Category Archives: WWI

Sergeant Basil Lowingham Henderson DCM (1891 – 1967)

Born and raised in the South Australian country, an early volunteer, Basil Henderson appears to fit the classic, bronzed, Australian stereotype. Long silences in his army records speak volumes about his character and fitness for service. Waves of diarrhea, diphtheria, and venereal disease, plagued other soldiers. He fought in rocky, hillside trenches in Gallipoli and flat, muddy trenches France, slowly advancing from private to sergeant. His service was ended abruptly, a few months before armistice when he was wounded for a second time, in an action that earned him a Distinguished Conduct Medal.  One brother was killed in action, another wounded and disabled, and his mother died within months of war’s end. He returned a hero to a different world, and appears to have coped. Stoic, is the word that comes to mind.

Basil Lowingham Henderson was born 12 May 1891 on the family farm in Muloowurtie, Daly, South Australia,[1] the eighth child of ten. His family was well known in the small community of Ardrossan, his parents having owned the General Store for many years before taking up farming.[2] At a time when every town had its own local newspaper, the Henderson’s lives are surprisingly well documented.

As one of the people on whom the modern “ANZAC legend” is based, Basil could be said to fit the stereotype. At the age of two, he went missing from the farm, the whole district engaged in the search for him, and when he was found some twenty-three hours later it was reported that “… having been warmed up and refreshed with some food one of the search party had with him, he became quite merry and talkative.”[3] At the age of eleven he was bitten by a snake whilst rabbit hunting, he chopped off a piece of his thumb with snake still attached, this time he was reported to be “plucky”.[4]  His eldest brother died when Basil was three,[5] and his father was killed in a farm accident when Basil was seventeen,[6] so he was no stranger to death. On enlistment, he was five feet, seven and a half inches (171 cm) in height, of medium dark complexion, and 161 pounds (73 kg) in weight.[7]  It could be said, therefore that Basil was tall, bronzed, independent, and of strong character.

On 4 August 1914 when war was declared in the Britain[8] the nine surviving Hendersons, two females and seven males, were aged from 15 to 32 years old, none were married. Basil was 23. In October 1914, his brother George, enlisted at Morphetville, South Australia, aged 26.[9] Basil joined on 30 January 1915 in Ennogra, Queensland, where he listed himself as a farmer.[10]  Surprisingly, he was pipped to the post by his younger brother Leonard, who enlisted in Oaklands, South Australia at the age of 15 years and nine months, by passing himself off as being 21.[11]  The enlisting officer could hardly be blamed for being fooled as Leonard was six feet and half an inch (184cm) tall.[12] The three eldest, aged 32, 30 and 29, never enlisted which is not surprising as most soldier volunteers were aged between 18 and 25, with 21 being the most common age.[13]

Basil embarked from Brisbane, Queensland, on board HMAT A15 Star of England.[14] There is no record of his disembarkation port, his record states only that on 26 May he joined ANZAC, and no further record until he disembarked in Alexandria from Murdos on 4 January 1916.[15] It is not surprising that there are no records for this period. It is common knowledge that Gallipoli was a steep, rocky terrain, backed only by sea, and completely outside the scope of British and allied lands. There was no bureaucracy to record the minutiae of individual service, and the peninsular was being furiously defended by the Turks.

It is only possible to browse through the diaries of the 9th Battalion and gain an overview of what kind of situation Basil was in during this time. There is also no mention in battalion diary of 4th reinforcement’s arrival[16] although 5th reinforcements are mentioned in June.[17] It is therefore safe to assume that Basil was in Gallipoli by the beginning of June and his experience in Gallipoli was like others of the 9th Battalion.

