Friday, 23 December 2016

The ANZAC Book and letters. When & how did Dar and Birdie meet?

We know from previous stories that Dar (George Kirby McArthur) transferred to a Mechanical Transport unit at the beginning of 1916 to then see service on the Western Front for the remainder of the war.

We have also worked out from a tiny postcard that we have, that Dar was definitely in Bath at some point – we presume it was at the beginning of 1916 (see previous story).

But, what other information do we have to work out further details?

The Bath Chronicle had articles on happenings during the Great War. Various articles indicated that, not only were the troops training in Bath for the Mechanical Transport units, but they were billeted in the Twerton area of Bath and the local Methodist Church held dances and other social functions where the troops could mix with the locals in a relaxed atmosphere.

Birdie and her parents, Oliver and Harriet Butt, lived at 14 Vernon Terrace, Lower Bristol Road, Twerton, Bath.

We are lucky to have an original of The ANZAC Book. It has deteriorated somewhat with bookworm activity over the past 100 years. There is an inscription on the inside front cover which reads:
“To Birdie, with much love from George”
There is a date of 1916, but there is no actual day or month due to the bookworm activity.

This is a significant piece of information as it confirms that Dar and Birdie met at some point prior to the end of 1916.

Another piece of the puzzle is a set of letters we have from The Boots Company to Birdie. The first letter confirms that Birdie was offered a job in September 1916 in the Silver Department, Wine Street, Bristol. The letter states that she had written to Boots on 9th September 1916, requesting a position with them. She was to start work at Bristol on 9th October 1916. There are another two letters from the company giving permission for Birdie to take time off “as your fiancĂ© may arrive home from the Front”. Those letters were dated 24th January 1917 and 2nd January 1918.

So to summarise - in June 1916 Dar was in England and, as he had transferred into a Mechanical Transport Company, he was training in Bath. The Recreation Club on Great Pulteney Road in Bath is about 2km from where Birdie lived in Twerton. And of course The Anzac Book and the personal letters.

My guess is that they met in one of the following ways:
·      *  Birdie was volunteering at the Recreation Club as her “bit for the War”, or
·      *  At the local Twerton Methodist Church at one of the social functions – Birdie’s family were very involved in the Methodist Church, or
·      *  George could have been billeted at Birdie’s home as they had a spare room because their two sons had migrated to Canada by the time of the War.

As confirmed by both the Anzac Book and the letters from Boots, they certainly met before September 1916 and obviously fell in love as they were apparently engaged. My assumption is that Birdie applied for a job in September 1916 so she could save some money to be able to migrate at some point to join George in Australia at the end of the War.

Friday, 16 December 2016

A Woman, her Dog, and a Club!

I held the small postcard from WWI and I wondered, not for the first time, who the soldiers were, where the photo was taken, and who was the lady with her dog? We know that Dar (George Kirby McArthur) was seated on the lady’s right.

Looking closely at the photo, I realised that the sign in the window next door was a “To Be Let” sign and the contact person was a builder on Edward Street in Bath!

I knew that the family story was that Dar had met Beatrice (Birdie) Butt when he was gassed during the War and she had nursed him. But I could never reconcile this story with his Service Record which doesn’t show any evidence that he had been injured at all during the whole time he served during the War, either at Gallipoli or on the Western Front. With this postcard, I now wondered if they had actually met in Bath! But, there was more to investigate.

Looking at the photo again, I realised there was a plaque above the door. It read “Club ASC 701 MT Coy”. We know that Dar transferred to a Mechanical Transport Company in early 1916! But this still didn’t tell us where the photo was taken in Bath and who the lady was.

So, there was more detective work to be done to try to find out these answers. Google Maps Street View proved invaluable as I spent many many hours strolling the virtual streets of Bath looking for the distinctive railing, wide walkway to the front door, and the brickwork and position of the windows. I thought I found a possible match but I wanted more proof so I contacted the Somerset Records Office for some help on the location and what the ‘Club’ was.

The good people in Bath came up with the possibility that the photo was taken in Great Pulteney Street which leads from Pulteney Bridge to Sydney Gardens and is situated on the east side of the river across from the city centre. Their best guess was that it was somewhere around numbers 45 to 47 with a favoured guess of 46. Unfortunately, a trip to Bath to personally check this was out of the question.

Then there was a lot of trawling through the British Newspaper Archives to try to find some answers. The Bath Chronicle had many articles about The Great War and I learnt that the Mechanical Transport companies for the Allies were using areas in and around Bath for their training. Then I found an article dated 4th December 1915 which reported:

“That the Recreation clubs have been established in Pulteney Street for the men of the A.S.C. M.T. stationed here.  The men were indebted for their provision to the indefatigable efforts of the Misses Sullivan, who reside at No. 41a. These generous ladies began by regularly serving tea to the transport drivers passing through Bath, and upon the arrival in Bathwick of the present troops, they shortly afterwards opened a club at No. 35 for one of the Companies, their appeal for help bringing in money and furniture for the purpose, while the house was lent by Captain Forrester through the agent to the Bathwick Estate. Since the establishment the other Company had been provided with similar facilities at No. 45 and 46. Canteens have been set up, and every provision is made for all sorts of games, reading and writing and they are proving very popular with the men.”

