One of Ten Thousand: Letters home from Henry James Wright, an Australian soldier serving with the AIF
ONE OF TEN THOUSAND Letters home from Henry James Wright, an Australian soldier serving with the AIF Private Henry James Wright
When war was declared on the 4th August 1914, patriotic fever spread through out Australia. Henry James Wright was the first of four sons to answer the call to fight for King and Country. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1915.
After 15 weeks basic training, 26 year old Private H.J.Wright, regimental number-151, A Company, 14th Battalion AIF, sailed from Port Melbourne [Victoria] aboard the troopship A38 bound for the Middle East. While he was overseas, Henry was a prolific letter writer, but most of those letters have now been lost. Henry's story is from the postcards and letters that have survived. Due to wartime censorship, the dates on the letters are missing.
Henry went ashore at Gallipoli at 10-30am on the 26th April 1915 and describes his experience in a letter to a brother from the firing line on June 27th.
"Just a few lines in answer to your welcome letter received here 23rd June and dated May 14th. Well Les, I am pleased to hear you are well and like your place. I had a letter from Mother saying Bert and Fred had sailed but did not know what place they were going to. I thought that we still had a few brothers left who would enlist. I suppose you would have had a try had you been old enough. Well Les, I have up to now managed to dodge the bullets which fall pretty thick at times. We are giving the Turks all the fight they want. They are very frightened of the bayonet. They squeal like blue hell when they get a touch. We live in dugouts cut in the side of the hill just like rabbits. They are pretty safe from bullets and shrapnel. We do our own cooking and are getting experts at it. Now Les, I will close hoping you are well and will always be pleased to hear from you,-------------- ---I remain your loving brother, Henry."
There were lighter sides to being in action as illustrated by this poem; 'How Private H.J.Wright ended the War.'
Is it true there's a war old Wright said to me? Said I, 'I dunno, let's go and see'
So off to investigate both of us went, to try and find out what the word War really meant.
Over the creeks and up great big hills, having no sleep and missing our meals.
One day in the distance some big Turks we saw, we knew what it was like to be playing at War.
When around a few bombs and some Jack Johnson's fell,
Old Wright said I'm off its too much like hell.
So away we both scooted with the Turks at our heels,
Old Wright gasped I wonder how a bayonet feels.
At last a Jack Johnson caught Wright on the bot,
and sent him along at a very fast trot.
I'm off home he shouted, as he whizzed past my head
but he hung in a tree half alive and half dead.
When I helped him get down he was a bit dazed,
his clothes were all torn and his backside was grazed.
I soon fixed him up with some Vas and some plaster,
but the Turks they were coming up faster and faster.
At last old Wright said we'll end this war,
the quickest way you ever saw.
See those big boulders up on that hill
we'll crush those Turks like flower in a mill.
Five hundred thousand were killed this way,
the rest surrendered I'm glad to say,
So that's is the way Wright ended the war,
the quickest way you ever saw.
[Composed by Bert Lewis, A Coy, 14th Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula, July 1915.]
Private Wright was wounded by shrapnel in an attack on Hill 60 on the 21st August and was transferred to a hospital ship bound for England. His younger brothers, Fred and Albert had enlisted in the 21st Battalion and landed on Gallipoli on the 7th September 1915. Fred was eventually sent home and discharged as medically unfit with Enteric fever in 1916, Albert went on to fight in France and Flanders but he too was sent home and discharged with trench feet in 1917.
From hospital, Henry wrote a letter home describing the fighting that lead to his being wounded.
"My Dear Mother,
"You no doubt are very anxious about me, for I suppose you would get a telegram to say that I was wounded and you are wondering how badly. I am pleased to say my wounds are not serious, and also that I am a lucky man to be sitting up in bed in dear old England, writing this letter to you. I will start from the ----of August when we started to make an advance to straighten up our firing line. [I am writing of our Battalion only but there were scores of others engaged in this big move]. We moved at about 10 o'clock at night in full fighting order, each man carrying 250 rounds of ammunition. We were told before we started that our job was to go two miles along the beach then push inland for about a mile or so. We were to take the Turks by surprise.
"After doing our two miles [in strict silence] we got the order to fix bayonets, then we started to push inland. We had taken John Turk by surprise. He stood his ground for a little while but when he heard the Australian war cry, he was soon on the run. But what a great treat we had; the Turks knew where they were going we did not and the country was nothing but hills and gullies covered thickly with small bushes behind which the Turks would hide and try and put up a bit of a stand until we routed them out with a bayonet. We were not to fire a shot - all work to be done with the bayonet.
