|One of Ten
by Ken Wright
This is the story of Henry James Wright, who enlisted in the Australian
Imperial Forces in 1915. His parents, Edward and Marion Wright and their seven
sons and two daughters lived at No 6 Winfred Street, North Essendon, a suburb
of Melbourne. When war was declared on 4 August 1914, patriotic fever spread
through out Australia. Henry was the first of the sons to answer the call to
fight for King and Country.
While he was overseas, Henry was a prolific letter writer, but most of those
letters have now been lost as his brothers and sisters have long since died.
The information used to present Henry’s story is from the postcards and letters
that have survived. Henry was not the only family member to enlist and fight in
the Great War. Their contribution to the war effort was equally important. The
Wright family in 1915 were:
Mother - Marion.
Sisters - Florence (married) Elizabeth (unknown)
Sons - Walter (married), Henry (married to Pauline), Leslie, Albert,
Charlie, Gordon and Fredrick, all single. Gordon would go on to participate in
Henry’s decision was final. No matter what his new wife Pauline said, or his
parents, or any of his six brothers and two sisters. He was going to enlist.
War had been declared and the Australian Imperial Forces needed men to fight.
Besides he argued, it was his duty to go. Henry left the comfort of the family
home in Winifred Street, North Essendon, a suburb of Melbourne for the spartan
Army barracks at Broadmeadows and became Private H.J.Wright regimental
number-151, A Company, 14th Battalion on 1 October 1914. He was only 26. After
fifteen weeks basic training, Private Wright sailed from Port Melbourne aboard
the troopship A38 bound for the Middle East.
Henry went ashore at Gallipoli at 10-30am on 26 April 1915 and describes his
experience in a letter to a brother from the firing line on June 27.
Just a few lines in answer to your welcome letter received here 23rd June and
dated May 14th. Well Les, I am pleased to hear you are well and like your
place. I had a letter from Mother saying Bert and Fred had sailed but did not
know what place they were going to. I thought that we still had a few brothers
left who would enlist. I suppose you would have had a try had you been old
enough. Well Les, I have up to now managed to dodge the bullets which fall
pretty thick at times. We are giving the Turks all the fight they want. They
are very frightened of the bayonet. They squeal like blue hell when they get a
touch. We live in dugouts cut in the side of the hill just like rabbits. They
are pretty safe from bullets and shrapnel. We do our own cooking and are
getting experts at it. Now Les, I will close hoping you are well and will
always be pleased to hear from you,-------------- ---I remain your loving
There were lighter sides to being in action as illustrated by this poem:
‘How Private H.J. Wright ended the War.’
Is it true there’s a war old Wright said to me, said I, ‘I dunno, let’s go and
see. So off to investigate both of us went, to try and find out what the word
War really meant.
Over the creeks and up great big hills, having no sleep and missing our meals.
One day in the distance some big Turks we saw, we knew what it was like to be
playing at war.
When around a few bombs and some Jack Johnson’s fell, old Wright said I’m off
its too much like hell.
So away we both scooted with the Turks at our heels, old Wright gasped I wonder
how a bayonet feels.
At last a Jack Johnson caught Wright on the bot, and sent him along at a very
I’m off home he shouted, as he whizzed past my head, but he hung in a tree half
alive and half dead.
When I helped him get down he was a bit dazed, his clothes were all torn and
his backside was grazed.
I soon fixed him up with some Vas and some plaster, but the Turks they were
coming up faster and faster.
At last old Wright said we’ll end this war, the quickest way you ever saw.
See those big boulders up on that hill, we’ll crush those Turks like flower in
Five hundred thousand were killed this way, the rest surrendered I’m glad to
So that’s is the way Wright ended the war, the quickest way you ever saw
(Composed by Bert Lewis, A Coy, 14th Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula, July
Unfortunately for Henry there was a certain amount of truth in the poem as he
was wounded by shrapnel in an attack on Hill 60 on 21 August. Having survived
the Turkish armies’ best efforts to kill him, Private Wright was on his way to
England aboard a hospital ship unaware that the German Navy was trying to kill
his younger brothers, Fred and Albert who had also enlisted. The two brothers
had an unexpected swim in the Aegean Sea when the German submarine UB14
commanded by Kapitanleutnant Heino von Heimburg torpedoed the Australian
troopship ‘Southland ’ bound for Gallipoli. Approximately thirty men were
killed; the remaining troops and crew were rescued by nearby ships. A skeleton
crew of volunteers managed to keep the ship afloat and beach it in Mudros
Fred and Albert were members of the 21st Battalion landing on Gallipoli on 7
September, 1915. Fred was sent home and discharged as medically unfit with
Enteric fever in 1916, and Albert went on to fight in France and Flanders but
he was also sent home and discharged with trench feet in 1917.
From hospital, Henry wrote a letter home describing the fighting that lead to
his being wounded.
||My Dear Mother,
You no doubt are very anxious about me, for I suppose you would get a telegram
to say that I was wounded and you are wondering how badly. I am pleased to say
my wounds are not serious, and also that I am a lucky man to be sitting up in
bed in dear old England, writing this letter to you. I will start from the
----of August when we started to make an advance to straighten up our firing
line. [I am writing of our Battalion only but there were scores of others
engaged in this big move]. We moved at about 10 o’clock at night in full
fighting order, each man carrying 250 rounds of ammunition. We were told before
we started that our job was to go two miles along the beach then push inland
for about a mile or so. We were to take the Turks by surprise.
