31 July 1916

German cavalry in East Africa 1911. Image in public domain.

German cavalry in East Africa 1911. Image in public domain.


I’ve wandered afar from Old England,
With pleasures of London I’m done;
I’m at drill where the sand around Cairo
Gleams white to the kiss of the sun.
The canteen’s quite close and I’m thirsty,
But I am financially broke,
So I light up the pipe that you gave me,
And my troubles soon vanish in smoke.

The Major has given us ”Smoke oh!”
I rest with my pack by my side;
And in fancy I see in the smoke rings—
“Best wishes from Catherine McBride.”
My mates by my side are forgotten,
All fear of the Major has fled,
For I seem to be roaming in Egypt
Ere the Queen of all Egypt was dead

I go for a stroll by the river,
Cleopatra salutes with a smile;
The Harem all spring to attention,
Then form a platoon by the Nile.
But Anthony sees me and curses.
And fondles his gun rather queer,
So I beat a retreat for the Wazza,
And promptly I call for a beer.

The girls at the Wazza are dancing,
I halt them and make them form fours;
Then I call out a sergeant to drill them,
And sentries I place at the doors.
The landlord posts arms for inspection—
His missus is serving the beer,
We fall in two deep at the counter,
When somebody shouts in my ear.

“We are moving, you fool, get a move on!”‘
I awake and struggle to rise.
The girls on the Wazza have vanished,
I’m wiping the dream from my eyes;
The Major’s ferociously cursing,
And swears by the Prophets that he
Has a hot time in store for a loafer,
And the loafer, alas! it is me.

Now my harness is on and I’m ready,
“Right turn,” and we’re marching away;
I’d mortgage my chances in Heaven
To be in Australia to-day;
And the Major can go to the devil,
I think as behind him we stride,
For the pipe that I have in my pocket
Carries wishes from Catherine McBride.





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30 July 1916

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William James (‘Bill’) Johnson

William James Johnson. Image courtesy Psephos - Adam Carr's Election Archive.

William James Johnson. Image courtesy Psephos – Adam Carr’s Election Archive.

William James (‘Bill’) Johnson, Private, Service Number 3827, died on 30 July 1916 in the No 24 General Hospital, Etaples, France, a few days after being wounded at the Battle of Pozieres. He had sustained a fractured skull and other facial wounds as the result of an exploding shell. He left behind his wife of twenty seven years, Martha Ellen, two children, Lachlan and Ivy, who was just 14 years of age, and an adopted son, Eric Edward Travis.

According to his war record, William was 44 years and 7 months when he enlisted at Holsworthy on 29 August 1915. Because he was also the Mayor of Auburn at the time, his enlistment was widely reported in the newspapers. He gave the reason for enlisting as wanting to be an example to the younger men who were hesitating to join the AIF.

William James Johnson was born in Yass in 1867. His parents were William James and Susan Johnson, who moved to Orange just after his birth. Siblings Eleanor, Joseph, Clara, Alfred and Luke were all born in Orange between 1869 and 1880. His military papers give his trade as a coachman, stating he was an apprentice to coachbuilder Michael Kinealy in Orange for five years.

Michael Kinealy’s Great Western Coachworks in 1899, where Bill Johnson completed his apprenticeship. Image courtesy Orange City Library.

Michael Kinealy’s Great Western Coachworks in 1899, where Bill Johnson completed his apprenticeship. Image courtesy Orange City Library.

Despite his trade as a coachbuilder, William Johnson leaned towards a career in politics. He became involved in local politics as a member of the Auburn Council, and in 1910 he was elected to the House of Representatives as the Labour Member for Robertson. He was elected as Mayor of Auburn in February 1914 and very soon afterwards was seen to be campaigning for the seat of Calare but was unsuccessful against Mr Pigott MHR.

William was actively involved in recruitment and raising money for patriotic funds. In October 1915 he delivered a stirring speech as the Coo-ee March entered Euchareena.

Bill Johnson’s political connections also extended to the battlefield. The Leader on Monday 12 June 1916, page 2, reports:

The idea was Private Billy Johnson’s, and Captain Bean had told us how he fired it at Mr Hughes when parade state was broken a moment by General Birdwood to allow the Prime Minister and Mr Fisher to shake hands with the soldier who used to be Mr WJ Johnson, MHR. (formerly of Orange, and latterly Mayor of Auburn). That was Labor Bill Johnson, not Liberal Bill Elliott Johnson, Labour Bill was as short and as stocky and as humorous as Liberal Bill is long and lathy and lugubrious. ‘Have they made you a Doctor of Divinity yet, Bill?’ asked Private Johnson of the Prime Minister, and Mr Hughes grinned appreciation. Bill Johnson ever showed a blatant disrespect for the established Order.

