‘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.

 

 

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‘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

 

 

Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie – 1st Australian General Hospital (Heliopolis)

The Victoria Museum holds a small collection bequeathed by Rosemary McArthur in 2010 commemorating the life of Sister Selina Lily ‘Lil’ Mackenzie which provides an interesting insight into the role of women (in this instance nurses) serving in Egypt during World War I.

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 Portrait of Sister Lil Mackenzie with a Friend, Egypt, 1915-1917

Lil returned to her hometown after the outbreak of war, and on 5 October 1915 enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service. She was 33 years old, and despite 11 years nursing at a senior level, she was given the lowest rank: staff nurse. Lil embarked for Egypt shortly after enlistment, reporting for duty at the 1st Australian General Hospital (AGH) in Heliopolis, Egypt, on 9 December 1915.

The 1st AGH was housed in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, a grand building on the north-eastern edge of Cairo with rooms of marble and alabaster. Planned as a 520-bed hospital, by June 1915 it held nearly 2,500 patients. The hospital expanded into nearby buildings: the racecourse, the casino, the barracks of the Egyptian Army, and Luna Park where the ticket office became an operating theatre and the skating rink, bandstand and scenic railway became wards.

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A keen photographer, Lil took images of her time in Egypt; the photographs were carefully placed in albums, and chronicle the hospital at which she served and Luna Park Cairo. The camera on which the images were taken forms part of the Museum’s collection, the inside of the leather case bears Lil’s name with the date 1915 and location Cairo, Egypt. Also donated in the group are Lil’s nursing capes, one made of a very light-weight silk (necessary in the extreme heat of Egypt); buttons carefully removed from her uniforms and kept by the family; and souvenirs from Egypt.

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A Scarab ring bought by Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie as a souvenir of her time in Egypt during World War I

In February 1916 the 1st and 2nd AGH moved to France, but Lil remained in Cairo for another 12 months with the 3rd AGH. In January 1917 the 3rd AGH moved to England, then France on 8 February 1917. On arrival in France Lil was transferred to the Imperial unit, the 13th General Hospital at Rouen. She would have been one of about 70 nurses.

Lil was transferred back to the 3rd AGH, now at Abbeville on the western part of the Somme River, on 6 July 1917. The 3rd AGH was one of the biggest hospitals in France, with 2,000 beds, 20 sisters and 60 staff nurses.

In November 1917 Lil was again transferred, this time to the 38th Stationary Hospital which had just opened at a boys’ school in Genoa, Italy. Lil served at this 520 bed hospital for British Troops until March 1918, when she was put in charge of the 24th Casualty Clearing Station, located north of Venice; she had 30 staff reporting to her.

Having served five months in the exhausting conditions of a Casuatly Clearing Station, Lil returned to the 38th Stationary Hospital in Genoa on 18 August 1918, and a week later left for England for three week’s leave. She returned to Genoa in September, and in October was notified she had been promoted to Sister. She served at the 38th Stationary Hospital until January 1919 when she was transferred to England.

She spent a month at the 3rd Australia Auxilliary Hospital in Dartford, Kent, and then took a few months leave during which time she attended lectures at the Royal Sanitary Institute in London. She qualified as an Inspector of Nuisances in June that year. Upon completion of her course, Lil returned to the 3rd Australia Auxilliary Hospital in Dartford for two months, and was then transferred to the 1st AGH which was now in Wiltshire. Just over a month later, on 18 October 1919, Lil embarked for Australia on the ‘Morea’, disembarking on 28 November. Her appointment as an army nurse was terminated on 17 February 1920.

In recognition of her service, Lil was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class for her service in Italy. She also received the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victoria Medal. Lil passed away at the age of 90. In 2010 her family donated photographs and personal items associated with her service to Museum Victoria.

 

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Sources: 

Sister Selina Lily (Lil) McKenzie (1882-1972) Smith, C. (2010) Sister Selina Lily (Lil) McKenzie (1882-1972) in Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/3586
Accessed 02 July 2017

Wallet – Leather, Egypt, Sister Selina Lily (Lil) Mackenzie, 1915 – 1917  Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1584159
Accessed 01 July 2017

Scarab Ring Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1584148
Accessed 02 July 2017

Group Portrait of Nurses in front of the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt 1915 – 17 Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1562607
Accessed 02 July 2017