The First A.I.F.
Citations & Awards
Life in the Trenches
Bullecourt - Bert’s death
Stories from the Front
More Stories from the Front
Extracts from C.E.W. Bean
Extracts from H.R. Williams
"Red & White Diamond"
Capt. V.E. Smythe notes
Royal Australian Navy
Family who served our country
Letters, cards, papers
Conclusion - Post War
The Next Generations
These pages were written by Margaret Johnston with help from her family and friends.
Chapter 9 part 2: More Stories from the Front
The following interesting information was forwarded to me in March 2011 by Harry Willey (an author from Scone, N.S.W.) after he had read this passage in Bert's letter of 18th May 1915.
... a poor chap never got off the destroyers alive. Many more were killed in the open boats and one boat was sunk by a shrapnel striking the waterline. Two pontoons loaded with troops broke loose from the tow and drifted off. The Turks turned their machine M. Guns on to them and killed every man.
"Private Stan Carpenter embarked from Alexandria on 5 April, landing on the beach at Gallipoli with the third wave of invading troops on 25 April. The following day a ship's boat, that had been bringing men of the 3rd Brigade ashore, was observed still drifting 70mt off shore near the Fisherman's Hut. The boat had been targeted by the Turkish gunners for thirty hours and it appeared as if all onboard must surely be dead. Stan and a fellow stretcher bearer, Edward Albert Roberts on their own initiative waded and swam out to the boat where they found four of the men although seriously wounded alive. One at a time they brought these men ashore and carried them to the aid station on the beach all the time being incessantly fired upon by Turkish snipers.
This heroic act was observed by many including Lt-Col Braund and Lieutenant Ernest Edward Herrod. Other witnesses to the bravery of these men were Colonel Peerless, PMC of the New Zealand Canterbury Infantry Regiment and Captain Charles Bean, Australia's Official War Correspondent on Gallipoli.
A delay of three months occurred in identifying the two men. Braund had been accidentally shot and killed by a sentry on the 4th May and Bean had incorrectly reported that both men had been killed during this rescue.
As early as 10th June letters from the troops on Gallipoli telling of the actions of Stan Carpenter and his unnamed comrade in the daring rescue of the men who had been lying helpless in the boat for 30 hours appeared in Australian Newspapers. Their identity confirmed, Lt Herrod forwarded a recommendation that they both be awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal to Brigadier-General Harold Bridgewood Walker, the Acting Commander in Chief of the 1st Infantry Brigade and Chief of staff to Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood who, on 3rd August, recommended the awarding of a Military Cross."
* * *
A friend of the Smythe family, Ralph Dixon was reported as being wounded on 27/4/15 at Gallipoli. His father (Geo.H. Dixon) sent letters to the Army and members of Parliament trying to find out how badly he was injured and where he was in hospital. The Army did not appear to have any details of where he was or news about of his condition.
Some of his words on Page 2 of the long letter to J. M. Chanter, Member of Parliament on 14/8/15 after receiving one response was as follows. (Page 57 Service Documents).
This to my mind is impossible as there was no hospital there at the time. However to make sure I cabled to Lieut. Vernie Smythe who is very much involved in Ralph’s case and report by cable I arranged for a reply. (Not sure about the last few words) This is a week ago but Lieut. Smythe may not have the cable yet as he may be in the fighting line.
He again mentioned sending the cable in a letter dated 19/8/14 (not mentioning Vern’s. name. (Page 54 of Service documents) He wrote in the 3rd paragraph ‘The suspense is something dreadful to bear------’ Mr. Dixon's letters were always very polite and that must have been very difficult and frustrating because of the delays in receiving any definite news.
One comment on a handwritten sheet (Page 51 Service documents) dated 30/8/15 was as follows-
Reported wounded 886 3rd Battalion relative states advised (last two words difficult to read) by Lt. E.V. Smythe that he was informed by Chaplain Green that Dixon buried 24 May, Can you confirm. 30/8/15
This must have happened many times in thousands of homes during the war.
In 2014 we received copies of two letters written by Lt. Vern Smythe to a friend in Australia that answer the questions about Ralph’s death. He called him ‘Dickie’ in the first one.
9/7/15 Letter from Vernie Smythe to G.N. (George Norman known as Norman) Dixon sent from Gallipoli. Fate of Ralph still uncertain. (G. N. Dixon enlisted 26 August 1915)
Dear old Dickie,
I hasten to reply to your letter - received half an hour ago - and to tell you to buck up. You're feeling it keenly - having to stay at home while your mates are out here and it hurts. You think you are a slacker. That's all Tommy Rot and I should have given you credit for knowing it. Dash it all man, do you want everyone to come to the war? Who the dickens would you leave behind to attend to the business of the country, so that when we people get back we shall find a prosperous and wealthy country, and plenty of work, instead of an insolvent and bedraggled country with thousands of unemployed? Do you imagine that I, or anybody else wishes to go back home just to swell the ranks of the unemployed? If you do you're jolly well mistaken.
