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Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 3 years, 5 months ago

Volunteers of Essendon and Flemington, 1914-1918


Newell A         Pte    2498    Alfred                5 Inf Bn    18  17   Labourer    Single    Meth       

Address:    North Melbourne, Arden St   

Next of Kin:    Newell, W, father, 16 Glance St, Newmarket

                                                  76 Stubbs St, Kensington             by 12 Oct 1916

                                                  22 Lorimer St, South Melbourne   by 22 Mar 1918

Enlisted:    16 Mar 1915       

Embarked:     A64 Demosthenes 16 Jul 1915   


Private Alfred Newell


By Lenore Frost


Alfred Newell was aged 17 years and six months when he enlisted in the AIF, though he claimed to be twelve months older.  His B2455 form remarks ‘Consent Form attached’, but the form is not now with the file.  As his parents were then living in North Melbourne, and he enlisted at the Army depot in Sturt St, Bendigo, where his grandmother lived, it seems possible that the consent form was a forgery, and he had left home to enlist against his parents’ wishes.  There is, however, no sign of any intervention from his family to stop him going overseas, so they were either unaware of his enlistment, or were reconciled.


Alfred is another example of an underage lad who struggled to accept army discipline, and he was in trouble with the authorities for most of his military service.  He served several sentences while absent from Australia.


When he enlisted he was a small lad of 5 feet 5½ inches, and 8½ stone in weight.  A repatriation form in his file indicates that he had been employed by Scobie’s Stables in Newmarket before the war.  He gave “labourer” as his occupation in 1915, but he may have had hopes of being a jockey.  He was of a pale complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.


Newell was allotted to the 7th Reinforcements of the 5th Infantry Battalion, and embarked with his unit on the Demosthenes on 16 July 1915, headed for the Middle East.   


Troops waiting to board the Demosthenes on 16 July 1915.  Newell might

have been amongst them.  AWM PB0335.


By 7 October 1915 Newell was admitted to a venereal hospital in Cairo and was discharged on 23 November 1915.  The timing of this ailment probably saved him from a visit to the Gallipoli Peninsula as the evacuation was already being planned by the time he was released from hospital.


After the evacuation, the AIF was reformed and continued training in Egypt. Newell was admitted to 1 Australian General Hospital, Heliopolis, with pneumonia, severe in nature,  on 29 February 1916.  By  9 March 1916 he was declared to be out of danger. From 13 to 25 March he was admitted for light duties to a hospital at Ghezireh.  On 20 April 1916 he was allotted to the 57 Battalion No 2 Training Battalion at Tel-El-Kebir.  On 28 April 1916 he was taken on strength of  57 Battalion still at Hog’s Back.


Just over a week later at Hog’s Back Camp, Newell committed a serious infraction of military discipline by absenting himself from the Tattoo on 5 May.  On 14 May 1916 he was subjected to a Field Court Martial at Ferry Post East, Egypt, charged with:

"While on Active Service absenting himself without leave in that he at Hog's Back Camp, absented himself without leave from 2100 on 5.5.16 until apprehended by Picquet in Ismallia at 1550 on 6.5.16.”


Newall declined to question the witnesses, or to make a statement. He was subsequently sentenced to 63 days of Field Punishment No. 2.  The sentence was confirmed by H E Elliott, Colonel commanding the 15th Infantry brigade.   In this early period in 1916, Field Punishment No. 2 may have meant not much more than being confined to a Field Punishment Camp, though later in the year General Birdwood specified that heavy labour in fatigue parties would be the punishment, particularly trying in the heat of Egypt.  The congregation of prisoners in one place, as in any prison, tended to school the prisoners in improving their methods of evading work or capture.  Newall at this time was still an impressionable 18 year old, and may have picked up some bad advice during the two months he spent away from his comrades. It was to be the first of many absences from duty.


Newall was delivered to detention at Ferry Post on 29 May 1916, but his Battalion was preparing to leave Egypt to join the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) in France, and he was returned to his unit at Moascar on 3 June 1916.  The time elapse since his arrest on 6 May was 28 days. Two weeks later the Battalion embarked on the Transylvania at Alexandra, arriving at Marseilles 8 days later on 23 June.


By 1 July 1916 the Battalion was in camp at Steenbecque and having difficulties finding water, which had to be carried from nearby farms.  On 5 July the Battalion was inspected by the Prince of Connought and General Birdwood.


On 6 July two gas helmets per man were issued to the Battalion, and the following day, exercises were held with the men wearing their masks in gas-filled huts.


At 0100 hours on 8 July the Battalion got orders to prepare to move, and by 1100 moved off , arriving at billets at Estaires by 1820.  The unit diarist reports that several men fell out during the march, mainly from sore feet.   The Battalion was on the move again the following day, leaving Estaires at 1410 and arriving at Billets at Sailly at 1650, having been held up along the way by a block in the traffic.  On this day Newell reported sick with ‘fatigue’.  On 10 July he was admitted to 13 Field Ambulance. 