After doing our two miles [in strict silence] we got the order to fix bayonets,
then we started to push inland. We had taken John Turk by surprise. He stood
his ground for a little while but when he heard the Australian war cry, he was
soon on the run. But what a great treat we had; the Turks knew where they were
going we did not and the country was nothing but hills and gullies covered
thickly with small bushes behind which the Turks would hide and try and put up
a bit of a stand until we routed them out with a bayonet. We were not to fire a
shot – all work to be done with the bayonet.
They were blazing away all the time, but it was so dark they could only fire in
our direction. A few of our chaps were hit. One of my mates next to me suddenly
called out and dropped. I asked him what was up. He said “Only a bullet in the
knee, but never mind I’m alright. Go on Australia give it to them, show ‘em
what you’re made of” etc. The bullets were cutting up the dust around us when I
got a bullet through the butt of my rifle, but I was not hit. Frank Trevillian,
myself and a few more of our boys got cut off from the rest of the Battalion
that night, and thank goodness it was dark or we should certainly have had a
hard time of it. We thought our chaps were still coming on. We had just got to
a small rise with a fringe of bushes when in front of us we could hear a party
of Turks talking. We dropped behind what cover we could. It was while we were
lying there that we found out that we were on our own, and that the Turks were
creeping up. We had an officer in our party, and we owe him our escape.
He belonged to the 13th Battalion N.S.W. He said to us “Well boys, we are in a
tight corner here and with a little bit of bluff, I think we can manage them”.
So while some of us dug in, others were keeping watch. We had just made a rough
cover for ourselves, when one of the observers saw a movement in front. The
officer had us ready. We were to wait until they got within a dozen yards and
fire for all we were worth, and if necessary, use our bayonets. I cannot
explain the feeling when you know you are going to have a scrap at close
quarters. It makes one feel that he is good enough for half a dozen. We allowed
them to come up within a few yards. They could not see us and I think they
imagined we had gone. Then we got the order to fire. We pelted lead into them
as fast as we could pull the trigger and then got up and yelled like a lot of
Indians. We had no occasion that time to use the bayonet. John Turk broke and
fled screaming “Allah, Allah” and disappeared down the hill going like blazes.
It was just breaking day so we worked our way back to the rest of our Battalion
whom we found five or six hundred yards back. We do not what damage we had
done, but guessed we had settled a few.
We moved from this position early that morning and joined the rest of our
Brigade (4th Brigade). Our casualties in this were not a great lot. The Turks
got a big surprise that night all along the line. We found bags of bread, pots
and pans, ammunition and equipments. They bolted in such a hurry they had no
time to bother about these things. The Turks were now entrenched on a big hill
called 971. This hill was always well fortified, and we were brought round to
help take this.
On the morning of August-----we were lined up at 3 a.m. to make an attack on a
portion of this hill, so we were told, but this is what happened. On this
particular morning, about two thousand of us advanced with fixed bayonets. All
went well until we had passed through a big ravine. We reached a flat piece of
land that had been cultivated, and had to cross this at the double, for dawn
was just breaking, and the Turks had spied us and came at us in thousands. We
were a splendid target. I will never forget crossing this cultivated ground
about three hundred yards wide. They turned machine guns on us and our poor
fellows were dropping like flies. We reached a place at the end of the ravine
and dug in. The Turks were bringing up more reinforcements. This is just what
our side wanted, for we were drawing the fire while a very large force of
Tommies and Ghurkas made an assault of this big hill on the right, we being on
the left. We soon found our what we had fallen into. We had been sent out to
draw as many of the enemy as possible to make out that we were the main
While the Turks were advancing on us, our big guns from the cruisers just blew
them sky high. When the shells burst amongst them, we could see Turks, pieces
of men, earth and bushes, all in a heap. The Ghurka is a splendid soldier; he
likes best to fight with the knife and is very severe on the snipers and will
search for them for hours, and snipers when caught wants to be taken prisoner –
he has no chance. The Ghurkas are good friends of the Australians. They are
small men, but very strong and wiry. When we got the Turks moving our way we
received the order to retire, and to carry back all wounded on our way. The
stretcher-bearers were working like Britons. I and another 14th man carried a
poor fellow who was shot through the stomach. We had to move ourselves too,
over ridges, along gullies through thick bush. There was no time to have a
spell. We were being shelled, and John Turk was pumping the lead our way. He,
no doubt, thought we were running away, but this was part of our plan for the
Tommies and Ghurkas were doing great work on our right. We eventually reached a
place of safety and got our man to a dressing station. The wounded were coming
down in scores from this big hill, but others were going up with a determined
look on their faces that boded ill for the Turks. It is rather a peculiar
feeling when you first see a wounded man being carried past, but one soon gets
used to it, and the more determined he is to avenge him. We made a line of
trenches, and held them for a couple of weeks. During this time we had a very
hard job getting water. Of course water was coming along as well as they could
send it, but for thousands and thousands of troops it means a big thing. We dug
down fifteen feet, and discovered beautiful spring water; from that day on we
I will now pass onto the afternoon of August…We were to make a charge on the
Turk’s trenches. This was to be another big move for us. You no doubt read in
the papers about the big landing of troops at Suvla Bay. This was the time that
we moved. Now I will describe it to you, just as it appeared to me.