This gives a pretty good description of just how the Recreation Clubs were set up and how they were utilised by the troops. It also appears to confirm that our photo was taken at 46 Greater Pulteney Street, as suggested by both the Somerset Records Office and my own observations on Google Maps. And if all that is true, then the woman is one of the Miss Sullivan’s. Other articles reported that the troops were billeted in the Twerton area of Bath and that the local Methodist Church arranged social dances, dinners and other activities.

But, we still didn’t know what the 701 MT Company and where they served. So, a search of Military records indicated that they were part of the 63 Divisional Supply Column which served in various theatres of War on the Western Front.

Why was Dar at this particular Club? My best guess is that he and the others in the photo were at Bath training with other Mechanical Transport Companies early in 1916 and this photo was taken with Miss Sullivan possibly before they left Bath to go back to the Western Front.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Western Front and an Incomplete War Record

By the end of the Gallipoli campaign in December 1915, George Kirby (Dar) McArthur was a Sergeant still attached to the 3rd Light Horse Regiment.  On 5th May 1916 he had transferred to the 4th Division Artillery, as had the majority of the light horsemen because it was certain that the troops would not be able to take their horses onto the Western Front. Then, at the beginning of July, he was in France on transfer from the artillery to the newly formed 4th Division Ammunition Sub Park. The 4th Australian Ammunition Sub Park was merged into the 2nd ADMTC (Australian Division Mechanical Transport Company) on 13th March 1918.

Ammunition Sub Parks moved all forms of ammunition in lorries from the railheads to the forward ammunition dumps where they were then taken to the troops on the front line by horse units. The Sub Parks were eventually replaced by mechanical transport companies in March 1918 to take more advantage of the lorries and trucks being used.

Dar’s records show very little detail about his movements on or around the Western Front. There is nothing that indicates he was injured during his whole WWI tour of duty. There are only two entries indicating that he had time in England – June 1916 and January 1918. We believe that the June 1916 leave was actually spent at Bath in training for the newly formed Mechanical Transport units (details of this will be told in future articles).

It also appears from his record that he spent just over 14 months on duty without a break, being transferred to the Australian Army Service Corp Section of Sub Park on 18 November 1916. The next entry shows he went on leave on 25 January 1918 to the UK for only 2 weeks! Was he working solidly for this whole time? We have been told that it is almost impossible to believe that he remained on duty on the Western Front that longi.

We would presume that, as a Sergeant, he would have been responsible to some degree in organising the work of the lorry drivers in the Sub Park. We do know, from War Diaries of the 4th Div Sub Park, that the unit moved around quite a bit on the Western Front.

The 4th Division Artillery, to which the Sub Park was attached, saw action in many places on the Western Front including:
  •   the Somme (several times) – and we have a souvenir from the Somme
  •      on the Pozieres Heights
  •     at Mouquet Farm
  •      on the Hindenburg Line in the First Battle of Bullecourt
  •      in the Battle of Messines
  •      in the Battle of Polygon Wood 

The Sub Parks were stationed behind the front line but that doesn’t mean that the troops were out of harm’s way. The men driving lorries were forced to work on unsafe roads and quite often at night because that was when the trains with the goods were able to get to the railhead so the drivers had to use headlights to keep on the roads or tracks. It was not a “safe” job and the drivers were constantly in the line of fire and several were killed while driving.

During the wet winter months in France, they often found their camps were under many inches of mud. The men of the Sub Park had to continually try to ensure the camp was to some degree liveable and they also had to fix the roads as they were muddy and in shocking condition, totally unfit for heavy motor transport to travel on. In some places, logs of timber or any other available material were used to fill shell holes in the roads.

Then in September 1918, the M.T. Company Headquarters received orders that many of the officers and other ranks from the 1914 Gallipoli campaign were to be given 6 months furlough to Australia. The Commanders believed that the War would continue for some time so made arrangements to send some of the long serving troops back home.
Dar was one of the officers given this furlough, presumably because he had been on the Western Front without leave for a long time. He embarked at Taranto (Southern Italy) for Australia on Kasir-a-Hind on 26th September 1918. All the troops on board would have learnt during the return trip to Australia that the war had ended with the signing of the Armistice on 11th November 1918. They arrived back in Sydney at the end of November.

Although Dar would have been happy to see his mother again, we are pretty sure he would not have returned if he had known the war was about to end. We are not aware of what Dar did over the following year but we assume that he was communicating with Birdie (Beatrice Butt) who was still in England via letter and we also assume that they were trying to save money for her to come out to Australia. Then, when the call went out in September 1919 for troops to form a Special Service Unit to go back to England, Dar saw his opportunity and joined up. As soon as he arrived in England, he requested leave and three weeks later he married Birdie in Bath.

And the rest, as they say, is history!