While Newell was absent, the Battalion prepared to relieve 51 Battalion in the line, which they completed at 0400 on 11 July 1916.  Just before 2 pm the Battalion were treated to light shelling by the enemy, but at 5 pm heavy shelling began, and the casualties were 5 killed and five wounded.  On 12 July the diarist reported quiet in the line, which was repeated on 13 July.  The following day, 14 July, the only thing of note recorded was the arrival of four carrier pigeons.  After a four day rest Newell rejoined his unit on this day.


The day after joining his Battalion in the front line, the Germans commenced heavy shelling, killing 9 and wounding 20, of whom one died of wounds. The communication trenching and firing line were damaged badly.  The Allies were preparing for a major assault which became known as the Battle of Fromelles, a military failure of monumental proportions.  The attack was to have commenced on 17 July, but heavy fog caused a delay, and it was rescheduled for 19 July.  On 18 July the 57th was relieved from the front line by 59 Battalion, and the 57th removed back to SAILLY billets.  The 57th was allocated a supporting role, and suffered comparatively light casualties compared with other battalions in the sector.


On 20 April the 57th companies returned to the firing line, and found the artillery, machine guns and snipers quiet.  During the day wounded men crawled in from No Man’s Land, and when it became dark, parties went out to try and recover further wounded, also bringing back machine guns and rifles.   Estimated casualties at this time were estimated to be between 300 and 400 men.  On 21 April the firing line to be covered by the 57th was extended, and overall covered 1000 yards.  During the next few days wounded continued to crawl back to the 57th sector trenches and salvage parties continued to recover equipment.  Work was done on repairing trenches.  As time went on the snipers and machine gunners became more active, though generally at night.   Casualties continued to mount up. 


The  “57th carried the burden of holding the line in ensuing days for the battalion. Despite its grievous losses, the 5th Division continued to man the front in the Fromelles sector for a further two months”.


In November Newall was charge with:  “In the Field.  Whilst on Active Service AWL from billet at roll call at 1700” on 7 November 1916.  The following day he was awarded 5 days Field Punishment No 2 by the CO of 57th Bn.  The Field Punishment may have been fairly similar to the fatigue parties on which he may already have been employed, but with harsher treatment from the NCOs.


About a week after returning from Field Punishment, Newell was admitted to a Field Hospital with dental problems. He rejoined his unit on 2 December.  On 16 December he was re-admitted to hospital with trench feet. He rejoined his unit again on 23 December.

Early in 1917 the battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but it was spared having to assault it.


Newell again absented himself from duty without leave from about midnight on 10/11 February until 13 February, but this time was charged with the more serious crime of desertion.   A Field General Court Martial was held on 8 March 1917.


1st witness.  L/Cpl Wilkinson A J 57th Bn 4627

“I was NCO in charge of a fatigue party of 15 men from the 57th Battalion between 7th and 16th February.  This was a Brigade working party detached from the Battalion which during the period 7th to 16th February was at Delville Wood, Needle Trench and Fint Rim [?] respectively.  The accused did three shifts with the party from midnight till 8 am and the first three nights we were there.  On the night of the 19th the accused was absent:  I searched thoroughly but could not find him.  He was absent from the rest of the time the party worked. I had told the accused what shift he was on when the fatigue party first reached the front line.  The party lived at Mills La post which is about 600 yards behind the front line, and worked in the front line”.


2nd Witness No 3658 L/Cpl A H Cox 57th Bn

“On 7/2/17 I heard the platoon Sgt detail the accused as one of a fatigue party under L/Cpl Wilkinson to dig dugouts at Millers' Sen?  The Battalion was then at Delville Wood.  I saw the accused move off with the party.  He did not report back to me, and I did not see him again until I saw him under arrest on or about 26/2/17”.


3rd witness, No 417 Sgt N C Slattery Anzac Prov Corps:

“At about 3 pm on 14th Feby, the accused surrendered himself to me at Becordel.  I was orderly Sgt M.M.P.  I placed the accused under arrest”.


Newell defended himself by saying, “At the time I went away my nerves were shaken.  My nerves have never been right since I left Sailly.  When I left I had no intention of deserting altogether."


The Court found Newell guilty, and sentenced him to suffer death by being shot.   This decision had to be confirmed by the commanding Officer, and Newell had to sit out the rest of the month until the sentence came back “varied to 5 years Penal Servitude” by order of Gen Gough, Commanding 5th Australian Division dated 30/3/17.  Newell may not have realised it for a time, but the Commonwealth had outlawed the death penalty for soldiers, unless for crimes like murder, in the Defence Act.  According to Peter Stanley, research on the death penalty by others indicates that 120 men of the AIF were sentenced to death, but no sentences were carried out.  This naturally had implications for the lack of a sufficient deterrent for deserters, of which the Australians had the highest rate in the Allied Forces.  Prime Minister Hughes, however, was concerned that the death penalty would affect volunteer recruitment rates, and the ban on the death penalty stood, much to the chagrin of British General Haig.


