Remembering Australian soldiers in World War One

Vernon Ware AIF on the right
There are many websites, broadcasts and articles which tell the stories of ordinary soldiers who fought, were injured or died in World War One.  The only member of my family, whom I know died during the first world war, was my great uncle, Sergeant Vernon Ware, who having fought in the Boer War, then went to Australia where he eventually joined up to fight in the Australian Imperial Force on August 18th 1914.  Below you can see the Princess Mary tin he was sent for Christmas 1914 and the medals sent posthumously to his brother.

For this reason I am particularly interested in the Australian soldiers who travelled all the way to Europe to fight alongside British and Canadian soldiers.  While researching for the St Luke's Hospital Heritage Project in Guildford I discovered a little more about 3 Australian soldiers who were treated at Guildford War Hospital in 1916 and 1917.




Private William Windress of the Australian Imperial Force was admitted to Guildford War Hospital on December 29th 1916, suffering from trench fever.  He had been evacuated from service in the Somme via the hospital ship HMS Warilda.  While recovering in Guildford he met Hannah Sepple, whose husband, Private Albert Henry Sepple of the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, had died of wounds in October 1915.  Private Sepple had spent the first months of 1915 in the trenches south of Armentieres. It is not known when Albert was wounded, but he died in Norfolk War Hospital.  He is remembered on the Charlotteville War Memorial in Addison Road, Guildford.  

         
William Windress had been born in Guisbrough, Yorkshire in 1876, the eldest son of Daniel Windross or Winders, a miner.  In 1879, Daniel and his wife Elizabeth took their sons William aged 4 and John 1, to live in Queensland, Australia, where their other 8 children were born. 
On 13th September 1915, William enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces. According to military records, he was 39 years 9 months, 5 foot 3 and a half inches high and weighed 135 pounds. He was of dark complexion with blue eyes and dark brown hair. His right leg was slightly short and there was a scar on it.  He was attached to the 9th Battalion AIF (Queensland) [3rd Infantry Brigade]. William was a member of the 13th Reinforcements which departed from Brisbane, Queensland on the "Kyarra" on 3 January 1916 and disembarked in Alexandria, Egypt transferring to another vessel before disembarking in Marseilles, France.
Hannah Sepple had been born Hannah Louisa Roden at Mersham Hall, Mold in Wales in 1875, where her father was a coachman.  She became a maidservant and by 1911 Hannah was working as a parlour maid to a family living in Semaphore House on Pewley Hill, Guildford, while her 2 year old son lived as a nurse child in Bedford Road, Guildford with Annie Jones, the wife of George Jones, a driver of a scavenger van for the borough council.
                                                                                               
On his recovery, William Windress was detached to the Australian Army Medical Corps at the Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, Kent.  But he returned to Guildford to marry Hannah at Holy Trinity Church on 28th May 1917.  Their son Daniel William Windress was born at their home, Sexton Villas, 8 Suffolk Road, Dartford on August 28th 1918.  Finally, on July 12th 1919, William and Hannah embarked on the, “Indarra,” accompanied by both of Hannah’s sons, arriving in Australia on September 9th. 

The family settled in Queensland and lived happily there until Hannah passed away at the age of 71 on the 12th November 1946, being buried at North Rockhampton Cemetery, Queensland. William Windress survived Hannah by a little over 3 years, dying on the 8th January 1950, aged 74 at 'Eventide' Nursing Home, Sandgate North,Queensland and he was buried at Lutwyche Cemetery, Chemside, Queensland.

Private Francis Arthur Boyle of Queensland Australia was not so lucky.  He enlisted with the 17th Battalion on the 18th January 1916 and embarked from Sydney on HMAT Ceramic on April 13th.  He fought in Belgium and France in the same year but sadly on November 9th he was severely wounded by a bullet to the left hand side of his forehead.  By the time he reached Guildford War Hospital on December 4th he was dangerously ill. Sadly, he died of his injuries on Sunday 31st December 1916 and was buried at Stoughton Cemetery four days later. The sister in charge of the ward where Boyle lay was Linda Bell, and this is what she said of his last days:

He was unconscious for days before his death and died quite peacefully, his sister-in-law present. He was buried with full military honours in the Stoughton Cemetery, his sister-in-law attended. As I hope to leave for Australia and come from the same town as the late Pte Boyle, I intend to call and see his people…”

Her letter shows the compassion shown by the nursing staff at the hospital.



Robert Gay, a miner from Boulder in Western Australia registered at Kalgoorlie before formally enlisting at Black Boy Hill Training Camp, Gooseberry Hill, on 21st February 1916, aged 18. He trained with the third reinforcement of the 51st Infantry Battalion but was transferred to the 44th Battalion with whom he was sent to France in November 1916.
After six months frontline service, on 9th June 1917 he suffered a, “gunshot wound and fracture to the right foot,” at the Battle of Messines.  Here, despite appalling conditions, the 44th and 48th Battalions successfully recaptured and held southern positions lost to the Germans on the battle’s first day.   The 44th Battalion casualties were severe; nearly half of the 700 engaged, including Bob, were killed or wounded. He was taken to Guildford War Hospital where he was promoted to Lance Corporal.

Pool of Peace at Messines
After a full recovery he rejoined his depleted Battalion in Belgium on 27th October 1917. In his absence the 44th had suffered more casualties in operations around Ypres. They fought in Belgium rotating in and out of the frontline until the last great German offensive in March 1918. His Battalion was rushed south to France to help stem the German drive towards the vital railway junction of Amiens.

Robert then participated in the Allied offensive that signalled the end of the War. This involved heavy fighting in the advance towards Peronne and the successful assault on the formidable Hindenburg Line starting on 29th September 1918. The exhausted and depleted Battalion, normally 1028 men, could only muster 220 for this assault. It was the Battalion’s last action of the War. Bob was killed on the first day in a desperate action trying to force their way into the Line near the village of Bony. When relieved on 2nd October 1918 only 80 men marched out. Sadly Bob wasn't one of them.  He is buried at Bellicourt British Cemetery in Picardie.

Sources

www.museum.wa.gov.au
www.hospitalproject.co.uk



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