Private Ernest Donald Gow

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Private Ernest Donald Gow
4th Bn, Australian Infantry, A.I.F.

Died: 03.02.15 (Double Pneumonia, Mena Hospital, Cairo, Egypt)
Age: 24
Headstone Inscription: ‘At Rest’
Son of William and Minnie Gow, of Ulmarra, New South Wales. Born at Wollongong.

Ernest Donald Gow (Service No. 1207) was one of the first men from the Illawarra to die in World War 1.

He was born in Wollongong in 1890, the son of William Gow and his wife Minnie Gow (nee Baldwin). Ernest had lived with his family at Croome, and had worked for the Albion Park Post Office, as well as for the Post Office in other towns in NSW.

Ernest gave his occupation as Telegraph Operator when he enlisted at Randwick in the AIF on September 12, 1914. He was part of the 4th Battalion of the 1st Brigade of the AIF. He named his father William Gow of Ulmarra as his next of kin. On October 20, 1914, he embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on the HMAT A14 “Euripedes”.

Sadly, he was one of the first men from the Illawarra to die in World War 1 of double pneumonia at the Mena Hospital in Cairo on February 3, 1915. His passing along with three others who also died of pneumonia, was reported in a number of newspapers across Australia.

Commonwealth War Graves point out Ernest was buried in Cairo, Al Qahirah, Egypt in the British Protestant Cemetery, Row B: Grave No 149. He is also commemorated on Panel No. 40 of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

An extract from the Illawarra Mercury 12 February, 1915 reads:

‘SAD NEWS. On the arrival of the Sydney dailies early this week, it was learned that Mr. Ernest Donald Gow, son of Mr. William Gow, of Ulmarra, Clarence River, had died in the Mena Hospital, Egypt, from pneumonia. Much regret has since been expressed at the sad news of the death of this young fellow, who gave his life for the honour of his country. Mr. Gow was at one time a telegraph messenger at the Albion Park post office, having with his parents lived at Croome, he got along so well in the Postal Department that promotion came quickly, and he was appointed on the relieving staff, and had done duty in many towns in New South Wales, and from reports from several of these places it is known that young Gow was a popular officer wherever he went. In the post office he was most obliging and courteous. He was also fond of clean sport and did much to further the attractiveness of several sporting clubs in various towns in which he was relieving. Much sympathy is felt for the parents in losing so brave a son under such sad surroundings”

Sources:
Discovering ANZACS:http://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au/browse/records/284011

Shellharbour District Centenary Project 1914-1918 on ANCESTRY :http://trees.ancestry.com.au/tr…/71353581/person/32244157916

Trove – Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertister Family Notices – 4.2.1916
Northern Star – 24.3.2014 – http://www.northernstar.com.au/…/many-soldiers-die…/2207014/

The War Grave Photographic Project –http://www.twgpp.org/information.php?id=1818897

Trove – Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser – WW1 The Honour Rolls – http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123890556

 

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‘The problem is not an easy one’ … cemetery construction, horticultural schemes and the Egyptian climate

In 1948 Hubert Worthington, the Principal War Graves Commission  Architect for Egypt and North Africa was busy adding his comments to the sketch plans, estimates and reports for the new cemetery construction at Tel-el-Kebir. The war memorial cemetery at Tel-el-Kebir, 110 kilometres north-north-east of Cairo, was used from June 1915 to July 1920 and increased after the Armistice when graves were brought in from other sites, including 15 from the International Christian Cemetery at Zagazig. During the Second World War, Tel el Kebir was a hospital centre and the site of a great ordnance depot with workshops for the repair of armoured cars and other weapons of war.

The form A for Tel-el-Kebir lists 608 burials consisting of 497 British burials, 40 allied burials, 66 Polish burials and 5 civilians. The Deputy Director of Works estimated the total area of land required to be 6098 square meters – thereby allowing 10 square meters per internment at a cost of £22 . 12 shillings and 9 pence per grave* (which included the cost of the headstone). 

