‘Home’ recruits to ANZACs

Anzac Cove 1915.
Anzac Cove 1915.

Written by Dr Jack Binns

The Scarborough press called them “colonials”, but they were locally-born men who served and died with the Australian and New Zealand Auxiliary Corps (ANZACs) after they had emigrated “down-under” before the outbreak of war in August 1914.

Without the slightest hesitation, though never consulted, the Australian government immediately offered an expeditionary force of 20,000 volunteers and, by Christmas 1914, 52,000 had enlisted. About a third of them were immigrants from the United Kingdom and most of them were of sturdy, outdoor stock who passed the minimal requirement of five feet six inches tall with a chest of 34 inches. Otherwise, only bad teeth or flat feet might disqualify these first, eager enthusiasts.

As early as November 1 the initial military convoy set sail. It carried three brigades, each of five battalions constituting the First Australian Division, a squadron of Light Horse, and a fourth brigade of New Zealand infantry, altogether 30,000 soldiers and 7,800 horses. The assumption was that they would reinforce the BEF in Belgium and France, but Turkey’s entry on the side of Germany on October 29 opened a whole new theatre of warfare. Under the command of Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, the ANZACs came ashore at Alexandria and began training in Egypt.

On Wednesday, April 7, 1915, the Scarborough Pictorial published photographs of three ex-patriots, Sergeant Edmond Sleightholm of the 13th battalion, Charles Sidney Simpson, a Private Signaller of the 7th, and Private Johnson of the 5th, who was riding a camel. No wonder they all looked happy: at six shillings a day for overseas service their pay was six times that of the British Tommy. Their joy was short-lived.

At dawn on April 25, each carrying 200 rounds of .303 rifle ammunition, rifle, bayonet, entrenching tool, two empty sandbags, full water bottle, heavy pack and iron rations of bully beef, biscuits, tea and sugar, they were disembarked from rowing boats on a hostile beach soon to be called Anzac Cove. Though the improvised landings were all but unopposed, the ANZACs had already lost cohesion, direction and purpose before inland they met fierce Turkish resistance from the commanding heights above them. When Birdwood told Hamilton that his men were “demoralised by shrapnel fire” and if not at once reinforced there was “likely to be a fiasco”, his orders were merely to “dig in, right in, stick in”. The initiative was lost.

The ANZACs were soon pinned down and trapped in the horseshoe of Anzac Cove for the next three months.

The first fatal casualty of local “colonials” was Private Herbert Gladstone Howlett. On April 29 he was killed instantly by a sniper’s bullet in the head. The ANZACs wore only distinctive soft slouch hats which were conspicuous but offered no protection.

Private Howlett was born at 19 Ramshill Road in 1883, one of eight children of a cabinet-maker. After a five-year apprenticeship to an upholsterer, he had emigrated to Auckland, North Island, New Zealand. By 1914 he had become a successful businessman, sportsman and yachtsman living in 

However, in August 1914, he was visiting his sister, Edith Mary, in Sydney and it was there that this diminutive, five feet, four and a half inch, fair-headed, blue-eyed Kiwi, who weighed only 129 pounds, volunteered for the army. From Melbourne he sailed to Alexandria with the 4th Brigade and 2,000 New Zealanders and trained in the searing heat of the Egyptian desert.

Bert’s elder brother, Frank, was told only that Bert was “missing in action”. It was not until nearly a year later that Bert’s eldest sister, Florence, of 20 Grosvenor Crescent, was informed that he was dead. Bert was buried with 600 other ANZACs. All that Frank received in 1918 was Bert’s campaign medals, one letter, one postcard, money belt and a photograph. As a former member of South Cliff Methodists, Private Howlett’s name, along with those of another 14 war victims, appears on a brass plaque in a side chapel of their former church.

Sergeant Edmond Sleightholm was the next to go. The Scarborough Mercury of July 23, 1915, reported his death in action on May 3. The news had been conveyed to his parents at 14 Seamens’ Hospitals, Castle Road. Born in 1888 at 6 Providence Place, Edmond was indentured at the age of 13 to Maynard’s plumbers at 2, 3 Oxford Street.

At 17 he had joined the local Territorials of the 5th Yorkshire regiment, but five years later emigrated to Sydney in Australia.

As a trained soldier, Sleightholm was soon given two then three stripes in the Australian army, but he did not live long to enjoy the promotion and the extra pay that went with it. He was killed in the assault on a hill known as “Baby 700”. Like so many of his comrades, his corpse lay unburied in no-man’s land for weeks. It was finally interred in Lone Pine cemetery and his name is recorded on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra.

The third “colonial” casualty at Gallipoli was Private Charles Sidney Simpson. The son of a florist and fruiterer, he was born in 1897 at 9 Huntriss Row. After Gladstone Road Infant and Junior schools between 1901 and 1910, he worked for a time for his father and then emigrated to Cohuna in Victoria, Australia about 1912.

The Scarborough Mercury of July 2 reported Private Simpson’s death on May 29, calling him a “Young Scarborough Signaller with the Australians”. It seems that he had been wounded in the shoulder while laying a telephone wire, shipped back to Alexandria for treatment, then returned to Anzac Cove where he had lost his life. He was still only 18-years-old. Eventually, his body was buried in what became known as Shrapnel Valley cemetery.

By the time of Charlie’s death, his parents had moved out of Scarborough to Castle View, West Ayton, which explains why his name appears on East Ayton’s War Memorial in the churchyard of St John the Baptist as well as on Gladstone Road Schools’ 
Memorial wall plaque.