In June, they were supplying fatigue parties to help dig trenches as casualties during the day were too great, followed by attempting to retrieve bodies under heavy rifle fire.[18] In July, they were rotated to front line, Cholera Inoculations began. Platoons were being taken to the beach for a swim, there were three cases of men cutting or shooting off fingers hoping, unsuccessfully, to get evacuated to hospital, and by the end of the month diarrhea was prevalent.[19]

August,[20] September[21] and October[22] was a continuous cycle of heavy fighting interspersed with quiet days, sick leaving and returning as troops and officers were infected with amoebic dysentery reducing the strength of the battalion. To top off the month of October, there was a very close encounter with a Turkish digging party, and a fierce storm that damaged piers on the beach.

At the beginning of November,[23] they rotated off the front lines and were sent on a bivouac. On November 16 they embarked SS Abassiah for Lemnos. They spent the rest of November and then December[24] training and regrouping. It was cold and snowing, the soldiers did not have enough warm clothing or blankets. Another outbreak of diphtheria in the beginning of December caused Battalion to be quarantined, their health gradually improved and they began to organise sports and entertainments. The quarantine was lifted and on 31 December and they embarked the Grampian for Alexandria.

In January 1916, Basil was disciplined for being in Lagazig without a pass. In February, his brother Edward enlisted in Adelaide.[25]  Basil was transferred, first to 49th Battalion, then in March to 4th Division Artillery, as gunner, and finally to 11th Field Artilliary Brigade, mustered and posted 4S Battery. In April, he was promoted to Bombardier.  All this was still in Egypt.[26]

In June, he joined the British Expeditionary Forces on the 10th, he disembarked Haverford in Marseilles, and by the 26th, was promoted in the field France, to Corporal. There being nothing in his record, we must assume he spent the next seven months fighting in France, beginning in summer through to the harshest winter in Europe for forty years.[27]

It was now January 1917, and the Sarah Henderson had four sons on active service. For two years, there had been no serious incidents, but all that was about to change. The youngest brother, Leonard, who had been in service in France for as long as Basil, was hospitalised for two weeks in early January for “debility”.[28]  On 28 January 2017, another brother Edward was killed in action[29] and buried in a makeshift graveyard in Le Boeufs, three miles south of Bapaume, in France.[30] In February, Basil was promoted in the field in Belgium to Seargent.[31]

On 10 June, George was seriously wounded in action in Belgium, a gunshot wound to left hand and leg, and transferred to England for hospitalisation.[32] It is only fair to assume that Basil was aware of all this. In August, Basil is recorded as being hospitalised sick then, soon after, being hospitalised again for an illness whilst on his way to England for leave. Although it does not record what illness he had, it is the first time he is recorded as having any kind of illness.[33] He was certainly a healthy, hardy man.

September 25, Basil was seriously wounded in action in France, a gunshot wound to leg and head, and transferred to England for hospitalisation, his mother was notified. Throughout 1917, Sarah Henderson is kept informed about her sons’ progress with short proforma letters using formal phrases, “advised to hospital”, “advised progressing favourably”, “advised convalescent”.

In January 1918, Basil returned to duties in France,[34] and George was discharged with a disability pension of 15 shillings per week, and returned to Australia.[35] He arrived home in March, to flags, school children and foundry worker’s in a guard of honour, and speeches.[36]

Only a few days later, on 5 April, Basil was wounded in action for the second time, a gunshot wound to right elbow, left leg and knee. The letters to his mother started up another round, she must have dreaded visiting the post office. On 12 May Basil was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.[37] He spent the last three months of the war and many months after, recuperating in hospital. His mother Sarah, died unexpectedly during this time, she survived the war by only a few months, and died on 2 January, 1919. His brother, still under 21 managed to serve throughout the war, a sprained ankle being his only injury.

Basil returned home on May 17,  and Leonard on May 31.  They each had a hero’s welcome. Life appears to have returned to the rhythm of rural life. Basil married, had children, and was not mentioned in the newspaper again until he, and two companions had a narrow escape in a cart accident.

Without any personal papers, it is not possible to imagine how Basil, or any of his brothers coped with their experience of the war. War veterans rarely if ever speak of these things. Once again, it is the silence in the records that imply Basil’s stoic character.

