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Nelson A     Pte    3553

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 1 year, 6 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918

 

Nelson A     Pte    3553    Alfred                8 Inf Bn    25    Carpenter    Single    Pres        

Address:    Kensington, Nottingham St, 5    

Next of Kin:    Nelson, M, Mrs, mother, 5 Nottingham St, Kensington    

Enlisted:    29 Jul 1915        

Embarked:     A71 Nestor 11 Oct 1915  (Adelaide) 

 

Relatives on Active Service:

Nelson A Pte 3554 KIA brother

Nelson-G-Pte-1981  brother

Johnston-J-Pte-1158  brother in law

 

Date of Death:   29/09/1918  59th Inf Bn

VILLERS-BRETONNEUX MEMORIAL

 

Private Alfred Nelson

 

Rod Martin

 

Twenty-five years old when he enlisted along with his younger brother Alex at the end of July 1915, carpenter Alfred Nelson may well have promised his mother that, if she allowed Alex to enlist, he would look after him when they were overseas.  If that was the case, then Alfred and Alex set out to deceive their mother, Alex turned out to be far more wilful than Alfred imagined, or Alfred persuaded Alex to do all he could to get himself out of the potential line of fire.  The truth of the matter is that, while both brothers were assigned to 11 Reinforcements of 8 Infantry Battalion, and both sailed for the Middle East on A71 HMAT Nestor on 11 October 1915, once at the Australian training base at Tel el Kebir Alex transferred to 5 Pioneer Battalion, and the two brothers parted company.  It is possible that they never saw each other again.

 

Alfred, a sturdy man 175 centimetres tall, around eighty kilos in weight, and possessed of auburn hair similar to that of his brother, stayed with 8 Battalion.  While he was in Egypt, the Australian Imperial Force was enlarged and reorganised in preparation for combat on the Western Front.  8 Battalion men were incorporated into the new 60 Battalion, and then Alfred moved to 58 Battalion on 15 March before finally being assigned to 59 Battalion on 19 May 1916.  Along with that unit, he sailed for Marseilles on SS Kinfauns Castle the following month.

 

SS Kinfauns Castle  http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Ships/RMSKinfaunsCastle.html

 

As part of 15 Brigade (5 Australian Division), Alfred was commanded by Brigadier-General Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott, and he was soon in the action in France. On 19 July, less than a month after arriving in Europe, 15 Brigade was involved in the disastrous feint at Fromelles.  59 Battalion attacked in the early evening as part of the first wave and was decimated by well-entrenched German machine gunners.  The men had little or no hope of reaching their objective, the so-called Sugar Loaf salient.  It was simply too far away from their trenches and too redoubtable.  Those who were not killed or severely wounded staggered back to their own lines during the night or in the early morning.  ‘Pompey’, who had opposed the poorly-planned assault from the beginning, stood there in tears as the survivors straggled in.

 

 1919 view from the Sugar Loaf, looking north towards the location of 5 Division’s

trenches. The men had to attack across this open, shell-pocked and wire-strewn expanse. (AWM E 05795)

 

Alfred was one of those survivors, but he had been shot in the leg.  He was evacuated to a dressing station behind the front, and then taken to a war hospital in Middlesex, England.

 

Charles Wheeler: The Battle of Fromelles  (AWM ART07981)

 

Alfred’s wound must have been serious, as he was to spend fifteen months recuperating in

war-related activities and training, transferring to a number of different units as seemed to

 

happen to men who were evacuated and given time to recuperate.  When he finally returned to 59 Battalion it was October 1917.  By that time, the 1916 Battle of the Somme had come and gone, gaining some ground against the Germans, but no significant strategic advantage.  The Third Battle of Ypres (often erroneously called ‘Passchendaele’) had begun at the end of July 1917 and had seen some successes, such as the ones at Menin Road and Polygon Wood in September, in which 59 Battalion had played parts.  When Alfred finally arrived back, however, the incessant rains in Belgium had turned the battlefield into an almost impassable quagmire.  59 Battalion was located on the recently captured Tokio Ridge, east of Polygon Wood.

