21 November 1917

“Unfit to fight” – tersely the surgeon put it.
“Unfit.” Good God.
If he but know the battle I have struggled through
A battle lasting days and nights and months and years,
A battle knowing little hope, but blackest fears,
A battle to the death for breath.

“Unfit to fight.” Yes, I suppose I am unfit,
And yet, I wonder, if that surgeon knew
How night after night I fought the fight.
In bitter struggle and despair,
With sweat pouring down through matted hair,
And death waiting there,
So tempting in that bottle on the chair
If he would still have said, “Unfit to fight?”

Home, mother, family, sweetheart, friends – all put behind,
That I might fight this battle with my mind,
The battle every hopeless one must fight,
When death seems good, and life is only fright.
With rotting lungs and wheezing breath,
A man shunned, outcast, wishing only death;
But I battled on and in a way I won, until that night,
The surgeon said, “You are unfit to fight.”

You boys out at the front cannot know
The battles fought by those who could not go,
By those who were pronounced ”Unfit to fight.’
And so, tonight,
When taps were sounded, slowly, sweet and clear,
And thoughts float back to those you hold most dear,
Perhaps you’ll breathe a prayer into the night
For those who stayed at home, unfit to fight.

 

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20 November 1917

A British Mark IV tank as it would appear to occupants of the German trenches during the Battle of Cambrai, November 1917. Image courtesy Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 6284).

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19 November 1917

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18 November 1917

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17 November 1917

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16 November 1917

The torpedoed stern of the Italian transport ship Orione as seen from HMAS Parramatta, 16 November 1917. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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15 November 1917

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Benjamin Barnett Chapman

Cousins Alf and Ben Chapman. Image courtesy Kerrie Nicholls.

Benjamin Barnett Chapman was just 16 years old when he volunteered to serve in the First World War. Ben, his brother, George Denis Chapman, and cousin Alfred Chapman enlisted together in Liverpool on 8 February 1915.

Ben was born in Spring Hill on 21 May 1898. His father was George Barnett Chapman; his mother Mary Jane nee Capps. Ben was educated at Spring Hill Public School and later worked as a labourer.

Following enlistment the intrepid trio were assigned to 7th Light Horse Regiment, 6th Reinforcements. Ben and Alf embarked together for overseas service on 15 June 1915 and were sent to Gallipoli.

On 15 November Ben was admitted to the 3rd Australian Hospital in Lemnos, suffering from dysentery. In July 1916 he was transferred to the 2nd Light Horse Brigade Machine Gun Squadron at Bir et Maler in Egypt. In October he was again hospitalised, this time with malaria. Ben returned to duty on 8 November 1916.

Ben served for over four and a half years; he returned to Australia in August 1919. Benjamin’s brother George returned to Australia in March 1919; his cousin Alf was killed in action in Palestine in November 1917.

Two years after his return from the war Benjamin was admitted to Dudley Private Hospital with adenoid and ear trouble. His condition appeared to improve during the four weeks he spent in hospital so he was discharged, whereupon his condition suddenly deteriorated. Benjamin died on 8 October 1921, the cause of death being acute septic meningitis.

The Leader of 12 October 1921 described Benjamin’s funeral in detail, claiming it to be “one of the largest ever seen in Spring Hill”. A large body of returned men preceded the hearse and formed a guard at the entrance to the cemetery. Ben’s coffin was covered with the Union Jack, and borne to the graveside by Stanley Evan Bryant, Jack Hilton West, Joseph Victor Bennett and Raymond Westley Moad. The newspaper concluded:

Ben will be severely missed by many whom he benefited in his generous way; he was most popular with all classes, and his cheery smile and pleasant manner will not soon be forgotten.

Benjamin Barnett Chapman is commemorated on the Spring Hill Public School Honour Roll, the Spring Hill Church Roll of Honor and the Spring Hill Temperance Hall Honor Roll. His headstone in Spring Hill Cemetery also commemorates his cousin, Alfred Chapman, and bears the inscription “Mates in Peace and War”.

Benjamin Chapman’s headstone at Spring Hill Cemetery commemorating Alfred Chapman: Mates in Peace and War. Image courtesy Alex Rezko.

Letter from Ben to his sister Winnie, April 1917:
The Front Line in Sinai – British Tanks Arrive

Benjamin Chapman’s obituary, Leader, 12 October 1921, p. 1

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14 November 1917

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13 November 1917

Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace in Petrograd. Image in public domain.

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