This is a transcript of Arthur Delbridge's 2006 Remembrance Day talk at the Mt Wilson Village Hall, following the service at the War Memorial.
Today is the day for memories, memories centred on our community War Memorial. Australia has two such official days each year; this, sometimes called Armistice Day, and Anzac Day, but they are rather different in emphasis. What is memorialised today is the closing moments of what for a long time we called the 'Great War', the war which came to an end (except in its consequences) at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. We're inclined these days to call it World War I, though the hope had been that it was the war to end all wars.
No such luck!
World War II followed only 20-odd years later. This morning we have heard the call to remember by standing in silence at the 11th minute of the 11th hour. None of us here are likely to have any direct memory of that particular day. Instead we remember different wars – World War II, Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq. The day for each of us is a personal possession related to home, family, neighbourhood – individual memories.
I was still a student at Sydney University in 1939 on the day it was announced on the radio that we were at war with Germany. I still remember the shudder of dread and excitement at hearing the pipe band of the University Regiment suddenly called on parade to march noisily around the University playing patriotic songs, as if to say 'look: we're ready'
Each of us now have strongly personalised memories, whether in grief with the loss of loved ones or with joy at their survival and their safe return. How sobering it is that the saddest cost of World War I to Australia was 60,000 war dead, their graves in distant lands.
Usually I take two names from our War Memorial and try to give a brief account of the lives of the two soldiers, but today a slight variation. I'll talk first about the whole family of Leslie Southee Clark, a family well represented in the village by his daughter Noellie MacLean, born Noellie Clark, and her son Mike. Thinking for a moment about Mike makes me recall the way we lived here in Mt Wilson in the 1970s when Mike and my son Nick were young fellows in their early 20s. You had to go to the post office each day to pick up your mail. If you wanted to make a telephone call, you had to go through the manual switchboard to be put through by the post mistress. I remember once trying to phone my son Nick from Sydney, asking the Post Mistress Val Bailey to put me through to him. And her reply: 'well yes, but he may not be there. He and Mike were going to do some fencing today at Mt Irvine'. That's how close we all were to each other in those days.
The Clark Family
Noellie tells me that in the wider Clark family extended by marriage there were, all told, 14 enlistments into the services of WWI and WWII, but today I'll take just four of them: Noellie's father and her uncle in WWI and her brother and her husband in WWII. Of the four, three survived. Leslie Southee Clark, Noellie's father, was a very successful farmer in Dubbo. He had graduated from Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1912, returning to Dubbo to develop a notable farming property, to marry and to build a grand Edwardian homestead called Dulcidene. Les Clark had four children, one of whom was Noellie, and another John Byron Marcus Clark who will come into the story again later.
Well, in 1917 Les Clark and his older brother Roland Cuthbert Clark enlisted in the army and were posted as Mechanical Transport Reinforcements. They embarked on HMAT Runic to serve in France, in Les's case as a driver in a military motor transport unit. I've seen a small photograph of Les Clark standing in front of the great lumbering truck he drove, no doubt carrying supplies, ammunition, food and so on up to the front line; an exposed and dangerous occupation. In the photo he looks like a really big man, but Noellie tells us that he was wearing three greatcoats all at once, so cold and snowy was it there. He was demobilised in November 1919 and, returning to his Dubbo property, again became a leading citizen. For 26 years he was President of the Dubbo Show, Vice-President of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW, he sat on the District Land Board, was Chairman of the Dubbo Hospital and, 'having served in a Transport Company in France, he was honoured to be a Patron of the Dubbo RSL'.
He left Dubbo in 1954 to spend the last 20 years of his life in Mt Wilson at Sefton Hall. This house had originally been built by his father Henry Marcus Clark, the then well-known entrepreneur and retailer who developed a chain of shops, known as Marcus Clarks, in Sydney and country NSW. Some of us would remember them, I'm sure. He was the one for whom St George's Church was built as a memorial, after his death. Les Clark, the son, died here in 1975, but he was, even in retirement, to be again touched by the hand of war.
His only son, John Byron Marcus Clark (Noellie's brother), had enlisted in 1940 for service in WWII. He joined the 2/15 Field Regiment RAA in Malaya. It was then a new regiment, equipped with old 18 pounder guns. By late 1941, the regiment was in Singapore and, after a time, faced the advancing Japanese army. They were re-equipped with the more modern 25 pounders and soon had to fire them for the first time at the enemy. But they were fighting a rear-guard operation as the Japanese army forced the Allies into a withdrawal. John Clark was involved in all of this – he was a bombardier, a two-stripe gunner in action. When the No 1 of his gun crew was killed in action, John stepped in to lead the crew. He was appointed Sergeant in the field, though in a losing battle. Before long our survivors of this fierce fighting had to 'enter the unknown world of the Prisoner of War camps'. John finished up slaving under great duress on the Burma/Thailand railway. His war record says 'cause of death: illness', but as for so many others that meant that he did not survive the brutal treatment, the starvation, the anguish of that infamous regime of the Japanese invasion. His grave is in Thailand in the Kanchamaburi War Cemetery. A huge grief to his father, his sister and the whole Clark family.