I think that every business man has a very urgent duty in this way, a duty which is really more responsible than that of the ordinary soldier. Just think over these facts Dickie, and never let me here you grumble again because the duty set you is not to your taste. We can't all pick the special bit of duty which might suit our particular dainty taste, you know. And anyhow, never let it be said that a Dixon was downhearted!
I know what you feel old man and sympathise with you. I have the same feeling here. Because I have not been wounded, I have a sort of idea that I am taking an unfair advantage of the men in the firing line. This, even tho' dozens of men have been shot all round me. I seem to think that because I am unwounded, that I haven't been in any dangerous places. The feeling is absurd and ridiculous, and I know it, but still it exists.
When I read of a man getting a VC or DCM I feel quite small because I have not done anything that merits such a reward. In my saner moments I think to myself what a darned ass I am. I hope you have a few sane moments now and then! Now I've given you a good talking to, I'll get on to other subjects.
I suppose Anne told you I could not locate Ralph? I'm pretty sure he has gone to England, and I guess you have heard from him ere this. Most of the casualties of the first few days were taken to England, where, I believe, they get splendid attention. Ralph was hit in the neck I am told, but I could not learn whether the wound was bad or not. I sincerely hope not. Once our wounded leave here, we lose all touch with them, so probably the first news I'll get of Ralph will be thro' Anne. When that news does come, I'm hoping it will be good news.
Oh Dickie, old man, I'm so sorry I won't be there to see you happily married, and to wish you all sorts of happiness and success for your future life, but believe me, that I send these wishes to you and Jessie from here, and they are honest and hearty wishes. I feel sure that you are going to have a happy and successful life. Go on Dickie old chap, and may God bless you both. I intended to send you something nice for a wedding present, but the Unspeakable one has very unreasonably been doing his utmost to limit and hamper my movements. However he can't delay me for long & I will send you along the present from Constantinople. It will be a bit late, but that can't be helped.
You're a funny beggar Dickie. You always surmise that other people tell me all the news, and therefore there's no need to repeat it. You're lazy, - undeniably so! and you shelter behind a flimsy excuse like that. Oh, you're an artful dodger, but I'll get even with you.
Thanks for your four hints, which I will profit by. As for the "Turkish Delight" in C'nople - well, the Egyptian equivalent in Cairo failed to tangle me, so I have no qualms about the Turkish Capital's fascinations. My abstinence from this sort of indulgence is one of my pet points of honour, and I'd rather stand up in front of John Turk & let him drill a hole thru' me, than defile my body - and worse - my mind, in this manner.
Thanks for your wishes re my commission. I think the good wishes of my friends must have something to do with the promotion, for you all wished me the same thing. If the war lasts any length of time - which I hope it doesn't - I hope to go further. At present I'm resting on my oars, but will set out for the next star after a while.
It's a case of hitching my wagon to the stars eh? Of course, unless the war lasts for several years, I cannot hope to go above two stars. However, if I return home with but one, I'll be well satisfied. I'm keeping in splendid health and am feeling very fit. I have to get up for an hour every morning at 3am, so at 4am I grab my towel and toddle off down to the beach for my morning dip. It's glorious & makes one feel so strong & exhilarated. After coming out I have a careful hunt thro' my clothes for any sign of life; generally manage to find one or two enemies. Germans, Turks, Austrians & fleas! of the four, the last named are the most vicious and troublesome. It is only by repeatedly counter-attacking that one can hope to overcome them. They are not body lice, thank goodness.
Everything is very quiet just at present. They've made several severe local attacks at different positions of the line, but failed to do anything except add to their casualty lists. Things may liven up after the 16th when they are going to have a few holy days. I guess we're ready for them. Greece may be doing something after the 20th and Italy may have a go at the Turk. Anyhow things promise to liven up a bit which is a jolly good job for monotony is about the worst thing a soldier has to put up with.
Well Norm, old chap, I must ring off else I'll be using all my paper on you. Again let me wish you the very best of happiness for your future life and let me tell you you're a lucky beggar. Send me a small copy of the bridal photo please Norm. Give my kindest regards to all at home and accept same yourself.
From your sincere chum,
18/8/15 Letter from Vernie Smythe to Norman re fate of Ralph
Dear old Norm,
... In the earlier days there were so many different reports about Ralph, and he had been seen in so many different hospitals that official enquiries were set on foot to try and ascertain just what had happened to him and where he was. The result of these enquiries was a report from Chaplain Green to the effect he had buried No. 886 R. Dixon 3rdBn on 26th May, along with several other bodies, which had been placed out of the way during the rush of the first few days and subsequently been forgotten until someone stumbled across them. Following this report out, the Field Station denied having any record of Ralph's death, and he was still on the list as wounded. This was as far as we could get in the official enquiries.
