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The Soldiers

Life at Hurdcott Camp was often described by soldiers in diary extracts or letters home:

Thomas Roy Bates, born 1909, 36th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF wrote on 29th November 1916:

“we landed at Plymouth and had to journey by train to Wilton, which is about a five hours’ run on a pretty fast train. Some of the trains do go at a great speed. After we arrived at Wilton, to our surprise we had to march seven miles to this camp, Hurdcott.  I was quite done in.  I was very bad with my chest and throat the last week of my voyage. The next day I was compelled to see a doctor, who at once ordered me into the hospital, where I remained a little over a fortnight. When I came back to camp I found that all the others had been to London on four days leave. I also had four days leave in that great city, which I have heard so much of. But I can’t say I like London, although it was at its worst for it snowed two days out of the four, and it is worse than being in the bush at night.  There is not a light to be seen. But I enjoyed myself very well in spite of all the snow and cold weather. Now that we have to leave on the 3rd December, I must make the best of my chance letter writing. It is no distance from here to the firing line. We could reach it in six hours by boat and trains, and I don’t mind telling you that we are all feeling fit to help to put an end to this argument they have – who will be the ruler? I guess not the Kaiser” 

Private Thomas Bates was killed in action on 20th  January 20, 1917 and is buried at the Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentiers.  Read more about his life here.

William Thomas Dunn, born 1897, served with the 54th Battalion, AIF wrote on 11th December 1916:

“When we landed at Plymouth we were given our disembarkation leave and most of us went to London. We had a good time, and I spent the most enjoyable four days in my life. We were most interested in the manner in which the continuous stream of vehicles in the narrow streets got along , and also the underground tube railways, which are marvellous.  We were then transferred to Hurdcott Camp, where we completed a rather solid course of training in most unfavorable weather – mud over the tops of our boots, and snowing rather heavily most of the time, and as cold as can be.  Salisbury Plains are made up of a lot of camps Hurdcott, Fovant, Lark Hill, Perham Downs and a few others. The city of Salisbury is a very nice town, and well laid out. We were warned to go to France last Saturday, but we have everything read to leave at a few minutes notice. We are looking forward to having our Christmas in England, but I suppose we will have to postpone it till we go to the trenches. “Fritz ” might give us a day off.”

Despite wounds and bouts of sickness, Private William Dunn survived the war and returned to Australia on 23rd June 1919.  Read more about his life here.

Nicholas Archibald Elphinstone, born 1983, enlisted with the AIF on 21st March 1916 and in late 1916, wrote from Hurdcott Camp:

“This is a short outline of a day’s work: — 6.30 a.m. — Out of bed to fold blankets and clean hut, shave and wash. 7.15. — Breakfast. 8.5. — Fall in, in drill order. 8.30. —  Battalion parade. 8.30 to 9.30. — Musketry (physical and lectures). 9.30 to 10.30. — Bayonet drill. 10.30 to 11.30. — Physical drill. 11.30 to12.30— Company drill. 12.30 p.m. to 1.45—Dinner. 2 p.m. — Battalion parade. 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.— Company drill. 3 to 4 —Physical drill. 4 to 5.— Bayonet drill. 5 to 7. — Teatime. 7 to 9. — Lectures.
This is a day’s drill for last week. This week we are on bomb work, and it keeps us going as strong as last week. So you can tell we do not get much time for letter writing, etc.  We had about 3 inches of snow here 2 days ago, and, although it was cold when it started to
snow, it soon warmed up again. We have huts to live in here, with good coal stoves in the centre of each, so you see we are comfortable in that way. I am enjoying the very best of health and have put on about 10lbs. in weight since I left Ulmarra. As it is just on “lights out” I must conclude, again thanking you for the Xmas cheer and hoping you are
enjoying the best of weather in the district. Please give my best wishes to the members of your League for a bright and prosperous New Year.”

Private Elphinstone was appointed Lance Corporal on 20th August, 1917. He was wounded in action on 26th September, 1917 with shrapnel wounds to right thigh. Private Elphinstone was invalided to England for recuperation at 2nd Southern General Hospital, Bristol and rejoined his Battalion on 28th April, 1918. He married Alice Irene Hewer on 5th June, 1919 in the Parish Church at East Preston, Sussex, England and they returned to Australia in February, 1920.  He died on 22nd June 1974, aged 81.  Read more about his life here.