On 9 April 1917 Newell was delivered to the No 4 Military Prison at Abancourt.  By the end of the month Newell’s sentence of five years’ penal servitude was further reduced to two years with hard labour.  Even this was not enough.  With continuing need for men to throw into the firing line, the remainder of Newall’s sentence was suspended from 20 April 1918, and he rejoined his unit on 28 April 1918.


On the 28 April the 57th Battalion was in a support role near Villers-Bretonneux, but the following day they moved to the Aubigny Line where they were due for a spell.  Baths were available, and new underclothes issued. There was little shelling overnight. 


During May and the first part of June the Battalion remained at Aubigny.  The troops rested, trained, attended lectures, and on the 10th June enjoyed the Brigade Sports. 



The cover page of the 57 Infantry Battalion Unit Diary for June 1918 depicting 

scenes from the Brigade Sports held that month while Newell spent a few weeks

with his Battalion.  The artist was Cpl Presley Huthnance. AWM4 23/74/29


On 16 July the Battalion moved off to Ribemont and over the following fortnight the tempo of warlike activity increased.  Enemy aeroplanes flew overhead, artillery  shelled regularly, and the allies fired “gas projectors” towards the German lines.  On 29 June 1918, Newall again disappeared from his post. 


Appearing before another Field General Court Martial, Newall was charged, on 25 July 1918, with:


“1)  29.6.18 When on Active Service Deserting His Majesty's Service (AWL from 29.6.18 to 30.6.18.

2) 11.7.18  When on Active Service Deserting His Majesty's Service (AWL from 12 noon 11.7.18 to 9.30 pm 11.7.18.  Finding Guilty on both Charges.

Sentence 10 years penal servitude 25.7.18  Confirmation. Confirmed by Major General J T Hobbs Cmdg 5th Aust Div 30.7.18.”


The sentence later commuted to 5 years penal servitude.  Newall was removed from the Corps Compound on 13 October and marched out to the 2nd Military Prison at Rouen, and here Newell saw out the remaining weeks of the war. 


On 19 October 1918 Newell was charged with mutiny.  He appeared before a General Court Martial on 4 February 1919 charged with “Joining in a mutiny in Forces belonging to HM Mil. Force.”  Newell pleaded not guilty, but the Court found him guilty, and sentenced him to 90 days Field Punishment No 1.  This involved being tied to a post for several hours every day, sometimes with arms outstretched, which the men called “crucifixion”.


Two months later Newell disembarked at Folkstone, England, and taken under escort to the Portland Convict Prison. 


A letter dated May 26 1919  made the following request:


“To Governor of HM Portland, Please furnish this office with a report upon the conduct and physical fitness of the above named soldier who is serving a term of imprisonment in your prison”. 


The reply to this request stated: “He is in good health and fit for service overseas”.


At the end of the war the Australian Military authorities were faced with the huge dilemma of what to do with the men of the AIF languishing in military and other prisons.  Many were returned to Australia under sentence and completed their sentences in Australian prisons. 


Newell’s B2455 file notes “14/7/19  Legal Dpt advised suspension of sentence.  Returned to Australia per Takada.  Eng 18/7/19”


Newell disembarked at Port Melbourne on 7 September 1919 and discharged the same day.  The AIF was done with Private Newell,  apart from marking his file “Not eligible for war medals”, and refusing his later disingenuous request for his War Gratuity.


In a review of Newell’s offences, it should be noted that they amounted to little more than being absent without leave for a day or two.  He was not violent, nor a thief.  His youth may have been a factor in his early infractions of the rules, and he may well have been suffering from shell shock when he went absent without leave in 1917 and found himself under the more serious charge of desertion.  After that period in prison he seemed to be fairly clearly avoiding the front line.  He had probably faced fairly brutal treatment in the military prisons, and so after five years, and still only 21, Newell arrived back in Melbourne with no money, no honourable discharge, no job, no war gratuity, and no prospect of medals.



Australian War Memorial -  History of 57th Infantry Battalion

                                          Unit War Diary, 57th Infantry Battalion

National Archives of Australia - A471  Courts Martial records for Alfred Newell

B2455 Service dossier for Alfred Newell

Stanley, Peter, Bad Characters, Sex, Crime, Mutiny, Murder and the Australian Imperial

                                           Force.  Pier 9. Millers Point, NSW: 2010.




War Service Commemorated

Essendon Gazette Roll of Honour With the Colours

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