A postcard written by Private James Booley in August 1915 from the Dardanelles was sent to reassure his sister back home that he was okay, but instead it ended up being this Gallipoli soldier’s final farewell.
The quaint little ‘Deakin English Canned Fruits’ postcard contains no details of battle because James’ little sister Jean was just seven years old.
Addressed to ‘Miss Jean Booley’ of Nyang, via Ouyen in Victoria the 13 mm x 8 mm postcard was dated the 8th August, and had inched its way through Australia’s army mail system and finally stamped for release nearly four weeks later.
By the time the postcard made it home to Jean her family was already in distress, for word had come that James (Jim to his family and friends)had gone missing in action, on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Despite pleading letters from Jim’s parents, Walter Scott and Mary Ann Booley seeking information about their missing son, it took an official A.I.F Inquiry on the 28th April the following year at Serapaum to determine Jim had been killed in a military action, on the 8th of August 1915.
It might have been a particularly poignant moment when Jim’s card arrived while the family endured an agonising wait to know Jim’s fate.
Gallipoli, Aug 8th
‘Just a card to say that we are ok.’
‘Hope you are keeping alright,’
‘love from Jim’.
The two little girls depicted on Jim’s postcard might have reminded him of his little sisters back home, for he was the eldest of 12 children with Jean and her little sister Lyn being the youngest.
Jim’s card is worn thin by my grandmother Jean’s handling it, and it is one of several postcards sent home from Gallipoli and France during WW1 from her brothers Jim, Stan and Cecil and friend named Bert.
In 1987 when I asked Nanna Jean about her brother Jim she burst into tears. She was the widow Jean Williams of Apollo Bay then, and the mother of eight children of her own and a tribe of grandchildren, but the loss of her eldest brother was as fresh for her at 80 years of age as it was when she was 8 years-old.
Nanna Jean’s grief was compounded by guilt that she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to Jim.
With all the talk and anxiety preceding Australia’s war involvement, and with the men going away to ‘join up’ families were jittery about what was to come.
It was in this environment that Jim came home to say goodbye before he sailed for Egypt in February 1915. My grandmother said when she heard the clomp of Jim’s boots on the veranda she was frighted and hid under the bed. From her safe place she could make out a figure in a great coat and slouch hat, with leggings and great boots. No amount of coaxing would convince Jean this was her brother Jim.
Jim had sailed from Melbourne in the 3rd reinforcements to the 14th battalion A.I.F on the 19th February 1915 aboard HMAT Runic. After arriving in Alexandria in Egypt around the 3rd of April Jim was immediately taken on strength of the 14th Battalion, which left Alexandria on the 11th April bound to the Turkish -controlled Dardanelles.
The 14th battalion along with the 13th, 15th and 16th formed Australia’s 4th Brigade at Egypt under the commanded of Sir Colonel John Monash. At Egypt the 4th Brigade was assigned to the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC), one of two Australian divisions who along with two British and two French divisions formed the British Allied ‘Mediterranean Expedition Force’ (M.E.F), the Allied force of the Dardenelles campaign.
To gain control of the Dardenelles it was imperative the M.E.F secure the “Narrows’, the Turkish Dardanelles Straits that linked the Mediterranean Sea with the Sea of Marmora.
Control of the Straits would give access to the Turkish capital Constantinople and much of the Turkish Empire’s industrial powerhouse as well as provide a lane to the Black Sea. “As might be expected given the huge tactical and strategic value placed upon the Straits, they were however heavily defended, chiefly by natural geography. To the north they were protected by the Gallipoli Peninsula; to the south by the shore of Ottoman Asia. In addition, fortresses were well positioned on cliff-tops overlooking shipping lanes.” . Failed naval attempts in February and March 1915 to take control of the straits, made it clear that ground support was required and so a month’s pause in operations was undertaken pending preparations for Allied landings at Helles and Anzac Cove.
