Rod Gilbert’s search for his great-uncle’s war experience has finally put a name to one of the soldier faces in my grandmother’s mystery World War 1 photo.
‘Finding Private Gilbert’ is Rod’s search for Leslie Raymond Talbot Gilbert, an English lad of 17 years who answered Australia’s call to arms.
According to Les Gilbert’s war service record at Australia’s National Archives he was born in Bedfordshire in England and working as a wool-classer here in Australia when he got the notion to join the war effort.His father William Henry Gilbert was working away over in the west, and Les was supporting his mum Amy and her little family.
Three months shy of his 18th birthday Les was one of the first wave of men to join the 3rd Reinforcements to the 14th Battalion AIF, and his great-nephew is on a mission to document the soldier’s war story.
“I have started writing a book about Leslie R.T. Gilbert, his cousins and his brother-in-law who also enlisted and didn’t make it home,” Rod Gilbert said.
“I have a lot of information about Leslie’s youth, cadets and selling newspaper at Flinders street station, but I am hoping to hear from people with information about the 3rd reinforcements and the 14th Battalion.”
Les’s younger brother was Rod’s grandfather, and only 10 years of age when Les sailed from Melbourne.
‘Finding Private Gilbert’ has kept Rod busy combing through Les’s service records, which has yielded nearly 80 documents including letters from Les’ mother and about his death in a London hospital.
“Les was 17 years and 9 months when he enlisted and died a month before his 19th birthday”, said Rod.
“He was wounded in the attempt to take Hill 60, and died in London from his wounds”.
Les Gilbert’s army papers say he took a gunshot wound to the chest, on the 21st August 1915 and exactly 10 months from the day he enlisted.
Les had sailed from Melbourne in February aboard HMAT Runic along with the rest of the 3rd Reinforcements, and joined the 14th Battalion at Egypt where the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th battalions formed the All-Australian 4th Brigade., led by Colonel John Monash.
“Although not privileged to sail with the first convoy of Australian troops, it (the 14th) aspired to rank as an equal beside its three senior Infantry Brigades in all that the fortune of war might bring.” (Sir J.Monash in Wanliss 1929, p.14)
Les survived the hell that was the Gallipoli landing but received a gunshot wound four months later while engaged in trench warfare in the Dardanelles. Three weeks later he was transported to King George’s Hospital in Stanford Street, London.
Les’ mother Amy Gilbert receive the obligatory army telegraphs informing her son was severely wounded. Four days after telling her that Les was now ‘progressing favorably’ he died suddenly, at 2.20 am on the 20th January 1916. The ward sister was good enough to write to Amy to let her know the circumstances of Les’ death and to say his last words were ‘Mum’, which he repeated three times.
It was the scant information about Les’ experiences in war that has his great-nephew Rod Gilbert on the search for more information about the 3rd reinforcements to the 14th Battalion, A.I.F.
Rod came across my blog with individual photos of each soldier and after consulting with family was able to confirm that Les Gilbert is the soldier I have denoted 2G (second row from the front, 7th soldier from the left).
Research so far suggests that the photo is of the 3rd reinforcements after they landed in Egypt and before they were incorporated into the 4th Brigade and the British re-alignment of company’s formations.
According to the nominal role there was 153 men originally assigned to the 3rd Reinforcements but there is only 98 men in the photo.
It is known that some men like Lieutenant Norman Strack sailed from Australia but for medical or disciplinary reasons were returned home. And according to the 14th battalion’s unit diary each battalion’s company had to provide duty soldiers on certain days whilst the rest of men either remained on duty or were allowed leave. So the missing soldiers might have been on duty, ill, or homeward bound.
My grandmother Jean Williams (nee Booley) had two brothers in the 14th Battalion, but only one in the 3rd reinforcements. I am confident I can spot brother James Booley of the 3rd in this photo but not Stanley, who had enlisted directly in the 14th. So I suspect the photo is the 3rd Reinforcements only, not the 14th battalion.
Rod Gilbert discovered Private Leslie Raymond Talbot Gilbert’s headstone in Nunhead’s cemetery, London. Les’ war service records show he was originally buried at 1.30 pm on the 24th January 1916 but later exhumed and re-interred in Grave 6 of the Australian Section of the cemetery.
Rod would like to hear from anyone who can add to Leslie Gilbert’s story and can be contacted at rodsbooks (insert @ sign, remove brackets)optusnet (dot)com (dot).au