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Our Darling Boy - Frank Yorath


frev

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blog-0883180001402371472.jpgAlthough born and breed in the small Victorian country town of Rheola, Frank was living in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran when war broke out. Employed as a carrier and coach painter, in his leisure time he honed his skills with the Prahran Rifle Club and served as a Sergeant in the 78th Infantry.

Eager to be a part of it all, Frank was amongst the first to front up at the Prahran Drill Hall on the 17th August to sign up with the 5th Infantry Battalion. Two days later the men from Prahran set out for Victoria Barracks, where they joined the rest of the battalion before following the band to the newly established Broadmeadows Camp.

 

Their initial training over, they marched out of camp on the 21st October 1914 and embarked at Port Melbourne on the A3 Orvieto. Having rendezvoused with the growing fleet at Albany, the Orvieto as flagship of the First Convoy, then lead the troopships out of King George’s Sound (following their escort) on the 1st of November, en-route to war.

 

The Convoy arrived safely at Colombo, thanks to the Sydney (one of their escort) disabling the German raider Emden, and here the Sydney transhipped the Emden survivors to the Orvieto and the Omrah, which they then offloaded at Suez. Travelling on to Alexandria, the 5th battalion disembarked on the 4th of December and proceeded to Mena Camp where they carried on their training under the shadow of the pyramids.

 

Frank spent the first half of March 1915 in the Isolation camp at Abbassia with German measles, but 3 weeks later was fit enough to board the Novian with his battalion and sail to Lemnos. During the weeks spent in Mudros Harbour ‘landing’ practice took place, until at last Frank and his mates were able to put their new skills into practice on the morning of Sunday the 25th of April 1915. After all the build-up, Frank’s involvement in the initial fighting was to be short-lived, but perhaps thanks to the ‘accident’ described in the following letter, he did however survive that first day.

 

[Letter begun on Sunday 2/5/1915]:

“Well, dear parents, much has taken place since I last wrote. I am safe and sound, as you can see. I was put out of action last Sunday by a bayonet wound in the arm, but am getting alright again. I presume you have read the full account of our landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula. It was a great experience, and we were successful. It was a very uneven go - rifle fire against artillery, machine guns, and rifle fire. Three hours after our troops had landed, the enemy were driven back 3 miles. We were ordered to reinforce the firing line at about 10 a.m. I was put out of action somewhere near 12 o'clock. A chap who had his bayonet fixed stumbled over some scrub, and the bayonet caught me in the elbow. I stayed in the thick of it for two hours afterwards, but as I could not use my rifle I had to retire. I have often wondered how I escaped alive, much less getting back without a scratch. Shrapnel was falling right along to the beach, and bullets were whizzing past me like a long, continuous swarm of bees. The worst is over now, and we are not likely to strike such a hot fire again. I can tell you that I will never forget my baptism of fire if I live to be 100 years old.

 

You would laugh if you saw me sitting on this hatch with a blanket for a writing table. I have had a headache ever since last Sunday, and do not feel in much of a humor for writing, so you will excuse me if this letter is muddled. It was awful to see some of the poor chaps. Some described it as a "hell on earth." I may state that it was not an easy task the Australians were given. I never told you where we mysteriously disappeared to after leaving Cairo. Well, we embarked on the [censored (Novian)], and concentrated in a little harbour on the Island of Lemnos. It is a Grecian island. It was bonza and green, with the larks singing, wild flowers and fields of corn, and reminded me of home. We landed several times, and had a couple of interesting marches. It was the nearest we had been to Australia since we left.

 

We left the Island of Lemnos on the 24th of April, and when we woke up next morning at 2.30 a.m. we found ourselves in the midst of the battleships. We had breakfast at 2.45 a.m., and then had to await orders. We watched our navy bombarding the coast where howitzers were supposed to be. Just about dawn our first party landed. Where we landed there was scrub between two and four feet high and wild thyme, which has a very sweet smell. Bullets and shrapnel were flying around very thickly, but we were "cracking" jokes all the time. We soon knew shrapnel was no joke, though, and I was calmer than if I was firing for the "King's." We were taken off in four rowing boats, pulled by a pinnace, which could not go right in, and only had to row about 50 yards. We landed in water up to our waists, and had only gone about 100 yards along the beach when a shrapnel whizzed over our heads and burst where we had a couple of minutes ago landed. That was at 9.30 a.m. We then climbed up the first ridge, where we got orders to reinforce the firing line. When we got to the top of the next ridge the bullets were flying thick and fast, and a machine gun was also "barking." As soon as we mounted the ridge we laid down and got to work, going forward in short, sharp rushes. It was in one of these that I received my wound.

 

I was taken aboard the [censored], which is being used as a hospital boat. We left the Gulf of Saros on Tuesday, 27th April, and arrived at Alexandria on the Thursday following. The worst cases were taken off there, and the remainder taken to Malta, which is about a four days' trip from Alexandria. My arm was stiff for a few days, but is as right as it can be now. I would like to [be] back for the fall of Constantinople, and do not think much resistance could be offered with our navy knocking at the door from the Dardanelles. I saw all the battleships in action. The Queen Elizabeth is a beauty. Her 15in guns are capable of throwing shells 27 miles, which, I am told, cost about £1000 each. Fancy her "barking" at Constantinople. This will be old news to you, I suppose, but we must thank God we are able to tell these things. Perhaps I may never see such fire again all through the campaign. The Australians have made a name for themselves which will live long in history. The old South African men declare that they never saw anything like Sunday's fire in any part of the Boer War.