The remarks listed on the form A by Sir Hubert Worthington are interesting as they highlight the challenges of laying down a cemetery in the Egyptian terrain. He wrote:

‘The problem is not an easy one as four separate units have to be welded into the design. The 1882 cemetery with its magnificently grown trees makes a fine centre. New planting will continue existing palm trees with a Eucalyptus grove as a background to the East & close planting (as a screen on each side of the new main entrance to the 1914-18 cemetery) An entrance feature & gate on the road will prevent trespass and the unfortunate new native huts must be walled out with 8 foot walls as shown & be planted out’

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A view of the 1882 Cemetery, Tel-el-Kebir as mentioned in Worthington’s 1948 notes               Image Source: The Welcome Collection (1910 – 45) 

Worthington worked with, rather than against the landscape to produce beautifully ordered cemeteries with sparse but careful planting in Egypt’s tough environment. One of Worthington’s toughest challenges proved to be the cemetery at El Alamein where seven thousand men are buried with over 8,500 soldiers and 3,000 airmen  commemorated on the Alamein memorial. He declared that he would endeavour to follow the brief to build and plant along the same lines as the cemeteries from the Western front however the climate in Egypt required modifications. He suggested high walls to keep out drifting sand and shady pergolas with cool terraces to provide shelter from the sun. Where grass could not be grown owing to the lack of water the earth would have to be panned and plants such as cacti and succulents would be used rather than the thirsty roses and shrubs grown in other parts of the world.

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A photograph from the Australian War Memorial showing how difficult a task it was to provide a horticultural scheme for Egypt                                                                                            Image Source: The Australian War Memorial, MEA0953 refers 

The form A for the cemetery at Heliopolis, written in 1947,  lists 1630 British burials, 71 allied burials (inc: 28 Poles), 148 enemy burials  and 2 civilians. The Deputy Director of Works estimated the total area of land required to be 60357 square meters – thereby allowing 32.6 square meters per internment at a cost of £14 . 8 shillings and 0 pence per grave* (which included the cost of the headstone). After the war, 125 graves were moved into the cemetery from Mena Camp Military Cemetery where permanent maintenance was not possible due to sand movement. In all 1,742 Commonwealth casualties of the Second World War were buried or commemorated in the cemetery along with the 83 war graves of other nationalities reflecting the diverse make up of the Middle East Command in the World War Two. Worthington noted:

‘This cemetery is a very important one. Before my visit in 1943 the general layout had been made and most of the burials were completed. The result was very rigid and bleak. However with water and Nile mud available at the present design, depending for the most part on grass and trees should give a satisfactory result. The surroundings are ugly and the grooves and avenues of Eucalyptus trees will give the necessary seclusion and sense of peace. The war cross in a central position has avenues of cypress trees on its four sides and Ficus trees are arranged elsewhere to form arches and shady walks. The entrance is flanked by Rest Houses and within is a simple and dignified setting of the war stone. Much will depend on fine grass lawns and the use of trees and flowers’

Sometimes when we speak of Egypt our minds rarely move past the antiquities of Ancient Egypt however war has played a huge part in Egypt’s modern history. I cant help but consider how proud Worthington would be to see the horticultural work being conducted in the Egyptian cemeteries today where trees and flowers are being used to their fullest effect.

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The cemetery at Heliopolis, Image Source: Twitter @walid_matrawy  CWGC Egypt 

The cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful resting place for hundreds who tragically lost their lives – carefully tended with immense pride by skilled Egyptian gardeners. In these cemeteries we have an overlooked monument to Egypt’s significance in the wider context of world history; one that will remain as important as any sarcophagus.

Please take a moment to consider visiting the cemeteries if your travelling to Egypt  – further information on visiting the cemeteries is available on the Commonwealth War Graves website https://www.cwgc.org/

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Photograph of Hubert Worthington from the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre    Reference: MR4/23/91/160

‘One of the Best’ Private W.Vincent Rumbelow – Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

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A few months ago I was lucky enough to find the Great War medals belonging to 240221 Private William Rumbelow of the 1st / 5th Bn Suffolk Regiment for sale on E Bay.

I was really pleased to be able to purchase the medals and began to undertake some research into the life of their owner and the circumstances surrounding his death.