"They were blazing away all the time, but it was so dark they could only fire in our direction. A few of our chaps were hit. One of my mates next to me suddenly called out and dropped. I asked him what was up. He said "Only a bullet in the knee, but never mind I'm alright. Go on Australia give it to them, show 'em what you're made of" etc. The bullets were cutting up the dust around us when I got a bullet through the butt of my rifle, but I was not hit. Frank Trevillian, myself and a few more of our boys got cut off from the rest of the Battalion that night, and thank goodness it was dark or we should certainly have had a hard time of it. We thought our chaps were still coming on. We had just got to a small rise with a fringe of bushes when in front of us we could hear a party of Turks talking. We dropped behind what cover we could. It was while we were lying there that we found out that we were on our own, and that the Turks were creeping up. We had an officer in our party, and we owe him our escape.
"He belonged to the 13th Battalion N.S.W. He said to us 'Well boys, we are in a tight corner here and with a little bit of bluff, I think we can manage them'. So while some of us dug in, others were keeping watch. We had just made a rough cover for ourselves, when one of the observers saw a movement in front. The officer had us ready. We were to wait until they got within a dozen yards and fire for all we were worth, and if necessary, use our bayonets. I cannot explain the feeling when you know you are going to have a scrap at close quarters. It makes one feel that he is good enough for half a dozen. We allowed them to come up within a few yards. They could not see us and I think they imagined we had gone. Then we got the order to fire. We pelted lead into them as fast as we could pull the trigger and then got up and yelled like a lot of Indians. We had no occasion that time to use the bayonet. John Turk broke and fled screaming "Allah, Allah" and disappeared down the hill going like blazes. It was just breaking day so we worked our way back to the rest of our Battalion whom we found five or six hundred yards back. We do not what damage we had done, but guessed we had settled a few.
"We moved from this position early that morning and joined the rest of our Brigade (4th Brigade). Our casualties in this were not a great lot. The Turks got a big surprise that night all along the line. We found bags of bread, pots and pans, ammunition and equipments. They bolted in such a hurry they had no time to bother about these things. The Turks were now entrenched on a big hill called 971. This hill was always well fortified, and we were brought round to help take this.
"On the morning of August-----we were lined up at 3 a.m. to make an attack on a portion of this hill, so we were told, but this is what happened. On this particular morning, about two thousand of us advanced with fixed bayonets. All went well until we had passed through a big ravine. We reached a flat piece of land that had been cultivated, and had to cross this at the double, for dawn was just breaking, and the Turks had spied us and came at us in thousands. We were a splendid target. I will never forget crossing this cultivated ground about three hundred yards wide. They turned machine guns on us and our poor fellows were dropping like flies. We reached a place at the end of the ravine and dug in. The Turks were bringing up more reinforcements. This is just what our side wanted, for we were drawing the fire while a very large force of Tommies and Ghurkas made an assault of this big hill on the right, we being on the left. We soon found our what we had fallen into. We had been sent out to draw as many of the enemy as possible to make out that we were the main attacking party.
"While the Turks were advancing on us, our big guns from the cruisers just blew them sky high. When the shells burst amongst them, we could see Turks, pieces of men, earth and bushes, all in a heap. The Ghurka is a splendid soldier; he likes best to fight with the knife and is very severe on the snipers and will search for them for hours, and snipers when caught wants to be taken prisoner - he has no chance. The Ghurkas are good friends of the Australians. They are small men, but very strong and wiry. When we got the Turks moving our way we received the order to retire, and to carry back all wounded on our way. The stretcher-bearers were working like Britons. I and another 14th man carried a poor fellow who was shot through the stomach. We had to move ourselves too, over ridges, along gullies through thick bush. There was no time to have a spell. We were being shelled, and John Turk was pumping the lead our way. He, no doubt, thought we were running away, but this was part of our plan for the Tommies and Ghurkas were doing great work on our right. We eventually reached a place of safety and got our man to a dressing station. The wounded were coming down in scores from this big hill, but others were going up with a determined look on their faces that boded ill for the Turks. It is rather a peculiar feeling when you first see a wounded man being carried past, but one soon gets used to it, and the more determined he is to avenge him. We made a line of trenches, and held them for a couple of weeks. During this time we had a very hard job getting water. Of course water was coming along as well as they could send it, but for thousands and thousands of troops it means a big thing. We dug down fifteen feet, and discovered beautiful spring water; from that day on we had plenty.
"I will now pass onto the afternoon of August…We were to make a charge on the Turk's trenches. This was to be another big move for us. You no doubt read in the papers about the big landing of troops at Suvla Bay. This was the time that we moved. Now I will describe it to you, just as it appeared to me.
