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Garner V G     Cpl    54

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 5 years, 10 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Corporal Viv Garner, courtesy of the North Essendon Methodist Church.


Garner V G     Cpl    54    Vivian Gilbert           14 Inf Bn    24    Railway clerk    Single    Meth        

Address:    Essendon, Thompson St, 1    

Next of Kin:    Garner, Helen, Mrs, 1 Thompson St, Essendon    

Enlisted:    18 Sep 1914        

Embarked:     A38 Ulysses 22 Dec 1914    


Date of Death: 08/08/1917   2nd Lieutenant 

CWGC: "Son of James Ponton Garner and Helen Garner. Native of Talbot, Victoria".




Second Lieutenant Vivian Gilbert Garner


Rod Martin


Twenty-four year-old railway clerk Viv Garner, a man described a ‘thick-set’ and ‘stocky’ by some who knew him, joined up on 1 October 1914 and was assigned to 14 Battalion, part of 4 Brigade led by Colonel John Monash.  Despite having no previous military experience, Viv was appointed a corporal on enlistment, trained at Broadmeadows and embarked with the rest of 14 Battalion on A38 HMAT Ulysses on 22 December, headed for the Middle East. 


The convoy arrived in Egypt on 31 January 1915, and the men began training in the desert.  In April, they headed for the Dardanelles, and the first contingents went ashore at Gallipoli on the afternoon of the twenty-fifth.  The troops having landed in the wrong spot, the scene on the beach was chaotic for the first few days.  In front of them was a mass of almost impenetrable scrub-covered ridges and gullies.  In what was a major achievement on the first day, considering the terrain and the fierce resistance put up by the Turks, the Anzac troops moved up the ridges and seized a number of knolls that they then called posts.  Directly opposite each of them were Turkish positions.  On 27 April 4 Brigade advanced up the appropriately named Shrapnel Valley and reinforced these posts.  14 Battalion took over the one called Quinn’s – the most forward of the Anzac positions, and only metres from the Turkish lines.  Behind it was a sheer drop into the valley.  The troops had to climb the cliff to the post during the night by hanging on a rope.



Quinn’s Post, May 1915  (AWM A02009)  http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/A02009 


However, the position at Quinn’s was shaky at best.  From a number of positions nearby, the Turks were able to fire into the back of the post.  The men could only be better protected if they took the so-called Baby 700 hill, whence the most accurate Turkish fire originated.  An assault was planned for 2 May, preceded by a bombardment of the Turkish positions.  Three brigades, two Australian – including 14 Battalion - and one New Zealand, would be involved in what Monash considered a half-baked scheme, given the distance of the target from Quinn’s Post and the exhaustion of his men.  The other Australian brigade was withdrawn after consideration of the difficulties, and the New Zealand one had not reached its positions in time for the start of the assault.  However, Monash could not talk his divisional commander out of sending in 4 Brigade, so the men went into attack at 7.15 pm.  They only reached a hundred metres ahead of the post before having to dig in.  The Turkish resistance was fearful, and the hill too far away.  After two days of trying to hold the trenches they had dug, the men finally returned to their original positions on the night of the third.  One thousand casualties had been incurred and no ground won.


One of those casualties was Viv.  He had been wounded in the right side and back, and he was evacuated to the beach and then carried to a hospital ship.  His wound was evidently quite serious, for it was decided to take him to England for treatment.  Six months later, while there, he was placed on the supernumerary list – usually reserved for soldiers who had been badly wounded and could not return to active service, but who could take up another type of role.  Viv was attached to administrative headquarters in May 1916 after being promoted to the rank of sergeant in early February.  In September that year, he was promoted to acting staff sergeant.  In January 1917, he was enrolled at the officer cadet school in Oxford, and then promoted to second lieutenant in the following April.