At 3 p.m. we were lined up and told our job. We were to advance for three
hundred yard’s and previous to our going our cruisers and land artillery
bombarded the Turks for a good hour. The first hundred yards were not too bad,
but the last hundred was hell. We rested for a breather for this final spurt on
a ridge. We had to run over the brow, down the other side, across a flat and
gain another ridge. As soon as we started, the enemy worked machine guns, rifle
fire and shrapnel at us. I saw dozens fall in front of me. One poor chap’s
equipment and clothes caught fire, I think a bullet struck his cartridges and
set alight to the cordite. He screamed something awful. I had not gone far,
when I got a nasty blow to my leg. I did not stop, though to do so was certain
death. I managed to scramble down to the ridge and crawled to a place of
safety. My wound was dressed and the leg began to get stiff. We had no hope to
get back to get a doctor until dark, so just had to lie there and wait. I did
not mind waiting but we were getting Jack Johnson’s shrapnel and bullets
dangerously close. Anyway, I had the satisfaction to see that we had gained our
position, and our fellows were busy digging in. While lying here, I was in full
view of the hill we came down. It was a terrible sight. Men were lying around
in dozens, some groaning terribly, and the Tommies were coming over. It is only
then that a fellow realises the awfulness of it. They came over in a rush, and
were cut up like chaff, but they would not turn back. I and a lot more wounded
were waiting in this place to be taken away when we saw a poor chap staggering
towards us. I found he was one of the 14th – a chap I knew well.
A machine gun had made a horrible sight of him. The bullets entering his mouth,
cutting away the bottom teeth then passing through his neck breaking the
collarbone and making a nasty gash in his shoulder. He could not speak but
wrote down on a piece of paper that he was not downhearted and that he was
satisfied when he saw our boys had taken the position. That night when we
started to make for the beach, we had plenty of bullets humming around us. I’m
afraid we looked a sorrowful pair. I hobbling along and my poor mate hanging on
to the back of my tunic. We had a lot of spells on our way down and reached the
hospital ship at dawn. We had a nice warm bath and got between nice clean
sheets. We steamed away from the Dardanelle’s and went onto Lemnos – one of the
Islands forty miles away. We were here for two days, then put on a sister ship
to the Lusitania and on the 24th August we started for England, called in at
Malta for a day and Gibraltar five days, and finally reaching Devonport on
We travelled by hospital train to Paddington about 230 miles then motored to
Hampstead (New End) Military Hospital where we are looked after splendidly.
When the boys are able to walk, they are allowed out from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. They
are often taken for motor trips all over London. The people are very kind, and
invite the boys to afternoon tea. The Old Bull and Bush Inn is only ten minutes
walk from here. Little did I think I would one day see the original? I will
write to you again about the different places when I can get about. Don’t worry
about me, my wounds are not serious. I expect to be about in a couple of weeks.
I have an appetite like a horse [I should think so after bully beef and
biscuits for four months]
In another letter Henry describes how Australians were treated in England.
||My dear Mother, Father, Brothers and Sisters,
I am getting along splendidly, and can get about with the aid of a stick. I
have had a great week for outings. SUNDAY,--Motor drive to the country and saw
the great flying grounds at Hendon; then afternoon tea at a lovely house at
Highgate [ photo taken on the lawn] ; entertained with music; plenty of cigars
and cigarettes .MONDAY – A motor drive to the country, 30 miles of lovely
scenery; afternoon tea on the lawn. TUESDAY—20 of us were entertained at the
Hampstead Golf Club. We had a competition game and I reckon I am hot stuff at
golf. We were treated very well—plenty of cigarettes and our tea was good. I
thought I would never be able to get up from the table. The ladies sang songs
to us. Of course I made eyes at one of the young ladies and we got quite chatty
and I was sorry we had to go. I am looking forward to the next invitation to
play golf. WEDNESDAY--- Three of us motored out to Watford and had afternoon
tea at the big house. SATURDAY---A lady took five of us in a motor to Richmond,
about 18 miles from here. We had a glorious time. We passed Lord’s Cricket
ground, over Hammersmith Bridge, through the great Richmond Park, covered with
forests of oak, chestnut and silver birch trees and saw hundreds of deer. We
had afternoon tea on the banks of the Thames, came back through Bush Park. We
were shown Hampton Court Palace, the favourite residence of Queen Victoria. We
crossed over Kingston Bridge and had a real good time. The people here are very
good to Australians and cannot do enough for us. If we go for a walk in the
afternoon we are stopped by the women and children and given cigarettes and
sweets and asked to come for tea. We have concerts two or three times a week,
some of the best singers and artists from theatres entertaining us. The weather
here is getting cold, so we are to have more concerts and moving pictures.
Corporal Stuckey is herewith me. He was wounded the same day as myself . You
remember he and Trevillian came to tea one Sunday night before we left
Broadmeadows. Tomorrow, Stuckey, two other Australians and myself are invited
for a motor ride to the principal parts of London. So tomorrow I will have some
news to tell you of our trip. TUESDAY---I do not know how to tell you what a
splendid outing we had today. I will do my best to explain it. We left here at
2pm and were soon in the crowded but wonderful city of London. We crossed
Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames, did Regent Street, Leicester Square [ high
monument of Ajax defying the lightning ] Trafalgar Square, with the splendid
monument of Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. We motored around the historical
building, the Tower of London, which dates back hundreds of years. I cannot
write how these wonderful buildings impress one at first sight. The German
spies are shot here. When I get my furlough I am going to look over this
building and I will write you more news of it. We passed over Tower Bridge---a
tremendous big bridge. A roadway is lifted up by hydraulic power to let the
steamers pass. We then recrossed the Thames over Westminister Bridge, saw the
bronze statue of Boadicea, and the wonderful obelisk of Cleopatra. This huge
stone was brought from Egypt in Queen Victoria’s time, and was cut out of solid
granite about the time the Pyramids were built. We saw the Houses of Parliament
and Big Ben, Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey, Albert Memorial, St Paul’s
Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the wonderful Queen Victoria Memorial, Hyde Park,
Rotten Row and dozens of other places of interest. I have not written of the
splendour and wonder of it all but when I get out on furlough, I mean to spend
most of the time inside these old historical places and will be able to
describe them better to you.