“Some 18,000 French colonial troops were despatched to the region on 10 March – prior to the attempt on The Narrows – and on 12 March Lord Kitchener appointed Ian Hamilton (a former protégé) as regional Commander-in-Chief responsible henceforth for the success of the expedition, accompanied by a force of 75,000 comprised largely of untested Australian and New Zealand troops.”
The April 25 landings “were largely mismanaged’ but two beachheads were established: at Helles on Gallipoli’s southernmost tip and another at Gaba Tepe, futher up the coast and which was later renamed Anzac Cove to honour the ANZAC corps who ‘bore the brunt’ of operations there (source).
On the 25th of April 1915 Jim’s unit sailed from Lemnos island for Gaba Tepe in a landing Corporal Orpwood (14th battalion) later described in a letter home:
“On Sunday, 25th April, after each man had been issued with 200 rounds S.A.A, and two “iron” rations, we weighed anchor and proceed on our way to the scene of our operations. As we steamed we could hear the boom of the guns from the warships, which had an advance of 24 hours on us. As we came nearer the shore the roar of the guns was broken by the crack, crack, crack of rifles and machine guns. It was now that one realised the important and difficult task before us, and every man was anxious to get ashore and stand shoulder to shoulder with his comrades, who had landed at daylight on the day of our arrival. The next morning saw the whole of the 4th Brigade landed, and whilst landing we were under continuous shell and rifle fire. ”
“From 27th April (the day we took to the trenches) till our relief on 31st May, many heavy engagements took place. The Turks attacked two or three times in massed formation, but the fire from our rifles and machine guns forced them back. Their losses were terrible: dead and wounded lie like a battalion of men between the two lines of trenches. It meant death to anyone who may have ventured over the trenches to collect the wounded. Many times our trenches have been shelled, and a particularly large shell has been christened ‘Black Maria’. It gives of an immense cloud of black smoke, and is visible to the naked eye speeding through the air. Officers and men have displayed great bravery, and many heroic acts have been performed by a fallen hero.”
(Corporal George Witham Orpwood of Nagambie, Vic. #763 14th Battalion in Nagambie Times 6 Aug.1915, TROVE, NLA).
“Having established two beachheads at great cost Hamilton determined to extend the Allied position in the south, with attacks directed towards Krithia. Unduly optimistic in its aims three successive operations were launched upon Krithia by Hunter-Weston in April, May and June 1915: all were thrown back by the increasingly effective Turkish defence force.”
During this time British First Sea Lord Admiral Fisher’s resigned dramatically on the 15 May 1915 over Churchill’s handling of the Gallipoli campaign, which led to Churchill’s own resignation.
Sir Ian Hamilton, the M.E.F commander-in-chief realized ‘neither the northern nor the southern forces were strong enough to fight their way to the Narrows’ and ‘cabled on May 10, asking for two fresh divisions in order to prevent the attack degenerating into trench warfare’. He further warned on May 17th that if the M.E.F was left to face the Turkish army on its own resources, two additional army corps must be sent, especially as several extra Turkish divisions had arrived at the Dardenelles.
The newly formed Dardanelles Committee in London met on 7th of June and agreed to send Hamilton an additional three divisions, but the Turkish were also reinforcing their defences, and all the while Australian soldiers were fighting for their lives in trenches and gullies, while politicians and war councils played politics. By the end of July alone,3 months from the time of the landings some 4,000 Australian soldiers had been killed alongside French, British and India casualties and thousands more were wounded, but that didn’t stop plans for one last push by the Allies to capture the Dardanelles, with a planned attack in August as the promised divisions arrived.
Back in Australia soldier’s letters home and news reports were studied anxiously for information of loved ones.
One soldiers letter home to his father, published in the Ouyen Mail and Central Mallee Advertiser on the 28th July (1915) mentioned Mallee men like Arch Glen, Jim Stewart and Ted Williamson (who later married one of Jim’s sister). .. “I also heard of the Booleys. They are all well and safe.”