Burton William Hamlyn, born 1884 , enlisted with the AIF on 24th June 1916. He wrote in late 1916:

“The land was mostly hills and dales, divided into small fields. One thing that took our eye was the quaint old villages; old two storey houses which must be hundreds of years old. We were given tea and buns at Exeter. We have good huts here, each has a stove and we can get as much coal as we can burn. We had a heavy fall of snow on the third day after landing. We can go anywhere within five miles of the camp. About every half mile is a quaint old English village, with its thatched roofs. I expect to go to France in about 10 days time.”

Private Hamlyn was killed in action on 12th May, 1917 in France.  Private E. Zimmer, wrote: ”I saw Hamlyn killed while he was on a fatigue party behind the lines, about 200 yards from the village of Noreuil. We buried him where he fell, and as a Padre
came along just as we had the grave dug, he held a service. There are three buried
in the same grave.” Private Hamlyn is commemorated at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, Somme, France.  Read more about his life here.

George Frederick Grenda was born in 1893 in Tasmania.  He enlisted with the AIF on 12th July 1916 in Melbourne.  He wrote from Hurdcott Camp in early 1917 to his father at Scottsdale:

“We had leave last week.  Three of my friends and I went together. We left camp on Monday morning at 6 o’clock; walked to Wilton (which is five miles from here and the next railway station) and caught a train at 7.20. Arrived at Waterloo station at about 10.30 from where we took a tube to St Pancras station, where we got a train at 12 o’clock for Manchester. It only stopped twice on the way (at Leicester and Derby) and we arrived at Manchester at 4 o’clock, taking 4 hours to do the 190 mile. We overstayed our leave by 12 hours, but we have not heard anything of it since.  We had a real good time, and the English people treated us well. They could not have treated us better. Our company will be going to France very shortly. They have to be all ready to go by the end of this week. I don’t think I will be going with them, as I am going to a musketry school, and am likely to be kept here for some time. It is very cold here now; wish we could get a little Australian weather.”

Lance Corporal Grenda was wounded in action on 26th September 1917 with gunshot wounds to thigh. He rejoined his Battalion on 3rd October 1917.  He was wounded in action (2nd occasion) on 25th April 1918 and was invalided to England and admitted to 3rd Southern General Hospital at Oxford 5th May 1918 with gunshot wounds to left shoulder (the bullet had been removed in France).  Cpl. Grenda was transferred to No. 3 Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford on 17th May, 1918 then transferred to No. 3 Command Depot, Hurdcott, on 20th May, 1918.  He rejoined his Unit on 13th August 1918 and after the Armistice was attached to a Salvage Party from 6th March 1919 to 14th April 1919. Lance Sergeant Grenda returned to Australia on 25th September 1919 and died on 13th September 1961, aged 67.  Read more about his life here.

Henry James House was 21 years old when he enlisted at Liverpool, NSW in the Australian Imperial Force on 28th October 1914.  He was wounded in action in France on 17th August 1916 with shrapnel wounds to face and admitted to 2nd London General Hospital, Chelsea, England on 20th August 1916 with shrapnel wounds to right eye –severe.  Corporal House was medically classified as C1 (permanently unfit for General Service; fit for Home Service) on 30th November 1916.  Writing from Hurdcott Camp dated October 27th 1917, he said:

“I am writing to let you know one at least of the Armidale boys still lives and is doing splendidly as regards health and ordinary affairs. Well, I am now on what is termed a staff job in above depot, and as I am C.I. in classification I am, no doubt, likely to remain here during the winter, and after I may have a shift somewhere else. The weather here is fairly decent when one thinks of how the weather lord treated us this month last year. So far we have had no snow in this county, but of course I must not boast, as it changes from sunshine to snow in the matter of a few hours. This is a convalescent depot and a training camp is adjoining. Numbers leave here every day for France. As regards living, it is awfully dear even for ordinary articles of food. Sugar is 6d per lb., bread 6d loaf, beef 1/8 lb., mutton 1/6 lb., and many other things are also out of the reach of the poorer classes.  It really makes one sad to see poor women waiting for hours to obtain these things and then having to pay such money. I have nothing to say against the English people in general, but one can’t help noticing the money grabbing spirit which exists in the near vicinity of camps.” 

Corporal House was promoted to Lance Company Quarter Master Sergeant and remained at Hurdcott until the Command Depot moved to Sutton Veny.  He spent time at AIF Headquarters, London on demobilisation works after the war ended and finally left England for return to Australia on 5th December 1919.  Read more about his life here.

