The United Kingdom and Chinese Governments agree on the employment of Chinese labour in France to fill the manpower shortage caused by the war. Men from northern China are recruited to form the Chinese Labour Corps; the first contingent arrives in France in April 1917. By the end of the war the Corps would number nearly 96,000. The Forgotten Army of the First World War
Born in Quirindi in 1894, Herbert Vincent McGrath was the fifth of seven children born to James McGrath and Mary Jane Norris. Herbert grew up in Cudal, where he and his siblings attended the local public school.
In February 1916 “Vin”, as he had become known, enlisted at Bathurst. The 21 year old entered Bathurst Training Camp the same day. In April he was assigned to the 45th Battalion, 3rd Reinforcement as a private. During his time in camp Vin was inoculated against typhoid.
In April 1916 Vin returned to Cudal for final leave. A farewell social was held in the Cudal Hall, and Vin was presented with a periscope, a razor and two pairs of knitted socks.
On 22 May 1916 Private McGrath embarked HMAT Warilda in Sydney. Vin described the Warilda as “a fine boat”, saying he had “a very enjoyable time on board”, declaring: “I eat like a horse and am getting as fat as a pig.” He also described the generous hospitality he received in Durban, where one hundred men in his unit were invited to Dr Campbell’s house for dinner where they were waited on by “very nice girls”, who later showed them round the town.
Private McGrath arrived in Plymouth on 18 July 1916. The following day he was marched into the 12th Training Battalion at Rollestone to undertake further training, including bomb-throwing. During a leave of absence to London Vin witnessed a zeppelin being shot down. He described this in a letter home as “the grandest sight of all”:
We were nice and cosy in our beds. About 2 a.m. I was awakened by the blowing of a loud whistle. Running out into the street I saw search lights playing in all directions. Soon the Zeppelin was picked up and shells began bursting around it. It appeared to get hit on the side. It took fire, and descended in flames like a ball of fire, lighting up the place for miles around. It caused great excitement. I tried to get to it, but could not on account of the crush.
Vin concluded his letter:
We will be leaving in a few days for France, which they tell me is a beautiful country.
On 5 September Vin embarked for France; he arrived in Etaples a week later, on 11 September 1916. On 21 November men of the 45th Battalion were engaged holding the line at Gueudecourt, near Bapaume, where they were subjected to heavy enemy artillery. Private McGrath was the only man killed by enemy fire that day; five others were wounded. He has no known grave.
Herbert Vincent McGrath is commemorated on Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France, the Cudal District Honour Roll, the Cudal and District War Memorial Gates, the Toogong War Memorial and on panel number 140 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Herbert’s brothers John Edward McGrath and Bertie Augustus McGrath also served in WWI. John returned to Australia in February 1919, and Bertie in June 1919.
A military secretary of the YMCA appeals for food and cigarettes for comfort packs for Australian soldiers in France. He says that the weather is atrocious and describes the war as “hell, pure and unadulterated“. Anzacs In France – Winter Comforts Needed
Organiser of the Foresters’ Boxing night fundraiser, Mr AT Caldwell, expresses his disappointment at the poor attendance, declaring: “It appeared as though the people of Orange had forgotten that there were any local boys at the front.” For The Soldiers
The German submarine SM UB-47 torpedoes the French battleship Gaulois in the Aegean Sea off the southern coast of Greece. The explosion kills two crewmen and another two drown as they attempt to abandon ship. The ship capsizes 22 minutes after being hit and sinks 14 minutes later.
The British and French governments agree on the temporary administration of Togoland – the German protectorate is divided into separate British and French administrative zones
Allied air raids continue on the Western Front; the French bomb German industrial works in Rhineland
The Ancient Order of Foresters holds a fundraiser at the Oddfellows’ Hall in support of their brothers serving overseas
The German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish governments reply to American president Woodrow Wilson’s peace note of 18 December. They suggest an immediate meeting of delegates.
The Anglo-French Conference meets in London to discuss the German and United States peace notes, the Greece situation, the campaign in Salonika and the division of forces on the Western Front. The conference continues for three days.
Members of the 4th Australian Field Ambulance display their Christmas billies, sent as comforts from Australia. The billies contained foodstuffs and a pipe. Some of the men are wearing the billy lid on their head. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.
President of St Stanislaus College, Dr Wigmore, unveils the honour roll at St Joseph’s Church in the presence of a crowded congregation. St Joseph’s Church Honour Roll
The Imperial Camel Corps, the Anzac Mounted Division and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade under the command of Sir Harry Chauvel capture Magdhaba in northern Sinai. The 6,000 strong Allied force sustains 146 casualties, including 22 dead; the 2,000 strong Ottoman army about 400 casualties with some 100 dead and more than 1,200 taken prisoner of war. The Allied success in the Battle of Magdhaba opens the way for a successful campaign in Palestine.