From enquiries I had made, I learned that Ralph was wounded on the first day, and was removed from the trenches, still wounded, two days afterwards. Consequently I came to the conclusion that he had been sent on board the hospital ship and was OK, especially as a returned wounded man stated he had seen him on board. If Chaplain Green's report is correct (& now, I'm sadly afraid it is) poor Ralph must have passed away while being carried down to the beach, and was placed, along with the other men, temporarily out of the way, until time could be found to bury them. They were, however, overlooked until 26th May. When I heard Chaplain Green's report, I told Anne all about it, but left it to her discretion as to whether she told you or not, for at that time I utterly scouted the idea that Ralph was dead ... I am very much afraid that poor old Ralph has indeed gone. If I could possibly give you hope I would do so, Norm old friend, but your cable has killed all my hopes. You say he is in hospital at Achi Baba. I don't know where you got that from... Achi Baba is still Turkish territory. I have been hoping against hope, but, old boy, I'm afraid we've lost good old Ralph ... I don't know what to say Norm old chap.
It's not necessary to formally offer my sympathy, for you know how I feel about it. Had he lived he'd have made a splendid soldier, and I’m sure for the short time he was in the fight, he fought as one. I sent his diary home the day before we left the ... Did you get it. Good bye old chap. Will write again.
Yours in sorrow,
A LITTLE KNOWN TRUE STORY
On Anzac Day, when watching the marches or other films on TV, you may see what you think is the landing at Gallipoli. This was not taken on the beach on the 25th of April but was a staged newsreel. Read the copy of Perce’s entries from his diary below, written before he embarked for the Middle East. I have been told that Turkish uniforms from the battlefields were sent to Australia and used in this film. Perce was part of the 7th Reinforcements for the 3rd Bn.
Friday 2nd. Several companies went out abt. 4.30 am. to Middle Head, to act the landing at Gallipoli for some picture film company.
Tuesday 6th. It was comparatively warm last night. Was rather feverish all night and not at all well today. A.B., we were served out with uniforms and kits. It was a job to get tunics large enough. They were all on the small side. A.D., we turned out for drill in our uniforms. Mr. Tyson told me we were to go to Middle Head tomorrow to act the landing at Gallipoli for a cinematograph Company. Last week's performance was a failure, for when the operator called out "Every fourth man fall dead," the whole crowd went down to it. Mr. Wilson gave us some company drill and we mucked it up a bit. No. 3 platoon was specially awkward, and in the end Wilson got desperate and told Woods to take us away and give us squad drill for the rest of the afternoon. Some of the men seemed to be absolute mugs, and the platoon kept getting tied in a knot, till Woods got fairly ropable, and swore a treat.
A.T. (after tea) we were told to turn out in the morning in full marching order. Reveille will go at 4 am. Gave my old tunic and breeches to Viv. Wrote to Ettie Cunynghame, Oberon.
N.B. The filming of the Landing at Gallipoli at Obelisk Bay was for the feature film “Within Our Gates”. The surviving scrap of this film, just a few minutes showing the re-enactment of the Landing, is stored in The National Film and Sound Archive, A Division of the Australian Film Commission.
From Perce’s diary Wednesday 7 July 1915. At 3.30 am. someone came and rapped along the corrugated iron walls of our hut and woke everybody up. We got up and prepared for the day's work. Had a hurried breakfast, and fell in about 5 am. The companies from the first four tin huts, the seventh of the 13th., 1st., 2nd., and 3rd., took part. Marched up to Liverpool and took a special train for Sydney at 5.5am. As we neared Sydney, day began to dawn. The train was blocked at one place and a few people in the houses below saw the troops and started waving to us. Another train somewhere nearby was whistling its inside out with a variety of spasmodic blasts, and I wondered what was wrong with it. Then we moved on, and soon another engine somewhere seemed to suddenly go mad and started demonstrating its whistling powers. Then I tumbled to what was the matter. They were cheering us. More trains came by and almost blew their whistles off, while our boys answered with cheers and shouts. Soon we approached the engine sheds at Redfern, and engine after engine joined in the mad chorus, shrieking and screeching, till the hundreds of locomotives there were using their whistles to the utmost, while men gathered about and waved their hats and yelled as we went past. It was a regular pandemonium of shrieks, wails, yells, shouts and cheers. Even the old steam cranes contributed their share towards the general din. As we rumbled through Redfern, men quickly gathered on the platform to cheer and wave to us, sharing in the general delusion that we were leaving Australia. On we went, and every train we passed tore the throat out of its whistle, till at last we landed at Sydney. Just as we got there it started to rain. We marched from the station down through College St., up William St., and out past Rushcutter's Bay to some Navy place. Folks appeared at doors and windows all along the way and waved to us. A drizzling rain continued throughout the whole march, and before we halted the rain was beginning to soak through to the skin. At the naval place we broke off for a while and went into a large room where a lot of sailors were having breakfast. We made ourselves at home and the sailors provided us with what sausages they hadn't eaten, besides plenty of bread and jam, and tea with milk in it.