George Lunn, a 31 year old, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 25th February 1916.  He was with the 57th Battalion, A.I.F. and wrote from Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury on December 12th 1916:

“We are now fully equipped and ready to go to France and may be leaving for there any time. I am taking the opportunity of writing, as we may not have the facilities for writing like we have here… The weather these last three weeks has been something awful – either rain, frost, or snow every day. I have not altogether given up hope of seeing the sun again, but I have not seen it for some time… We have to drill very hard here, Saturday and Sunday just the same; no knocking off at 12 noon Saturday till Monday morning; but our chaps don’t growl half as much as one would expect, and all are now talking and wondering what things are like in France, and I think fully 90 per cent, are anxious to make Fritz’s acquaintance and get it over, as they say.  We have been through all the latest bayonet drill, and yesterday were put on to throwing hand grenades, the real ‘dinkum’ article! It makes a man a bit nervous at first when he knows that the slightest mistake on his part will put him and perhaps some of his ‘cobbers’ ‘pushing up the daisies’; but you soon get over that, and grenade throwing will do me all right.”

Private George Lunn was wounded in action in France on 2nd April, 1917. He was admitted to 11th Stationary Hospital at Rouen, France with gunshot wounds to chest & buttocks on 12th April, 1917.  Private Lunn was reported as dangerously ill on 16th April, 1917. He was invalided to England on 10th July 1917 & admitted to Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, on 11th July 1917.  He wrote:

“Well, Old Fritz got me alright, and gave me a good dose of lead, too…I got two bullets through the right chest, one came out just under the shoulder blade, but the other struck my little Testament in my tunic pocket and glanced off and settled in the right lung. I got another bullet through the left thumb (top joint), another in the left shin, just below the knee, one in the back, about an inch to the left of the spine, and a little above the level of the hips, and four more around the small of the back, a total of nine bullets altogether (machine gun, by the way.) Five of the bullets came out, and the other four have been taken out. I got hit in the chest first, and started to crawl in, and I wasn’t a yard off shelter when I got the five in the back. I don’t know when I got hit in the shin or thumb. I just laid down in a shell hole that was alongside, when a bomb exploded, and I got seven more small wounds from that, one on left eyebrow, two on right forearm, two on the right, and two on the left leg, making a grand total of 21 wounds altogether. I was bandaged from head to foot.”

Private Lunn was returned to Australia from London on 16th December 1917 due to shortness of breath and inability to walk. He disembarked in Australia on 13th February 1918.  He was medically discharged from the Australian Imperial Force on 28th March 1918 and died on 13th July 1940, aged 55 years.  Read more about his life here.

Leslie John Malin, 34 years old enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 19th June 1916.  He wrote from Hurdcott Camp on 23rd November 1916:

“We have got to our business camp at last. I can’t tell you exactly where it is, but it is a connection of the Salisbury group of camps.  We arrived here on Tuesday afternoon, and all the rest of that day was taken up with the apportioning of huts, issuing of blankets, and getting tea. The next morning we were up at 6.30, and had a real gruelling at physical jerks, squad drill in the morning, and squad drill and practice with the gas helmet in the early afternoon… The gas helmets consist of a cloth bag, which goes right over the head and neck, leaving enough cloth hanging to allow the open part to be tucked inside the neck of the tunic.  Two glasses are fitted in front in a position bringing them level with the eyes, and a mouth tube also is attached at a point opposite the mouth.  The mouthpieces we take in our mouths, and at the end on the outside is a rubber valve, which allows the air to be emitted, but not to be admitted.  The whole cloth is soaked in some chemical combination, and as the gas laden air filters through the cloth covering, these chemicals so act on the gas as to destroy the poisonous effects of the gas.  This style of helmet is now no longer in active use, as an improvement has been effected, the chemicals in these new ones being contained in a cylinder which is attached to your belt, and at the bottom of this cylinder are perforations through which the air passes, and thus coming in contact with the chemicals as it passes to the nose becomes purified.  You would have laughed to see our squad covered with their old helmets and doubling about the parade ground.”

Private Malin was appointed Corporal on 24th January 1917 and wounded in action on 30th August 1918 with gunshot wounds to left leg, face, shoulder & arm.  He returned to the front but died of wounds received in action in France on 1st September  1918 at the 61st Casualty Clearing Station.  Read more about his life here.