Well, my dear Mother and Father, I know you must be having a most anxious time,
wondering how we are all getting on and dread each day to hear bad news; but
the danger is not so great as you imagine, and if you could see us at our work
in the trenches and under fire, and how lightly we take it all, I am sure you
would not worry so much. I [and my brothers, I am sure] are always thinking of
you at home. I can see you now, dear Mother, sitting down doing crochet work
and Dad on the sofa reading the paper. How lonely the old house must seem; but
cheer up, we will some day all return again. We are doing work for our country
that you must be proud of. You have given four sons and this is a very big
thing out of our family. I will send you postcards of London and the principal
buildings when I get out. I cannot draw any money while in hospital. I do not
mind being here for we are treated like toffs.
While Henry was recovering from his wounds, enjoying English hospitality and
afternoon tea on the lawns, motor drives in the country, his Battalion was
withdrawn from Gallipoli on 18 December 1915 and sent to France………Henry
returned to active service in April 1916.
It’s possible that Henry caught up with the fourth brother to join up. Charles,
also a member of the 21st Battalion had arrived in June 1916 and the brothers
were in the same area fighting the Germans.
In those days, getting shot was an occupational hazard and the Wright brothers
were attracting their fair share of lead. Henry is wounded again, this time in
the right arm, left leg and suffers from shell-shock in or near Pozieres on 2
July 1916. He was sent to the Northumberland War Hospital to recover. Not to be
out done by his brother, Charlie is shot in the right leg in an attack on
Mouquet Farm also near Pozieres. He took seven months to recover only to be
shot again in April 1917; this time it was the right arm, head and back. The
Army decided enough was enough and sent him back home as medically unfit in
Henry remained in England as his wounds were taking a long time to heal. He was
eventually fit enough to be transferred from hospital to the School of Musketry
in Tidworth on 2 February, 1917, where he was given light cleaning duties. It
was from here Henry writes his most inner most thoughts about the war, the
nostalgia for his home and about his life in general.
School of Musketry, Bhurtpore Barracks,Tidworth , England. 6 October,1916.
||Dear Les and Gordon,
I think it is about time I wrote you a few lines for no doubt you want to know
a little news of this side of the world. It always appeals to anyone who has
not travelled that they would like to see different parts of the world, but
take my dinkum tip and stick to the dear old home for there is absolutely no
place like it. Mind you, I am not sorry I came away because to hang back would
be like a coward’s game, but to leave home just to roam about is a very foolish
idea. I know when I was your age I was always wanting to roam the world. I know
perfectly well now that ones home sweet home is paradise. I have been hungry
many a time and scores of times been without a smoke. Just sitting down to
Bully beef and biscuits for three meals a day of course next day you would get
a change to biscuits and Bully beef. Well dear Brothers, I will begin my
explanation of the countries I have visited with Egypt. Now Egypt is a pretty
but dirty place. The natives are a very stinking lot of devils and if you do
not watch them, they will put a knife between your ribs. They are very
treacherous and the only way to treat them is to make them frightened of you.
When we first went to Egypt, we could get things very cheap, but when they
found out the Australians had plenty of money, everything went up double the
price. We could buy 2 big oranges for a halfpenny, 6 eggs, twopence or a good
feed for sixpence. The native women do all the work. It is a very common sight
to see them carrying heavy loads on their head and a baby on their back. Of
course these are the Arabs and they are black. The Egyptians are as white
skinned as us and are very fine race of people. As you know by the history
books, Egypt is a very old place and has some very old interesting sites.
The Pyramids are a wonderful sight and the Tombs which date back thousands of
years ago. I think every Australian who went to Egypt took the opportunity of
seeing these wonderful old places. We were camped at Heliopolis about 10 miles
from Cairo and close to our camp was a very old burying ground and often our
boys would go over and dig up the remains and find beads, coins and other
curios. I have seen some of the boys come home with a skull and put a lighted
candle inside of it at night time. You can guess it would give the boys who
came home late a big scare especially if they were a bit tipsy. Heliopolis camp
was only a desert when we first landed there but all sorts of shops went up
like lightning and many a nigger made a fortune in no time. Our boys spent
thousands and thousands of pounds in Egypt. Australians are the best paid
soldiers in the world and they deserve it for they are bonza fighters. Well
dear brothers, we did not have the luck to take Constantinople . I cannot tell
you much of the Turkish cities but I saw plenty of Turks at Gallipoli . I can
say they are a fine body of men and dash good fighters. My rememberances of the
four months on the Peninsula are like a big nightmare. I had a charmed life
there and don’t know how I escaped being blown to pieces many a time. I could
fill a book of narrow escapes. Now we will pass on to the land of frogs and
snails. By joves it seemed a lovely country after Egypt and Gallipoli.
Everywhere you see lovely fields of grape vines, fruit trees, cultivated land
and rivers. The people are a splendid race and women work in the fields like a
man. It is a common sight to see them ploughing and hoeing in the fields and we
Australians were always greeted the time of day. We often bought bread off them
instead of eating biscuits.
Our three days trip from Marseilles to a place called Baielui was through the
prettiest country I ever saw. We were within 8 miles of Paris and could see the
Eiffel Tower plainly. It was a certainty that if they took us through Paris, we
would have taken leave and had a look around Paris. We were only a little over
a week at Baielui about 10 miles from the trenches. We could plainly hear the
booming of the heavy guns. We also saw plenty of aeroplane fights which were
interesting to watch. The English and French airmen are much superior in the
air than the Germans and our fellows would soon hunt the German home to his
lines. An aeroplane is most useful in warfare and are used mostly for spying
out guns and watching movements of troops. I saw as many as 26 of our
aeroplanes in a mob going on a raiding expedition. When our airmen fly over the
German lines, old Fritz opens up a terrible bombardment with their aircraft
guns, but our fellows take no notice but go on with their work. Sometimes the
Germans score a hit and bring our man down but there is always plenty more only
too eager to take his place. These aeroplanes are all fitted up with wireless
apparatus and they watch the result of our gunner’s fire and wire back the
result. Too far, too short as the case may be until our gunners eventually blow
up the object they are after.