The personal effects of Private WJ Johnson, 2nd Battalion, were signed for by his wife, Martha Ellen Johnson, on 30 June 1917. They included his disc, letters, wallet, cards, photographs and a diary, Testament and Hymn Book, which had returned to Australia via Beltana under registered post. His son, Lachlan William Johnson, received his Memorial Plaque and other military honours accorded a deceased soldier. William’s Memorial Plaque is now held in the Auburn Library Local Studies Collection.

Martha Ellen Johnson, Bill’s wife, died on 5 July 1919 from a severe bout of influenza. She was laid to rest in the Methodist Section of Rookwood Cemetery.

Private William James Johnson, soldier and politician, was laid to rest in the Etaples Cemetery in France on 30 July 1916.

On 25 April 1917 the second ever Anzac Day service in Orange was held at the Orange Public School. Mayoress McNeilly placed a laurel wreath on the Union Jack for each fallen soldier who had attended the school, including William Johnson.

In July 1917 a tree was planted at Orange Public School in William’s memory. It was one of 26 trees planted in honour of fallen soldiers who had attended the school.

In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte WJ Johnson”; it was donated by HT Albon. Very few of the trees are still standing today.

William is commemorated on the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on the Honour Rolls at Auburn Methodist Church, Auburn RSL Club and Orange RSL Club.

On 9 August 1917 the Wellington Times published the following letter from official war correspondent, Captain CEW Bean, to William’s widow:

Headquarters, 1st Anzac Corps, B.E.F., France, Nov 27 1917 [sic].

Dear Mrs Johnson – I have been asked by Mrs Caldwell to obtain any particulars I could as to the manner of your brave husband’s death. I am told that he went over a little after midnight with his company at the first attack on Pozieres. All the afternoon they had been watching our guns tearing the branches out of the trees, and the dust from the trenches and the villages across the short green space in front of their parapet. All that evening after dark the skyline was lit up by the red bursts and the dazzling flashes of one of the heaviest bombardments ever known.

At 12.30 our lighter guns suddenly burst out into a regular necklace of fire, and the companies went out over the parapet and got as close as they could behind our own shells, and when the shelling lifted and went further they dashed at once for the German trench.  All that night your husband with the rest was digging an old German trench, filling sandbags and bolstering up the shell-torn trench-sides with them. By morning the fire had largely subsided.  They were in a trench just inside a small wood (or, rather, what had been a wood, or wooded field, on the south side of the few broken brick walls which were the remains of the village).  The morning was pretty quiet, Some of the men had been routing Germans out of the cellars in the village, but they had come back, and the digging and improving of the line was going on fairly well without interruption.

Your husband was in the trench, when about midday a shell, which burst a good way from him (there was always a good many scattered shells after these battles, which do wonderfully little harm so long as the enemy cannot see from anywhere what his guns are aiming at) sent its fragments flying at random over the ground, and one of these hit your husband in the head.  It is not quite clear whether this fragment did not explode a hand-bomb lying near, and one of the pieces of the bomb hit him.  It is often difficult to tell in the suddenness of the shell burst exactly what follows. Anyway he was hit in the head, but not rendered unconscious; and like the good man he was, he walked down himself, with the help of the stretcher-bearer down the deadly road to the ‘Chalk Pit’, near which was a dressing station.

At the Chalk Pit he was pretty well done up, and his mate had him put on a stretcher and carried the rest of the way to the dressing station.  As his mate left him there and asked him how he felt, he said ‘Not too good.” He died at Etaples on July 30, just a week later (he was wounded on July 23 at Pozieres). He was always a splendid, cheery man- too old for the wild work of a soldier, but making up for his age by his perpetual cheeriness. On marches he stuck to it cheerily, although most men of his age do not march well. He was never known to grumble.

He died as he lived, a good, straight, fine, single-minded man – a very fine example to younger Australians of the way in which trials can be faced by a man determined to conquer them by sheer spirit, even if his strength is not really equal to them.  He was buried at Etaples, and the number of his grave is No H 375.  I will try to have a photograph taken of it and send it to you.  The British authorities, who have care of the graveyards, have kindly arranged to do this if possible.

Assuring you of my deep sympathy in your loss of a husband whom every one that knew him respected and was fond of, I am, yours sincerely, C E W Bean.


Leader, 9 August 1916, p. 1.
Corporal WJ Johnson

Leader, 11 August 1916, p. 5.
Corporal Johnson’s Last Letter


William James Johnson's memorial plaque. Image courtesy Auburn Library.

William James Johnson’s memorial plaque. Image courtesy Auburn Library.


* Sharon Jameson, 2016




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29 July 1916

Looking for wounded on the Western Front under protection of a white flag 1916, William Henry Thornhill Burrell. Image courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Looking for wounded on the Western Front under protection of a white flag 1916, William Henry Thornhill Burrell. Image courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

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28 July 1916

Russian General Vladimir Sakharov. Image courtesy Le Pays de France éditions Le Matin 1914 à 1917.

Russian General Vladimir Sakharov. Image courtesy Le Pays de France éditions Le Matin 1914 à 1917.

