William Henry Payne

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.

William’s brother Curtis Robert Payne returned to Australia in May 1918.

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10 December 1917

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9 December 1917

The Mayor of Jerusalem, Dr Hussein Salim al-Husseini (with walking-stick and cigarette), with his party under a white flag-of-truce, 9 December 1917. Image courtesy Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 13213B).

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8 December 1917

HMAS Sydney launches a Sopwith Camel from her new revolving launching platform, 8 December 1917. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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7 December 1917

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6 December 1917

The Halifax explosion, 6 December 1917. Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada PA-166585.

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5 December 1917

Australian Nationalists’ pro conscription poster, 1917. Image courtesy Riley and ephemera collection, State Library of Victoria.

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4 December 1917

Crewmembers of HMAS Australia wearing winter clothing during WWI operations in the North Sea. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.

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3 December 1917

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2 December 1917

Postcard celebrating the ceasefire on the Eastern Front. Image in public domain.

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.

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