"At 3 p.m. we were lined up and told our job. We were to advance for three hundred
yards and previous to our going our cruisers and land artillery bombarded the
Turks for a good hour. The first hundred yards were not too bad, but the last hundred
was hell. We rested for a breather for this final spurt on a ridge. We had to run over
the brow, down the other side, across a flat and gain another ridge. As soon as we started, the enemy worked machine guns, rifle fire and shrapnel at us. I saw dozens fall in front of me. One poor chap's equipment and clothes caught fire, I think a bullet struck his cartridges and set alight to the cordite. He screamed something awful. I had not gone far, when I got a nasty blow to my leg. I did not stop, though to do so was certain death. I managed to scramble down to the ridge and crawled to a place of safety. My wound was dressed and the leg began to get stiff. We had no hope to get back to get a doctor until dark, so just had to lie there and wait. I did not mind waiting but we were getting Jack Johnson's shrapnel and bullets dangerously close. Anyway, I had the satisfaction to see that we had gained our position, and our fellows were busy digging in. While lying here, I was in full view of the hill we came down. It was a terrible sight. Men were lying around in dozens, some groaning terribly, and the Tommies were coming over. It is only then that a fellow realises the awfulness of it. They came over in a rush, and were cut up like chaff, but they would not turn back. I and a lot more wounded were waiting in this place to be taken away when we saw a poor chap staggering towards us. I found he was one of the 14th - a chap I knew well.
"A machine gun had made a horrible sight of him. The bullets entering his mouth, cutting away the bottom teeth then passing through his neck breaking the collarbone and making a nasty gash in his shoulder. He could not speak but wrote down on a piece of paper that he was not downhearted and that he was satisfied when he saw our boys had taken the position. That night when we started to make for the beach, we had plenty of bullets humming around us. I'm afraid we looked a sorrowful pair. I hobbling along and my poor mate hanging on to the back of my tunic. We had a lot of spells on our way down and reached the hospital ship at dawn. We had a nice warm bath and got between nice clean sheets. We steamed away from the Dardanelle's and went onto Lemnos - one of the Islands forty miles away. We were here for two days, then put on a sister ship to the Lusitania and on the 24th August we started for England, called in at Malta for a day and Gibraltar five days and finally reaching Devonport on September 8th.
"We travelled by hospital train to Paddington about 230 miles then motored to Hampstead (New End) Military Hospital where we are looked after splendidly. When
the boys are able to walk, they are allowed out from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. They are often taken for motor trips all over London. The people are very kind, and invite the boys to afternoon tea. The Old Bull and Bush Inn is only ten minutes walk from here. Little did I think I would one day see the original. I will write to you again about the different places when I can get about. Don't worry about me, my wounds are not serious. I expect to be about in a couple of weeks. I have an appetite like a horse [I should think so after bully beef and biscuits for four months]"
In another letter Henry describes how Australians were treated in England.
"My dear Mother, Father, Brothers and Sisters,
"I am getting along splendidly, and can get about with the aid of a stick. I have had a great week for outings. SUNDAY,--Motor drive to the country and saw the great flying grounds at Hendon; then afternoon tea at a lovely house at Highgate [ photo taken on the lawn] ; entertained with music; plenty of cigars and cigarettes .MONDAY - A motor drive to the country, 30 miles of lovely scenery; afternoon tea on the lawn. TUESDAY-20 of us were entertained at the Hampstead Golf Club. We had a competition game and I reckon I am hot stuff at golf. We were treated very well-plenty of cigarettes and our tea was good. I thought I would never be able to get up from the table. The ladies sang songs to us. Of course I made eyes at one of the young ladies and we got quite chatty and I was sorry we had to go. I am looking forward to the next invitation to play golf. WEDNESDAY--- Three of us motored out to Watford and had afternoon tea at the big house. SATURDAY---A lady took five of us in a motor to Richmond, about 18 miles from here. We had a glorious time.
