in France and Belgium for a couple of months, leading battlefield tour groups.

But anyway, work continues on the 56th Battalion book, slowly but surely.  Nick’s been working on 1916, while I’ve been concentrating on 1917.  I’ve been reading a lot about Bullecourt, just going over the events to get them firmly in mind so I can get a better perspective on it.  Not that the 56th played a very large role there – they didn’t, really only coming in for the last week of fighting there during mid May.  Still, it was a very hot few days in the cauldron where they suffered quite a few casualties and played a small part in repulsing the seventh and final counterattack of the Lehr Regiment.  I’ve also been piecing together events of a milder nature, during the so-called ‘long rest’ between the end of Bullecourt and Polygon Wood, and working on expanding the lead-up to the Polygon Wood battle.  Last year I wrote a short article about this battle which will form the nucleus of the chapter on one of the unit’s key events.  You can read this article online.

Apart from that, I’ve also been reading my way through several collections of personal letters and diaries which always make fascinating and fulfilling reading.  I’ll make a few brief posts on some of these individuals over the next couple of months I imagine.  Another task has been the ongoing compiling of a nominal roll.  So far we’ve identified about 2,000 men.

It’s great to hear from relatives and other interested parties who have, over the past few months, been steadily emerging as they hear about this project, and offering up photos, letters and diaries.

Postwar journal/newsletter

11 March, 2008

From the Reveille journal, we know the 4th and 56th Battalions formed a joint association for ex-members after the war and usually held reunions around Easter time each year.  Based in Sydney, it seems a G. W. Hewitt was the contact person for the association and possibly their secretary.  This man was probably George Witton Hewitt (No. 787A), who served for a time with 4th Battalion.

So far we’ve found no evidence that the association produced a journal or newsletter, but naturally we’d be delighted to find out that they did. 

Can anyone help here?

A Sinn Fein connection?

28 February, 2008


While trawling the database for relevant Commonwealth archival records, I came across an interesting file title; ‘Officers of 56 Battalion with Sinn Fein sympathies.’

We know the 56th Battalion inherited a strong Scottish heritage from its parent battalion, the 4th, but it’s also apparent there were quite a large number of men of Irish heritage.  Indeed as Ron Austin, the author of a recent 4th Battalion history tells us, a pre-war nickname of those militia battalions forming the core of 4th Battalion was ‘The Macks and Micks.’  Of course Irish republicanism came to a head during the war, especially with the Easter Rebellion of 1916, and in Australia, the political situation of Ireland was always an ongoing sensitive issue.

This is apparently a police file held in the Melbourne branch of the National Archives, and is dated 1918.  I’ll have to request a copy and see what it reveals.  Could be interesting…

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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?

Writing about Louverval

15 January, 2008


Recently I’ve been writing about the battalion during the early months of 1917.  Most of the events seem fairly mundane, but interesting nonetheless.  They started the year on the Somme, slowly pushing forward through the mud, then the frost and snow towards Bapaume.  Then during March they were pursuing the Germans as they retreated back to the Hindenburg Line.  As April rolled around, the battalion became involved in their first set-piece, full battalion attack on the small hamlet of Louverval.

Well, I’ve found researching and writing about ‘my first battle’ very interesting, and also very challenging.  I was able to find quite a good amount of information to work with, however I think I made it harder for myself because I approached it from the wrong end, so to speak. Read the rest of this entry »

District contingent publications

14 December, 2007

bathurst.jpg    wellington.jpg    parramatta.jpg    yass.jpg

I’ve been going through a few publications held in the Australian War Memorial’s library, about the contingents of men who enlisted from the various regional districts in New South Wales.  The 56th Battalion was recruited from the southeastern triangle of NSW, including Sydney, the Hunter, Central and Southern Tablelands, the Southwest Slopes and a little farther west into the Riverina districts.

I’m finding these a very useful source for checking against the nominal roll we’re compiling and for finding photographs.  They seem to be quite well researched and comprehensive, and in some cases they also provide short biographical details on individual soldiers.

Apart from the four shown above, I’d be glad for any advice on other such books people might recommend.



The Half Hundredweights – Provisional title

3 December, 2007


Naturally we’ve been toying around with possible titles for the book, although in these early days it’s not been high on our priority list.

From the above image (found at the back of a 1917 war diary), we’ve taken the provisional title for the book as The Dinkum Half Hundredweights, although we may yet drop the word ‘dinkum’.

Anyway, this nickname came from their battalion number; i.e. a hundredweight being 112 pounds, and 56 being half that.