Now here is a story of one of our airmen, an Englishman who was known as the
Mad Major. This man was supposed to have consumption and only had a few months
to live so did not care if he was killed. I have heard this story from
Englishmen, Australians and Canadians who have seen him often. He would fly
over the German lines and swoop right down on their trenches and drop bombs. He
had the most lucky escapes and often the planes [wings] were riddled with
shrapnel, and bullet holes. He would often loop the loop over Fritz’s lines and
end up with turning his machine guns on them. He is credited with bring down
many a German machine for he would attack any number of them single handed.
Here is another story of the Mad Major but I will not say it’s true. One day he
was flying over the German lines when something went wrong with the works and
he had come down and had just fixed it up when he was surrounded by a couple of
German Officers. Thought they would like to be planed a couple of miles back to
their camps and each with a loaded revolver, commanded him to fly there. He
agreed and got in his machine and strapped himself in. The two German Officers
were seated behind, covering him with their revolvers. He flew up into the air
and looped the loop which threw out the Germans. He then came back to our
lines. Of course you can believe this if you like, but I reckon it beats Sexton
Blake hands down ‘‘eh what’’.
Well brothers, everyone who goes to the front has narrow escapes and I have had
mine. One day in the trenches, previous to doing this raid, Frank Trevillian
and I were just killing time and having a sing-song and old Fritz was shelling
our part of the trench with a 9 point 5 shell (known amongst the soldiers as
coal boxes). Now one of these coal boxes landed two yards in front of the
trenches where Frank and I was, and by a piece of luck, missed fire. Had it
gone off, we should have been in little pieces? Frank and I looked at one
another and then went on singing, but I can tell you, it made us think of
better places than that dammed old trench. By Joves, as I sit here and write
these lines to you boys, I am indeed thankful I am having a spell from it all
and sincerely hope I have no more fighting for a while. I am not afraid to go
back, but I think it only right that we old hands should have a spell. I have
now six scars from bullets to show, so think that quite sufficient. I had word
from Charlie lately saying he was being discharged from hospital, so I am in
hopes of seeing him soon. Poor old Bert will miss Charlie very much. I do hope
he gets through alright. Fred is very lucky getting his discharge and I am very
glad for it will help to cheer up Mother and Dad. I’ll bet you boys are proud
of your soldier brothers and you have the satisfaction of saying that none of
them were slackers. Well dear brothers, war is nothing else but pure murder and
the sooner it is all over the better for everyone concerned. I am looking
forward to the time when it is all over and we can come home again. I guess we
will have a good old time.
I am positive that at Dad’s spree the champagne will get a severe hiding. I
have contracted a terrible thirst since joining the Army. Of course I put it
down to Bully Beef. Well dear brothers, we have some characters in the
Australian Army. All kinds from bank clerks to bush whackers. Wherever there is
a mix up with fists, some of our boys are in it, but a softer hearted lot you
could not find in the whole world. They are ever willing to help a man wounded,
or anyone down on his luck. They have taught many an Englishman manners by
getting up and giving a lady their seat. They are rough and ready but no matter
what country they go to, they are classed as gentlemen. In Hospital over here
we are treated with great respect and want for nothing. We get scores of
invitations to visit the wealthy peoples’ houses. I have had many an outing and
hope for many more similar ones. I have a nice light job now looking after
these rooms in a musketry school. I have only to keep them tidy, and can finish
them in two hours. The job may last six weeks or six months. I hope it hangs
out until the end of the war. Three good meals a day and a nice warm bed to lie
on so I can’t growl. Now Leslie and Gordon, I want you to write me a letter and
let me know how you are getting on, what kind of work you are doing and if you
want to know any particular news about different countries I have been in. Just
mention it in your letter and I will be only too pleased to give you any
information I can. I will now close, hoping this finds you both well,
---------------------- I remain your aff brother Henry.
The following letter sent from the School of Musketry dated 16 April 1918,
contains a reference about two relatives that illustrates the lack of
commitment to the war effort as perceived by Henry. The brothers Ernie, Herb
and Robert Bruce were Henry’s cousins. R J Bruce from 9 Bulla Road, North
Essendon, enlisted in ‘C’ Company; 46th Battalion as a driver; on
31August,1915. He fought in France and was wounded at Pozieres, Aug 4, 1916. In
number 11 hospital for 8 weeks; later fought at Bullecourt, Ypres etc.
Invalided home Sept18, 1917. For what ever reason, the other brothers didn’t
||My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to say I am well and still going strong at the Musketry
School. All those rumours of having to go to France again have now died down
and we are going on as usual. I am very thankful for I should not like going
over there again. I have had all the fighting I want for all time. Well dear
Mother, I was very pleased to receive 6 letters today from Australia, three
from you, two from Pauline and one from Charlie and you can guess how pleased I
was to hear Charlie had returned home safely. I only wished I could see you all
seated down in the old home, so happy and contented all would be. Well cheerio
dear Mother, my time is coming along by next Xmas and don’t forget to keep that
Hogshead of beer on ice. Joves, I get thirsty every time I think of it. I guess
I can do justice to my share of it. I do not mention Champayne now as I reckon
the Australians have drank all that in France. You can bet I had my share when
I was there.