"We passed Lord's Cricket ground, over Hammersmith Bridge, through the great Richmond Park, covered with forests of oak, chestnut and silver birch trees and saw hundreds of deer. We had afternoon tea on the banks of the Thames, came back through Bush Park. We were shown Hampton Court Palace, the favourite residence of Queen Victoria. We crossed over Kingston Bridge and had a real good time. The people here are very good to Australians and cannot do enough for us. If we go for a walk in the afternoon we are stopped by the women and children and given cigarettes and sweets and asked to come for tea. We have concerts two or three times a week, some of the best singers and artists from theatres entertaining us. The weather here is getting cold, so we are to have more concerts and moving pictures. Corporal Stuckey is herewith me. He was wounded the same day as myself. You remember he and Trevillian came to tea one Sunday night before we left Broadmeadows. Tomorrow, Stuckey, two other Australians and myself are invited for a motor ride to the principal parts of London. So tomorrow I will have some news to tell you of our trip. TUESDAY---I do not know how to tell you what a splendid outing we had today. I will do my best to explain it. We left here at 2pm and were soon in the crowded but wonderful city of London. We crossed Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames, did Regent Street, Leicester Square [high monument of Ajax defying the lightning] Trafalgar Square, with the splendid monument of Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. We motored around the historical building, the Tower of London, which dates back hundreds of years. I cannot write how these wonderful buildings impress one at first sight. The German spies are shot here. When I get my furlough I am going to look over this building and I will write you more news of it. We passed over Tower Bridge---a tremendous big bridge. A roadway is lifted up by hydraulic power to let the steamers pass. We then recrossed the Thames over Westminister Bridge, saw the bronze statue of Boadicea, and the wonderful obelisk of Cleopatra. This huge stone was brought from Egypt in Queen Victoria's time, and was cut out of solid granite about the time the Pyramids were built. We saw the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey, Albert Memorial, St Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the wonderful Queen Victoria Memorial, Hyde Park, Rotten Row and dozens of other places of interest. I have not written of the splendour and wonder of it all but when I get out on furlough, I mean to spend most of the time inside these old historical places and will be able to describe them better to you."
"Well, my dear Mother and Father, I know you must be having a most anxious time, wondering how we are all getting on and dread each day to hear bad news; but the danger is not so great as you imagine, and if you could see us at our work in the trenches and under fire, and how lightly we take it all, I am sure you would not worry so much. I [and my brothers, I am sure] are always thinking of you at home. I can see you now, dear Mother, sitting down doing crochet work and Dad on the sofa reading the paper. How lonely the old house must seem; but cheer up, we will some day all return again. We are doing work for our country that you must be proud of. You have given four sons and this is a very big thing out of our family. I will send you postcards of London and the principal buildings when I get out. I cannot draw any money while in hospital. I do not mind being here for we are treated like toffs."
While Henry was recovering from his wounds, his Battalion was withdrawn from Gallipoli on the 18th December 1915 and sent to France………Henry returned to active service in April 1916.
A fourth brother to join up, Charles Ison Wright , also a member of the 21st Battalion had arrived in June 1916 and the brothers were in the same area fighting the Germans.
Private Charles Ison Wright
Henry is wounded again, this time in the right arm, left leg and suffers from shell-shock in or near Pozieres on 2nd July 1916. He was sent to the Northumberland War Hospital to recover. His brother, Charlie is shot in the right leg in an attack on Mouquet Farm also near Pozieres. He took seven months to recover only to be shot again in April 1917; this time it was the right arm, head and back. The Army decided enough was enough and sent him back home as medically unfit in August 1918.
Henry remained in England as his wounds were taking a long time to heal. He was eventually fit enough to be transferred from hospital to the School of Musketry in Tidworth on the 2nd February 1917 where he was given light cleaning duties. It was from here Henry writes his most inner most thoughts about the war, the nostalgia for his home and about his life in general.
School of Musketry, Bhurtpore Barracks, Tidworth, England. October 6th 1916.
"Dear Les and Gordon,
"I think it is about time I wrote you a few lines for no doubt you want to know a little news of this side of the world. It always appeals to anyone who has not travelled that they would like to see different parts of the world, but take my dinkum tip and stick to the dear old home for there is absolutely no place like it. Mind you, I am not sorry I came away because to hang back would be like a coward's game, but to leave home just to roam about is a very foolish idea. I know when I was your age I was always wanting to roam the world. I know perfectly well now that ones home sweet home is paradise. I have been hungry many a time and scores of times been without a smoke. Just sitting down to Bully beef and biscuits for three meals a day of course next day you would get a change to biscuits and Bully beef. Well dear Brothers, I will begin my explanation of the countries I have visited with Egypt. Now Egypt is a pretty but dirty place. The natives are a very stinking lot of devils and if you do not watch them, they will put a knife between your ribs. They are very treacherous and the only way to treat them is to make them frightened of you. When we first went to Egypt, we could get things very cheap, but when they found out the Australians had plenty of money, everything went up double the price. We could buy 2 big oranges for a halfpenny, 6 eggs, twopence or a good feed for sixpence. The native women do all the work. It is a very common sight to see them carrying heavy loads on their head and a baby on their back. Of course these are the Arabs and they are black. The Egyptians are as white skinned as us and are very fine race of people. As you know by the history books, Egypt is a very old place and has some very old interesting sites.
