IN HONOUR OF PATRICK McGUINNESS
51st BATTALION AIF
CENTENARY ARTICLE – ANZAC DAY 2018
By Peter Terpkos
Patrick McGuinness was born on the 26th of April 1878 in the town of Euroa in regional Victoria. His parents were Irish immigrants Ellen McGuinness (nee Twomey) and Hugh McGuinness Snr, Hugh being a prominent member of the Euroa community. Patrick was the second youngest of 12 children and lived at ‘Birchell Cottage’, the family home located at 29 Templeton Street, Euroa.
Patrick attended Euroa State School No 1706 and was educated under the instruction of teacher Mr Murray. He left Euroa to attend boarding school at the South Melbourne College (S.M.C.) where he received his Secondary education. The South Melbourne College buildings were located at the time at 225 Banks Street, across the road from the South Melbourne Town Hall. They were demolished in 1905 to make way for the future South Melbourne Police Station built later in 1928, which stands on the site today.
The South Melbourne College was a very well-known private school and regarded as the most notable in Victoria. It enjoyed a ‘stand out’ record for academic achievement like no other and assumed a leading positon on matters of equal opportunity. It was reputed to be a place where both girls and boys could compete for studious excellence on equal terms. Mr John Bernard O’Hara was the Headmaster at the time and is described as being an excellent, inspirational teacher and schoolmaster. John O’Hara was also a well-regarded poet and published his most popular work “Songs of the South” in 1891, during the time of Patrick’s attendance. Under such tutelage, Patrick completed his matriculation examinations in November 1894, which was successfully announced in The Argus newspaper (Victoria), on 3rd January 1895.
Amid 1895, Melbourne and greater Victoria were still suffering the effect of the 1893 banking disaster, and the economy remained in a state of deep depression. The Victorian gold rush was a distant memory and a great number of people simply packed their belongings and left Victoria for a better life elsewhere. Indeed, Victoria lost more people through emigration during the period 1891-1906 than it had gained in the preceding 30 years during 1860-1890. With the sharp decline in population also came a contraction in demand for community services and in just five short years, 347 Victorian state schools closed its doors. As a young man who was aspiring to become a school teacher at the time, the prospect of remaining in Victoria was not favourable for Patrick. Then on the 3rd December 1896, Patrick’s father passed away in hometown Euroa, the end of a major chapter in the McGuinness family history.
Western Australia on the other hand, was experiencing an economic boom like never before. Significant gold finds at Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie in the early 1890s attracted the recently unemployed workers from Eastern States in their thousands. The population of Western Australia exploded from 47,000 in 1890, to 179,708 in 1900, to over 300,000 by 1910. Over the same period, Perth went from being a quiet town of 16,700 residents to become a prospering city of 92,138. Besides the mine workers themselves, a sharp influx of middle class families arrived to fill new administrative roles in Perth. With it was created a sudden and significant demand for school teachers. To compound teacher shortages, changes to qualification prerequisites for school teachers were also introduced. Assessments made against the new benchmarks found that out of 409 teachers employed within Western Australian government schools in 1897, 94 were deemed to be unqualified.
In answer to the critical demand for school teachers in Western Australia and the allure of better prospects, Patrick migrated to Perth and arrived in Fremantle in mid-late May 1897. A minor incident concerning his arrival was reported in The West Australian on 26th May 1897, page 2, under Fremantle Police Court Hearings 25th May 1897. The article reads:
“PREFERRED A SLEEPING CAR – Edward Back and Patrick McGuinness, charged with being unlawfully on the premises of the Railway Department, gave as an excuse that they did not care to walk about a mile to their camp from the railway station. They arrived from Perth by the late train, and preferred to spend the night in a sleeping car at the station yard. Their slumbers were, however, disturbed, and their sleeping apartments changed by the agency of a police constable. A fine of £1 was imposed in each case.”
On a light note, one of Patrick’s former colleagues recalls a story about Patrick’s arrival in Fremantle as published in The Southern Districts Advocate (WA) on 10th February 1919, page 3. The article extract reads:
“… Pat and a chum on similar mission bent, duly arrived at Fremantle, and early in their peregrinations about the port they noticed a railway truck, or wagon, forming portion of a rake about to be despatched to the Great Southern, and on the side of which was marked in big chalk letters – WAGIN.
“Bedad, Pat!” said the chum, “it’s about time we came over here to teach these duffers something. Look at the way they spell wagon.”
The town of Wagin happens to be a significantly sized agricultural centre, located in central part of South-Western Australia.