After the Second Battle of Gaza the Palestinian campaign settled into a stalemate along a line of entrenchments from Gaza on the Mediterranean to the water wells of Beersheba at the foot of the mountains thirty air miles to the southeast. In his book ‘The Egyptian Expeditionary Force in World War I’  Michael J Mortlock wrote:

‘There was considerable bitterness amongst the front line soldiers over what had transpired. The troops were bitterly disillusioned  and very angry as General Murray had no idea how to break the dead lock and kept his headquarters in the comfort of the Savoy Hotel in Cairo, giving awards for gallant services  to members of his large headquarters staff – many of whom had never even see the front line’

Actually Murray did temporarily move to a train carriage at El Arish so as to be closer to Generals Dobell and Chetwode quartered at In Seirat. It was during this period that Private W. Vincent Rumbelow ‘D’ Company of the 1st / 5th Suffolk’s was mortally wounded by a 5.9 shell burst on the 1st of May 1917 while on ‘light duties’ as his comrades were detailed for a wiring party. Murray reported

‘They directed artillery fire on the rear of our positions on the Mansura ridge, doing a certain amount of damage among the transport animals, and making any movement of camel transport during the day impossible’

Although urged by his pal, Private Jake Mortlock, to come with their wiring party ‘as the Turks will send over a few shells and we shall be lying about most of the day’ he could not be convinced and a 5.9 ‘Jack Johnson’ shell mortally wounded him. His sister, Marjorie, remembers the fateful day the Postman delivered the news to his Parents who up until  that day had prayed nightly for his safe return – she never again saw them kneeling by their bed.

Private Mortlock’s grief was not readily discernible in the letter he penned in the rear of the Sheikh Abbas ridge – but the loss of his best pal was a terrible blow to him – not to mention his sister, Gwen, who had been engaged to be married to ‘Vinnie’.

‘One of the Best’ was Jake’s tribute written on the back of a photograph he sent to Gwen.

Michael J Mortlock wrote that ‘W Vincent Rumbelow’s premature death also had unforeseen repercussions regarding the family ownership of the ancient Freckenham manor, as his surviving brother was described as a ‘cripple’ and not up to such an onerous task’ I will research this statement further as although William has an entry on the Soham Grammar School war memorial on the 1911 census he is listed as the son of William W and Mary Rumbelow, aged 15, a Farmer’s Son working on farm, born Freckenham, resident Freckenham, Soham, Cambridgeshire.

For now Williams medals are safe in my keeping.

 

 

‘A gallant and erudite Soldier’ – The Funeral of Major William Throsby Bridges

William Throsby Bridges was born at Greenock, Scotland, on 18 February 1861. As a youth he moved to Canada, where he later entered the Royal Military College but failed to graduate. In 1879 Bridges moved to Australia and joined the civil service, working in Braidwood, Murrurundi, and Narrabri. He returned to military life in 1885, taking a permanent commission in the artillery, and that same year married his wife, Edith. For the next few years he held various positions at the School of Gunnery and attended several gunnery courses in England, passing them with distinction. Bridges served with the British army in South Africa from 1899 until he was evacuated with enteric fever in 1900. In January 1909 he became Australia’s first chief of the general staff and the next year was tasked with founding Australia’s first military college, the Royal Military College at Duntroon. By the time the First World War had broken out Bridges had attained the rank of Brigadier General and was given the task of raising an Australian contingent for service in Europe. He was promoted to Major General in August 1914 and was appointed the commander of the new Australian Imperial Force. Bridges travelled to Egypt with the first contingent in October and started to record his experiences in a diary from early 1915.

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From this diary we can observe the evolution of planning for the Gallipoli campaign, including his meetings with commanders like Lieutenant General William Birdwood and General Sir Ian Hamilton and with various Australian commanders who would rise to prominence in the years to come.

On 25 April 1915 units of Bridges 1st Australian Division were the first to land at Anzac Cove. In the desperate confusion of the first day the landing force suffered more than 2,000 casualties, and little progress was made towards achieving their military objectives. Bridges argued for an immediate evacuation but was overruled. From the outset Bridges insisted on inspecting the front lines on a daily basis, despite the danger to himself. On 15 May 1915 he was travelling with other officers through Monash Valley when he was shot through his right femoral artery by a Turkish sniper. The rapid onset of gangrene meant that immediate amputation for a 53 year old man would prove fatal so a medical decision was taken that it was better for nature to take its course, which in Bridges’ case was 3 days. He  died on board the hospital ship Gascon before it reached port. His last recorded instruction was “that his regret should be conveyed to the Minister for Defence that his dispatch concerning the landing was not complete — he was too tired now.”

William Bridges was initially buried at Alexandria in Egypt, but in June 1915 his body was exhumed and returned to Australia. A series of interesting photographs held by the State Library of  New South Wales show views from his original funeral.

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He became the only Australian killed in the First World War to have his remains returned to Australia. On 3 September 1915 he was buried on the slopes of Mount Pleasant at Duntroon in Canberra, under the words ‘A gallant and erudite soldier’.