"The Pyramids are a wonderful sight and the Tombs which date back thousands of years ago. I think every Australian who went to Egypt took the opportunity of seeing these wonderful old places. We were camped at Heliopolis about 10 miles from Cairo and close to our camp was a very old burying ground and often our boys would go over and dig up the remains and find beads, coins and other curios. I have seen some of the boys come home with a skull and put a lighted candle inside of it at night time. You can guess it would give the boys who came home late a big scare especially if they were a bit tipsy. Heliopolis camp was only a desert when we first landed there but all sorts of shops went up like lightning and many a nigger made a fortune in no time. Our boys spent thousands and thousands of pounds in Egypt. Australians are the best paid soldiers in the world and they deserve it for they are bonza fighters. Well dear brothers, we did not have the luck to take Constantinople. I cannot tell you much of the Turkish cities but I saw plenty of Turks at Gallipoli. I can say they are a fine body of men and dash good fighters. My remembrances of the four months on the Peninsula are like a big nightmare. I had a charmed life there and don't know how I escaped being blown to pieces many a time. I could fill a book of narrow escapes. Now we will pass on to the land of frogs and snails. By joves it seemed a lovely country after Egypt and Gallipoli. Everywhere you see lovely fields of grape vines, fruit trees, cultivated land and rivers. The people are a splendid race and women work in the fields like a man. It is a common sight to see them ploughing and hoeing in the fields and we Australians were always greeted the time of day. We often bought bread off them instead of eating biscuits.
"Our three days trip from Marseilles to a place called Baielui was through the prettiest country I ever saw. We were within 8 miles of Paris and could see the Eiffel Tower plainly. It was a certainty that if they took us through Paris, we would have taken leave and had a look around Paris. We were only a little over a week at Baielui about 10 miles from the trenches. We could plainly hear the booming of the heavy guns. We also saw plenty of aeroplane fights which were interesting to watch. The English and French airmen are much superior in the air than the Germans and our fellows would soon hunt the German home to his lines. An aeroplane is most useful in warfare and are used mostly for spying out guns and watching movements of troops. I saw as many as 26 of our aeroplanes in a mob going on a raiding expedition. When our airmen fly over the German lines, old Fritz opens up a terrible bombardment with their aircraft guns, but our fellows take no notice but go on with their work. Sometimes the Germans score a hit and bring our man down but there is always plenty more only too eager to take his place. These aeroplanes are all fitted up with wireless apparatus and they watch the result of our gunner's fire and wire back the result. Too far, too short as the case may be until our gunners eventually blow up the object they are after.
"Now here is a story of one of our airmen, an Englishman who was known as the Mad Major. This man was supposed to have consumption and only had a few months to live so did not care if he was killed. I have heard this story from Englishmen, Australians and Canadians who have seen him often. He would fly over the German lines and swoop right down on their trenches and drop bombs .He had the most lucky escapes and often the planes [wings] were riddled with shrapnel, and bullet holes. He would often loop the loop over Fritz's lines and end up with turning his machine guns on them. He is credited with bring down many a German machine for he would attack any number of them single handed.
"Here is another story of the Mad Major but I will not say it's true. One day he was flying over the German lines when something went wrong with the works and he had come down and had just fixed it up when he was surrounded by a couple of German Officers. Thought they would like to be planed a couple of miles back to their camps and each with a loaded revolver, commanded him to fly there. He agreed and got in his machine and strapped himself in. The two German Officers were seated behind, covering him with their revolvers. He flew up into the air and looped the loop which threw out the Germans. He then came back to our lines. Of course you can believe this if you like, but I reckon it beats Sexton Blake hands down eh what.
"Well brothers, everyone who goes to the front has narrow escapes and I have had mine. One day in the trenches, previous to doing this raid, Frank Trevillian and I were just killing time and having a sing-song and old Fritz was shelling our part of the trench with a 9 point 5 shell (known amongst the soldiers as coal boxes). Now one of these coal boxes landed two yards in front of the trenches where Frank and I was, and by a piece of luck, missed fire. Had it gone off, we should have been in little pieces. Frank and I looked at one another and then went on singing, but I can tell you, it made us think of better places than that dammed old trench. By Joves, as I sit here and write these lines to you boys, I am indeed thankful I am having a spell from it all and sincerely hope I have no more fighting for a while. I am not afraid to go back, but I think it only right that we old hands should have a spell. I have now six scars from bullets to show, so think that quite sufficient. I had word from Charlie lately saying he was being discharged from hospital, so I am in hopes of seeing him soon. Poor old Bert will miss Charlie very much. I do hope he gets through alright. Fred is very lucky getting his discharge and I am very glad for it will help to cheer up Mother and Dad. I'll bet you boys are proud of your soldier brothers and you have the satisfaction of saying that none of them were slackers. Well dear brothers, war is nothing else but pure murder and the sooner it is all over the better for everyone concerned. I am looking forward to the time when it is all over and we can come home again. I guess we will have a good old time.