By Joves, young Gordon is a brick and is sticking to that job in N.S.W. I
reckon it will be the making of him. I sincerely hope he sticks to banking his
money as he is doing for it is the finest thing for a young fellow to have a
few pounds behind him. I will write him a letter next week and address it to Mr
I really had no idea work was at such a standstill in Australia. Is Leslie a
carpenter? For some months back you mentioned that he was working for Mr
Musgrove. So Fred is once again Postman. Does he think it better than
soldiering ? I wish I had half his luck. I suppose Bert is a gentleman, gets
out of bed at 6 every morning [I mean 10 ] By Joves, I laughed at Gordon’s
letter that you enclosed. He said his boss had been to America, South Sea
Islands and Christ knows where [I wonder where that place is]
I am very pleased to know Miss Addey writes to you. Every letter I get from her
you are mentioned and I have always an invitation to call and see them whenever
I can get leave. Charlie will be able to tell you what a lovely home they have
and how splendid they treated him and myself. It is indeed a home away from
home. I hope Charlie will not forget to write a few lines to her. I was
surprised to hear Bob Bruce is in hospital. Stil , he is indeed having a bad
time of it. Remember me to him when you write. I suppose Herb and Ern wont
attempt to join up and fight for their King and Country. By Joves, those are
two beauties. I wonder does it ever enter their mind what cowards they are.
Well thank goodness people cannot say the same of your sons.
Well Mum, I will soon be out of the twenties, only a few days to go now and I
will be 30 years of age and reckon it quite time I was home and looking after
my little son and heir and I am sure he will want a little sister to play with.
I am thinking he will soon be following his old dad over here if this war lasts
Well dear Mother, what do you think of this big German Offensive? Old Fritz is
winning ground off us now wholesale but I am sure by the time this letter
reaches you, the news will be of the Allies pushing old Fritz to blazes. The
Allies will sweep old Fritz back to Germany and completely crush his military
power to nothing. This French General, Foch, will strike soon and there will be
hell to pay. Germany is absolutely starving, our fleet have blocked all means
of her getting foodstuffs from any neutral country and she has only her own
land to harvest from. What a grand time it will be when it is all over and we
get back again to dear old Aussie .You cannot imagine how the dear old place
appeals to us after being years away.
Well dear Mother, I still do the washing here for the Sargeants and it always
brings me in a few extra bob. Everything is so very dear over here. Just now,
cigarettes are five and a halfpence a packet of 10 and tobacco is nine and a
halfpence an ounce. I was very lucky in receiving a lb of Havelock tobacco from
Pauline a couple of weeks ago. It is 2/6 a two ounce tin over here. The civil
population are having a terrible hard time of it and I do not know how they
manage to live, the prices of food stuffs is awful. Thanks very much for papers
and paper cuttings. Everything like that is all news to me. Your Gazette
enclosed in the letter received the same time as your other letters so by
addressing the letter direct here and putting on 14th Battalion made no
difference this time.
So Florrie * has another daughter. By Joves, those two mean business and I
don’t think it fair, for I have no chance of keeping pace with them. I reckon I
will have to knock them out two at a time . Well now my dear Mother, I must
close my letter for this time as I will be soon running out of ink or you will
be charged extra postage so with fondest love to all and cheerio till Xmas
I remain your ever loving son, Henry . ** ‘Florence’ Henry’ sister.
As mentioned in his letter, Henry was quite comfortable in the School of
Musketry Bhurtphore Barracks and naturally in no hurry to return to active
service. This is why the following incident is so puzzling. Henry failed to
obey an order given by an N.C.O and was fined 7 days pay on 24 April, 1918. The
National Archives of Australia in Canberra which holds the World War 1 service
records of service personnel does not have any information as to exactly what
the charge was. What ever it was, Private H.J.Wright, Regimental number
151/14th Battalion AIF, was given his marching orders.
Overseas Training Battalion, Longbridge, Deverill, Near Warminister,Wiltshire,
England.12 July, 1918.
||My dear Father,
Just a few lines to say I am well and will in four days time, be going back to
France to fight this Hun. I am now in splendid health and can almost tip the
scale at 13 stone. I am just about jumping out of my skin with good training we
get and do not mind in the least having to go back. It is for you dear people
at home that I am thinking. You will worrying, but you must buck up for I may
be back again in England before this reaches you.
Well Dad, she is some war and is hanging out a long time, years longer than any
of us thought, but there is no doubt that America’s millions of men is going to
bring us a victory within a few months. America has now a million men in France
and she is sending on an average 10,000 every day and can continue this until
the war ends. The Germans are at present holding a big part of France and they
are trying their damndest to reach Paris. They will never do it. They have
advanced over ground in a few weeks which had taken the Allies nearly two years
to get, but in my opinion, this was all part of the allies plan to fall back to
gain time for the American Army to come in and also to kill off as many of the
Huns as possible. You will see a great change will take place soon. The Allies
will start an offensive and push ahead and the Lord help old Fritz for it will
be one of the biggest lickings she has had. The war will only start then the
slaughter will be terrible, but it is the only way for peace.
Well Dad, I was in hopes of having Christmas back home with you all but will
have to again postpone it. Still I guess that Hogshead beer will keep for
another year. We must not forget a goodnight then. I guess you were pleased to
have Fred, Bert and Charlie home again and don’t forget Dad, I will soon be
back, my good luck will always stick. So Dad, I want you all to cheer up, I am
going over to the big stouch with a good heart and I want you to keep the home
fires burning and don’t let anything happen to that beer.--------------your
loving son, Henry.
No 1 Command Depot, Sutton Veny, Wiltshire, England.