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Sources and Acknowledgements 

The Australian War Memorial

State Library of New South Wales

 

 

‘Views of an Antique Land’ Project Conference (20th May 2017)

I was so pleased to be invited to speak at the closing ‘Views of an Antique Land’ project conference which is being held on the 20th May at Cardiff University.

My paper ‘Recollections and Representations of Cairo (1914/18) – The Egyptian Expeditionary Force’ will include a brief overview of the strategic importance of Egypt and the logistical challenge of housing, feeding and caring for the large numbers of Commonwealth troops involved throughout Egypt. I’ll be talking about leisure and recreation in Great War Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria and how this ‘friendly invasion’ affected life in Cairo for the Egyptian people. I find this ‘social history of soldiering’ enormously entertaining, their reminiscences are at times ribald but they display an intense fascination with the culture and history of Egypt.

For further information on the project please visit:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ww1imagesegypt/

Web link: http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/ww1imagesegypt/

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‘We are camped in the Valley of the Pyramids with two of the big Pyramids in sight. They are an enormous size … a wonderful piece of work … All of the Australian troops except the Light Horse are camped here. The Light Horse are camped on the other side of town. The New Zealanders are with them … The camp is like a huge town. It is laid out in streets and blocks and each battalion has a block. We have been making rifles ranges, building latrines, making roads, building mess rooms and a thousand and one jobs which are required in a camp like this’ 

Sapper Ernest Charles Tubbenhauer, 1st Division Engineers, Mena Camp, Cairo, c.1915

I do love a nice research mystery …

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This week, knowing my research interests, my Dad presented me with a set of postcards which he felt may be of interest.

The first image, taken by S Sarkis, Garrison Photographer from the Kasr-el-Nil Barracks in Cairo is of a funeral procession described as ‘Fusiliers’.  Now I’m going to make some assumptions here with regard to the cemetery. I’m 90% certain that this is the Cairo War Memorial cemetery – from other images I have dating to the Great War period the type of cross assemblage in the background would fit, as would the presence of Mr Sarkis to document the occasion within the environs of central Cairo. The cemetery at Heliopolis in Cairo did not open until 1941 so Its reasonably safe to assume this is indeed Cairo.

The pall bearers are wearing tropical field service dress and two of them appear to have red roses on their helmets which may indicate that they are Lancashire Fusiliers. The Lancashire Fusiliers wore red roses on their helmets to commemorate the Battle of Minden in 1759. Searching the Commonwealth War Graves database for Cairo yields the following results:- 20 graves belonging to the Lancashire Fusiliers dating between the period 1914 -1919, 11 graves belonging to the Royal Fusiliers dating between the period 1915 – 1919 and lastly 12 graves belonging to the Northumberland Fusiliers dating between 1917 – 1919.

The image is undated, however the presence of two female mourners behind the coffin may indicate a post war date and if that were the case it could be a photograph related to a very small number of men. However, thats quite a large leap to make so for now  all I can say is that I have a list of 43 candidates from a register of 2393 men.

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So, more research is required but isnt it amazing which direction a single postcard can lead you?

 

 

 

‘Egypt’ The Interwar Years: The Funeral of Richard Gurney Peckover

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For most of its operational life R.A.F Abu Sueir near Port Said in Egypt was associated with training. Opening in September 1917 the station hosted the No 4 Flying Training School from 1 April 1921 which remained at Abu Sueir until 2 September 1939 when it moved to RAF Habbaniya in Iraq.

The images I received this week are from the funeral of Pilot Officer Richard Gurney Peckover who died in a flying accident near Abu Sueir on the 17th October 1924, age 25. His Airco DH.9A F2807 fell quickly from 800ft and burst into flames 2km north west of the station. Pilot Officer Peckover was laid to rest in the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, plot M9 Row A Grave 7.

There are 372 Commonwealth casualties of the First World War and 291 Second World War burials buried or commemorated within the cemetery at Ismailia. The cemetery also contains 297 non war graves, chiefly of servicemen of R.A.F Abu Sueir and their dependents, mostly dating from the inter war years.

I’ll be doing further research in an effort to uncover more of Richard Peckovers story, till then Sir ‘Blue Skies’ #PerArduaAdAstra

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Acknowledgements: With grateful thanks to the War Graves Photographic project for the pictures from Ismailia of P.O Peckovers headstone.