From the Archives: Letters from France

From the Archives: Letters from France

https://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/gallery/1964

William Thomson Waddell, son of Allan and Margaret Waddell was born and brought up in Irvinebank, a rich mining town in North Queensland, where he spent five years apprenticed to Irvinebank M CC(Contract Mining and Services) and became an engineer.

            In August 1914 he took part in military training in Cairns, Townsville, Thursday Island and Port Moresby, (at the time when Australian seamen landed in German New Guinea and captured 7 Germans and 20 natives).  During this exercise he criticised the organisation for having only 12 WCs for 1200 men. The unit was disbanded.        

            By 4 June 1915, this fair skinned, blue-eyed, dark haired, sturdy Australian of twenty-four years, medically fit and determined to serve, was enlisted in Brisbane as number 1768 and joined the Second Reinforcement to the Twenty-fifth Battalion.

            Throughout his army career he wrote to his family, especially his older brother Allan Ferguson Waddell and several of his hand written letters are in the archives of the RHSQ where they are treasured and made available for serious research.

            William’s first active service was on the Gallipoli Peninsular from 12 October 1915 but by 19 March 1916 he was sent, ex Mudros, to join the British Expeditionary Forces in Marseilles. William was careful not to include information in his letters that might benefit the enemy and none of his letters needed censoring. After training in England, he wrote to his brother, Allan Ferguson Waddell, (Gus) on 24 April 1916:

William Waddell's letters 1916-18
Waddell_March 12 1918
12 March 1918
« 1 of 6 »

Dear Gus,

Back in France … left England on 9th and here next morning! …fields are looking lovely, potatoes are just being planted and the fruit trees are in full flourish … I feel alright myself though very soft and could have done with some more training before being sent over. … your affectionate brother, Willie                                                                                                                               

From there he served in Armentiers naming his location merely as France and wrote a long letter to his father on 6 June 1916:

Dear Dad,

… About six weeks ago I got made a Lance Corporal, it’s the first step upfrom a private.  We all get on well with our senior NCOs and Officers. … The shell the Germans rely on to do most of their work with is the 5’9″ Howitzer. … if they hit anything hard like a brick wall they do a tremendous amount of damage. … Both sides use a lot of white flares at nights.  The German ones were supposed to be superior to ours, but I don’t think there is much difference now. … Both sides have parachute flares which go up about 100 ft and then comedown very slowly. … Where we are just now we can get a quart of fresh milk for 3d. We are fed fairly well by the authorities but there is not enough bread.The biscuits are as hard a[s] rocks, … Up till about a month ago we had an issue of rum once or twice a week but it has been cut out. … I get letters from Mother, the girls and Gus almost every week. The mail gets mixed up sometimes and then they come all of a bunch. I have a letter from Isabel Moffatt that I will answer as soon as possible. Give my kindest regards to Mr and Mrs Moffatt, Bessie and Isabel. 

Your loving son

Willie T Waddell

            William was wounded with a gun shot wound to his right leg at Pozieres in July 1916.After treatment in France he was sent to war hospitals in England and once fit for duty rejoined the 25th Battalion on 23 December 1916.  Soon after his return he was promoted to  corporal and very soon after to lance sergeant.

            Wounded on the left thigh on 18th September 1917 at Passchendaele he was transferred to the 53rd General Hospital  and from thereto England where he was admitted to the Middlesex War Hospital.  Allan Waddell, was advised on 8th November 1917 that Lance Sergeant W T Waddell was admitted to ‘County of Middlesex War Hospital 23/9/17 suffering from gun shot wound left side, severe’.

            Either at Middlesex or Dartford Hospital William was operated on for acute appendicitis and his father was notified by 16th January 1918 that Base Records Office were advised that ‘1768 Sergeant W T Waddell has been reported convalescent’.  His father received a message always much later than the event itself : ‘Sergeant William Waddell progressing favourably.  Base Records  17/12/17.’

            By 19th December William was transferred to AAH Dartford and then by 30th December 1917 on to Hurdcott and declared fit to serve less than four months later. So he rejoined his unit in France on 12th April 1918. He wrote to his brother Gus on 12th March 1918:

 … my hair is getting very grey, it may be natural but I think “Fritz” has made a lot of it come.  A ‘Tommy’ is not asked to go back after an operation … I have to do guards here now, a nightmare… I note what you say about politics conscription etc. … To my mind Lloyd George and William Hughes should be allowed to run their war with the soldiers. … Your affectionate brother,

Willie

            On the Western Front the second division with Allied counter offensive forces crossed the Somme at night on 30 August 1918 led by General John Monash and broke lines at Mont St Quentin and Peronne. After changing the plan of attack somewhat the allied forces, including 25th battalion, AIF, recaptured Mont St Quentin over three days.  Although 20% of their men were lost in casualties, the battle was considered one of the finest achievements of World War I.  Sadly, in this battle, so close to the end of the war, on 2nd September 1918, Sergeant William Thomson Waddell was killed in action.

            His body was temporarily buried near a shell hole and some barbed wire but it was later exhumed and Allan Waddell was advised that ‘William Thomson Waddell’s remains were re-interred in Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension with every measure of care and reverence in the presence of a chaplain’.

            On 10th May 1919 Margaret Taylor Waddell signed a receipt for ‘one package containing the effects of the late No. 1768 Sgt W T Waddell [her son], 25th Battalion in good order’.   Then on 2nd September 1921 Allan Waddell received a copy of the Memorial Scroll and on 21st November 1922 a copy of the Memorial Plaque. As next of kin Allan Waddell received his son’s medals by 28th May 1920:the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Beth Johnson

 References:

  • RHSQ Archive Boxes 55 and 93.
  • Australian National Archives
  • Australian War Memorial
  • Roll of Honour of Australia in the Memorial War Museum