Private William Southgate told his uncle at Nyang “I have been at the front now. Jim and Les Booley are in the same battalion as me. I have also met Ted Williamson and Billy James….”. (Les was one of the younger Booleys’ and hadn’t gone to war, so it must have been Stan that Southgate referred to.)
The August plan to finally secure the Dardanelles meant the ANZAC force needed to capture three significant high points on the Gallipoli peninsula – Hill 971, Chunuk Bair and Baby 700 ( Kevin Fewster in ‘Frontline Gallipoli’, Allen & Unwin 1983) and it was near Hill 971 that Jim Booley lost his life.
Three months of continual Allied hammering at Cape Helles had failed to produce any worthwhile gains Fewster wrote, so it was decided to launch ‘one more offensive’, this time at Anzac Cove and with the date set for August 6th.
With 25,000 fresh reinforcements to hand the British launched a feint from Cape Helles at 2.30pm on August 6th. A second feint was made at 5.30 am by Australians against the strong Turkish trenches on Lone Pine. But the real attack commenced after dark in a three-pronged operation: Turkish outposts were to be cleared around the foothills of Chunuk Bair by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, while the ANZAC brigade advanced up the rugged Rhododendron Ridge to attack Chunuk Bair. And on the left, the 4th Australian Brigade, led by Brig –General John Monash was to advance through inhospitable terrain, to attack Hill 971.
With the 4th Brigade went its 14th Battalion and reinforcements including Jim Booley. The 14th Battalion’s official war diary (pps.64 – 70) Australia’s War Memorial website shows orders were given (7th Aug) that the 4th Brigade was to make an attack on Abdul Rahman Bair spurthe following day and the 14th Battalion was to ordered to ‘fall out’ at 3.am in readiness..
On the 8th August the 14th Battalion moved out in single file in rear-guard of the 15th battalion, and crossed and then deployed into lines of platoons in a field on a ridge north of Kaiajik Dere.
Major Dare took command of the battalion after Major R Rankine ‘feinted’ , the 14th’s diary states, and an advance was then made ‘under heavy rifle and machine gun fire’ and casualties were heavy.
“After the 15th Battalion on our immediate front had practically withered away, the 14th continued to advance suffering heavily and the Turks were met in great force on our front and left. As we drove them back they counter attacked on our left flank several times. The Bn. thus got very split up and it is impossible to say exactly what happened.”
The order went round for the soldiers to dig in and consolidate the position they had gained, which also prolonged the line held by the 29th Indian Brigade to the left. The rear and left of the battalion were protected by a Sikh machine gun detachment. “Here the enemy’s shrapnel opened on our shallow fire pits and considerable damage was done. No reply whatever was made by our artillery and our men continued to suffer from shrapnel.”
Then the Order was received that the entire Brigade was to retire, collecting all ‘gettable’ arms and equipment and wounded me. The 14th battalion retired by platoons back down the Kaiajik Dere and by 10p.m the 14th battalion had retired to Australia Gully but Jim Booley was not among them.
36 men were killed this day according to the 14th’s war diary, including 3 officers: Lieut H.Harris, Lieut J.H. Mathews and 2nd Lieut. T.W.Hill.
A further 93 men were wounded including Captain H.N.Boyle, 2nd-Lieut. K. Curlewis and 2nd-Lieut. L.J.Moorehouse whilst 128 were missing (including Lieut R. Warren and 2nd-Lieut L.H.Luscombe).
Private O’Brien of Colac wrote home to his mother on the 20th August describing conditions over the three day battle:
“It is now four months since we landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula and four months of hard times and hard fighting. .. Our Battalion, the 14th, and also the other Battalions of the 4th brigade have been in some severe fighting and also in three charges. They cost a lot of men, but costs the Turks a great many more. Our artillery and war boats bombarded their trenches on each occasion, and played havoc with the Turks, inflicting heavy losses on them. You can’t imagine what it is like about with 50 or 60 big guns and the war boats firing at the same time. It is deafening with the shells screaming through the air… I tell you what we have gone through this last three weeks has been no joke.”(Colac Herald (Vic: 1875-1918),18 Oct.1915,p7, TROVE ibid.