But Nellie's contact with war and its effects was not over yet. Sometime after the war finished, she met and married Jim McLean. He had been a WWII soldier serving from 1940. When the war finished he stayed on in the reserves, involved in mopping up operations in Morati and Balikpapan, Borneo (I guess I could perchance have met him there). After that he was posted to Japan with the occupation troops after the Japanese surrender and, among other things, he took a shipload of sheep from Australia to feed the Japanese population, impoverished as it was in defeat.
Truly this was a family that contributed much and suffered much.
Edwin Ernest Channing Hatswell, also known as Ted
Present with us here today is Ted's son Bruce, a resident of Blackheath, who has kindly given us records of his father's WWI experience. Ted Hatswell enlisted in December 1915 and served for the rest of the war with the 7th Light Horse Regiment. He was unmarried at that time and his army pay, as for all private soldiers, was just six shillings a day. The record also shows his address on enlistment as C/- Sefton Hall, Mt Wilson. So today we have another strong connection with the Clark family. Since 1912 he had worked for Henry Marcus Clark, the father of Les, whom we met in the first half of today's talk. After the war Ted married and came back to work at Sefton Hall for a few years before moving to Blackheath.
When I visited Bruce and his brother Ross last week, I was handed a book detailing the whole history of the 7th Light Horse, their father's regiment. It had been written after the end of the war by the commanding officer, Lt Colonel D S Richardson, DSO, with an introduction by Sir Harry Chauvel, KCB, KCMG, Commander of the Desert Mounted Corp in the Middle East. This book was made available only to members of the 7th Light Horse Regiment and I feel very privileged indeed to have read it. It gives a picture of the urgency with which Australia responded to its call for involvement in the Great War; this 7th Light Horse Regiment sprang into existence in November/ December 1914 in very quick time. Men volunteered to enlist because they were ready for adventure and anxious to serve, but, it was noted with regret in this book, their ideas of discipline and the routine of army life were at best vague. The men selected were just put through a riding test over jumps and that was all the riding they got before embarking for Egypt.
Only three weeks before sailing were they issued with rifles and bayonets and they got horses only four days before embarkation. Once at sea the horses were exercised on the ship's decks, which had been covered with ashes and sand, while for the men some rifle exercises and for the officers some sword drill. Once arrived in Cairo, a bit more training and manoeuvres with other units. Then suddenly the Gallipoli campaign got under way and more troops were needed there. So the new 7th Light Horse became involved. Leaving their horses behind, they sailed in a captured German ship right to the Anzac Cove where flashes from the guns could be plainly seen. They landed and occupied a position in support of the Australian Infantry. After the evacuation of the Gallipoli site the 7th Regiment went back to Cairo and from there onwards it took a prominent part in all the important The Light Horse Interchange operations of the Egyptian Theatre of the war. The most famous of these was the Battle of Beersheba, then held by the Turks (allies of Germany).
The entire Allied assault on Beersheba involved thousands of men and horses from England, New Zealand and Australia. Operating under the command of Sir Harry Chauvel were three mounted brigades. But on the last day, the one chosen for the final assault on the ancient town of Beersheba was the 4th Light Horse Brigade, which included the 7th Light Horse Regiment, led by George Macarthur Onslow. One of his soldiers on that day was Ted Hatswell, whose name is on our War Memorial.
Mounted riflemen with bayonets against men in trenches – it didn't make sense but it worked. There were many casualties of men and horses as they charged against the machine gun and rifle fire of an entrenched enemy. Astonished by the speed of the charge and the excitement of the horses, the famous Walers the Australians were riding, the Turkish riflemen forgot to lower the sights on their rifles, which meant that in the close encounter, bullets flew over the heads of our advancing troopers. And once the charge had overcome the entrenched Turks, Beersheba was open to troops of the 4th Brigade. Guns were captured, prisoners taken and before long the horses, many of which had been thirsty for water for the last two days, were able to drink from water quickly pumped up from the wells of Beersheba. One of the troopers said later: 'Well, I've had some good games, but that was the best run I ever had, from start to finish it was just about 6 miles'. But there were good men and horses shot and wounded in the affray.
We're happy to say that Bruce Hatswell's father came through all that without injury, but later, on duty beyond Beersheba, his horse fell and Ted injured his leg and had to go to hospital in Port Said. I understand he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. But he must have been a bit of a lad. His crime sheet - every soldier has a crime sheet - records his having been AWL from hospital for several hours, disobeying hospital orders and drunk while a patient, but he seems to have come home from the war in mid-1919 in pretty good shape after all that.
Just a note about the horses: the Walers were standard Australian stock horses and one British officer said of them: 'Their record in this war places them far above the cavalry horses of any other Nation'. NSW horses were exported to the British Army in India, hence the name Walers. By the end of the war 160,000 Australian horses were sent overseas; only one returned. That was 'Sandy' the horse ridden by the Commander-in-Chief of the AIF, killed at Gallipoli. Sandy was led with an empty saddle at the funeral of his distinguished rider, Sir William Bridges.