A warrior’s brave exploits

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by Dr Jack Binns

Not all of Scarborough’s “colonials” who fought at Gallipoli died out there. Two survivors of that campaign, one from Cloughton, the other originally from Seamer, were killed later in the war elsewhere.

Private Francis William Collier died after the Armistice on December 26, 1918, while serving as a gunner with the South African Field Artillery in Palestine. His is one of the 14 names inscribed on the list of Clougton’s World War One casualties from the village, though he was buried in the Deir El Belah war cemetery which is now in Israel.

Much more fully reported was the fate of Private Allan Stephenson, the youngest son of George Stephenson, appropriately a signalman who worked for the North Eastern railway at the nearby Seamer junction. The Stephensons lived in Main Street, Seamer, where Allan was born in July 1892.

Allan went to the village Board school, opened in 1878, until he reached the leaving age of 13. Afterwards he worked as a farm labourer in the neighbourhood. At 17 he left home with an uncle who was a Primitive Methodist minister and had his own farm in South Australia.

He enlisted in the 9th Australian Light Horse in October when he was described as fair-headed, blue-eyed, standing five feet and nine inches and weighing 162 pounds. Most of the Light Horse, about 500 strong, came from Victoria and South Australia.

In February 1915, the Light Horse were shipped out from Melbourne to Alexandria in Egypt and in May, now dismounted infantry, they reinforced the ANZACs on Gallipoli. On June 27, Allan was almost killed and partly buried by a Turkish shell which exploded on Walker’s Ridge. Badly wounded but astonishingly cheerful, he wrote a letter to his father from a military hospital in Egypt, which the Scarborough Mercury published July 16, 1915:

I have been wounded by a shell and knocked about slightly. I had just returned to the firing line after a swim, and was having my tea when a shell landed alongside me. It blew part of the trench over my leg, and I was hit on the forehead, arms and hands. Some of the lads dug my leg out of the debris and took me down to the dressing station...I was very lucky...My haversack was covered in, so I had my little necessaries left behind...I should like you to see me now with all the bandages on. I am feeling tip top...

Having recovered from his wounds he was sent back to Gallipoli where he received a second injury on August 28. This time he was taken to England and admitted to King George War Hospital in London. Under the title “Seamer Soldier’s Second Wound”, the Mercury of September 24 explained that this time Private Stephenson had a bullet wound through the ankle.

In December 1915 the Mercury announced that Private Stephenson had made a complete recovery and was expected to come home to Seamer after an absence of six years. But his war wounds must have been more serious than reported or revealed and it was not until October 1916 that he was recalled for active service and sent to a training camp in Wiltshire. From here he went absent without leave from November 22 to 24, for which offence he was docked three days’ pay and confined to barracks for a week.

By January 1917 Private Stephenson was stationed at Etaples in northern France. Here was the notorious “Bullring” training camp described by one British medical officer as “a vast camp with a great concentration of military policemen to the square yard”. Yet here again he was in trouble, this time charged with gambling on active service. The penalty was loss of seven days’ pay, 42 shillings.

After more leave at Seamer during the summer of 1917, by October he was on the Western Front. Now acting as a stretcher bearer he was wounded a third time by shell splinters in his thigh. Having endured and narrowly survived the hell of Gallipoli, he had come through an even worse experience of the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele. Once more back in England, Stephenson’s new wounds were treated in the Middlesex war hospital.

After suffering and recovering from three painful injuries on active service, Allan Stephenson might well have expected the reward of a civilian life on a war pension, but such was the acute shortage of front-line soldiers that by March 1918 he was on the Somme battlefield with the 50th South Australian Division. Here, on April 3, he was finally killed during the German breakthrough. His violent death in action was published by the Mercury on April 19, 1918.

It seems that Private Stephenson was not thought to qualify for a place on Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount war memorial, but his name does appear on St Martin’s Roll of Honour as one of the 20 men from Seamer and Irton who lost their lives in the Great War.