Those Who Served in World War I: From the Muir-Buirchell Family Tree (Part I)

I decided long ago to publish in 2015 what I have discovered about the World War I veterans in my family trees.  Slowly I have worked towards this objective over the past couple of years and now suddenly time is upon me.  There was much more to be found than I ever anticipated and I am sure I have not found them all.

As a child I knew that a few of my family were involved in World War I and of course, due to Anzac Day observances knew something of Gallipoli and the Western Front.  My interest, being an aviation buff, was primarily about the Second World War and I read copiously everything I could my hands on, not to mention Commando and War comics.  I also worked for time, as a teenager, on the farm of Brigadier Arnold Potts where both wars were often the subject of dinner conversation.

Generally I have not gone further than the second cousin relationship but there are some, those on the twigs of the trees, I have included simply because I found the story or connection interesting in the family history research sense.  My readers would be quickly bored if I tried to present this in a single tome; so these Blog stories will comprise several instalments for the both the Muir-Buirchell and Jones-Sexton trees.

Balloch, Alexander Melville (1893-1950)

Husband of Grand Aunt Alice Agnes Buirchell (1902- 1981).

Service Number 8754, Shoeing Smith 4th Field Artillery Brigade.

Born Brunswick, Victoria, in 1893, Alexander moved to Western Australia with his parents sometime prior to 1915 and settled in the Kojonup District at Boscabel.

Alexander was living in West Perth and working as a groom at the time of his enlistment 16 September 1915 at age 22 years.  He was classified as a Driver in the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column which embarked from Melbourne 16 November 1915 aboard A39 HMAT Port MacQuarie having probably departed from Fremantle on the Euriphrides 23 September 1915.

On arrival at Moascar, Egypt, Alexander was placed firstly in the 22nd Howitzer Brigade, and then the 104th Field Artillery (Howitzer) Battery which was part of the 4th Field Artillery Brigade.  The Brigade, as part of the AIF 2nd Division Artillery departed Alexandria, Egypt, for Marseilles, France, and then travelled by train 800km to Le Havre before continuing to Armentieres on the France-Belgium border.  On 1 May 1916 Alexander was appointed as Shoeing Smith.

The Brigade’s first major offensive was in the Battle of Somme being deployed near Pozieres until relieved in September 1916.  Returning to the Somme, firstly in the Bapaume area and then to Bullecourt, the Brigade was in continuous action through to November 1917 supporting the allied attacks on Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseine, and then Passchendale as part of the Third Battle of Ypres.  Following the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, the Brigade returned to the Somme supporting the Australia Corps infantry as it moved through Peronne, Mont St Quentin, Bellicourt and the Hindenburg Line.

However, Alexander then experienced the first of several admissions to hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations with defective vision, Inflammation of Connective Tissue (ICT) to the thumb and finger and “NYD” – meaning “not yet determined”, often used in connection with neurological disorders such as ‘shell shock’.  Eventually Alexander left France 11 August 1918 and was discharged to Australia due to a gunshot wound to the hand which was probably the cause of the ICT hospitalisations.

It would be easy to belittle the role of a Shoeing Smith as if somehow working with horses was not proper soldiering.  In a single day – 24 May 1917 – the 4th Field Artillery Brigade fired a total of 1 669 rounds but received 756 hostile rounds in reply.  Around 58% of the gunners in the 104th Battery died in action.  Shoeing Smiths and NCO Farriers were responsible for shoeing horses and mules and generally maintaining the health of their charges’ hooves and legs.  An officer from the Australian Army Veterinary Corp gave this description of the Somme battlefield in 1916:

Now began what was to prove the period of most extreme hardship that the horses of the Division underwent.  They were later to suffer much from bomb and shell, but never so much as from adverse weather conditions. … It is barely possible for anyone who had no actual experience of the conditions under which the horses lived during the early part of the winter of 1916-17 to realize what it meant, and it is very difficult to convey an accurate picture of these conditions to non-participants in that experience.  The country was a howling desolation: it had been torn to pieces by shellfire and the rain had completed the work of the artillery.  The horses were standing in mud to the knees and they were working hard over roads that were cut to pieces by traffic and under conditions that entailed their spending many unnecessary in harness and under saddle.  As a consequence their feeding was irregular and their time for rest seriously curtailed.  Water points are were few and far between at first, and in consequence further travelling had to be undertaken by the wearied animals.  The weather was atrocious, cold, wet, and miserable.

