Lieutenant Martin's Letters
An Anzac in the Great War
by Anne McCosker
Published by Reveille Press, August 2013
The book is for sale at £14.99. It is available through Amazon, and Fishpond. It is on sale locally in Weymouth at "Books Afloat", Park St, (01305 779774), and at the Nothe Fort Bookshop. It can also be bought directly from www.reveillepress.com.
Reveille Press, an imprint of Tommies Guides Military Booksellers & Publishers is in partnership with the Western Front Association.
Frederick William Scott Martin, M.M., 1895 - 1917 was Anne McCosker's uncle - her mother's only brother. He joined the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) in 1915 after being part of the ill-fated Kennedy regiment expedition to help seize control of German New Guinea. He fought at Gallipoli, and the Western Front. He was killed at Polygon Wood, Passchendaele in 1917. Anne has edited her uncle's wartime correspondence to his family and placed individual letters in their historical context. She has written this book in Weymouth, Dorset, ENGLAND, a mile from the Westham Anzac camp where her uncle convalesced for six months in 1916.
See also Anzacs in Weymouth exhibit,
TO MY UNCLE
LIEUTENANT FRED MARTIN M.M.
AND MY FATHER
GUNNER STAN MCCOSKER
QUEENSLANDERS OF THE 1ST AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE
Introductory material from Lieutenant Martin's Letters
Chapter 1 The Queenslander
Chapter 2 Australian Imperial Force
Chapter 3 Gallipoli
Chapter 4 Home
Chapter 5 Weymouth
Chapter 6 King’s Town
Chapter 7 The Western Front
Chapter 8 Polygon Wood
Chapter 9 No Grave
List of Photographs
Pupils and teachers, Kolan South, approx. 1896
Kolan South State School, Early 1900s
Central School (Boys), Rockhamptonm mid 1900s
Winifred, Fred, Irene, c.1912, Charters Towers
Fred in uniform, Kennedy Regiment, August 1914
Burns Philps & Co. building, Flinders St, Townsville, about 1900
Expeditionary Force Volunteers, marching through Flinders St, Townsville, August 1914
Charters Towers, Kennedy Regiment soldiers at Kissing Point, Townsville, August 1914. (Fred 3rd left, back row)
Troopship Kanowna about to depart Townsville
Fred, Enoggera Camp, Brisbane, January 1915
School House, Richmond Hill, Charters Towers. Back row Win, Fred, Rene. Middle row Friend, Susie, FJB Martin, Helen. Front row Marjorie, (Dick), Muriel
Fred Martin at Cairo Gardens. Photograph taken by Annie Scott
Australian soldiers and nurses, No 1 Australian General Hospital, (Palace Hotel), Heliopolis, Egypt 1915. Annie Scott, centre, standing
View from Palace Hotel hospital ward. Photo by Fred Martin
Group of doctors and nurses, No 1 Australian General Hospital, Palace Hotel, Heliopolis, 1915. Nance Scott ringed, 2nd row, 12th from right
Bombing practice in Shrapnel Valley
In the trenches. A sniper with a periscope rifle and an observer with a periscope
“The chap under the hat with me is my pal at present. Banker(?) in New South Wales.” Fred Martin back row centre with other ANZAC convalescents, outside probably the Remedial Gymnasium at Monte Video Camp. Early 1916
Anzacs using the YMCA Cinema House, Westham, Weymouth
The Regimental Barber
Arras 1915, (fabric postcard)
Fred Martin, somewhere on the Western Front, or possibly Winterbourne Abbas, near Weymouth, early 1917? Fred standing, with fellow Anzac, probably early 1917
Fred Martin in Amiens, 1917
List of Maps
Places in Queensland and Papua New Guinea connected with Fred Martin
Map, 1915, from Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt. Barrett and Deane, 1918
Anzac Camps, SE England
Map of Weymouth and Portland
Plan of Westham Camp, Weymouth
Map of modern Westham
Fred Martin’s Western Front World
Without Dr Richard Buckley’s help ‘Lt. Martin’s Letters’ would probably never have been written. Richard’s original reading of the letters and in them the words ‘Westham, Weymouth’ cut away a life time’s loss – let in the light, gave me the energy to research and write. Once I started on the book Richard did all the technical computer work necessary; filing, scanning, transferring. He also acted as secretary, general dogsbody and friend.
For ‘The Queenslander’ chapter Trisha Fielding of the City Libraries, Townsville, kindly scanned and sent me requested material. Staff at the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane, patiently helped us as I looked through old Queensland newspapers now online. Archivists at the Queensland State Archives took the trouble to find and send me information. Robyn Jackson of the ‘Northern Miner’, Charters Towers, Mervyn Bundle and Bronwyn McBurnie of James Cook University helped by answering e-mails.
Lt. Martin’s Letters owes much to Fred Larcombe who had the vision to preserve a complete copy of The Australian at Weymouth originally printed by Sherrins where he had worked and been a Director. Then Fred generously allowed us to make a complete copy of the paper for my use. The late John Easton, was the first to help me in my research about the Anzacs here in Weymouth which he did with such enthusiasm. I shall never forget his walk with me around the area where the Westham Camp once was and where he then lived. John was so anxious for the history of Westham Camp to become well known.