Bean in his diary (Fewster 1983,p.147) wrote he believed Monash didn’t get to Abdel Rahman ridge because he waited too long till his left (flank) was in touch with the British.
“The valley was very narrow: troops had to file singly in parts: progress was slow: day came rapidly on. There were difficulties ahead – some risk of losing touch and being quite in air. Shrapnel was pouring on them going up valley – men deadly tired, and so Monash did not push on but dug in on the ridge nearer this than (Hill) 971…”
According to Jim Booley’s war service records held at Australian National Archives he was in the 10th platoon of C Company, 14th Battalion when he went missing in a charge on hill 971 on the 8th of August 1915, which Private Harold Bowen, described in a letter home:
“We have given the Turks the biggest shock they have had since our landing. We left our rest in a gully, every man on the alert and anxious to again get to close quarter with the enemy. The march out was silent, each man strictly observant, whilst our searchlights played on the neighbouring hills. The swish of bullets round us helped to increase the excitement. We evidently took the Turks by surprise as we were able to gain our required positions with little loss to us. We had proceeded to dig ourselves in and had to do so before daybreak. On Saturday we lay in our small trenches digging as best we could with bullets whistling overhead. It was here we lost our gallant O.C who was shot by a sniper. At two in the morning we got orders to prepare the advance, to carry out more important work. By advancing on to Hill 971 at 3.30a.m we got the order to prepare to charge, and off we started. We were met with a hail of bullets before the machine guns, catching us on the flank and inflicting severe damage, officers and men falling side by side. But on we went, right up to where the Turks were….we hung on till orders were given to retire…” (Colac Herald, ibid).
At the 1916 Serapaum inquiry into Jim’s death, Private W. J. Taylor said he and Jim had charged together for Hill 971 on Sunday the 8th of August, but parted ways when the word came to retire. The country they operated in was ‘very scrubby and hill’ which another witness said was ‘Australia’s Gully, towards Suvla Bay’.
Taylor said he heard Jim had been hit, and searched for him in the dressing stations without success. The battalion chaplain also searched Jim, who Private Bond saw making for Hill 971 at 3.am as day was breaking. Though he saw Jim go into attack they were pushed back and Jim did not turn up afterwards.
Private Gunn said he knew Jim, and that he was with Lt Warren in a charge at Suvla bay on Aug 8th, where Jim was shot and died immediately. Gunn and his mates ‘talked about it on the way back to the trenches’. Arthur Clive Buckler said the day after Jim’s death he was told by Fred Janes ‘of my own Company and a cousin of J. Booley’ that he had taken his cousin’s disc and pass book off his dead body. ‘Fred Janes was afterwards frightfully wounded and I think died, but cannot say for certain.’
On the 4th February 1916 the Donald Times wrote “No further information concerning the fate of Private Jim Booley, who enlisted at Donald, can be ascertained. He is not among the prisoners at Constantinople. The last local soldier to see Private Booley was Private A.E.Allen.”
After the Serapaum inquiry the Ouyen Mail wrote (14th June 1916) “Definite news is at last to hand regarding Pte. T.P. Farrell. Along with Leo. Leach, Hughie Grace, and Jim Booley he fell in that great charge of August 8 last. It was just such a charge where every man knew what was likely to happen, but there was no faltering, no waiting to guess what would be the result. They were all heroes…”
Jim Booley might have guessed what fate lay in wait, and perhaps was sleepless when he picked up his pen sometime between midnight and 3am on August 8th 1915 to pen a few words on a postcard to his little sister.
After his death Jim’s cousin Fred Janes took Jim’s dogtags from his fallen body, but as he was also killed Jim’s remains were never formally identified, and he remains one of those ‘unknown soldiers’ in eternal slumber on the former battlefields of Gallipoli.
As Jean Williams (nee Booley)’s century –old, worn postcard bears testimony, soldier brothers may have been lost to the field of war but they were never forgotten.