[1] Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922. p 316. Vol 479, 1891 Basil Lowingham Henderson http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/  accessed 5 January, 2017

[2] 1885 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 17 February, p. 3. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216321047, accessed 09 May 2017

[3]   1893 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 21 July, p. 3. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216732788,  accessed 30  April 2017.

[4] 1901 ‘THE COUNTRY.’, The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 21 October, p. 6., http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56509793 , accessed 07 May 2017

[5] 1893 ‘Family Notices’, The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), 14 August, p. 2. (SECOND EDITION), http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208456031,  accessed 30  April 2017.

[6] 1908 ‘INJURED BY A FALL.’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), 12 September, p. 41. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8830919, accessed 30  April 2017.

[7] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 1.

[8] Australian War Memorial, ‘Timeline: Australia in the First World War, 1914-1918’, https://www.awm.gov.au/1914-1918/timeline/ , accessed 20 April 2017.

[9] Service Record of George Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 2.

[10] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 1.

[11] Service Record of Leonard Wills Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 1.

[12] Service Record of Leonard Wills Henderson, p. 3.

[13] Australian War Memorial, ‘Enlistment statistics, First World War’, https://www.awm.gov.a u/encyclopedia/enlistment/wwa1/, accessed 30 April, 2017

[14] WWI Embarkation Rolls, 9th Infantry Battalion, 4th Reinforcements, p50

[15] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 13

[16] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, May 1915 p, RCDIG1003197, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/ accessed 29 April 2017

[17] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, June 1915 p, RCDIG1017616, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/ accessed 29 April 2017.

[18] 9th Infantry Battalion war diary, June 1915

[19] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, July 1915 p, RCDIG1003198, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[20] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, August 1915 p, RCDIG1003199, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/ accessed 29 April 2017.

[21] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, September 1915 p, RCDIG1003087, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[22] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, October 1915 p, RCDIG1003088, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[23] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, November 1915 p, RCDIG1003089, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[24] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, December 1915 p, RCDIG1003090, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[25] Service Record of Edward Osmond Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia. P. 1.

[26] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 13

[27] Australian War Memorial, “Timeline: Australia in the First World War, 1914-1918”, https://www.awm.gov.au/1914-1918/timeline/, accessed 20 April 2017.

[28] Service Record of Leonard Wills Henderson, p. 13.

[29] Service Record of Edward Osmond Henderson, p. 6.

[30] Service Record of Edward Osmond Henderson, p. 8.

[31] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 4.

[32] Service Record of George Henderson, p. 9.

[33] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 14.

[34] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 16.

[35] Service Record of George Henderson, p. 30.

[36] 1918 ‘THE COUNTRY.’, The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 1 April, p. 7. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60343933 accessed 09 May 2017,

[37] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 5.

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Basil

 

Oh God, not again, who is it this time?”

Sarah looked at the envelope, the only typewritten letters she ever received were from the army. She walked outside the general store, put her basket down and sat down on the top step, staring at the envelope as if willing it to disappear. The townspeople kept an eye on her, but no one interfered, almost every family in the district had had their fair share those letters.

She took a deep breath, turned the envelope over, slowly opened the flap and removed the contents. She was an expert at this now, she could look slightly to the side of the envelope with unfocussed eyes, carefully unfold its contents, and take one more deep breath before focussing on the words.

“REPORTED SERGEANT BASIL HENDERSON WOUNDED WILL ADVISE ANYTHING FURTHER RECEIVED.”

“Basil” she said to the air, shaking her head. The nearest onlooker, nodded politely and quietly passed the name on. Everyone understood.

“Thank God John did not live to see this.  Four sons fighting in someone else’s war, Edward dead, George, Basil and Leonard, I’ve lost count of the letters.”

The shopkeeper, her best friend had come out to comfort her. “He’s a tough li’l bugger, you’ll see.” She sat beside her.

“Remember that day he disappeared?”

Suddenly they were both back in time.