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27 July 1916

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Florence Emily Isabel McDonald

Nurse Florence McDonald. Image courtesy Vera Pickford.

Nurse Florence McDonald. Image courtesy Vera Pickford.

Florence Emily Isabel McDonald was born in Crookwell in 1878 and was one of eight children of George and Clara McDonald.

Florence completed her nursing training at Goulburn District Hospital, where, in 1909, she was awarded First Prize for Surgical Nursing. Her prize was the book: The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott and was inscribed: “First Prize for Surgical Nursing Awarded to Nurse Florence McDonald by G.A. Buchannan MB : ChM. Goulburn Hospital December 12th 1909“.

Nurse McDonald volunteered to serve in World War I, joining the Australian Army Nursing (AANS) on 30 July 1915. She left Australia the following day on the ship Orestes. No doubt her exceptional surgical skills stood her in good stead for her impending war service.

Florence served overseas for almost four years. During 1915 and early 1916 she served in various hospitals in Greece and Egypt, as well as on several hospital ships.

In August 1916 she was transferred to the United Kingdom where she nursed wounded soldiers at Dartford, Birmingham and Brighton hospitals. In May 1917 she was transferred to the Western Front in France, where she served in the 25th General Hospital at Boulogne.

On 31 December 1917 Nurse McDonald was admitted to the hospital at Rouen suffering from debility. She was granted three weeks’ furlough following her recovery, rejoining her unit in February 1918. On 1 October 1918 she was promoted to Sister.

On 28 March 1919 Sister McDonald boarded the ship City of Poonah at Southampton for her return to Australia, arriving on 16 May 1919. She was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for her war service.

Florence went back to work following her return home. At Orange Base Hospital she nursed a patient named George McDonald; they later married and settled on George’s property Rosyth at Borenore. Florence’s father’s name was George McDonald, her brother was George McDonald and she had now complicated the lives of everyone by marrying another George McDonald.

In the following years Florence and her family had to cope with the double grief of the deaths of two of her married sisters, both of whom died from complications from the flu epidemic that raged here after the war.

Florence’s sister, Ethel Sutherland, died in 1919, during her fifth pregnancy. Ethel’s husband, William, married Muriel Alston, with whom he had two further children. Renowned opera singer, Joan Sutherland, was one of their children. Joan’s success throughout her life brought Florence a great deal of happiness.

Florence’s other sister, Vera Huxley, died in Manildra in 1921 leaving behind two young sons and a grieving husband. Florence took over the role of “mother” and helped raise her nephews Ian and William.

I am the daughter of Florence’s brother, George Gladstone McDonald, who also served in the First World War. Florence had no children, and I became her “adopted little girl”. I spent all my school holidays at their farm, visiting other families for afternoon tea invitations, going to Presbyterian Church at Borenore every Sunday and being a part of their lives.

Florence’s secret hobby was writing love stories in pencil in exercise books. Once Florence allowed me to read her stories; they must have been sad because I remember crying as I read them. Florence’s life was sad; her marriage did not bring her much happiness, but lots of hard work.

Florence worked long hours helping to run the farm. She preserved fruit, separated the milk to make butter and tended her beautiful garden. She also cooked for the Country Women’s Association (CWA).

Florence was an avid member of the Orange CWA. On Thursdays she and George would come into town; George would visit the saleyards while we attended the CWA meeting. My aunt often took me shopping and always ensured that I wore properly fitted, “sensible” shoes. (One of her favourite “lectures” was, no matter what you do in life, you must look after your feet.)

Every Anzac Day Florence would pin on her medals, put her best hat on and come into town to participate in the Anzac March, her proud brother George looking on from the crowds lining Summer Street.

When the farm became too much for Florence and her husband to manage, they sold it and moved to Orange. They lived firstly in Dalton Street, and later Summer Street. By this time their very old faithful Buick Sedan LZ663 was worn out, so George bought a new car which I had to teach him to drive – that was a frightening experience.

After the death of her husband George in 1959 Florence could not manage on her own. Her health failing, she spent some time in Lady Gowrie Convalescent Home at Gordon. Florence died in Orange in 1964.

I loved Florence Emily Isabel McDonald because she loved me – she was like a mother to me all my young life.

* Vera Pickford 2016. Vera is the niece of Florence Emily Isabel McDonald.

Nursing staff of the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital, Ismailia, Egypt, 1916, Henry Arthur Powell. Florence is in the second last row, second from the right. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Nursing staff of the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital, Ismailia, Egypt, 1916, Henry Arthur Powell. Florence is in the second last row, second from the right. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.


26 July 1916

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25 July 1916

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24 July 1916

All day long the ground rocked and swayed backwards and forwards from the concussion . . . men were driven stark staring mad and more than one of them rushed out of the trench over towards the Germans, any amount of them could be seen crying and sobbing like children their nerves completely gone . . . we were nearly all in a state of silliness and half dazed but still the Australians refused to give ground.

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