On the 5th June 1897, Patrick was appointed Assistant Teacher at Perth Boys School, located at James Street in Northbridge, Perth. The old school building is a significant landmark today and current home of the Perth Cultural Centre. Patrick was extraordinarily active in amongst the school community and it seems that during this time, his opportunities were boundless. He is noted as participating in the first ever game for the Education Department Cricket Club held on 27th November 1897 in Highgate. Over the years, he took part in many interschool sporting events from acting as a field supervisor, to sitting on judging panels to being a competitive participant when this was required of teachers. He was also a member of the Teacher’s Literary Society and presented papers on two of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poems titled “Oenone” and “Titonus” at the James Street School on the 18th November 1898.
On the 4th April 1899, Patrick attended the first ever Annual Conference of the State School Teachers Association, being one of the 19 delegates present at the meeting. Patrick was in a unique position of bringing youthfulness to the delegation. Over the next few years, he would grow further in the role of representing young teachers. During May 1900, he was again listed as one of the 20 delegates to attend the 2nd Annual Conference of the State School Teachers Association. He was also present at the very first meeting of Assistant Teachers held on 18th February 1901, where it was agreed that the Western Australian Assistant Teachers Union would be formed.
Sometime shortly after in early-mid 1901, Patrick returned to Melbourne, Victoria and played one game for the St Kilda Football Club against Essendon on Saturday 22nd June 1901. The match was held at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, being Essendon’s home ground at the time. The ground had a very distinctive feature whereby it sloped downhill towards the nearby railway line. The Round 9 game was a loss for St Kilda, with the final score being 19.22 (136) for Essendon and 4.5 (29) for St Kilda. Overall, 1901 was not a good year for the fledgling St Kilda Football Club who finished the season in last place on the ladder. Patrick was known as “Paddy” at the club albeit he promptly returned to Perth Western Australia, after his one and only match with them.
After his brief hiatus, Patrick returned to his post as Assistant Teacher at the Perth Boys School. His work on the committee of the Assistant Teachers Union resumed and Patrick became the Honoured Secretary in the following year of 1902. He was subsequently appointed President of the WA Assistant Teachers Union for the year 1903. His involvement on the committee of the State School Teachers Union also continued where he again sat on the board of delegates for the 4th, 5th and 6th Annual Conferences during 1902, 1903 and 1904 respectively.
After serving for 6 years at Perth Boys School, he started a new position as Assistant Teacher at Cottesloe Primary School, located on the corner of Venn and Keane Streets, Cottesloe. He remained at this school for two years before he took on the role of Assistant Teacher at Midland Junction Primary School in early-mid 1905 where he spent the rest of that year. Patrick then worked at Highgate Primary School as an Assistant Teacher in 1906 before returning once more to Perth Boys School in 1907.
In 1908 at age 30, Patrick sought to progress his career by becoming a Head Teacher at one of Western Australia’s “Bush Schools”. By this time, the population expanded into Western Australia such that numerous small settlements existed in regional areas everywhere. The Education Department of WA serviced these areas by setting up small, one-room schools at each location. These were known as the “Bush Schools”. Patrick left Perth in 1908 and assumed the position of Head Teacher at Lucknow School which was located on property at 1112 Bendering Road East, Kondinin WA. He worked there for three years until taking a position as relieving Head Teacher at Port Hedland School for a short period of time, very early in 1911.
By mid-1911, Patrick became Head Teacher at Kurrawang School, located midway between Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. Kurrawang was a newly gazetted “woodline” town where principally, its inhabitants were tree cutters and railway employees, all working to support mining operations in Kalgoorlie. Whilst some timber produced was used to support mine shafts, the majority was burnt as fuel to power steam-driven equipment for mining and the making of potable water. Daily life at Kurrawang was notoriously difficult and particularly so for women and children living in the town at the time.
With the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Kurrawang saw a decline in population as workers enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and their families left town. The Kurrawang school population went from a consistent number of over 20+ students in 1912, to less than 10 by 1916. Despite the hardships of the town, Patrick was at the forefront of school social arrangements, acted as town spokesman on certain occasions and was overall, a much loved personality and avid contributor to the spirit of the small community. On 15th July 1915, Patrick presided over “an enthusiastic meeting” to garner support for donations to be made to the West Australian Day Fund, an initiative purposely set up by the Western Australian Government to provide community support for sick and wounded soldiers.