 

 

She groaned as she rolled out of bed. She had barely slept. Lack of cloud cover made the night colder than usual, but for once, farmers were praying for it to not rain. Some of the men had continued to search throughout the night with a slither of a new moon reflecting only just enough light. Sent to bed at midnight, she had woken up every time one of them came in or out.

It was barely first light and already people were streaming in from the town. It was the second day. For the children, it was like a carnival, as whole families turned out to help. The women manned the kitchen and watched the children while the men and every boy over twelve, were out searching in rotation, on foot and on horseback. Thomas and Isaac had already left with their father.

 The atmosphere was surreal; her mind and body had disconnected to stop her from thinking about who they were searching for or whether he would be found. Her calm exterior belied the fact that she was on the verge of hysteria. She took charge of the kitchen, making sure that everyone had enough to eat and drink, and sending refreshments on horseback out to the search parties.  The hours passed.

She looked up to see the face of her best friend in the doorway.

“Sarah Henderson, if you don’t sit with me and take tea, you will feint with exhaustion, and then what use will you be to Basil when they bring him home? The dark rings around your eyes have dark rings around them.”

She had six other boys, four born on this very farm, and she had never lost one. For the first time since they had moved to the farm, she wished they had stayed keeping shop, in the township where no one could ever get lost.

 Suddenly she was back there, having tea with her friend.

She could feel the sawdust under her feet; smell the soaps, spices, fruits, wafting in and out with the breeze; hear her friend’s raucous laughter; and feel her face redden as meaning dawned on her innocent mind.

Sarah, Sarah,” the sound of her name bringing her back to life.

Outside was ominously silent. They went to the door and saw a man on horseback riding like the devil towards them. Sarah’s legs gave way as she swooned, it took several of the women to coax her back into the sitting room.

He burst through the door, red faced from the wild ride and with tears streaming down his dust encrusted face, he could hardly speak. Someone thrust a glass of water into his hand and he took a great gulp and then a great gulp of air.

“They found him Mrs Henderson, they found him. And the wee tyke is fine! Can you believe it?”

He was too choked with emotion to say any more. Outside, there were wild shouts of hooray and long piercing whistles, men, women and children whooping with relief. Even the dogs, sensing something, were barking.

 

 

“Oi, is anyone looking after this shop?”

The two women, jolted from their daydream, breathed sharply in. They looked at each other

“Yeah, he’s a tough li’l bugger, he’ll be fine”.

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Crisis of Faith

A fanciful account

She genuflected, crossed herself, then followed the line to the priest. In a trance, her body seemed a second or two behind her, unattached and out of reach. Her mind, on the other hand was razor sharp.

Hell, hell,” she thought, “what would a bloody priest ken aboot hell? The hardest thing a priest ever had to dae was remember tae speak in English, that monotone, bastardised tongue of the Sassenach. It may as well be Latin, for the way he speaks it, you’d be sure he was sucking on a stane, and if he stuck that nose of his any higher in the air, his heed would fa’ right aff.”

Hell is being married to a man who spends half his life working, and the other half drinking near’ every penny he’s paid. In between one and the other he comes hame only just lang enough to faither another bairn. Twelve bairns, twelve.”

She was at the alter now, kneeling with her mouth open. “Blood of Christ” said the priest.

Blood of Christ, what would a man know about blood, or bleeding.” Her son Allan flashed in her mind, seven years old and coughing up blood, tears running down his face, his eyes bloodshot full of fear. Seven years ago the previous month, and still that face haunted her. “Well maybe some know a little of bleeding.

She stood up, having consumed the small biscuit “Body of Christ”. Her head was swimming, there was a pain in her chest like a knife being twisted between her ribs. She swayed visibly until the woman behind her placed her hand on her shoulder, just enough to steady her.

She shuffled back to her pew. How she had gotten through Christmas she did not know, but three more days and a long drunken night and it would be nineteen fifteen.  “Nineteen fifteen, Glasgow Scotland, that’s where hell is.” She grunted audibly, to the withering glare of her husband Archie.

