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24 April 2010

Private Frank Palmer Smith of Coromandel Valley

In 1896, the year Frank Palmer Smith was born, his parents Jacob Adam and Mary Ellen 'Nell' Smith (nee Mincham) bought a block of land along the Sturt River in Coromandel Valley where they established a dairy. Their home was built by John Weymouth and it still stands on The Knoll Crescent. Frank attended the Coromandel Valley Public School, and as a boy enjoyed roller skating and playing the piano, for which he won several prizes. He also served for a year in the senior cadets. In 1912 he passed the civil service exam and began work as a clerk. Before the war he assisted with gymnasium classes at the Blackwood, Belair and Coromandel Boys’ Club.

He enlisted on 11 September 1914 at the age of 19, joining 'Cork' Company of the 10th Battalion at Morphettville and boarding the troopship 'Ascanius' on 20 October 1914. By December 1914 the battalion was camped in tents at the foot of the Pyramids in Egypt. Training continued till early April 1915 when the battalion moved to Alexandria and then to the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea.

About 2pm on the afternoon of 24 April 1915, Frank, loaded down with his pack and rifle, climbed on board the British battleship the 'Prince of Wales', along with the rest of 'Cork' and 'Beer' companies of the 10th Battalion. The 'Prince of Wales' then slipped out of Mudros Harbour, along with other ships carrying the rest of the first wave that was to land on Gallipoli.

Around 7pm that evening the battalion were told they could rest until 11pm. Those that were able to sleep were woken at midnight, and they were all given a welcome cup of hot cocoa by the ships' crew.

At 1am the ships stopped so the soldiers could start climbing down rope ladders into lines of rowing boats moored alongside the battleship. By 2.35am the rowing boats were full, and the battleship set off again with the lines of rowing boats attached to its sides. At 3 am the moon set and the sky grew very dark. At 3.30am the boats cast off from the battleship to be towed in threes towards the distant shore by small steamboats.

It was so dark that they would probably not have been able to see the lines of boats being towed alongside. Perhaps they could have just made out the boat behind or in front. The water was smooth as satin. It was a cool peaceful night. There was still no sign of any sort that the Turks had seen them. Close to the shore, the steamboats cast off the lines of boats, and they began to row.

About 4.29am a figure appeared silhouetted on a cliff overlooking the beach and a shot rang out, whizzed overhead and plunged into the sea. Moments later, as the boats reached the stony beach, Frank and his mates slipped over the side and waded ashore, weighed down by their equipment. Bullets struck sparks off the stones on the beach, and men were killed and wounded in the boats, in the water and on the beach. Those that hadn’t been hit ran across the stony beach to the cover of a sandy bank. They started to scale the steep hill in front of them, some driving their bayonet into the dirt to give them a handhold, as the Turks kept shooting at them with rifles then machine guns, the fire getting heavier and the casualties mounting every minute.

Sometime on that first ANZAC Day, Frank Smith was shot through the left foot. Four agonising days later he finally made it to a hospital in Cairo.

He survived his wound, but it was bad enough that he was repatriated to Australia and discharged as medically unfit in November 1915. He had spent little more than a year in the AIF. His older brother John enlisted a year after Frank, and died of arsenic poisoning whilst training in Egypt in May 1916.

After the war Frank worked on the family farm, eventually taking it over when his father died. He met Muriel Mcintosh at a dance, they married in 1928, and had four children, twins that died shortly after they were born, and Patricia and John. Frank and Muriel were devoted to each other. In 1935, Muriel died when John was only three months old, and it hit Frank very hard. Patricia went to live with her grandparents Jacob and Mary, and John, who was disabled, went to live with an aunt closer to Adelaide. Frank continued to work the dairy farm. Sadly, Frank’s suffering wasn’t over. When John died at the age of twenty two, Frank went down the Sturt River and in his grief dug a dam which today is known as the John Wesley Smith Memorial Lake. It is located within the Frank Smith Reserve, just behind the Coromandel Valley Primary School off Magarey Road. Frank didn’t want the land broken up, so when he sold it to the Mitcham Council he made sure it would be kept as one lot, which is why the community is still able to enjoy it today.

Frank is remembered by his family as a kind man, who played the piano beautifully. He was an active member of the Blackwood RSL. Early in the Second World War he enlisted in the Army for home service, and sometime that year he married Hilda Priest. In 1944 he tried to enlist in the RAAF.

Frank died at the Repatriation Hospital at Daw Park on Ash Wednesday 1983 at the age of 87 and was buried in the Derrick Gardens at Centennial Park. His daughter Pat is still alive, two of his grandsons still live on the Knoll at Coromandel Valley, and his granddaughter Heather works at the Blackwood Library. His name is inscribed on the Blackwood Soldiers' Memorial.

11 April 2010

Private Archibald Percy Choat of Cherry Gardens

Archie Choat was the third of the seven sons of Joseph Choat and Alice Mary Choat (nee Broadbent). He was born in 1897 at Cherry Gardens, but the family moved to Clarence Park before he was old enough for school. He attended Goodwood Public School and was working as a farm labourer for the Duncan family at 'Gum Creek' near Clare before he enlisted.