After five and a half years serving as Head Teacher at Kurrawang School, on the 4th January 1917, Patrick enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and went into Blackboy Hill Training Camp in the foothills of Perth, Western Australia. Patrick was aged 38 years old and nine months at the time. He was sorely missed by his former students, including Ada G. Arnell who mentions Patrick alongside her relatives when she wrote to the Editor of The Western Mail on 17th May 1917, letter published in “Our Letter Bag” on 15th June 1917, Page 37;
“… My two uncles are still in France, and another one going into camp this month. He is married and has a wife and two little children. Our schoolmaster (Mr McGuinness) has gone to the war. …”
On the 12th February 1917, Patrick was given the rank of Private and was assigned to the 16th Battalion 25th Reinforcements. His Service Number was 7508 and he was posted into the No 22 Training Depot on the 12th June 1917. On the 1st August 1917, Patrick was promoted to the rank of Corporal and reassigned to the 11th Battalion 27th Reinforcements on 26th September 1917. The moto of the 11th Battalion was “Deeds Not Words”. At this time also, Patrick’s service number was changed to 7932. Shortly after, the 11th Battalion 27th Reinforcements were relocated to Broadmeadows Training Camp in Victoria, where they underwent final medical examinations there on 9th October 1917.
On the 30th October 1917, Patrick embarked with the 11th Battalion 27th Reinforcements from Port Melbourne aboard the HMAT A60 “Aeneas”. At the time, Patrick’s rank changed to “V.O.” (Voyage Only) Corporal. The “Aeneas” was a former A Class passenger ship built in 1910, weighing 10,049 tonnes and on lease by the Australian Commonwealth from its owners, Ocean Steam Ship Co Ltd (Blue Funnel Line).
On the 27th December 1917, Patrick arrived at Devonport in the United Kingdom and disembarked. At this time his rank reverted back to Private and they marched into Sutton Veny Camp. Sutton Veny was a major training camp and the last preparatory area before being sent the Western Front. At Sutton Veny, he was put into the 2nd Infantry Training Battalion along with the rest of his unit as a temporary allocation while stationed at the camp. From the end of February 1918 through to the end of March 1918, Patrick’s health varied somewhat as he struggled with bronchitis. He received treatment at Sutton Veny Hospital where he stayed on two occasions over that month.
On the 1st April 1918, Patrick departed from Dover and the United Kingdom, arriving later that day in Calais, France. There he was temporarily stationed at the 4th MBBD (Base Depot) Camp. At this time, the A.I.F. Command saw it necessary to reassign Patrick and his unit to become reinforcements to the 51st Battalion in the field, instead of the 11th Battalion as originally intended.
On the 4th April 1918, Patrick left Calais and arrived at the 51st Battalion Head Quarters in the field on Saturday 6th April 1918. Here Patrick was accepted into the battalion (taken on strength) and assigned to one of the four platoons of “A” Company, each platoon consisting of 40 or so men. The motto of the 51st Battalion is Latin, “Ducit Amor Patriae” or otherwise translated to mean, “Love of Country Leads Me”. The 51st Battalion was at the time occupying a support line at Buire-Dernancourt. The Australians in the area were in defensive positions and had shown great resilience in holding out against a major German attack over the previous two days.
By the 7th April, the German attack was called off and the Battalion marched its way to Corbie, reaching it during the night of Wednesday, 10th April 1918. Here, located on the Somme River over the next few days, the 51st Battalion received much needed rest. The men were bathed and re-equipped with new clothes and equipment. Whilst based at Corbie, men of the 51st Battalion were sent out in daily working parties from 14th April 1918 onwards to construct trench defences between Ancre and the Somme, a distance of approximately 6.5km. The Allies were expecting another major assault from the Germans at any time. Meanwhile, the men enjoyed some respite while at Corbie either training, working or enjoying local hospitality in all its forms.
On the 21st April 1918 at 10.15am, the infamous Red Baron (Manfred von Richtofen) flew along the Somme River whilst in a dogfight and crashed just north of Corbie. After flying through a hail of bullets fired by Australian troops on the ground, von Richtofen’s plane landed just 400m away from the post of Lieutenant Wood, who was in command of the 51st Battalion’s No 2 Platoon from “A” Company. Lieutenant Wood immediately sent out men from his platoon to guard the wreckage until it was relieved by troops from Brigade HQ.
On the 22nd April 1918, the 51st Battalion left Corbie and marched out to Querrieu, a small village located North of the Somme River along the Albert-Amiens Road and some 12km behind the front lines. At 11.30pm on 23rd April 1918, an intelligence report was received stating that a large scale enemy attack was imminent and expected to take place in the early hours of the following morning. Then at 3.15am on the 24th April 1918, the Germans laid down a heavy artillery bombardment in vicinity of the 51st Battalion with such increasing intensity that by 4.15am it became a chorus of continuously bursting cannon shells, holding out relentlessly for several hours. At 5.50am, the 51st Battalion was put on notice that all men needed to be ready to move out at a moment’s notice. By 7.45am, it was observed rather curiously, that no enemy assault troops followed behind the bombardment.
The 51st Battalion Commanders found out soon enough though, that the situation was dire indeed. With the assistance of a gas bombardment and tanks, the Germans had instead focussed their attack on Villers-Bretonneux to the South and successfully expelled the British troops garrisoned there. The very first ever tank-versus-tank battle also took place during this attack. The Germans now controlled the higher ground at Villers-Bretonneux and overlooked the downhill terrain to the west, all the way to Amiens, which put the Allies at a strategic disadvantage.