David Andrew Morris, 19 years old, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 26th July 1916.  In a letter home, published in a newspaper dated 25th January 1917, he wrote:

“We have now been in England 8 days. It was yesterday week that we landed at Devonport, from which city we took our train for Salisbury Plain. The train journey lasted for six hours, but as the scenery was very interesting the time passed quickly. All the boys were quite charmed with the scenery between Devonport and Exeter.  The train stopped at Exeter railway station for fifteen minutes.  Here we had our evening meal, which was given by the Mayoress of Exeter.  When the train again started the sun had gone down and so we could not see much more of the country. At 10 o’clock we stopped at Wilton railway station and marched here to No. 7 Hurdcott Camp.  When we arrived at camp, each man was issued with three blankets with which we had to be content for the night.  On Friday morning it was very cold and windy. On Saturday morning about 11 o’clock the temperature was 28 degrees (-2c) and that afternoon snow began to fall. By Sunday midday, the snow was about four inches deep, so we began snow-balling each other.  All the boys who marched into camp with us on Thursday night were inoculated but there is still another to be done before we go to the trenches.  Although we have been here only a week we are to leave for France before three weeks time. In that country we will get a week in the “bull-ring” and then go into the firing line.  The reason of this early departure is that our brigade has been badly cut about.  Some of our lads are going off with a draft in the morning.”

Private Morris was wounded in action (shell shock) in France on 12th May, 1917. He rejoined his Battalion on 18th May 1917.  He was appointed Lance Corporal on 18th October 1918 and Corporal on 18th November 1918.  Private Morris returned to Australia from England on 24th July 1919 arriving in Melbourne on 27th September 1919.  He was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force on 11th November 1919 and died 22nd May 1988, aged 90.  Read more about his life here.

William James Slade aged 18 years, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 14th January 1916.  He had served 4 years with Senior Cadets and then transferred to 78 Imperial Citizen Forces and was still serving at the start of war.  In a letter home, published in a newspaper dated 4th July 1917 he wrote:

“I am likely to be here for a while yet, as I am on the instructional staff, and although every effort is being made to give us a turn in France I shall be one of the last to go, because of my age (I am the youngest sergeant in this battalion). We have a system of training here which I think might interest you. Training is carried out under battalion arrangements, and D Company completes the issue of clothing and equipment, and sees that the men are inspected, dentally and medically. Then we give them a little elementary training and if they have already had some training in Australia it does not take much time, although the sea voyage seems to have a bad effect on any training they might have received. Their training in D Company consists mainly of drill, physical training, and elementary training, and my speciality is the firstnamed, and I think it is one of the most important branches of training, as it lays the foundation for any more advanced work that the recruit does. We often find it advisable to condense into two or three weeks what takes four weeks in the Imperial Army. When the men have done their fourth week they are transferred to C Company, and there do their fifth, sixth, and seventh week, which consist of more drill, physical training, bayonet fighting, musketry, and start their bombing and entrenching, and learn a little of anti-gas precautions.  In their eighth and ninth weeks (B Company) tests are gone through, and on the completion of them they are ready to proceed to the front as ‘partly trained men.’  In A Company the training is completed, and field and trench operations, are carried out, the whole taking nominally fourteen weeks.”

Private Slade was promoted to Corporal with 32nd Battalion on 24th January 1917 and left Hurdcott, proceeding overseas for France on 20th August 1917.  He was wounded in action on 30th September 1917 and admitted to Edmonton Militay Hospital, England on 6th October 1917 with gunshot wounds to left shoulder (mild).  Corporal Slade re-joined his Battalion in the field on 28th February 1918 and returned to Australia, arriving on 6th July 1919.  William Slade died on 24th December 1981, aged 83.  Read more about his life here.

George Ernest Vincent Woodberry was 25 years old when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 3rd April 1916.  Writing home to a friend in early 1917, he wrote:

“We landed on 11th November 1916 at Plymouth, and went to Bovington Camp, Wool, for a few days to get over the sea trip.  We then shifted to Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury, on 17th November, and there we have been doing a course of bayonet flighting and bomb throwing.  After arriving at this camp we had snow and sleet for three days, which did not agree with us. My mates and I are in good health… We all came [to London] on furlough today. We have four day’s leave, and next Saturday we are leaving for France.  When we got out at Waterloo Station we marched to the A.I.F. headquarters and there we were dismissed to go on with our leave. Along the route we marched we were cheered by big crowds of people. I like London, and have seen some wonderful sights.  We have to be in camp at Hurdcott on Thursday night at 12 o’clock, and on Friday pack up to leave for France on Saturday, our Battalion left last Wednesday.  I have met a lot of the boys I know; they all look well.  The food is good and clean, sometimes a bit scarce. I am in good health and looking well and feel fit for the trenches.”

It is not clear if Private Woodberry ever went to France, he left England, returning to  Australia on 21st July 1917 suffering from Tuberculosis and was medically discharged from the Australian Imperial Force as permanently unfit on 23rd October 1917.  He married Violet Annie Wood in 1920 in Victoria but died 16th February 1922 aged 31.  Read more about his life here.

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