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An 'Around the World Cruise' - for Fifteen Minutes in the Firing Line




The following is a snippet from ‘A DIGGER’S DIARY’ – a column in the Western Mail (Perth) – Conducted by “Non-Com” – which published brief accounts and reminisces from ex-service men:


Thur 1 Nov 1934:

Brevity of Service

Dear “Non-Com” – I left W.A. on October 9, 1917, having just turned 19 years of age the day before. Went over to Broadmeadows, Victoria, was there two weeks, embarked again and went via Panama Canal to England. Trained at Codford until the beginning of April, 1918.

Landed in France and joined the 51st Battalion on April 14. Hopped over at Villiers Brett. at 10.30 pm on April 24 and was wounded at 10.45 pm. The next day was in hospital at Rouen. Ten days later was on my way to England.

In Birmingham Hospital three weeks, Harefield Hospital four weeks, then boarded C2, and put on the Wandilla hospital ship. Travelled on her to Alexandria and transshipped to Kanowna at Suez. Arrived in W.A. August 29, 1918.

Boiled down, I went right around the world, was in the firing line for 15 minutes and was home again inside eleven months. As I was born on October 8, I have had every birthday in Australia.

So now trot ‘em out, and see if anyone can beat that. – “Fifty-Firstite”. Guildford.


The author sharing his experiences and offering up the challenge was John (Jack) Henry WEST.

Jack, as he stated above, was born on the 8th of October in 1898 in Cootamundra, NSW – the son of John and Mary Elizabeth West.

As he was under age when he enlisted in Fremantle, WA, on the 1/5/1917, he originally informed the army that his parents were deceased and that his brother, Clarence William was his next of kin. These details were then changed to show that his father was actually absent in South Africa, and his mother was living in John Street in Fremantle.

After his 2 weeks at Broadmeadows in Victoria, Jack embarked with the 11th reinforcements of the 51st Battalion, on the 30/10/1917 on the Aeneas, as Private 3995. They landed at Devonport 2 days after Christmas and were marched into Codford.


Following another 3 months of training, Jack crossed to France on April Fools Day 1918, and along with 151 other reinforcements was marched into Corbie on the 13th of April, where the 51st Battalion was then billeted. On the evening of the 20th, although safe in the cellars of their allotted houses, the new recruits were welcomed to the war zone by a heavy enemy bombardment. Jack probably also witnessed the famous dogfight and eventual downing of the Red Baron on the following day on Corbie Hill.

On the morning of the 22nd the 51st Bn moved on to Querrieu, and then on the 24th to Blangy-Tronville.


That evening they received orders for the counter-attack on positions near Villers-Bretonneux, and were moved out at 8.20 pm. The War Diary states that “the whole battalion had deployed and were in position at 10.10 pm, ….., and at 10.10 pm the battalion moved forward to attack Immediately the line commenced to advance hostile machine guns fired heavily on our left from the Bois de Aquenne.” Jack may have been a little out with his memory of the timing, but none-the-less he was obviously one of the many casualties that were sustained so early in the attack, when he received a severe wound to his left shoulder (on the 24th).

His Anzac Day was spent traveling through the 25th Field Ambulance to the 5th Casualty Clearing Station, and then on the 26th he was admitted to the 5th General Hospital in Rouen. His luck was in when he received his ‘blighty’ and embarked on the Carisbrook Castle on the 7th of May for the crossing to England. The following day he was admitted to the Kings Heath Section of the 1st Australian General Hospital in Birmingham, before being transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Harefield at the end of the month.


Finally Jack was to return home, and as he previously noted, embarked on the Wandilla on the 30th of June and then transshipped to the No. 2 Australian Hospital Ship, the Kanowna, at Suez on the 21st of July. The Kanowna sailed the following day, experiencing extremely hot weather in the Red Sea, followed by some rough seas and monsoons before their arrival at Colombo on the morning of the 6th of August. The patients were then allowed shore leave for the 2 days they were in port, and Jack, being well able to walk, would have no doubt taken the opportunity to see the sights.

Before arriving at Fremantle on the 24th of August, they experienced a few more days of rough seas, during which many patients suffered sea-sickness. Jack stepped back onto West Australian soil that morning, along with 54 other invalids (not on the 29th as he’d noted), having as he so proudly stated, traveled right around the world for his 15 minutes in the firing line.


Jack’s medals had been issued and returned to stores in 1924, the army obviously unable to trace his whereabouts. It wasn’t until April 1933 that he thought to apply for them, and luckily received both the British War Medal & Victory Medal by the end of the following month.

In 1925 Jack married Beryl Margaret Mary MARSHALL, and they had three children, Ray, Beverley and Athol John. The family lived at Guildford, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia. Jack signed up for his 2nd war on the 7/1/1942 as a Signalman – and saw 2 years of service before his discharge.

Still resident in Guildford in 1964, Jack passed away on the 3rd of January at the age of 65, and was buried in the Guildford Cemetery. Beryl joined him there in 1995.


Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011



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