My brother in law Ian Johnson, and in Weymouth, Debbie Rose, Bennetts of the Water Gardens, Maureen Attwooll, Richard Samways, Rob White have given me interesting material. Staff at The London Library, the Reference Library, Weymouth, Imperial War Museum and Australian War Memorial have professionally assisted me.
My thanks to you all.
It was good to make contact with Jeff Searle, Principle, Kolan South State School, Queensland, where my grandfather was once head teacher and my uncle was born, and have permission to use the two photographs of South Kolan school. Townsville City Council and Staff at CityLibraries on behalf of themselves and Trisha Fielding have given permission to use the two Townsville city photographs taken from Flinders Street, Townsville and Michael Scutti, CityLibraries, provided thoughtful assistance. Jacqui Burgin, State Library of Queensland so promptly answered my copyright requests.
I felt a sense of the completeness of things, the past being the present being the future, when Sherrins the printers who first published The Australian at Weymouth in 1918 have now in 2013 wished success to
Lt. Martin’s Letters.
“They had no conceit of themselves in a little, vain way, but they reckoned themselves the only fighting men, simply, and without boasting. I liked the look of them, dusty up to the eyes in summer, muddy up to their eyes in winter; these gypsy fellows scornful of discipline for discipline’s sake, but desperate fighters, looking at life with frank, curious eyes, and a kind of humorous contempt for death and disease, and ‘the whole damned show’ as they called it”.
Philip Gibbs, British war correspondent’s description of Australian troops on the Western Front.
In 1974 my aunt, Winifred Martin, gave me a bundle of WWI letters and postcards carefully tied with ribbon. They were from her brother Lieutenant F.W.S Martin, my Uncle Fred. The only son in a family with five girls, his death in Polygon Wood, Passchendaele, on the Western Front in September 1917 crippled the family. These letters, holding as they did, pain and sacrifice, honour, duty and responsibility, love of country and Empire –and well as a sense of humour, of fun - were a family inheritance. To be given these letters by the eldest daughter of the family was a privilege and burden.
Throughout my childhood my mother had spoken about her brother, five and a half years older than herself. He, wanting a brother had called her, the tomboy of the family, ‘Dick’. My mother died when I was a teenager. I could not therefore as an adult ask her questions about Fred. I remember though much of what she said and her sense of loss was absorbed and felt by me and has remained with me all my life. Then too there was the large, framed photograph of Uncle Fred in my grandmother’s lounge in Brisbane, Queensland. It hung on a wall opposite my grandmother’s rocking chair and dominated the room, the whole house.
That day my aunt gave me the letters we did not open any of them. Over the years I tried at times to read them. I could not. There was too much pain. The letters though were kept safe in a small fire-proof trunk, and for several decades were deposited at my solicitors. I worried at times that the paper was starting to crumble and writing of some especially those written in pencil, was fading. Still it was impossible for me to read, study them.
For many years I felt drawn to the ancient harbour port and seaside town of Weymouth. I grew up in Queensland, and New Guinea, close to the sea and have never lost my love for it. I thought therefore it was the sea that primarily attracted me to the district. Yet there was always something else, some other, indefinable quality about Weymouth. This strange sense of the place was further increased when my sister died while I was staying in the town, house hunting. As soon as we moved here I felt someone from my family had lived in the area and imagined it was some ancestor, having heard vague talk of distant relations from both sides of my family living in Dorset.
In July 2008, during Wimbledon Final, I stopped looking at the TV screen, too on edge to watch further, and sat in a room opposite the tin trunk holding my uncle’s letters. The trunk was on a move to Weymouth and a new safe deposit vault close to where I was now living. Impulsively, I opened the box, took out my uncle’s letters and began to look carefully. My spine tingled, I shivered, felt exhausted but the letters stayed out. Photographs, letters, postcards were picked up, glanced at – and left on the table. Richard looked at one, then a couple. He was able to do what I had never been able to, read them. He took them to the computer and began to scan them. A few days later he came rushing down the stairs, in his hand on of Fred’s letters. He showed me the address. WESTHAM, Weymouth.
Westham (camp) was one of several military convalescent camps in the Weymouth area. Under Australian command they were collectively known as No 2 Australian Base Camp. By the end of WW1 between 110 and 120,000 Australian and New Zealander (the New Zealanders were to establish their own convalescent camp in early 1916) soldiers had stayed in this area. Some men were here for only a week or two, before being discharged from the army - or returning to the Front. Other men like my uncle remained many months in these convalescent camps suffering frequent relapses of an infectious disease caught in Gallipoli or hospitals of the Mediterranean.
Fred Martin stayed here - in Weymouth - for longer than any where else after he left his native Queensland. It was along these cliffs, these beaches, through these lanes and woods, round these villages, in and out of these churches, my uncle walked. Even though his life was so short Fred was to know Dorset in the spring, and then old England would surely have welcomed him as a well loved son.