It would seem that Viv had fully recovered and wanted to get back to the action.  On 15 May, he sailed for France.  He may have spent a short time training at the base at Etaples and then joined 14 Battalion at Doulieu, near Steenwerck in northern France.  At that time, the battalion was resting and training in preparation for involvement in the Third Battle of Ypres, planned to begin the following month.  It was well-known as ‘Jacka’s Mob’ (after Lance-Corporal Albert Jacka won the first Australian Victoria Cross of the war at Gallipoli), it had already been well and truly blooded (and mauled) in such disasters as the Battles of Pozières and First Bullecourt, and its men were hardened by bitter experience.  Viv, however, was a new chum, and he had to learn the realities of conflict on the Western Front very quickly.  He had been at Gallipoli, but the conflict in France and Belgium was something else again.  As British commander-in-chief Sir Douglas Haig put it to the Australian commander, Sir William Birdwood:


You’re not fighting the Bashi-bazouks [Turks] now!  This is a serious scientific war and you are up against the most scientific and military nation in Europe.

                                                                            (quoted in Bennett, Pozières, p. 145)


At the end of May, the battalion moved north into Belgium, and headed for the area near Messines, the planned starting point for Third Ypres.  And what a start it was!  At 3.10 am on 7 June, nineteen huge mines, buried far under the German positions on Messines Ridge, were detonated, the largest man-made explosion in history up to that time.  Windows were rattled as far away as London.  The Germans were caught completely by surprise and many were killed or injured.  Allied troops moved in quickly and took the ridge.  14 Battalion advanced into the front line three days later, by which time the Germans had regrouped and were shelling the area quite heavily.


The battlefield of Third Ypres, 1917.  Messines is located in the southern part of the map.

(Gibbs: From Bapaume to Passchendaele)  


The first we hear of Viv on the Western Front is at 7 pm on 11 June, when he led one of two patrols out to reconnoitre Gapaard Road, just east of Messines (see map).  The move was obviously dangerous, as the other patrol suffered two casualties in the process.


After establishing some posts in the Gapaard Road area, the battalion moved out of the front line on the twelfth, having lost five men killed and forty-five wounded.  It then spent the rest of the month recuperating and training at Neuve Eglise before moving to Ploegsteert Wood (just outside Messines) on 29 June and again coming under attack.


Ploegsteert area in Belgian Flanders, 1917   (AWM H02096)



14 Battalion spent the first half of July in the trenches before moving away to regroup for the rest of the month at Neuve Eglise and Vieux Berquin.  However, it was still very close to the front, and German shelling of its position occurred on occasions. The battalion remained in that area at the beginning of August and was actively involved in operations, digging or rebuilding trenches and manning listening posts.  Sergeant Ted Rule writes in his memoir of 14 Battalion that Viv and his platoon had the worst post of the lot, being the most exposed to German shelling and raiding.  He was having a real baptism of fire!  The men were also reconnoitring the posts in the Gapaard Road area. It was planned to move the battalion forward to the outposts on the evening of 8 August and thus relieve 16 Battalion.  At 3 am on the morning of the eighth, Viv, Ted Rule, two sergeants and a company runner were sent out to reconnoitre the outposts in preparation for the major move later that day.  Later, most of the members of the patrol were able to provide reports of what happened and Ted Rule has devoted a chapter of his book to the incident.  From all the accounts, it would appear that the following occurred:  the patrol set out in very foggy conditions, led by Viv because he was familiar with the area, and looking for the outposts on the Gapaard Road.  Because of the fog, the men lost their bearings for a while, were shot at, and went back to 16 Battalion headquarters to obtain a guide.  As a result of all this, they  arrived at the first post later than expected. 


Observation post made of steel and  disguised as a tree. 

Messines area, 1918.  http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/E04541

                                                                                            (AWM  E 04541)


As soon as they got there, they were fired upon by a German sniper, and hid in a shell hole.  They had a choice of staying there for the whole day until the rest of the battalion came up, or making a run for it back to their lines before it got too light.  They decided on the latter option and took off.  When they arrived back at their company headquarters (an old German pill box) they found that Viv was missing.  Ted Rule crept out in the direction whence they came and found Viv about seventy-five metres away.  He had been shot through the back of the head and was dead.  Rule retreated, leaving Viv’s body there.  That evening, as the battalion advanced, the men retrieved the body and buried it next to the headquarters.  The next day, it was blown out by a shell and had to be reburied.  A wooden cross was put above the grave. 