The Division moved down to the Somme at the beginning of a long and severe winter.  It went down with the horse management at a fair, but in many cases, not a very high standard.  It passed through the most appalling conditions and emerged with a very greatly improved standard, greater efficiency, better transport personnel and considerably greater knowledge as to what a horse could stand in the way of hardship.  Many of the animals spent a large part of the winter entirely in the open, on standings that varied anything up to two feet in mud, and exposed to biting winds, on a reduced ration and undergoing severe work.

In 1920, Alexander Melville Balloch married my great aunt Alice Agnes Buirchell (“Auntie Aggie”) and had five children.  After living in Kojonup for a period, Alexander returned to Perth and worked for the Postmaster General’s Department as a Foreman Linesman until his death in 1950 aged 57 years.

Fig.1: Gunners of the 104th Battery, Australian Field Artillery, at Ploegsteert, enjoying a hot meal after a severe snowstorm; 26 December 1917

Fig.1: Gunners of the 104th Battery, Australian Field Artillery, at Ploegsteert, enjoying a hot meal after a severe snowstorm; 26 December 1917

Fig.2: View of slippery mud on a corduroy track in the Ypres sector which made it necessary to use six horses to pull a GS wagon from the ditch
Fig.2: View of slippery mud on a corduroy track in the Ypres sector which made it necessary to use six horses to pull a GS wagon from the ditch

Brown, George Hampton (1893-1949)

Second cousin 2 x removed.

Service Number 1040. Private, 30th Battalion.

George was living and working at Newport, Victoria as Grocer.  He married May Edith McConnell prior to enlisting 1 July 1915 and embarked on HMAT Beltana arriving at Suez 11 December 1915.  While the 30th Battalion was raised in New South Wales, almost an entire company was composed of former Royal Australian Navy ratings from Victoria – George had served 12 months in the RAN Volunteer Reserve.  By 31 December he was admitted to hospital with a serious knee injury and on 11 April 1916 embarked at Suez on HMAT Runic for Australia and discharge.  The 30th Battalion continued garrison duties around Moascar and Ferry Post until 17 June 1916 when it embarked on the HMAT Hororata for Marseilles, France, and the Western Front.

On his return to Australia, George and May had four daughters and a son; he became a Waterside Worker and a well-known figure in the community.

Buirchell, Thomas (1870—1955)

Great Grandfather

Service No. 2884.  Private, 48th Infantry Battalion.

This entry is a little difficult to make and more about my great grandfather may appear in a future Blog.  Thomas Buirchell was born at Williams River, Western Australia, about 1870 – thus far, a birth certificate has not been located.  Thomas enlisted 1 September 1916 in Perth and was allocated to the 7th Reinforcement of the 48th Battalion.  In June 1915, the authorities had changed the recruitment age range to 18-45 years; Thomas gave his age as 38 years and 7 months thereby understating it by some 7-8 years.  Later, the Medical Board was to estimate his age at the time of enlistment as 45 years 6 months but he was likely to have been at least a year older.  Why?  Patriotic duty, sense of adventure, economic reasons or simply avoiding family responsibilities?  He left behind a wife and seven children aged 2-17 years.

Thomas embarked on HMAT A8 Argyllshire from Fremantle on 9 November 1916 and disembarked at Devonport 10 January 1917.  Almost immediately he was admitted to Hospital at Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, and then marched into No. 2 Command, Perham Downs 10 February 1917.  From there he was transferred to No. 2 Command Depot at Weymouth 7 April 1917 and then on 4 May he was returned to Australia aboard HMAT Miltiades.  Arriving at Fremantle 24 June 1917, Thomas was discharged in Perth 4 August on the grounds of ‘senility’ (over-age).  He went ‘missing’ at this stage – my great grandmother wrote to Base Records in Melbourne 24 August 1917 enquiring of his whereabouts and whether Thomas had been discharged having “taken ill in England”.  Base records replied 9 September stating no information was held other than he had been “returned to Australia on account of senility”.

Thomas was granted a war pension seemingly against Medical Board recommendations and which was subsequently garnisheed to make direct payments to my great grandmother and her children.  He also secured a Soldier Settlement Farm in the Kojonup District (Boscabel) which failed.  Thomas died at the Sunset Hospital for Aged Men in Perth, where he spent the last few years of his life, in 1955 and is buried in Kojonup.