" I am positive that at Dad's spree the champagne will get a severe hiding. I have contracted a terrible thirst since joining the Army. Of course I put it down to Bully Beef. Well dear brothers, we have some characters in the Australian Army. All kinds from bank clerks to bush whackers. Wherever there is a mix up with fists, some of our boys are in it, but a softer hearted lot you could not find in the whole world. They are ever willing to help a man wounded, or anyone down on his luck. They have taught many an Englishman manners by getting up and giving a lady their seat. They are rough and ready but no matter what country they go to, they are classed as gentlemen. In Hospital over here we are treated with great respect and want for nothing. We get scores of invitations to visit the wealthy peoples' houses. I have had many an outing and hope for many more similar ones. I have a nice light job now looking after these rooms in a musketry school. I have only to keep them tidy, and can finish them in two hours. The job may last six weeks or six months. I hope it hangs out until the end of the war. Three good meals a day and a nice warm bed to lie on so I can't growl. Now Leslie and Gordon, I want you to write me a letter and let me know how you are getting on, what kind of work you are doing and if you want to know any particular news about different countries I have been in. Just mention it in your letter and I will be only too pleased to give you any information I can. I will now close, hoping this finds you both well, ---------------------- I remain your aff brother Henry."
The following letter sent from the School of Musketry dated 16th April 1918, contains a reference about two relatives that illustrates the lack of commitment to the war effort as perceived by Henry. The brothers Ernie, Herb and Robert Bruce were Henry's cousins. R J Bruce from North Essendon, [a suburb of Melbourne] enlisted in 'C' Company; 46th Battalion as a driver; on Aug 31, 1915. He fought in France and was wounded at Pozieres, Aug 4, 1916. In number 11 hospital for 8 weeks; later
fought at Bullecourt, Ypres etc but was invalided home Sept18, 1917. It is not known why the other brothers didn't enlist.
"My dear Mother,
"Just a few lines to say I am well and still going strong at the Musketry School. All those rumours of having to go to France again have now died down and we are going on as usual. I am very thankful for I should not like going over there again. I have had all the fighting I want for all time. Well dear Mother, I was very pleased to receive 6 letters today from Australia, three from you, two from Pauline and one from Charlie and you can guess how pleased I was to hear Charlie had returned home safely. I only wished I could see you all seated down in the old home, so happy and contented all would be. Well cheerio dear Mother, my time is coming along by next Xmas and don't forget to keep that Hogshead of beer on ice. Joves, I get thirsty every time I think of it. I guess I can do justice to my share of it. I do not mention Champayne now as I reckon the Australians have drank all that in France. You can bet I had my share when I was there.
"By Joves, young Gordon is a brick and is sticking to that job in N.S.W. I reckon it will be the making of him. I sincerely hope he sticks to banking his money as he is doing for it is the finest thing for a young fellow to have a few pounds behind him. I will write him a letter next week and address it to Mr Mc Geoch.
"I really had no idea work was at such a standstill in Australia. Is Leslie a carpenter?
For some months back you mentioned that he was working for Mr Musgrove. So Fred is once again Postman. Does he think it better than soldiering? I wish I had half his luck. I suppose Bert is a gentleman, gets out of bed at 6 every morning [I mean 10] By Joves, I laughed at Gordon's letter that you enclosed. He said his boss had been to America, South Sea Islands and Christ knows where [I wonder where that place is]
"I am very pleased to know Miss Addey writes to you. Every letter I get from her you are mentioned and I have always an invitation to call and see them whenever I can get leave. Charlie will be able to tell you what a lovely home they have and how splendid they treated him and myself. It is indeed a home away from home. I hope Charlie will not forget to write a few lines to her. I was surprised to hear Bob Bruce is in hospital. Still, he is indeed having a bad time of it. Remember me to him when you write. I suppose Herb and Ern wont attempt to join up and fight for their King and Country. By Joves, those are two beauties. I wonder does it ever enter their mind what cowards they are. Well thank goodness people cannot say the same of your sons.
"Well Mum, I will soon out of the twenties, only a few days to go now and I will be 30 years of age and reckon it quite time I was home and looking after my little son and heir and I am sure he will want a little sister to play with. I am thinking he will soon be following his old dad over here if this war lasts much longer.
