Letters of 2008 Private R SMITH

Date of enlistment 23rd June 1915
Age at enlistment 22
Profession Ammunition worker
Town East Prahran
Status Single
Rank at enlistment Private
Company B Company, 22nd Battalion
Significant events while with the AIF Served in Gallipoli, Egypt and France

Wounded in Action – Pozieres, 27th July 1916

Invalided return to Australia, 10th September 1917

Private Smith’s full WW1 service record can be located in the National Archives of Australia. Full details are available online, NAA Series B2455

The following extracts are taken from the letters of Private Smith while serving in Gallipoli, Egypt and France. The originals are stored in the Australian War Memorial research centre in Canberra, and acknowledgement goes to the family of Private Smith and the AWM enabling the subsequent publishing within this commemorative project.

Egypt

14th October 1915: Just a few lines to let you know that I am getting on alright. The reinforcements that came with us for the 21st, 23rd and 24th Battalions have gone from Egypt but the 22nd were left behind, sixty six went to Cairo on guard for a week, and eighteen went to Heliopolis hospital on guard and another eighteen went to another Hospital. I went with another guard to Gizeriah Palace that is another big hospital.

France

9th May 1916: Well I lent my tunic to one of our fellow that went to England on leave, so it will see England even if I don’t. They all had to get a lend of something off somebody else, as we cannot get new Australian uniforms they give us Tommies uniforms and we do not like them.

26th June 1916: (example of censoring that the officers had to do to the letters – one of their most tiresome of jobs) We are having a rough time in the trenches now, so far we had had _________  _____ and a ________  _________ in B Conmpany alone, and we have only been in a few days. There is one _________ ___________ _________ ________ deep and ________ feet wide a _________ _________ ________ came over and dug it up, and hundreds of smaller ones.

Extract from German papers: Official – The Australian aboriginals made a raid on our trenches, took 4 prisoners and ate 7

30th July 1916: (letter from Sister Cunningham, 22 General Hospital) I am writing to let you know that your son Pt Smith, arrival at our hospital two days ago, he is quite badly wounded both legs and one arm and chest but is doing very well, and I do not think there is any doubt of his early recovery. He is much better today than when he came in.

9th August 1916: Now I will tell you the different parts I got wounded: in the head, through the left shoulder and forearm, the left thigh broken and two wounds, a wound in the chest and another on the right leg, but I am getting on fine and there is no need for you to worry. PS Excuse the writing as I am laying down in bed.

September 1916: Just a few lines to let you know that I have some bad news for you I have been under four operations with my leg and at the last they had to cut it off above the knee. It was either lose my leg or go under myself. But I am considering myself lucky that I got away from such a place as we were in. I am getting on alright now. The doctor said that I will soon be able to travel so that means that I will be going to England and then I have a chance of being back in Australia by Christmas.

England

24th September 1916: I had hopes of being home for Christmas dinner but I do not think that I can as I have to stay in this hospital (Wharncliffe War Hospital Sheffield) where they fix artificial legs. One of the Army Medical men at this hospital was telling me that he saw a fellow with one of these legs and he said that you could not tell that he had an artificial leg and he could get about as well as anyone with two good legs so that is something to look forward to. There are a lot of us fellows here with legs and arms off. There are a good many Australians too.

23rd November 1916: (letter to Phil, others were to mum) It is marvellous how I am alive today as men were killed each side of me by the same shell so I am not a bit downhearted at losing my leg, although it is a pity it is off, but I never did expect to come through a war like this without getting hit sometime. Pozieres was just a hell, the trenches were full of killed Germans and our own as well we were falling over them in the dark, and they had been dead for days, so you can guess how they smelt, I never want to see anything like it again. Well I am addressing this letter to Normandy St, as there is no need to keep anything from my mother, as I am quite alright.

28th November 1916: It is terrible about those hospital ships being sunk there were some sisters from this hospital on the Britannic and the Britannic was in Lemnos Island last Christmas she was one of the biggest ships afloat (sister ship of the Titanic, sunk by a mine on 12th November 1916)

8th December 1916: (talking about Sheffield) There are women conductors on the trams, women drive milk carts, clean the shop windows and do the bill sticking on the hoardings and lots of other things. I suppose it will be same in Australia before long.