 

Australian soldiers at Tokio Ridge, October 1917   (AWM E01914)

 

The men were holding the ridge against periodic bombardments, gas attacks and aerial  bombing and machine-gunning. However, they were giving as good as they got, and Third Ypres was winding down, some territory being gained, but at horrendous cost to men, animals and materiel.  By the time the Canadians finally captured the ruins of Passchendaele village in November, the conflict had lost any strategic significance it may have once had.

 

59 Battalion stayed in the Ypres area between October and December, alternately holding the line near Reninghelst and then Messines, and spending time in reserve/recuperation.  At one stage they were near the town of Locre.  Alex had just transferred to 3 Field Ambulance, and it was based there at the end of 1917.  Alfred and Alex may have been able to meet up one last time.  In mid-December, 59 Battalion moved south into France, spending Christmas and new year in reserve at Enquin sur Baillon, near Boulogne.

 

In late January, 59 Battalion moved north again into Belgium, being based at Rossignol, south of Ypres.  From there the men moved into the active service at Messines Ridge and stayed in Belgium until late March.  Then, however, they moved south quickly.  The long-anticipated major offensive by the Germans had begun that month, and troops were desperately needed to stem the tide in the area of the Somme.  Arriving in early April, 59 Battalion participated in such defensive battles as the Ancre and the Avre, before moving into the area near Villers-Bretonneux, south of Amiens, and taking part in the defence and then recapture of the town on 25 April.  At this time, Alfred was reported as being wounded on 26 April.  The report was later withdrawn, however.  It would seem that he survived basically unscathed.  Twenty-nine members of the battalion were not so lucky and were killed in the battle. Eighty-nine were wounded.

 

 

Australian soldiers in Villers-Bretonneux, April 1918  (AWM E02193)

 

Three months later, and by then a member of a light trench mortar battalion, Alex would be killed at Monument Wood, just outside Villers-Bretonneux.

 

Battles between April and June 1918, such as the one at Villers-Bretonneux, checked the German advance towards the French coast.  After that time, the Allies consolidated and prepared for a counter-attack.  That event finally began with the Battle of Amiens, which started on 8 August 1918 – the day later described by German general Erich Ludendorff as the ‘black day’ for the German army.  59 Battalion participated in the attack at Amiens and the one later that month at Albert.  The German army began its final retreat and, by late September, allied forces had reached the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line.  Once they broke through that defence, the way was open into Germany.

 

The Battle of St. Quentin Canal, a significant event directed by Australian general Sir John Monash that would see the collapse of German morale, began on 29 September 1918.  59 Battalion was there, seeking to capture the canal and the tunnel it flowed through.  Both were parts of the Hindenburg Line.

 

 

Arthur Streeton: Bellicourt: entrance to St. Quentin Tunnel  (AWM ART03517)

 

Alfred was killed in the initial attack on 29 September.  No records exist to tell us how and in what circumstances he died.  We only know that he fell on the field of battle, and we presume that he was hurriedly buried on that field along with thirty-six other compatriots.  His grave was either destroyed by shellfire or its marker was lost.  If it was discovered after the war, no record existed to tell the discoverers whose body was contained in it.

 

As a result, Alfred is recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial as having no known grave.  Alex lies in the adjoining cemetery.

 

(Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

 

Sources

 

Australian War Memorial

En.wikipedia.org

Lindsay, Patrick: Fromelles, Melbourne, Hardie Grant Books, 2008

McMullin, Ross: Pompey Elliott, Melbourne, Scribe, 2008

National Archives of Australia

Travers, Richard: Diggers in France: Australian soldiers on the Western Front, Sydney, ABC Books, 2008 

 

 

War Service Commemorated

Flemington-Presbyterian-Church

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour Wounded

Regimental Register 

 

 

No In Memoriam notices in the Argus to 1921

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