 

I will now give you a few particulars of what I saw while in Malta, which, in my opinion, is a grand little place. The Maltese and English people here are very kind, and give our men who are wounded plenty of cigarettes, cakes and etc, and are made a real fuss of. One is often stopped and asked to give an account of the fighting he has seen, and after a few minutes' conversation is surrounded by a great crowd of people, who are not at all easy to get away from. I went to a picture theatre (free for wounded soldiers), and it was real good. The streets are lovely and clean, and so different to Cairo. It is very funny to see them selling milk here. They drive a herd of goats from door to door, and milk a pint, or whatever quantity you want, while you wait. Malta is well fortified, and I do not think much harm could be done to it. We left Malta on Thursday and arrived at the Island of Lemnos on Saturday night - a two and a half days' trip."

 

While out of action, Frank had been spared the decimation of his battalion at Helles, and rejoined the remnants of the Fifth as they returned to Anzac on the 16th/17th of May. A month later he had a short stay in hospital with influenza and diarrhoea, which was quickly followed by a bout of gastro, then, in July he was promoted to Lance Corporal. Having survived Lone Pine and the monotony of trench life Frank and his mates left Anzac once more on the 9th of September, for a well-earned rest at Lemnos. Within days he found himself in hospital with a fever and was still laid up when his battalion returned to Anzac on the 24th of October. Frank was finally discharged from hospital on the 26th of November and was still in camp on Lemnos when his battalion returned a few weeks later – the evacuation from Gallipoli having begun.

 

Returning to Alexandria on the 10/1/1916, the Fifth endured another 2½ months of training in the desert sands before embarking for France on the 25th of March. However, for some reason not noted in his records, Frank did not sail with them. He instead remained at the Overseas Base at Tel-el-Kebir and didn’t embark to join the B.E.F. until the 9/5/1916. On arrival in France he joined the 1st Div Base Depot at Etaples and was made EDP Corporal the following day. He remained at the Depot until finally re-joining his battalion on the 30th July at Bonneville, where they’d been sent to rest after the first Battle of Pozieres.

 

After a couple of weeks the Fifth returned to the Pozieres trenches, and only 2 days in, Frank was amongst the many casualties as the line was persistently cut-up by shellfire. With a shell wound to his thigh received on the 17th of August, he was admitted to the 13th General Hospital in Boulogne on the 19th and then transferred to England and the 3rd Northern General Hospital in Sheffield on the 21st. A week after he was discharged from hospital, he was granted furlo, from the 11/10/16 to the 30/10/16. Frank was then marched into No. 1 Command Depot at Perham Downs, where he remained until 28/4/1917, at which time he was transferred to the 67th Bn at Windmill Hill Camp.

The 13th of May saw him on command at the Lewis Gun Course at Tidworth, followed by a Musketry Course at Hayling Island from the 4th of June, before being returned to Perham Downs on the 31/8/1917, for a tour of duty on the Instructional Staff of the Overseas Training Brigade. Over the following months he was transferred around the camps, until finally on the 1st of February 1918 he boarded the Balmoral Castle for return to Australia. Frank had developed a cough in the October of 1916, which had eventually been diagnosed as TB, and he was going home for a ‘change’.

 

Arriving back in Victoria on the 23rd of March, he was sent to the Military Sanatorium at Macleod. In early May while visiting his family in Rheola, he was given a huge welcome home party and presented with an inscribed gold medal to commemorate his service. Frank was engaged to a local girl, and at some stage after he’d been invalided to England, she apparently also made the trip, probably to be with him, but perhaps also to volunteer her services; and in July, Frank applied for her free passage back to Australia. By September it was noted that his condition, which was considered curable, was improving, but even so he wouldn’t be fit enough for further military service, and towards the end of October he was finally discharged from the AIF.

 

The war over, and Frank’s health continued to improve. As a keen marksman, he attended a rifle competition in Melbourne in April 1919, only to return home with the dreaded influenza virus. He was admitted to the Inglewood Hospital but unfortunately wasn’t strong enough to withstand the attack, and died of pneumonia on Sunday the 20th of April, aged 26. Frank was given a military style funeral at the Rheola Cemetery, with many of his ‘returned’ mates in attendance as coffin bearers and the firing party.

 

His broken-hearted parents inserted the following verse in the local paper:

A gallant Anzac. Our darling boy.

Sleep on, dear one, and take thy rest,

Thy earthly task is o’er,

For you have left a troubled world,

To reach a peaceful shore.

Followed by a tribute from his fiancé Jean:

God be with you till we meet again.

His warfare over, his battles fought,

His victory won, though dearly bought,

His fresh young life could not be saved,

He’s resting now in a hero’s grave.

 

Endnotes: 1. Born Francis Leonard YORATH on the 24/2/1893 at Rheola, Frank was the youngest son of Howell William YORATH & Annie JONES.

2. His fiancé Jean Mildred INNES married Albert Victor EADES in 1924 – Albert had originally enlisted in the 5th Bn with Frank at Prahran on the 17/8/1914. 3. Frank is listed on the Inglewood & District War Memorial & on the Rheola Honour Board which hangs in the Rheola Community Hall.

 

Heather (Frev) Ford, 2011

Yorath, Frank - Rheola Cem - Copy.JPG

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