14th December 1916: (transfer to 2nd AAH, Southall) This is not much of a hospital it has been an old school and very cold I got here about 2 o’clock I was downhearted at the dismal look of the place that I went to bed at 3 o’clock. A doctor or sister did not come, never came near me until next morning about 11 o’clock and my leg had not been dressed since Tuesday night (2 days). I can tell you I never felt so home sick in all my life as I have today. One never realises a good place until you leave it.

23rd December 1916: Just a few lines to let you know that I am doing well. The Sister at Wharncliffe sent me a nice Christmas box a big round tin of short bread and a box of 50 cigarettes, the short bread was lovely.

28th December 1916: Just to let you know that I am having a great time. I had dinner at the hospital and it was very good, we had roast turkey, ham, peas, potatoes, then a pudding plenty of fruit nuts dates I was nearly forgetting a small bottle of beer each.

9th January 1917: Just a line to let you know that I have had another operation and doing well now. It was done on the 2nd they cut my leg all round the edge where it was not healing very quickly pulled it together and sewed it.

16th February 1917: I have been to the theatre parties dinners and for taxi drives and in the tube railways I am getting an expert on the moving stairs, the tubes are very handy you can get to any part of London in a short time. The people are very good to us chaps on crutches, if they see us walking along the street they want to call a taxi for us.

2nd May 1917: I am now done in Brighton and started work again. I see the Germans are playing up with the boats they sank 54 in one week so it is really not safe to travel now everyone is busy digging up the ground and planting potatoes, you cannot get them in any of the restaurants or hotels in London.

8th July 1917: Well I am now back at Southall again now, we have finished at Brighton and there are two boats coming back to Australia  about next week and they are full up now so I will have to wait till the next one is leaving. I have got my leg and have been walking on it, but it hurts me, so I will have to get it fixed up, then nothing can stop me from the next boat. There was another big air raid on London yesterday and they done a terrible lot of damage. We were all laying out on the grass in front of the hospital when we heard the anti-air guns open out and we knew what was doing and we could see about fifteen of them quite plain with shells bursting all round them and of the Taubes came quite close to the hospital flew around a while then went back. It seems that the Germans can just come over here when they like and go as they like it is a shame the way they are killing the women and the poor little kiddies. We heard that some of our mail has been sunk and I did not get any from you last by last mail so I will be a long time without a letter, then our mail going to Australia that left here at the end of May that has been sunk too so you will not get two photos that I sent you, that we had taken at our workshop at Brighton, but never mind I will be coming home soon now.

18th July 1917: A party of us went to Windsor castle yesterday and we had a good look around. After we had finished looking round the castle we went into one of the big halls and had some tea and cakes and Princess Alice came along and poured out our tea and had a little talk with each of us and when we were going out she gave us a postcard from the King and Queen.

22nd July 1917: Last Saturday I went up to London and went for a walk down towards Buckingham Palace and I saw a big crowd and the King was going to present some VC’s and a policeman said that I could go inside so I went in. He gave out 32 VC’s and Australians got 6. There were eight people there to receive the VC that their sons had won but were killed. After the King had finished he came over and had a little talk to us all, he asked me how my leg was if it was healed up and if I was fitted with an artificial leg and when I would be going back to Australia, and asked me where and when I was wounded and said that I must have had a bad time to be in hospital for so long. There were about a dozen generals following the King and they stopped and asked me a few questions (FM French, Sir William Robertson, Lord Derby, Prince Louis of Battenberg was amongst them) and I can tell you I was glad when they went.

29th August 1917: I am properly fed up, we have been waiting since 14th of this month for the boat to go and it has not gone yet and I think we will be lucky if it goes by the middle of next month. Some of our chaps and some Yanks were having an argument one day and one of the Yanks said ‘well we’ve come over to finish the God darm war for you, and do what you could not God darm well do’. So one of the Australians let out and punched him right between the eyes and knocked him out and said ‘take that and you are the first ____casualty’. There are a lot of big chaps in the Yank army, but they are the first to come and would be the pick of their lot, but their sailors are a lot of weeds they do not come anywhere near the British Jack tar.

 

Published as ‘news’ 100 years on to the day, follow the 22nd Battalion on the project website and via Facebook and Twitter

poppy-2       FIRST WORLD WAR TIMELINE       poppy-2

1914          1915          1916          1917          1918          1919