Fig.3: Thomas Buirchell (second from left) farewelling son "MIck" April 1941

Fig.3: Thomas Buirchell (second from left) farewelling son “MIck” April 1941

Crossfield, Robert (1876-1918)

Brother to Mary Ellen (“Minnie”), wife of great grand uncle Sydney Solly.

Service Number 5821, Private 27th Battalion.

Born as “Rowland” in Port Adelaide, South Australia, in 1876, Robert is not a direct ancestor.  However, he and his brother-in-law Sydney Solly figure in an ongoing mystery in this family tree.  Robert’s service history is also an example of what appears to be appalling treatment of a returning veteran.

Evidently having spent much of his life in Western Australia, prior to enlisting 22 April 1916 at Belmont, at age 39 years and 5 months, Robert had served for 18 months in the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery at Fort Arthur Head, Fremantle (Robert lived in nearby Cantonment Street).  Embarking from Fremantle 30 October 1916 aboard HMAT Port Melbourne as part of the 16th Reinforcement, Robert arrived in Devonport, England, 28 December 1916 and marched in to France 8 February 1917.

The 27th Battalion entered the trenches for the first time 7 April 1916 and took part in the major battle at Pozieres in July-August that year.  The Battalion did not carry out a further major attack until 20 September 1917 when it was part of the first wave at the Battle of Menin Gate and then in the capture of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October.  The 27th was engaged in the defence against the April 1918 German Spring Offensive and then in a string of offensive battles at Morlancourt, Hamel and Amiens.

Having marched to Bapaume 14 April, the Battalion came under heavy shelling near Bullecourt on 26 April 1917 and Robert received a shrapnel wound to the face.  Following transfer to Le Havre, he was evacuated to England on HMAT Warilda (which had been converted to a hospital ship) and admitted to the 4th Southern General Hospital at Plymouth.  After recuperation and a spell at Perham Downs, he returned to France 8 August re-joining the Battalion on 27 August 1917.

Robert was severely wounded on 22 September 1917 with a shrapnel wound to the left thigh.  The Unit War Diary gives a quite graphic description of the action of 19-21 September at Ypres and Westhoek Ridge in the vicinity of Polygon Wood.  The diary records the following:

Covering Fire by Our Artillery

This was consistently good with one exception.  This was probably a 9.2” or 8” Howitzer battery which repeatedly shot short, much of its fire falling on the BLUE LINE.  Although this was reported several times, the shooting continued short, and had not been corrected on night of 21/22 when one man was killed and two wounded by a shell from this battery.  The M.P.I. of these shells at about J. 9.a. 80.70 and the bearing of the battery from that point was roughly 260o MAG.

Therefore, it is entirely likely that Robert was wounded by friendly fire.

Robert was again evacuated to England and treated at St Amsel’s Hospital, Walmer in Kent for a month and then transferred to the No. 9 Canadian General Hospital at nearby Shorncliffe.  At this time Robert complained of illness and claimed to have been under treatment by the Battalion Medical Officer at the time of his wounding.  The Medical Officer at the No. 2 Australian Auxiliary, Southall, determined that he was suffering from Rheumatism and Bronchial Catarrh, exposure to inclement weather being a contributory factor, and concluded that he was unfit for general service and temporarily unfit for home service.  Previously described as “severe”, his leg wound was now described as “superficial” and the Medical Board subsequently determined that the level of disability was ½ and would persist for a minimum of 12 months.  Robert embarked for Australia per HMAT Balmoral on 1 February 1918 and was discharged in Perth 4 April.  On 5 April he was awarded a pension of 30 shillings per fortnight.

Robert Crossfield died just four months later of pulmonary tuberculosis at Wooroloo Sanatorium on 18 August 1918.  His sister Minnie Solly was notified of his death and in 1921 she applied for Robert’s medals to be delivered to her.

Fig.4: Troops of A Company, 27th Battalion, 2nd Australian Infantry Division, in th etrenches in the second line in front of Albert Redoubt; 20 September 1917.

Fig.4: Troops of A Company, 27th Battalion, 2nd Australian Infantry Division, in the trenches in the second line in front of Albert Redoubt; 20 September 1917.

Fig.5: War Diary sketch map showing location of 27th Battalion when Robert Crossfield was wounded on the second occasion.

Fig.5: War Diary sketch map showing location of 27th Battalion when Robert Crossfield was wounded on the second occasion.

Dishley, Percival Bell (1883-1954)

Second cousin 2 x removed.

