Captain William Henry Payne and despatch riders with the 1st Cavalry Divisional Signal Squadron, Mesopotamia, 1917. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.
William Henry Payne was born in Orange in 1887. His father, William snr, was a popular local hairdresser and his mother was Mary Ann nee Jones. William and Mary had married in Orange in September 1886 and William Henry was their first-born son. A second son, Curtis Robert, followed in 1891.
William attended Orange Public School and later joined the operating staff at the Orange Railway Station. He trained with the Australasian branch of the Marconi Company and was also a Deputy Manager with Amalgamated Wireless (Australia) Ltd.
As a young man William took himself off to New Zealand, where he served two and a half years with the 3rd Auckland Infantry Regiment (C Company). In July 1914 he married Ethel Mary Fromm of Gisborne. The couple relocated to Sydney, where Ethel gave birth to two children.
When WWI broke out William served two years and seven months as a Lieutenant with the 17th Signal Troop Army Engineers at Moore Park, where he developed the AIF Wireless School, effectively organising the entire scheme for military wireless training in the Commonwealth.
William and his brother Curtis enlisted together in Sydney on 19 February 1917. Both were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Divisional Signal Squadron; William as a captain and Robert as a sapper. The brothers embarked HMAT A15 Port Sydney for overseas service on 9 May 1917.
Captain Payne proceeded to Mesopotamia; his squadron formed part of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. William was hospitalised shortly after his arrival in Mesopotamia. He returned to duty in August 1917, but was readmitted to hospital in late November with small pox. William’s condition deteriorated and he died on 10 December 1917, aged 30. He was buried in Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery in Iraq.
William Henry Payne is commemorated on panel number 26 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
HMAS Sydney launches a Sopwith Camel from her new revolving launching platform, 8 December 1917. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.
HMAS Sydney becomes the first Australian warship to launch an aircraft, and the first warship to do so from a rotatable platform. Sydney is the first warship to be fitted with a permanent revolving aircraft launching platform; it would carry fighter aircraft from January 1918.
Pro-conscription advocates Walter Finch and Miss Gazzard are pelted with rotten eggs and stones during a rally at Clergate. Eggs At Clergate
The first court case for disturbing public meetings in connection with the forthcoming referendum is heard at Orange Police Court. Denis Cleary is found guilty of using insulting language and fined £2. Orange Police Court
The Halifax explosion, 6 December 1917. Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada PA-166585.
The French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc collides with the Norwegian relief vessel Imo in Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia. The Mont-Blanc, laden with 9,000 tons of munitions destined for the Western Front, explodes, creating one of the largest man-made explosions to date. Hundreds of people watching the catastrophe are blinded as the blast wave shatters windows. Overturned lamps and stoves ignite a multitude of fires; the ensuing shock wave shatters windows 80 kilometres away. The resultant fire cloud surges 3.6 km into the atmosphere; the city of Halifax is reduced to ruins and debris. 2,000 people are killed and 9,000 injured, 6,000 are left homeless. The Halifax Explosion
Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia conclude the armistice on the Eastern Front; one million German soldiers are now available to reinforce German positions on the Western Front
Rector of Holy Trinity Church, the Rev Canon Taylor, urges the people of Orange to vote in favour of conscription in the upcoming referendum; those who do not are presumably “pro-enemy, athiests, anarchists [or] natural slackers”. Recruits and Reinforcements
Australian Nationalists’ pro conscription poster, 1917. Image courtesy Riley and ephemera collection, State Library of Victoria.
Get into a gap; they are frequent in France;
Give a gallant but war-weary brother a chance.
Set your face to the foe and your soul to the sky,
“My country,” be ever your brave battle-cry.
Get into a gap where the fighters are faint,
And the Hun gold is spreading its treacherous taint
The trench where the brother your dear mother bore,
Is a half-dazed automaton, garnished with gore,
Where the heavens drop death and the earth is a hell
And peace only comes from a bullet or shell,
Where men are but blots on a blood reddened map –
Get into a gap.
The war isn’t over by many long days.
On the fields of red Belgium the Hun cattle graze.
A hero must die for each inch that we win,
While they’re driving the murderers back to Berlin.
A thousand go down where our Lewis guns speak,
A thousand lay stark where our shrapnel guns shriek.
Like swathes of grey grass they’re bestrewing the plain,
But a thousand leap up where one savage is slain.
Won’t you come to their aid in the sectors and saps –
And fill up the gaps?
Fill up the gaps where the coal-boxes burst,
Sending hundreds a day to the base to be nursed;
Fill up the gaps where yellow gas waves
Turn the sheltering shell-holes to wire-tangled graves.
They are doing their bit while you’re slacking behind,
They are coming back paralysed, wounded and blind.
You munch near a menu; they’re glad of a bite
When the tucker mule isn’t mud-smothered at night.
Where the sky-archies belch and the trench mortars snap –
Fill up a gap.
Fill up a gap, where your brother has been;
The pay’s not excessive, the work isn’t clean.
But the man who goes NOW will be gripped by the hand,
When the peace ships come back and the weary troops land.
It is then you’ll be asked what you did in the days
When France was a shambles and Belgium ablaze.
‘Twill be then by the scorn of the women you’ll know
The craven you were when they asked you to go.
Be a man, not a weakling, home-pampered on pap –
And fill up the gap.