Remembrance Day 2018

Remembrance Day 2018

100 years ago today, following the signing of the Armistice, the guns finally fell silent, and all fighting ceased on the Western Front at 11.00 am on the 11th of November, 1918, after four long years of continuous warfare.

Harold Brooks Davis’ headstone at St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, France (Photograph: S. & H. Thompson 11/9/2016)

By this time in 1918, 40 of the 263 men who had enlisted on the 1915 Gilgandra to Sydney Coo-ee Recruitment March had died overseas while on active service, with one more to die in France from the Influenza epidemic a few weeks later.  The youngest died the day before his 16th birthday. Their stories can be read on the Coo-ee March Roll of Honour https://cooeemarch1915.com/honour-roll/

Coo-ees Walter Goodlet (left) and James Birrell Dawson (right), both amputees. Photograph courtesy of James Dawson’s great grandson Jamie Stacey.

At the time of the Armistice, many of the Coo-ees were still serving in their units along the Western Front. Five Coo-ees were prisoners of war behind the German lines. Many had been returned to Australia medically unfit, wounded and ill from their war service, some with missing limbs. Others were recovering in hospitals in France and England. Some were lucky enough to have been on leave at the time.

Private Roy McMillan (Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 11/5/1918)

Ex-prisoner of war Private Cyril Roy MCMILLAN (45th Battalion) wrote the following letter to The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate about his experience following the Armistice, dated 30th November 1918, which was published in the paper on 18th January 1919:

 I left Parramatta three years ago, with the Coo-ees … I was taken prisoner in that big stunt last March and April  … You can’t imagine how happy we are to-day, now that we are released. We were released about two weeks ago.  They just cast us adrift and told us to find our way back.  They never gave us any bread to start with, not even a bite.  Only for the Belgians we should have had hundreds of deaths along the road.  But the Belgians cared for us in every manner possible … We crossed the British lines on the 17th Nov., and we were heartily greeted by our own lads.  Several of us had to go to hospital through sickness.  I am in hospital at present, but will be across to England for Christmas, and hope to be home in Parramatta shortly afterwards.[1]

William Hilton Saunders (Photograph courtesy of Macquarie Regional Library)

Wongarbon Coo-ee Driver William Hilton SAUNDERS (4th Division Ammunition Column) was on leave in Scotland at the time of the Armistice, and recorded his experience of this day, and of making his way to London for several more days of celebrating, in his war diary:

11 November 1918: Went down to Stuart McDonalds in Argyle St. & heard that the Armistice has been signed. Went to the Glasgow Herald office & made certain. After that was nothing but excitement every where. The streets were crowded with shouting, singing, cheering crowds of people. Champagne was flying in all directions. Had a great day & never saw such scenes of rejoicing before.

12 November 1918: Processions still marching about the streets & the whole town is bedecked with flags of all the victorious allies … At 8 pm left Glasgow for London and felt very sorry to leave Bonnie Scotland.

13 November 1918: Arrived in London at Kings Cross at 9.30 about 1 ½ hours late … I had a good clean up & good breakfast, then turned in for a sleep … During the afternoon went to Buckingham Palace & saw King George & Queen Mary and Princess Mary come back from their drive in the East End.

14 November  1918: London has sure gone mad. Everywhere is Bunting & flowers & crowds of singing … & everyone is bent on having a ripping time in peace celebrations. Peace. The word is almost foreign to me after all those months, those years, amongst such slaughter & devastation. But after all what is a bit of blood & a few dead men. We are all so used to it.

15 November 1918: … Got in a military lorry with a crowd of girls & some soldiers & did a night tour of London. We went everywhere. I don’t really know where we did go but somehow we went all night. What a night.

16 November 1918: Had a great day … Here I am pinched by the MPs & in Warwick Square quite forgot that my pass is overdue & I should have gone back. Oh yes days ago … [2]

Lest we forget.

 

[1] ‘German Atrocities. A Parramatta Prisoner’s Story’, The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 18 January 1919, p. 10. Retrieved March 12, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86118958

[2] Saunders, William Hilton, personal diary, 1918. Original dairy held by UNSW Canberra, Academy Library Special Collection. W. Hilton Saunders manuscript collection 1915-1965 MSS 64, Box 1, Folder 2, (no. 3) barcode 519825. State Library of NSW digital copy http://archival.sl.nsw.gov.au/Details/archive/110374600

 

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