"Well dear Mother, what do you think of this big German Offensive? Old Fritz is winning ground off us now wholesale but I am sure by the time this letter reaches you, the news will be of the Allies pushing old Fritz to blazes. The Allies will sweep old Fritz back to Germany and completely crush his military power to nothing. This French General, Foch, will strike soon and there will be hell to pay. Germany is absolutely starving, our fleet have blocked all means of her getting foodstuffs from any neutral country and she has only her own land to harvest from. What a grand time it will be when it is all over and we get back again to dear old Aussie.You cannot imagine how the dear old place appeals to us after being years away.
"Well dear Mother, I still do the washing here for the Sargeants and it always brings me in a few extra bob. Everything is so very dear over here. Just now, cigarettes are five and a halfpence a packet of 10 and tobacco is nine and a halfpence an ounce. I was very lucky in receiving a lb of Havelock tobacco from Pauline a couple of weeks ago. It is 2/6 a two ounce tin over here. The civil population are having a terrible hard time of it and I do not know how they manage to live, the price of food stuffs is awful. Thanks very much for papers and paper cuttings. Everything like that is all news to me. Your Gazette enclosed in the letter received the same time as your other letters so by addressing the letter direct here and putting on 14th Battalion made no difference this time.
"So Florrie * has another daughter. By Joves, those two mean business and I don't think it fair, for I have no chance of keeping pace with them. I reckon I will have to knock them out two at a time. Well now my dear Mother, I must close my letter for this time as I will be soon running out of ink or you will be charged extra postage so with fondest love to all and cheerio till Xmas next.
I remain your ever loving son, Henry." ** 'Florence' Henry' sister.
Overseas Training Battalion, Longbridge, Deverill, Near Warminister, Wiltshire, England. July 12th 1918.
"My dear Father,
"Just a few lines to say I am well and will in four days time, be going back to France to fight this Hun. I am now in splendid health and can almost tip the scale at 13 stone. I am just about jumping out of my skin with good training we get and do not mind in the least having to go back. It is for you dear people at home that I am thinking. You will worrying, but you must buck up for I may be back again in England before this reaches you.
"Well Dad, she is some war and is hanging out a long time, years longer than any of us thought, but there is no doubt that America's millions of men is going to bring us a victory within a few months. America has now a million men in France and she is sending on an average 10,000 every day and can continue this until the war ends. The Germans are at present holding a big part of France and they are trying their damndest to reach Paris. They will never do it. They have advanced over ground in a few weeks which had taken the Allies nearly two years to get, but in my opinion, this was all part of the allies plan to fall back to gain time for the American Army to come in and also to kill off as many of the Huns as possible. You will see a great change will take place soon. The Allies will start an offensive and push ahead and the Lord help old Fritz for it will be one of the biggest lickings she has had. The war will only start then the slaughter will be terrible, but it is the only way for peace.
"Well Dad, I was in hopes of having Christmas back home with you all but will have to again postpone it. Still I guess that Hogshead beer will keep for another year. We must not forget a goodnight then. I guess you were pleased to have Fred, Bert and Charlie home again and don't forget Dad, I will soon be back, my good luck will always stick. So Dad, I want you all to cheer up, I am going over to the big stouch with a good heart and I want you to keep the home fires burning and don't let anything happen to that beer.--------------your loving son, Henry."
No 1 Command Depot, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, England.
"I have just received a letter from Mother dated 18th April and you were at that time wanting Dad's and Mother's consent to join up. Well dear Brother, I certainly admire your pluck for wanting to do your bit, but if this reaches you before you have taken that step, I would like to point out a few of the disadvantages of this rotten life. First of all, you will miss all those comforts you are use to at home and this is more than you can ever dream of. You will be allowed to draw 2 shillings per day [only] and this at the present time is equal to 6 pence in peace time. I am drawing 1 shilling and I cannot keep my self in smokes. You will find the tucker is much harder to take than you are used to at home. I wish I could sit down to a good square meal like Mother can cook but I am on Army rations and I have not any spare shillings to buy any extra. I have to just want.
Here is our day's menu,
1 slice of dark bread with dripping, a small quantity of a greasy looking mess called Curry and Rice, half pint tea minus sugar.
Stew, 1 slice bread, rice pudding or sago.
1 slice of bread, jam, margarine, half pint tea.
"I don't know if you ever tasted margarine, I hope not.
Now you are bossed and bullied about by Corporals, Sgnts, Officers and Lance Jacks from morning till night and you have to do all kinds of unpleasant duties. You cannot refuse unless you like to lose a few days pay and do a few days clink.
"Now Les, just consider yourself well off where you are and try and use your common sense a little. Surely you must admit Mother and Dad have had enough worry over Fred, Bert, Charlie and myself. I am going to France in a couple of week's time. I will represent you there and as a last wish, I want you to hang on where you are. You can never realise the misery of it all until you have seen some of it. Hoping dear Brother, this finds you well and that you think before enlisting,
Your loving Brother, Henry."