I have just received a letter from Mother dated 18th April and you were at that
time wanting Dad’s and Mother’s consent to join up. Well dear Brother, I
certainly admire your pluck for wanting to do your bit, but if this reaches you
before you have taken that step, I would like to point out a few of the
disadvantages of this rotten life. First of all, you will miss all those
comforts you are use to at home and this is more than you can ever dream of.
You will be allowed to draw 2 shillings per day [only] and this at the present
time is equal to 6 pence in peace time. I am drawing 1 shilling and I cannot
keep my self in smokes. You will find the tucker is much harder to take than
you are used to at home. I wish I could sit down to a good square meal like
Mother can cook but I am on Army rations and I have not any spare shillings to
buy any extra. I have to just want.
Here is our day’s menu,
1 slice of dark bread with dripping, a small quantity of a greasy looking mess
called Curry and Rice, half pint tea minus sugar.
Stew, 1 slice bread, rice pudding or sago.
1 slice of bread, jam, margarine, half pint tea.
I don’t know if you ever tasted margarine, I hope not.
Now you are bossed and bullied about by Corporals, Sgnts, Officers and
LanceJacks from morning till night and you have to do all kinds of unpleasant
duties. You cannot refuse unless you like to lose a few days pay and do a few
Now Les, Just consider yourself well off where you are and try and use your
common sense a little. Surely you must admit Mother and Dad have had enough
worry over Fred, Bert, Charlie and myself. I am going to France in a couple of
week’s time. I will represent you there and as a last wish, I want you to hang
on where you are. You can never realise the misery of it all until you have
seen some of it. Hoping dear Brother, this finds you well and that you think
Your loving Brother, Henry.
Henry finally returned to his Battalion on the 24th July.
||Somewhere in France---August 7th 1918.
My dear Mother, Father, Sisters and Brothers,
I am going into a big fight to-night and would just like write a few lines for
one never knows what may happen. I cannot tell you where we are making our
drive but you will read of it in the papers.
Well dear parents, brothers and sisters, should I go under you will know I have
done my duty and have always tried to play the game. I do indeed feel very
thankful that Charlie, Bert, and Fred are back home with you. I am going into
that great fight with a good heart and with loving thoughts of you all, my ever
fondest love to all,
I remain your ever loving son, Henry.
On the 20th August he wrote to his parents from the Western Front recording his
recent battles and his nostalgia for home, as he had not been back to Australia
for 40 months.
||My dear Mother,
Have just come out from the front line and our Division was supposed to be out
for a couple of weeks spell but everything is so indefinite we may have to go
in again in a few days time. Well dear Mother, we had not near as much fighting
as in our last advance. What do you think of the war news now old Fritzy is
getting it hot all along the front. I think it is only the beginning of a
severe hiding for him as every day the Allies are pushing him back at some part
and the prisoners we are capturing are enormous. Guns, ammunition and salvage
of all kinds we are getting every day. One of the Battalions of our Brigade
were back in the reserve line while amusing themselves in their spare time
firing back thousands of rounds of shells[whiz bangs] from captured German
guns. An artillery officer had obliged by fixing the guns on a busy part of
Fritzs lines and our men peppered him with his own medicine. You can imagine
the Huns would be wild being bombarded with their own artillery. Well dear
Mother, I was very pleased to receive your letter of 23rd June and know you are
alright but you must not worry so much about me. I will come through alright
and will admit it is a touch different to my job at Tidworth but still don’t
mind and guess it is my fate to see it through and dear Mother, I am ever so
grateful it has fallen to myself as the eldest of our four boys to carry on. It
does indeed make it easier for me to know my younger brothers are safe home. I
am applying for my furlough to Australia but of course will probably have to
wait my turn. Pauline says in her letter that she is also trying to get me home
so between us we may soon have satisfaction. I think I should just about go out
of my head at the thought of coming back to Aussie again. We are always hearing
news of the 1914 men being relieved from the line but it seems to stop at that.
Anyway, I mean to try hard for it. Well dear Mother, I am pleased to know
Charlie is going through the operation to his arm and do hope it will be a
success. I am also pleased to know Bert, Fred and Leslie are working and hope
Leslie has changed his mind about joining up and hope Dad is all right again. I
reckon Dad ought to have a spell for good, he has done his share.
Still dear Mother, I know Dad would not be satisfied with nothing to do. I
still have that snap that Fred took of Dad in the garden and like it very much.
It brings back memories of that day Charlie and I were told to weed the peas
but we went off bird nesting. When we came home for tea, we had to set to and
do the weeding anyway. Well, they were good old times and we boys had as good a
home as anyone could have wished for. I received a letter from Charlie, Les and
Fred by the same mail as yours but I will owe them a letter as we are limited
in sending letters and I want to make certain of one for you and Pauline every
week. Well dear Mother, I have made a lot of friends since coming back to the
trenches but I cannot say they are nice ones. They are grey in colour and have
legs on both sides. Some say Keating’s powder is good but I think a change in
flannels much better. People say ‘chats’ [lice] will not live on a person in
poor health. I must be in tiptop health. Well now dear Mother, I draw my letter
to a close hoping this finds you all in the best of health and fondest love to
all. I remain your loving son Henry.
He was killed thirty days later.
The following is a copy of the official report:
||No. 151 Pte Wright H.J, was killed by shell
fire whilst asleep at 4pm. 19-4-1918. and partially buried and badly wounded in
the head and died instantly. Map reference; burial place [ in the vicinity of
Ascension Wood, 3500 yards South West of Bellicourt] Sheet
62B.N.W.G.25.b.50.70. A Regimental cross was erected on the grave.
[Sgd] W.R.Wadsworth, Major, for Lt Col, T Commanding 14th Battalion, A.I.F.