Damaged German pill box, Messines June 1917.  (AWM E 01487)


Being an active battle zone, however, the area was shelled again on a number of occasions, and Viv’s grave was obliterated.  His body was never seen again.  As a result, his name was engraved on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres after the war as one of the more than six thousand Australian soldiers in the area who had no known graves.


Viv was well-liked by his comrades.  In the Red Cross reports of his death, the men commented that he was ‘well known and liked by all his comrades’ and ‘an original man’. Rules comments that ‘the boys were closely attached to him’ and that 'he was not one to squib it; in fact, he was too much the other way'.  As Rule writes, the men formed a very downcast party going back and Viv’s platoon took it very badly.


The impact of Viv’s death on his family would have been considerable.  It was so considerable, perhaps, that it hastened the death of his widowed mother only four months later.


Menin Gate          (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)





 Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, ‘14th Infantry Battalion AIF’, 

Australian War Memorial: Collection

Baby 700 Cemetery

Bennett, Scott: Pozières: The Anzac story, Melbourne, Scribe, 2011

Frost, Lenore

Gibbs, Philip: From Bapaume to Passchendaele, London, William Heinemann, 1918

National Archives of Australia

Rule, E.J.: Jacka’s Mob, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1933



Mentioned in these publications:


Bad characters: sex, crime, mutiny, murder and the Australian Imperial Force, by Peter Stanley.  Millers Point, NSW, 2010. 


Stanley makes reference to Garner in a short section on homosexual members of the AIF.  On leave in Cornwall,  Staff Sergeant Garner and a friend were invited back to the home of a well-known British actor, though Stanley thinks that Garner accepted the invitation in innocence of his host's preferences.  p 143.


History of the 14th Battalion, AIF, by Newton Wanliss, 1929,


THE BAPTISM OF BLOOD.  1915—April 25 to April 30

Immediately after Hoggart's death a Turkish machine gun, from the right rear (between Courtney's and Quinn's) at close quarters, opened a terrible burst of Turkish Machine enfilade fire which blew out a large number of A Company on the right centre of Quinn's, Slaughter in and strewed the hill with dead and writhing men. .......  The wounded—a large number— included Sgt Reynolds (of No. 3 Platoon) whose jaw was shattered, and Cpl Garner.

p 24.


PLOEGSTEERT AND GAPAARD. 1917—June 27 to August 31

The 14th relieved the 16th Battalion on the 8th in the front line at Gapaard, near the scene of the Battalion's activities in the previous June The relief took place during a tremendous thunderstorm. Lieut. Viv Garner, of C Company (12th platoon) was killed (sniped) whilst reconnoitring an outpost during the relief An Original, he was a brave, gallant and popular officer who had been wounded at Quinn's Post immediately the Battalion went into action on the Peninsula, and only recently had returned to the unit after a long spell in England.  p229.



Essendon Gazette 10 June 1915


Corporal Vivian G. Garner (wounded) is a native  of Talbot, Victoria, and the second son of Mrs. H. Garner, now residing at Essendon. He joined the second Expeditionary Force, and was promoted to the rank of corporal in A Company, 14th Battalion while at Broadmeadows.




Corporal Vivian G. Garner (wounded) is a native of Talbot, Victoria, and the second son of Mrs. H. Garner, now residing at Essendon. He joined the second Expeditionary Force, and was promoted to the rank of corporal in A Company 14th Battalion while at Broadmeadows.  


