Lest we forget
Sergeant Edward Gilmore Dodd 4209 AIF
by Gail Dodd
My husband, Keith Dodd's grandfather was Edward Gilmore (Hughie) Dodd (1894-1957). Together, Keith and I have had the pleasure of transcribing Hughie's diary, kept from the time he enlisted in the A.I.F. in January, 1916 to his discharge in November 1919. The transcription has been made for the family and the original donated to the Army Museum of Western Australia, Fremantle for posterity.
Hughie was appointed to the 6th Tunnelling Coy with the rank of sapper and was promoted to sergeant two months later. The Tunnellers were one of 16 units wholly raised and recruited in Western Australia. He embarked from Australia on 1st June, 1916 and was attached to the Australian Electrical and Mechanical Mining Unit. I thought readers may be interested in some extracts, particularly if they have ancestors who served in France around Lens and Hazebrouck during the Great War. A list of names of servicemen mentioned in the diary appears at the end of this article.
Hughie's activities at the front line included maintaining and repairing pumps and electrical equipment. His father kept the following undated newsclipping:
The Tunnellers As Engineers - Special Praise from Haig LONDON, Dec 5, 1.20am Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig in a Special Order congratulates the mining and tunnelling units and says that they demonstrated a complete superiority over the Germans and achieved magnificent success at Messines; they prepared the offensive on the Somme and at Arras and Ypres and carried out dangerous tasks in removing enemy traps and mines on the roads, bridges and in the dug-outs. They have shown the highest qualities as engineers and fighting troops. Sir Douglas Haig specially mentions the Australian Electrical and Mechanical Mining and Boring Company.
In his diary, Hughie recalled his first trip to the trenches .. "I remember how I laughed on going into the trenches to think men were such fools as to want to kill one another. It was at Kemell Hill where I saw the French man laying in No Man's Land, who had fallen before the British arrived on the scene. An enormous number of men, lost their lives up around that part. Just a little out of Hazebrouck (about 2 kms) is a little village of Borre where the Bosche shot the priest because he refused to give up the keys of the church. … I met a chap (French) who had been a prisoner at Leurs for 19 months and got speaking of the shelling of Næux les Mines. He said it was nothing to what we sent over, but Jerry had holed through from cellar to cellar making a subterranean town. Under the ground he had his canteens and such things. He said there was not too much that was any good on top of the ground. It will be hard to get people there to believe some things which we may tell of, if we have the luck to get back. Here's one - from Givenchy to Hulluch, there is a 6' gallery running the whole way (about 8 miles). Branching off this are all the listening tees. These are used for blowing mines. About 800 from 100' to 400' running to Jerry's line. Then there are 12 infantry galleries varying from half a mile to two miles in length, all lit up with electric light and the whole of the excavation has been done since the war and the whole of the dirt has been brought out in sandbags, and there are not many dumps to be seen, small at that. It should not do to have bags piled sky high or Jerry would soon be over to see what was doing."
The diary shows two tunnel maps sketched by Hughie. One, the "Munster Job" has a main lateral of approximately 6 miles, with six tunnels connecting at right angles to a reserve trench, and and intersected by other minor tunnels. The "Vermelles Job" has a main lateral of two miles and the right angled tunnels measuring 500-800 yards long. They were given very British names, e.g. Old Kent Road; Wilson's Way, Saville Row, etc. When his plants connected up with Hulluch, it was possible to walk almost 10 miles underground from Givenchy to Loos. The 170 Coy discovered that Annequin Cole Pit, one of the drives, went several kilometres behind the German lines and in this way they secured a lot of information. They put a guard on the Bosche end.
One of Hughie's functions was to ensure that the tunnels were lit. He mentions some difficulties as follows: "Our lads went over tonight on a bombing raid and got in and blew up eight of his dug-outs. The Coy also blew a small mine. The losses on our side were very slight. Fritz's casualties were pretty severe according to all reports. The bombardment preceding our lads going over was something terrific. I only had two tins of petrol to see me through the night, so closed down from 7pm 'till 11.30 and so was able to keep lights going when they were most wanted." In other entries he mentions the first time he has been able to close his eyes in five days and nights and feeling dead beat. He said it seemed as if fate was against them in this war, "rains like the diggins when we start to push". Frequent mentions of 3" of mud in the bottom of radiators, and in the engine room, "not the least bit of air in them, with the result the two middle bearings on each engine are very hot indeed… The crank case gets that hot one can't keep their hands on it for more than a couple of seconds at a time." On another occasion he discovered water pumping at Old Kent tunnel had dropped a foot, so dropped the pump down another 3' and found it would not throw to the top of the parapet, so he had to put another length of suction and increase the lift and reduce the head, to get it away.
The diary frequently mentions how the artillery were fairing against "Fritz", but progress in moving forward was slow. "Our crowd put Phosferine shells over to him a couple of nights ago and it was pretty to look. Nothing but one sheet of flame." They received tear shells for hours on end and tunnels were bombarded and machine gunned. He saw Minnies (large German mortars) penetrate 15'. "This fall caught a couple of men who were working there but did no serious damage, suffering from shock. It was rather humorous, one chap was easily got out and the other kept singing out that the top kept coming in and we had to keep brushing the dirt away from his mouth." The shelling of Næux les Mines with 9.2's was described. One shell caught two small children and killed them. Seven French civilians were killed in one raid. "It makes one's blood boil to hear a shell come over and then see the French kiddies and women with babes in arms cutting off down the road to the dug-outs provided. I had to laugh, when he put a shell into a house at the cross roads, a little boy and girl came running over to Downie and myself, the girl holding a piece of red hot shrapnel weighing about three pounds and she said "Allemand No Bon!" (German no good!) So that's about all the fright Jerry can put into these kiddies here."