Henry finally returned to his Battalion on the 24th July.
"Somewhere in France---August 7th 1918.
"My dear Mother, Father, Sisters and Brothers,
I am going into a big fight to-night and would just like write a few lines for one never knows what may happen. I cannot tell you where we are making our drive but you will read of it in the papers. Well dear parents, brothers and sisters, should I go under you will know I have done my duty and have always tried to play the game. I do indeed feel very thankful that Charlie, Bert, and Fred are back home with you. I am going into that great fight with a good heart and with loving thoughts of you all, my ever fondest love to all,
I remain your ever loving son, Henry."
On the 20th August he wrote to his parents from the Western Front recording his recent battles and his nostalgia for home, as he had not been back to Australia for 40 months.
"My dear Mother,
"Have just come out from the front line and our Division was supposed to be out for a couple of weeks spell but everything is so indefinite we may have to go in again in a few days time. Well dear Mother, we had not near as much fighting as in our last advance. What do you think of the war news now old Fritzy is getting it hot all along the front. I think it is only the beginning of a severe hiding for him as every day the Allies are pushing him back at some part and the prisoners we are capturing are enormous. Guns, ammunition and salvage of all kinds we are getting every day. One of the Battalions of our Brigade were back in the reserve line while amusing themselves in their spare time firing back thousands of rounds of shells[whiz bangs] from captured German guns. An artillery officer had obliged by fixing the guns on a busy part of Fritzs lines and our men peppered him with his own medicine. You can imagine the Huns would be wild being bombarded with their own artillery. Well dear Mother, I was very pleased to receive your letter of 23rd June and know you are alright but you must not worry so much about me. I will come through alright and will admit it is a touch different to my job at Tidworth but still don't mind and guess it is my fate to see it through and dear Mother, I am ever so grateful it has fallen to myself as the eldest of our four boys to carry on. It does indeed make it easier for me to know my younger brothers are safe home. I am applying for my furlough to Australia but of course will probably have to wait my turn. Pauline says in her letter that she is also trying to get me home so between us we may soon have satisfaction. I think I should just about go out of my head at the thought of coming back to Aussie again. We are always hearing news of the 1914 men being relieved from the line but it seems to stop at that. Anyway, I mean to try hard for it. Well dear Mother, I am pleased to know Charlie is going through the operation to his arm and do hope it will be a success. I am also pleased to know Bert, Fred and Leslie are working and hope Leslie has changed his mind about joining up and hope Dad is all right again. I reckon Dad ought to have a spell for good, he has done his share.
"Still dear Mother, I know Dad would not be satisfied with nothing to do. I still have that snap that Fred took of Dad in the garden and like it very much. It brings back memories of that day Charlie and I were told to weed the peas but we went off bird nesting. When we came home for tea, we had to set to and do the weeding anyway. Well, they were good old times and we boys had as good a home as anyone could have wished for. I received a letter from Charlie, Les and Fred by the same mail as yours but I will owe them a letter as we are limited in sending letters and I want to make certain of one for you and Pauline every week. Well dear Mother, I have made a lot of friends since coming back to the trenches but I cannot say they are nice ones. They are grey in colour and have legs on both sides. Some say Keating's powder is good but I think a change in flannels much better. People say 'chats' [lice] will not live on a person in poor health. I must be in tiptop health. Well now dear Mother, I draw my letter to a close hoping this finds you all in the best of health and fondest love to all. I remain your loving son Henry."
He was killed thirty days later. The following is a copy of the official report;
No. 151 Pte Wright H.J was killed by shell fire whilst asleep at 4pm. 19-4-1918. and partially buried and badly wounded in the head and died instantly. Map reference; burial place [In the vicinity of Ascension Wood, 3500 yards South West of Bellicourt] Sheet 62B.N.W.G.25.b.50.70. A Regimental cross was erected on the grave. Unfortunately, after the war, Henry's family was to learn that the cross was of a memorial nature only, and did not mark an actual grave.
The Australian National Memorial of Villers-Bretonneux was erected to commemorate Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium. To their dead and especially to those whose graves are not known. There are over 10,000 1914-18 war casualties commemorated on this memorial. Henry is just one of 10,000.
Anzac to Amiens, C, W.Bean. Australian War Memorial Publication 1961
Official WWI Service Records, National Archives, Canberra, ACT. Kind permission.
Personal Papers from author's collection. The Red and Black Diamond. The History of the 21st Battalion-1915-1918.
Kind permission N.C.Smith, 1997
© Ken Wright 2002.