It is of course, speculation that Henry’s failure to obey the order given by
the N.C.O at Bhurtphore barracks was the reason he was sent back to active duty
.Years later, the family said it was because he refused to go out in heavy snow
to buy the N.C.O. a paper but to date there is no documentary evidence to
support the claim. It is possible that had he obeyed the order he might have
been lucky enough to stay where he was until the war ended a little over seven
months later [ 11-11- 1918]
Henry’s family was notified of his death through the Reverend, Mr Madsen of
Richardson Street, Essendon.
On 3 February 1919, Henry’s wife Pauline wrote to the Australian Base Records
I have received a letter from Captain Wilson who is commanding the 14th
Battalion telling me of my husband’s death in France. No 151 Pte H.J.Wright,
14th Battalion who was killed in action 19th September 1918. Captain Wilson
informs me that the official position of his grave is------sheet-62 B.N.W.G27 a
90.10.* As I am the next of kin and wife, I would very much like to have a
photograph of his grave and also for his mother. Could you possibly send me two
photos for which I would be very grateful and if any of his relatives apply
such as cousins and aunts will they also get a photo. Also one of his cousins
is thinking of erecting a stone to his memory. Will that be allowed as I am his
wife and feel that should be left up to me. Trusting you will grant me a reply
and thanking the Defence Department for all treatment in the past as I feel
there are some too ready to find fault with those who I am sure have tried to
do the best for the dependants of the Australian Soldier
[** The first official location was of Henry’s grave was
62B.N.W.G.25.b50.70.A and in Pauline’s letter it is given as
Pauline was not sent the following response letter from Base Records but
notified of its contents.
|AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE
Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F.
130, Horseferry Road, London, S.W.1
28TH April 1919.
|Officer i/c Base Records,
Department of Defence,
|151. Pte H.J.Wright. 14th Battalion. A.I.F. Deceased.
Receipt is acknowledged of your 84626 of 6-2-19 regarding the above named
soldier. In reply, you are advised that Pte Wright is buried in an isolated
grave in the vicinity of Ascension Wood, approximately 3,500 yards S.W. of
Bellicourt, France. In due course the remains of soldiers buried in isolated
graves will be exhumed and re-interred in the nearest recognised Military
The A.I.F. Photographic Section now operating in War areas will eventually
photograph graves of all Australian Soldiers which have been located and
registered by the Graves Registration Units.
On receipt of the negatives for this grave, two prints will be forwarded to you
for transmission to the next of kin.
It is the intention of the Imperial War Graves Commission to erect permanent
headstones on all graves in France and Belgium and the policy adopted by the
Commission will not permit of the relatives erecting private memorial stones on
May Mrs Wright be advised in accordance with the text of this communication
/Lieut-Colonel-Officer i/c Records.
Between the time Pauline sent her request for photographs [3 Feb 1919] and 18
August1923, certain events were to cause heartache for Henry’s family:
18th August, 1923.
11 Spencer Street,
With reference to the photographs forwarded to you purporting to depict the
final resting place of your husband, the late No.151 Private H.J.Wright, 14th
Battalion in the Jeancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, I am in receipt of
advice from the overseas Authorities intimating that as the result of further
investigation regarding the report of burial of the late soldier, it has now
been definitely ascertained that the cross is of a memorial nature only, and
does not mark an actual grave. According to information in the possession of
the War Graves Commission, the remains of your husband were originally interred
in an isolated grave in the vicinity of Ascension Wood, approximately 2 miles
South South West of Bellicourt, and as all burials in this area were finally
concentrated into the Bellicourt British Cemetery. The presence of a cross in
the Jeancourt Communal Cemetery Extension immediately invited enquiry, and it
was only then that the regrettable fact was disclosed that no actual grave
existed and that the cross was purely of a memorial nature.
Unfortunately, the present site of your husband’s grave cannot now be
identified and as no record exists of his exhumation and removal to the
Bellicourt British Cemetery, the only possible action remaining is to provide
for the inclusion of his name and regimental particulars, etc, on one of the
collective memorials to the missing in France and Belgium. This will
accordingly be done, and despite the fact that no individual headstone will
mark his resting place, you have the assurance that his death will be
commemorated in a manner no less fitting than the memory of other of his
comrades who laid down their lives in the Great War.
Assuring you of the Department’s profound sympathy and regret at the
distressing circumstances arising,
Captain--------------------------i/c Base Records.
[PS]It is noted in this connection that Mrs M.E.Wright, the mother of the late
soldier, is also in possession of a number of copies of the above mentioned
photographs and as presumably you are in intimate touch with her, I should be
very much obliged if you would kindly arrange to make her acquainted with the
contents of this letter.
The Australian National Memorial of Villers-Bretonneux was erected to
commemorate Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium. To their dead
and especially to those whose graves are not known. There are over 10,000
1914-18 war casualties commemorated on this memorial.
Henry is just one of them.
Anzac to Amiens , C, W.Bean. Australian War Memorial Publication 1961.
Official WWI Service Records, National Archives, Canberra, ACT.
Personal Papers from author’s collection. The Red and Black Diamond. The
History of the 21st Battalion-1915-1918. N.C.Smith, 1997
Copyright © 2006 Ken Wright.
Written by Ken Wright. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Ken Wright at:
About the author:
Ken Wright lives in Melbourne Australia and served 5 years in the Australian army in an Armoured Recon Unit.
He has worked as a book sales rep and correctional officer.
He is married with two children, three dogs, and two cats.
He retired early and began writing 4 years ago and has written numerous published articles published for
military magazines in Australia, the UK and the US.
Published online: 07/09/2006.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.