Service Number 3317. Private, 27th Battalion.

Percival was actually born to Henry William Doorne and Charlotte Freeman (my first cousin 3 x removed) in Adelaide, South Australia; she divorced Doorne in 1893 and married William James Dishley in 1890 when Percy was aged seven years.  Percival, or “Sparrow” as he was known, is the proverbial ‘black sheep’ or ‘bad penny’ in the family tree (and could feature in this Blog at a later date).

Percival was working as slaughterman when he enlisted 3 August 1915, age 32 years, with the A Company, 2nd Battalion.  Percival was described as 5’1 ½“ tall with tattoos on both forearms and declared medically fit on that date.  Allocated to the 7th Reinforcement for the 27th Battalion, he was convicted for being absent without leave for 11 days from the Mitcham Training Camp – remanded for punishment and forfeiture of 12 days’ pay.  His conduct at this time was recorded as indifferent”.  The 7th Reinforcement embarked from Adelaide 12 January 1916 on board HMAT Medic arriving in Egypt in early February where the 27th had assembled at Moascar. The 27th Battalion had served at Gallipoli during September-December 1915 but returned to Egypt before departing for the European Western Front on two transports 15 and 16 February 1916.

It is not immediately clear what happened to Percival at this juncture but he did not depart with the 27th being taken on as a supernumerary to the 32nd Battalion and then transferred to the 8th Field Ambulance.  He was immediately admitted to hospitals at Ismailia and then Heliopolis and treated for an “old broken ankle and wasted right leg”.  Percival then embarked from Suez aboard the Itonus for return to Australia and discharge as medically unfit.  He arrived back in Adelaide 18 July 1916 whereupon an “exceptionally large and enthusiastic crowd” at the Adelaide Railway Station, complete with band and 100-man honour guard, welcomed the contingent home from active service.

Percival was awarded a pension of £3 per fortnight which was reduced as of 1 March 1917 to £1/10/- and then cancelled as from 30 August 1917 due to “… being no longer incapacitated”.

In 1954 “Sparrow” Dishley, now a resident of the Myrtle Bank Old Soldiers Home, was struck and killed by a car in Glen Osmond Road driven in a “culpably negligent manner”.

Fig.5: A loaded limber passing the ruins of Cloth Hall at Ypres; 14 September 1917

Fig.6: A loaded limber passing the ruins of Cloth Hall at Ypres; 14 September 1917

The restored Cloth Hall at Ypres (Ieper); 26 July 2013.

Fig.7: The restored Cloth Hall at Ypres (Ieper); 26 July 2013.

The restored Cloth Hall at Ypres (Ieper); 26 July 2013.

References

Australian National Archives, Canberra:

NAA B2455, BALLOCH AM

NAA B2455, BROWN GH

NAA B2455, CROSSFIELD R

NAA B2455, DISHLEY PB

Australian War Memorial, Canberra:

Embarkation Rolls

Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War

AMW4 Class 13-Artillery, Subclass 13/32-Headquarters, 4th Australian Field Artillery Brigade

AWM4 Class 23 Infantry, Subclass 23/44-27th Infantry Battalion

AWM4 Class 23-Infantry, Subclass 23/47-30th Infantry Battalion

Parsonson, Ian M, AM Vets at War: A History of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps 1909-1946, Army History Unit, Department of Defence, Canberra, ACT, 2005 pp70-71

1916 “Returned Soldiers – An Enthusiastic Welcome” The Register (Adelaide, SA: 1901-1929), 20 July 1916, p.5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60619209

1954 ‘TWO SERIOUSLY HURT.’, The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 22 May, p. 68, 15, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57956301

1954 ‘ADELAIDE POLICE.’, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954), 5 November, p. 19, , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47618744

Figures 1, 2,4, 5, and 6 are copyright expired, in the Public Domain and sourced from the  Australian War Memorial.

Figures 3 and 6 are from the Author’s collection © Neville Jones Services Research, 2013.

About njsresearch6

I have lived in the Northern Territory most of my life, although raised in Western Australia, and I am a member of the NT Genealogical Society.
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2 Responses to Those Who Served in World War I: From the Muir-Buirchell Family Tree (Part I)

  1. William Stook says:

    HELLO
    my mother is Joan Stook nee Balloch.
    NUMBER 2 Daughter of ALEXANDER MELVILLE BALLOCH AND ALICE AGNES BALLOCH NEE BUIRCHELL.

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