My uncle saw the fields of wildflowers that flowed and danced like rainbows along the sea edge or stood delicate and peaceful beneath the fresh leaved oak. Here too that Queenslander would have seen the citadel rock of Portland raise its primaeval head and his eyes follow the sea curve by mighty Chesil Beach as it stretched out along the Fleet. There, in Westham, where a letter box still stands, Fred probably posted letters home.
Obviously a considerable number of Fred Martin’s letters are missing. How many will never be known. One can only guess at what happened to them. Some almost certainly would have been lost before they ever reached family or friends. Individual letters sent to his sisters would have been cherished possessions. My mother, sixteen when he was killed, would have taken her personal ones to New Guinea with her. Perhaps these disappeared during the family evacuation from her home, Matala Plantation, in 1941 or the subsequent years of wandering and turmoil during WWII. Perhaps other members of my family destroyed them when she died.
Most of Lt. Martin’s letters now in my possession are addressed to my grandfather. I wonder if when he died his eldest daughter, Win, sorted and kept them to then all those years later gave them to me. My grandmother died when in her 90s. It is possible by then some letters addressed to her from her son had been lost, or perhaps after her death when many family letters were destroyed. However there are enough letters left to give an idea of the character of the boy who left enthusiastically for war, fought at Gallipoli, survived injury and illnesses, gained a MM on the Western Front, became an officer and then aged 21 disappeared into the mud, gun fire and barbed wire of Polygon Wood.
Different letters will perhaps appeal to different readers. However what struck me almost immediately as I read these letters is how Australian Fred Martin was. The Commonwealth of Australia was founded only in 1901 and yet here is my uncle in 1914 showing so many of the basic characteristics of the Australian of a later date. I had imagined my father’s strong Australian character developed not only through the Great War but in the years after – as a pioneer in colonial New Guinea, a soldier in the Second World War. Yet here in my uncle’s letters is that same relaxed stance, the confidence, the mocking attitude to authority, the phrases - often using the same words my father did, a similar sense of humour and of the ridiculous.
Fred Martin’s Australian characteristics are even more surprising to me as both his parents were born in England, and migrated to Queensland in the mid 1880s. Then too for at least the first ten years of his life Fred lived in small, rural Queensland towns where the population would have been made up mainly of immigrants born in the British Isles.
I was not surprised by Fred Martin’s attitude to Home, England, the British Empire. Before the start of the Great War - in spite of a not inconsiderable German population in Australia, ‘the free decision of Australia was never in doubt’ as C.E.W. Bean was to write in The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 V.1 The Commonwealth of Australia would declare war on Germany and its people ‘be there’ beside the United Kingdom. My uncle had too that ability to be, as my father was, a passionate Australian and a fervent Britisher. This dual nature, this concept was and is not always understood by outsiders but Australians considered themselves as much part of, and creating, the British Empire as England.
From all over our new nation men went to fight at Gallipoli, the Western Front, Palestine, and immediately in those foreign lands the Australian identity was consolidated and internationally recognized. The essence of this identity, this character though had been developing before the Great War far away from any battlefield.
As I read through Fred’s letters and checked details in his Army Record it soon became clear the official documentation was misleading and incomplete. The impression was also given that often all that mattered to those in authority was that a particular column in some Form had something, no matter how obviously wrong, written in it. The discrepancies between a soldier’s Army Records, his actual physical characteristics and background, and his own letters – I have discussed some of these differences in the book - will interest those concerned with WWI research.
Lt. Martin has no known grave. There was no where, no special place his family could go to and there remember, mourn. Perhaps if there is some where a family can grieve for a loved one lost in war, some sort of closure can come. People, where ever they are, who themselves have had no close relations or friends killed in conflict – have no idea of what the aftermath of war IS. War is not over when the war is ended. The after effects of WAR go on crippling, altering, condemning, burdening. Perhaps members of a family will not or can not openly acknowledge the effects war deaths have had on their family. Sometimes they are not even recognized for what they are. The after shocks of sudden death in violent war situations can go on for generations. Even for those families whose men survived WAR, as my father did two world wars and another uncle - his brother - the Japanese POW camps of Singapore and Burma, the family pays a heavy price.
I was born into the shadow of my Uncle Fred’s death. The Second World War was raging in Europe at the time of my birth and the subsequent events of my life after Japan entered into that war - evacuation, destruction of my birth town, the death and harrying of much of its population, New Guinean, European, Chinese, have shaped my personal life and formed further shadows around me. However the death of a brother, my uncle, 40 years before I was born lay in the centre of my Being. Sixteen when my mother died, the first words I can remember saying after being told of her death were “She will be with Fred now”.
Now this book is being written in a room from where I can see the outline of a hill. This is where Westham camp was. My uncle lived there from January to August 1916. There he recovered from fever, trained further for war, grew to manhood in the aftermath of Gallipoli, and from there he went off to the Western Front and eventually death in a muddy shell-pocked wood.
I would probably not be living in England at all if my Uncle Fred had not been killed in 1917. And now here I am in Weymouth. Is this really all just coincidence? Is the uncle with whom as I read his letters I have much in common, looking over my shoulder? With a grin on his face - having got me back to Weymouth - he is re-reading his own letters. ‘By Jove!’