As he was only 18 years old, he needed his parent's permission to enlist alongside his older brothers Ray and Wesley on 12 July 1915, and all three were allocated to A (or 'Ack') Company of the SA/WA-recruited 32nd Battalion with sequential regimental numbers.

Embarking from Adelaide on 18 November 1915, the Battalion disembarked at Suez on 18 December 1915, and after training in Egypt sailed for France in June 1916. On 19 July 1916 the inexperienced battalion was thrown into the poorly planned Battle of Fromelles. During the night of 19/20 July 1916 Ack Company of the 32nd Battalion was cut-off by German counter-attacks and Archie and his brother Ray were killed. Their brother Wesley was wounded by shrapnel and captured by the Germans. Archie's body was found and buried at the Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, France. His name is inscribed on: the State National War Memorial, the Goodwood Primary School honour board, the Goodwood Anglican Church Monument, the Unley Town Hall honour roll and the family grave at Mitcham Cemetery.

After his death his parents and friends wrote to the Red Cross and the Department of Defence and placed family notices in the Advertiser remembering Archie. Among the letters and messages, his parents said their 'hearts were rent, and well nigh broken'. His brother Wesley escaped from the German prison camp and received the Military Medal in recognition of his bravery in doing so. It was common for family and friends to include a short poem in notices placed in the newspaper, and the following poem was the one chosen for Archie by his friend 'Olly':

rest on in peace, o warrior brave
now your task is o'er
all your best you gladly gave
to help us win the war
but the last post now has sounded
you've laid aside your sword
and god has called you from us
to your noble-won reward

Photograph: Courtesy State Records of South Australia

08 April 2010

Private Victor Rupert Sydney Boothey of Blackwood

Vic Boothey was born at Blackwood in 1882, but his family must have moved to Mount Gambier before the turn of the century. In February 1905, the Advertiser reported that Vic was riding his bicycle from Kalangadoo to Mount Gambier when he was overtaken by a bushfire in a stringybark forest. Surrounded by fire and nearly suffocated by smoke he just managed to escape. Three months later Vic was again the subject of an article in the Advertiser when he almost severed his ear in a bicycle accident. Apparently he was a keen cyclist who competed in road races in the south-east.

Vic was living at Kingscote, Kangaroo Island and working as a motor mechanic when he travelled to Adelaide to enlist in January 1916 at the age of 32. He played for the Kingscote Football Club. His next of kin was his sister Beatrice, who lived in Mount Gambier.

After spending most of 1916 undergoing signals training and being transferred from one set of reinforcements to another, Vic was eventually allocated to the 6th reinforcements to the 43rd Battalion and embarked at Adelaide on the 'Berrima' in December 1916. After disembarking at Devonport, Vic spent time training in England before shipping out to France in late September and joining the 43rd Battalion at the 'Toronto' camp near the Ypres salient in Belgium on 8 October 1917.

The day after he joined the battalion it marched to the front line and entered the support trenches in the rear of the 44th Battalion. Over the next few days the 43rd Battalion was shelled heavily, including with gas shells, and on 12 October 1917 Vic was evacuated with gas-related wounds. He rejoined his unit on 22 November, and in late January went to hospital sick. He attended a two week training course in late February 1918, and not long after he returned to the Battalion it was rushed south to the Somme to help stop the German spring offensive. After a short rest, on 24 May 1917 the 43rd Battalion re-entered the frontline near La Bizet, and two days later Vic was gassed for the second time. He quickly recuperated, rejoining the Battalion on 8 June 1918 when it was in reserve near Villers Bretonneux.

After stints in the reserve and support trenches the unit was withdrawn for training alongside tanks, and on 4 July 1918 participated in the highly successful Battle of Hamel. During the training for and conduct of this attack a company of American troops were attached to the 43rd Battalion. During the battle the unit advanced 1700 yards, and captured over 300 prisoners and 20 enemy machineguns. On 8 August 1918 the unit participated in the hugely successful Battle of Amiens, and during the remainder of August helped drive the Germans back to the Hindenburg line.

Vic was granted leave in the UK between 29 August and 16 September, and after he returned the Battalion was committed to the capture of the Hindenburg Line on 30 September 1918. This was the last action of the 43rd Battalion in the war.

After the fighting ended on 11 November, the battalion wintered in the Picardy region of northern France, and in 1919 began returning to Australia in drafts for demobilisation and discharge. Vic was transferred to the 5th Australian Mechanical Transport Company from 12 March to 3 July 1919, before embarking on the 'Persic' in July and disembarking in Adelaide on 27 August 1919. He was discharged on 4 October 1919 and it is believed that he returned to Kangaroo Island.

His name is inscribed on the Kangaroo Island Council and Dudley District (Penneshaw) honour boards on Kangaroo Island. He died on 23 June 1950 at the age of 67 and was buried at Centennial Park.