Annie’s no here again,” she thought, “I wouldnae be either, if I had a choice. Twelve bairns I’ve had. I’ve no’ even finished havin’ my ain bairns, before my bairns are havin’ bairns. My wee Lizzy and Annie’s wee Johnny. The pair of them gasping for air, one would fa’ asleep and the other wake, the whole hoose awake and praying. My bairns, they are. Mine. I’ve nursed and fed, and loved them day and night. What dae I get? I get to watch them thrown out into the street. My first born, cast out into the street like a pail o’ shite, by her ain faither!” Another grunt and another withering glare.

Only a few weeks old and Johnny was gone. Annie putting her first born in the ground, that was hell. Three weeks later, and Lizzy’s gone too. Pulmonary something-or-other the doctor said. Died o’ breathing is what he meant, the pair of them, died o’ breathing.”

Outside the church, Jane surveyed her brood. Why they were so happy she could not understand. Watching them playing on the icy street, she could clearly see that they were happy. She began the short walk home, the children and the husband following after, she couldn’t have cared less, she was numb.

She was making some tea when the two Archies came in. She looked up at them, young Thomas darted out from behind them and let the cat out of the bag.

“Archie’s going to be a soldier. He’s gonnae get those German’s” he crowed pretending to fire a rifle, “He’s gonnae win the war.”

Jane nearly feinted. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph Archie, what are you thinking of.” She blasphemed.

“Leave him, Jeanie, leave him, he’s a man noo” Archie senior said accusingly.

“Me an’ the lads went yesterdae, we enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, we had our medicals and we’ve a’ passed. All I have t’ dae is wait for ma uniform and orders.” Archie junior was beaming with pride.

“Och, Archie, Archie, what have you done?” It was rhetorical, she didn’t wait for an answer. She put her coat and hat back on and reached for the door. “I’m off tae visit Annie.”

She shook her head unconsciously, “I cannae lose another bairn, I cannae, my heart is already broken.” She muttered under her breath as she trudged the short distance through the icy street to Annie’s house. “Nineteen fifteen, a’ the world’s gone mad.”

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Strangers in the Night

Archie ROWLEY (1897 – 1981) and Harry HARVEY (1893 – 1979) lived their lives twelve thousand miles apart, yet, before cars and planes were commonplace, their paths, so very nearly crossed. Archie and Harry, had the unfortunate luck to be born just in time to participate in a conflict we now call World War I. To them it became the “War to end all wars”.

Military service can be a boon to a family historian because of the information that is recorded and kept. Four years of Harry’s life is recorded in twenty-two pages of his army record. [1] Not only did the “war to end all wars” fail to end any war, it was followed a mere twenty-one years later by a sequel that obliterated over fifty percent of the British records of the first one. [2] In September 1940 a German bombing raid struck the London War office, and what remains of these records is now known as the ‘Burnt Documents’. Archie’s service in the Gordon Highlanders is recorded on a single medal card all other records burnt in the raid. [3]

Archie and Harry both served in France. Late 1915 or early 1916, Archie was gassed and blinded for three days, it impacted his health for the rest of his life. [4] On 12 July, 1916 Harry was sent to hospital in France with neurasthenia, a medical term used at the time known colloquially as shell shock. [5] He was shipped to England and admitted to the King George Hospital for treatment, he does not appear to have returned to France, and was transferred to the Australian Flying Corps 13 March, 1917. [6]

References:

[1] National Archives of Australia (NAA): B245 Harvey, HC (http://www.naa.gov.au/ : accessed 13 March, 2016)

[2] Service records for the first world war. The National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/service_records/sr_soldiers.htm : accessed 27 June, 2016)

[3] Ancestry.com. British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original Data: Army Medal Office. WWI Medal Index Cards. In the care of The Western Front Association website. Retrieved 27 June 2016.

[4] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished, “Interview with self” p 70. In the possession of Georgina Adams.

[5] Smithsonian Magazine, The Shock of War, C. Alexander, September 2010 (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shock-of-war-55376701/?no-ist Retrieved 27 June, 2016)

[6] Same as 1, above.

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