ROLL OF HONOUR. (1915, June 4). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 11. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1521797


Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Correspondence


KIA 8 Aug 1917


2nd Lieutenant Vivien Gilbert Garner

14th Battalion, C Coy


2nd Lt Garner was attached to C Coy.  The Battn was not in line and was to relieve the 16th About 5 am on Aug 8th at Gapeard Avenue in front of Messines Mr Garner and Mr Rule, Sgt Dawes and Harrison, and myself being company runner, went out to see the ground where our company would be.  We were coming back when a sniper got up out of the fog, and we made a break for the company HQ which was in a pill box.  When we got there Mr Garner was missing.  We went back the way we had come and found him dead about half way between the pill box and the front line.  A bullet in the jaw had cut his throat and I think he must have been killed at once.  We took him to the HQ pill box and buried him there about 10 o'clock that night

Inf: Boddinar Pte N V 5988 C 1X

No 54 General

Bulougne, 15.2.1918



Lt. Garner, 14th·Batt, A.I.F, was killed on the 8th August at
Gapard alongside the military road leading into the enemy's lines (near Messines). Early in the morning, 3 a.m. he and four N.C.0.'s and myself set out from Neuve Eglise to look over the position, we were to lead our  platoons into that night. Through getting lost, we arrived at our destination very late and was advised not to poke  about out in the outposts as it was getting very light. As there was a mist hanging about we decided to risk it and went out from the company Head Quarters. We no sooner reached the outposts than we were fired on by the enemy. We got into an old trench and held a council of war. It was either stay there all day or make a bolt for it. We decided to bolt. I ran off followed by the rest; Lt. Garner was the last to leave. We all reached the block house but Mr Garner. When he failed to show up I crawled out on my stomach to see what had become of him. I found him about 75 yards out, shot right through the back of the head. He was quite dead when I reached him. We left him lying there until we came in that night and then we buried him near the road.
Letter from - Lt H. J. Rule, 14th Battn, A.I.F.
London. 4.2.18


 "I knew casualty; He was a short stout men, fair complexion, about 28 years of age.   Casualty was in charge of the  platoon and went up the night before to have a look at the position which was in the front of Messines and while he was there he was sniped through the head which killed him almost instantly. I went up the next  night and casualty's body was partly exposed and I helped to cover him up properly and made a decent grave for him. He was buried just near where he fell in  Eschsaete in front of Messines. He was well known and liked by all his comrades".
Informant:- A.C. Powell,
No 6578
Private address:-
Port Fairy, P.O.


I knew casualty. He was a man about 5 ft. 8 ins. well
built, medium complexion, about 26 years of age. Casualty was out on patrol, Messines. A fog came up and he could not find his way back through the lines so he decided to go one way and I went the other. When the fog lifted we found him again. We had  strayed so far from our lines that we were caught in a nest of snipers. I heard a groan from where casualty was standing and I went over to have a look and he was lying mortally  wounded and he died almost immediately after I arrived there. That was the last I saw of Casualty."
Informant:- Pte. H. Howell,
No. 2597, 14th Btn.
Private address:-
Henry Street,


 "I knew Casualty. He was a man about 5 ft. 8 ins. well
built, fair complexion, about 25 years of age, known as "Vin" (sic). Casualty went up to take observations at Farneton, Messines front.

I was taking a machine gun into action and I saw casualty's body lying near the village of Messines. I was told that he was buried near the Dressing Station on the Neuve Eglise and Messines Road".
Informant:-  Pte. T. F. Donnelly,
No. 475, 14th Btn.
Private address:-
Gladstone Street,
Moonee Ponds.


There are further statements included in Garner's Red Cross file.


Jones R W Cpl 80 letter home published in Essendon Gazette 7 Oct 1915


War Service Commemorated

Essendon Town Hall F-L

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour Wounded

North Essendon Methodist Church - [Vivian Garner is not on the Honour Board, but included in the

Commemorative photograph album].

Regimental Register

Borough of Talbot Honour List


In Memoriam


GARNER.-Killed in action on the 8th of August,
at Gaspard, France; Lieutenant Vivian Gilbert,
the dearly beloved son of Helen Garner, "Elouera,"
Thompson Street, Essendon, and the late James
Ponton Garner, of Talbot; also dearly beloved
brother of Bert, Elsie, Queenie, Daisy, Chrysie,
and Leslie. 
Into Thy hands, O Lord, I come,
Life's troubles are o'er, the battle is won;
Into Thy hands, through night to light,
O Lord, Into Thy hands. I come.
The Argus 24 December 1917


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