From the farm to the battlefield

The Great War, 1914-18, was said to be the war to end all wars but instead it became known as World War I because another was to follow two decades later.

Britain and Germany went to war on August 4, 1914, and the Australian government pledged support for the mother country, Britain.

Daphne Heaton has a record of the World War I experience of her uncle, Robert Allan Roberts. Her family has preserved a wealth of memorabilia, photographs in particular.

There are photographs of the family in Nambour and the troops training at Enoggera in Brisbane. There are postcards of Nambour sent overseas to her uncle and postcards of places in Europe sent from the battlefront.

There are also delicately embroidered souvenir cards made by French women for them to send home to family members.

Robert Allan Roberts was the brother of Daphne’s mother. He was born on September 18, 1894, the only son of Robert and Betsey (nee Perren) Roberts who owned a cane farm at Petrie Creek.

After attending Nambour State School, he was employed at the Moreton Sugar Mill where he worked as a fireman on the locomotive, Maroochy. His destiny was never to return to the family farm.

In 1915, he enlisted in the Australian Medical Corps and trained at the military hospital at Enoggera. He left for overseas service on board the Australian Hospital Ship Kanouria, departing Sydney on March 29, 1916. He served for almost two years in France in the 13th and 16th Field Ambulance acting as a stretcher-bearer.

Daphne has printed out his diary in full which tells of daily events and of his pleasure in news from home.

There are references to other enlisted men from Nambour he met, and German and French soldiers he saw, some wounded and some prisoners. He downplayed the carnage he witnessed on the Somme. His family did not know the horrors he met daily.

A plaque outside the town hall in Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme valley, tells the story:

“In 1916, the Australian Army entered the Western Front with a force of 180,000 men, three times the number that had served in Gallipoli in 1915. 46,000 of the 60,000 killed in the war died on the Western Front.

“From an Australian population of just 4.5 million people, 313,000 volunteered to serve during the war; 65 per cent of these became casualties.”

A stretcher-bearer’s task was to carry the wounded to safety while under enemy fire and try to find the dressing stations in the dark. It was very difficult to carry an 80kg soldier in a wet and muddy uniform and possibly a wet and muddy blanket. The stretcher-bearers often found it easier to carry the stretcher on their shoulders rather than down between them.

Private Robert Allan Roberts was killed aged 23 years and 7 months.

Information about his death is that an enemy shell exploded nearby seriously wounding him and his close friend Walter Erwood. Major Ross personally dressed and attended to him. He was evacuated to the main dressing station at Vadencourt where his leg was amputated. He died soon after on April 7, 1918 and was buried in a war grave at Warloy–Baillon Cemetery Extension. (Near the city of Albert, France)

On 17 March 1922, members of three families, Whitecross, Roberts and Cronk, who had lost sons in World War I, gathered to plant trees in remembrance of Ben Williams, Bob Roberts and Eddie Cronk. 

A small triangle of land, Mt Pleasant, where Blackall Terrace and National Park Road meet, was the designated area. It was said that the planting of a tree kept their memories green.

There is a memorial plaque for Private Roberts on the Wall of Remembrance in Quota Memorial Park, Nambour.

 Nambour Museum in Mitchell St, Nambour, has a special photographic exhibition and display of memorabilia during April. The museum is open afternoons, Wednesday to Saturday.
All welcome.