About 9am. we fell in again and were put into boats and taken in tow by motor launches. Enjoyed the run out in the boats to Middle Head. After hanging about there for some time we were landed on the tiny beach at Obelisk Bay. A company of men there were dressed in the Turkish uniform. Some land mines were placed in the sand on the beach and connected up by wires, to be exploded by electricity. There were a few in the water too. After waiting there for a while we got in the boats again. It was rather amusing. We had to wait till the water receded and then rush down and clamber into the boat before the water came swirling up again. Several would make a rush together, and their frantic efforts to escape the water were very laughable. In the excitement one chap lost his footing and managed to sit down in the water as it came washing up.
Having embarked, we put off a bit and got ready for the great event. The Turks were placed some on the beach and some further up the hill. The cinema camera was placed on a rock at the left of the beach. It was still cloudy now, but all the rain had disappeared and the air was very clear. When everything was ready and the boats arranged in position some behind the others, we got the command to fix bayonets, and then the sailors started to pull for the shore. Things began to get exciting. When we got near the shore the troops on shore opened fire, and some bombs began to explode, and for some time there was quite a respectable din. As our boat, which was one of the last, ran up on the sand, we sprang out and charged up the hill with bayonets fixed. A lot of men, and some Turks, had fallen dead on the beach. Old Williams was there, and he had allowed his rifle to fall where the waves washing up each time completely covered it. With the others, I charged up that hill till the whistle blew without noticing myself getting particularly tired. But when we stopped, I was almost exhausted, although it was only quite a short distance. We had full kit on, and the hill was some steep. Had a bit of a rest and then formed up on the beach again, while a couple of chaps acted the struggle on the cliff between the Australian and the Turk. The Turk was behind a bush sniping and the Australian crept up to bayonet him, but altered his mind, and laid his rifle down and struck the Turk with his fist and then came to grips with him. A brief struggle followed and then the Turk lay helpless. He got up, and a stuffed dummy was put in his place. The brave Australian then picked up the dummy and shot him over the cliff with truly wonderful ease.
That ended the play. It didn't appear to me to be too well done, but might look all right on the pictures.
We all got into the boats again, and after wasting a good deal of time, were taken in tow again by the launches, and in due time arrived back at the naval place. Marched to a small reserve adjoining the park at Rushcutter's Bay and there halted for lunch. After lunch I studied Topography for some time, and then went off to sleep. It was getting on for four when we moved on again. Marched back through Sydney the way we had come, and got a special train about 5pm. It was about 6pm. when we got in to camp.
THE MYSTERY OF THE SKETCH
As far as the family knew, Percy was the only artist. None of us had heard that Vern had ever sketched or was interested in art. When a sketch of a church appeared amongst the papers it was mistakenly categorised in with Percy's drawings even though it had the name "Vernie" in the bottom right corner and "Tourettes" in the bottom left. We thought perhaps that Percy had given it to Vern.
It was also difficult to locate the town "Tourettes" on a French map until Google maps came along and we were able to find the exact church in the town of Tourettes-sur-Loup. This then threw up another mystery as the town is in the very southern part of France near the Italian border. As far as we know, none of the boys were ever down that far south. It is possible the drawing was copied off a postcard and this would explain why the image is mirrored.
We then obtained copies of letters from the War Memorial in Canberra (Reference AWM16 4382) which shed some light on the mystery.
War Records Section, A.I.F.
With reference to my request that you should post to me a set each of pen and ink, and pencil, sketching materials. Instead of sending these to me in France, would you please forward them to me addressed :-
Capt. V. E. Smythe
St. Johnston, Londonderry
This is my leave address and, as I'll be on leave for another few days and so, I would like to get the materials before returning.
V.E. Smythe Capt.
56th Battalion A.I.F.
January 14th 9.
Captain V. E. Smythe
56th Inf. Btn. A.I.F.
As requested by you while on leave in this country a package was posted on 31st December containing one set each of pen and ink and sketching materials and sent to the address in Ireland furnished by you.
As no acknowledgement has yet been received from you will you please advise whether the material was correctly received, and if so, it is asked that you will you please return the Issue voucher No. 294 duly signed.
If the package has not yet reached you it is suggested that you write to Ireland asking the disposal of the material.
J.L.S(?), Major. Officer i/c, Aust.War Records Section.
Captain V.E. Smythe received the sketching materials safely, but as he was leaving in a hurry for Australia he neglected to leave the voucher No. 294 signed.
(Mrs) M. Hyndman.
Feb. 3rd 1919.