The Germans exploded several kinds of gas cylinders down the mines and on one occasion there was not much hope for the seven men who were on guard. "The gas masks which we are issued with are no use whatever as the gas is that strong that it burns the rubber clean way, this is a new kind of gas which he is using called "Mustard Gas" on it so being like mustard to smell. A proto or gas life saving apparatus is no more use than our gas helmets, so there is no chance for these chaps that are down the mine".
The noise, mud, cold, lack of sleep and sheer terror was too much for many soldiers. Hughie records "This evening about twenty past nine, someone fired a shot across the square and Jack Tighe went across to see who it was. It panned out to be a regular Roughie called Jock Hall. He pulled a revolver out and put it to Tighe's breast and shot him. This Hall has told the OC to take him out and shoot him, as he didn't care what happened. I don't think he will shoot any more men as he will be well looked after now". Keeping up the morale was difficult. Hughie records saying to one of his superior officers "to get a job he knew something about and not worry himself about things he was ignorant of!" He was also frustrated when Lieut Wood took all his drivers away and replaced them "with mugs who don't know how to start an engine. I've taught these other chaps all they know and now have to start over again! Some of these Saturday afternoon mechanics who get a pip are beauts. I wish to God it was all over and finished with." Home sickness, particularly as Christmas days came and went, were relieved slightly by letters from home and the generosity of those who sent comfort funds.
Eventually, Hughie was sent to a rest camp at Amblitside, one of France's famous bathing and seaside resorts. He wrote "It was rather amusing, the last lot of Australians who were here pinched a Froggie fisherman's boat and started to row to Blighty (England). After getting to within three miles of the English coast one of our destroyers picked them up and returned them. So much for the three of them, but they had bad luck not getting there, they deserved it. … The Australians have been distinguishing themselves again in this new push up North. I'm mighty glad that up to date I've been down South. After all the good things which English critics have said about us, Beach Thomas in the Daily Mail puts the cream on it. He wrote:
"The whole army are talking of the way the Australians took their objectives, had them and were waiting for the others to come up. Without a doubt they are as good as any we have".
Hughie's military records indicate that he embarked for Australia on the Pakeha on 6th October, 1919. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His health had been severely affected by gassing, which plagued him for the rest of his life. Hughie died on 27th November, 1957 and his ashes are in the War Graves Memorial Wall, Karrakatta, Western Australia.
My grateful thanks to Messrs John Sweetman and Wayne Gardiner from the Army Museum of Western Australia for their assistance in providing the family with maps and military information. I wholeheartedly recommend a day at the Army Museum to view their displays. Opening times are Saturday and Sunday, 12.30 - 4.30pm.
To follow is a list of servicemen mentioned in Hughie's diary:
* = Known to have been members of the Western Australian 6th Tunnellers. Whilst they were a West Australian Unit, they often served alongside British units, therefore a lot of the names mentioned could be British soldiers.
*BARNES, Thomas (sapper) 4269;
*BIRD, Edwin (Ted) 4275;
*BLAIR, Serg Leslie 4206;
*CARLTON, Sapper Francis William 4294;
*HILLMAN, Capt. Arthur James;
*JAMES, Harold Lindsay, sapper 4364;
*LAWSON, Cap Frederick Washington;
(Commanding Officer, 6th Tunnellers);
*LEROY, John (Jack) sapper 4386;
*MARSH, Sgt Hubert Henry 4212;
*MAYNE, Corp William Constantine 4213;
*MURPHY, Sgt Michael John 4214;
*SMITH, Percy James Olden, sapper 4478;
*TAYLOR, 2nd Lieut. Thomas;
*WIGZELL, Sapper Arthur James 4509;
*WILLIAMS, Sgt George Arthur 4223;
ANDERSON, Lieut.; AYRES, Henry J. (N.S.W.);
BELCHER, Fred (Canada);
CURTISS, Serg. Maj;
DAVIS/DAVIES "Darkie" Bill Lieut. Norfolk (NSW);
DOWNIE, Sgt Viv (Tasmania);
FORSYTH; FOWLEY, Jack;
FRY, Ernest B. (N.S.W.);
GEYDON; GIBSON, Sapper L.W. 148545 170 (Royal Engineers);
LITHGOW (Piccaninny - a youngster);
McGUINNESS, "Slim Jim";
MILLAR, Sgt Bill;
MOODY, Staff Sgt;
NEILSON; NEWTON/NEWINTON, Ted;
NORFOLK, 2nd Lieut;
PHILLIPS, Lance Corp Paddy;
PILKINGTON, 170 Coy;
ROGES, 170 Coy;
WHISKIN, Mark, 19946 8th FAB;
WILLIAMS, Lieut. (Royal Engineers);
WOODY, Sgt Maj;
REF: email to Genealogy - an armchair hobby? by Gail Dodd on 25 May 1998
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