At 11am the 51st Battalion received an order from Brigade Command to dump their new packs and blankets and march out to an area located 1.4km South East of Blagny-Tronville, located almost 13 km away on the West side of Villers-Bretonneux. The men moved out at 12pm, arrived and bivouacked at 4pm. At 7.30pm, the 51st Battalion HQ received orders to prepare to take part in an immanent counter-attack on Villers-Bretonneux later that night.
The counterattack was to be a three pronged affair, with all troops emanating from West of the town site. The first part of the attack was for British troops earlier that evening to clear out and hold the wooded area, just west of town. The second move was for the Australian 15th Brigade to work its way around the fields to the north of town and the third being for the Australian 13th Brigade to come around fields to the South in similar manner. The intention was for the 13th and 15th Brigades to meet up on the east side of town, encircle it and cut it off from the main German force. The 51st Battalion was part of the 13th Brigade, and so being part of the attack on the Southern side of Villers-Bretonneux. Unbeknown to the Australians of the 51st Battalion, British troops failed in their attempt to clear out the woods earlier that evening and the Germans still held it in force.
The sun had set at around 7.50pm and a brief shower of rain fell at 8pm. The near half-moon, was covered over by clouds. Last equipment checks were carried out and at 8.30pm, the men started on their long, silent march toward the jump-off line marked out by tape laid over the ground. By 9.53pm they arrived at the tape where “C” Company arranged itself on the left, closest toward the wooded area with “A” Company on the right. “B” Company came up behind in support and “D” Company was held back in reserve.
The men were very simply instructed to ignore the woods on the left, head straight for Monument Wood on the other side of town and be there by 11pm. The assault was launched at 10.10pm and very soon after, machine gun fire coming from the woods to the left made it obvious that they were not in fact cleared at all. The Germans had no less than five machine gun nests set up in the tree line, one for every 100m for a distance of 500m. The Australians of the 51st Battalion were caught out in the open and not only taking enfilade machine gun fire from the left but also machine gun fire from positions at the front. Flares were continuously set off by the Germans to assist with visibility for the machine gunners, while enemy shells burst sporadically all around them. The line of advance laid out before them was swept continuously by multiple lines of luminous tracer rounds. Progress was impossible.
German machine gunners in the woods had simply waited until the Australians were well and truly in the open and then poured machine gun fire upon them from less than 150m away. On the far left, “C” Company bore the brunt of machine gun fire first, with Lieutenant Sadlier’s platoon of 42 men reduced to just 3 within the first 50m of advance. On the withering of “C” Company so quickly, “A” Company managed to progress only a little further along the line of advance before it too was hit in full force. “A” Company was decimated in an instant and this is when it is likely that Patrick McGuinness received a bullet wound in his left hip.
The 51st Battalion were sitting ducks until in that moment, Lieutenant Sadlier and Sergeant Stokes from “C” Company led a mad rush to the machine gun nests in the woods almost singlehandedly. All five were cleared out and Lieutenant Sadlier received a Victoria Cross for his actions, while Sergeant Stokes received a Distinguished Conduct Medal. A well-known oil painting by Will Longstaff depicts their attack on the machine gun nests in the tree line at Villers-Bretonneux. The effect of these guns were so devastating that the 51st Battalion managed only to reach half-way to its objective before being relieved out of line. Of the 230 ordinary ranks from “A” Company who advanced from the jump off point the night before, only 48 remained present to answer roll call the following morning.
In the early hours of 25th April 1918, ANZAC Day, Patrick was collected by stretcher bearers who administered initial patching and first aid care before taking him behind the lines to the 25th Field Ambulance Post for an assessment of his condition. The 26th April 1918, Patrick’s 40th birthday, was spent in transit taking him from the 25th Field Ambulance Post to the 55th Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.) where he was then immediately put on a train for urgent evacuation to the 47th General Hospital in the coastal town of Le Treport.
Patrick arrived at the 47th General Hospital on 27th April 1918 where hospital records confirm that he was suffering from a serious flesh wound and badly fractured pelvic bones. Despite receiving frequent attention from the Consulting Surgeon on duty, Patrick’s condition did not improve and he passed away from acute septicaemia on the 6th May 1918. Patrick was interned at Mont Huon Military Cemetery located at 2 Rue Albert Edward Dixon, Le Treport, France. His grave reference is Plot 6 Row H Grave 11B.
“LEST WE FORGET”
This article was prepared by the Author based on private research notes held by the relatives of Patrick McGuinness. The Author can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured image: Canberra War Memorial, J Scammell. Map: Peter Terpkos.