Monday, 16 February 2015

Jack Caird writes homes

15 Private Jack Caird, 29th Infantry Battalion

When he enlisted on 16 July 1915, Jack Caird was an 18 year old brass moulder apprenticed to Walton and Scott.

Although he had been a pupil at Coburg State School, he is not featured in the State School’s Soldiers Book, which is part of the Coburg Historical Society’s collection. At the time of enlistment he lived in Sydney Road, Coburg with his widowed mother Elizabeth and his 10 year old brother George, but at some stage he had also lived at Fawkner. 
We know from letters published in the local newspaper that he had been a member of the 1st Brunswick (King’s Own) Troop of the Boy Scouts. We know, too, that he had been the secretary of the Fawkner Football Club and we also know from the Holy Trinity Honour Roll that he was a member of that congregation.
On 10 November 1915, Jack left for the war on board the Ascanius. Other Coburg men to leave with him were Percival Kerrison Smith, Thomas Joseph Lynch, Frederick John Sherlock, William Charles Thomson, Alfred Williams (all in A Company), George Barrie and Frederick Fletcher (in B Company) and John Arthur Mether (in D Company).
Something of Jack Caird’s experience of the war can be seen in the letters he wrote to his former Scoutmaster, Albert Ambrey (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 June 1916, 19 January 1917).
When the 29th Battalion arrived in Egypt, Jack sent back his impressions. This letter was written on Good Friday:
‘You asked me what I thought of Egypt. Well, I can tell you in one word and that is ROTTEN. We have seen nothing but sand and in fact we average about a bushel of sand a week in our food, and as far as Cairo is concerned, it ought to be burnt down with the exception of a few buildings – it is filthy and the smell is awful.’

Image courtesy AWM. Image  P00702.011 AWM  Cairo, Egypt. 6 January 1915. Australian soldiers in a dust storm. (Donor B. J. & V. Cardiff)

Image courtesy AWM. Image H02732.  Australian infantry marching during a dust storm, which is known in Egypt as a 'Khamseen'.

When he heard that William Symonds had been awarded the Victoria Cross Jack wrote:

‘I am glad to know Will. Symonds has won the VC and I hope you will be able to say that one of your old boys got it also, as I intend to do my best to get the Cross.’ (He did not succeed, of course, but he did survive the war.)

 Image courtesy AWM. Image P02939.002. Studio portrait of Sergeant (Sgt) William John Symons, 7th Battalion. Later promoted to Lieutenant (Lt), he was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) "for most conspicuous bravery on the night of 8th - 9th August, 1915, at Lone Pine Trenches, in the Gallipoli Peninsula". Lt Symons repelled several enemy attacks, withdrawing to a spot with some overhead cover and built a sand barricade. The enemy set fire to the woodwork of the overhead cover, which Lt Symons extinguished and rebuilt the barricade. "His coolness and determination finally compelled the enemy to discontinue the attacks". During the Second World War, Symons served as a Lieutenant Colonel with the British Home Guard set up to assist in repelling Hitler's expected invasion. He died in London on 24 June 1948.

When his friend Percy Smith was killed at Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916, Jack gave evidence at the inquiry into his death. He had been wounded that day and wrote home about it:
 ‘Oh yes, I got wounded alright and a nasty one at that, but still I was not sorry, for if hell is any worse, well, I am going to be a Christian.’

In the same letter, dated November 1916, he wrote:
‘I see by today’s paper that Conscription has been defeated. Well, it is good news for the boys over here.’ 
Jack was not alone in his opinion. Many men at the front were opposed to conscription.

Image courtesy AWM. Image RC00336. Black and white anti conscription leaflet. "AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY. Anti-Conscription Campaign Committee. 'VOTE NO MUM they'll take DAD next."

 Although Jack was wounded at Fromelles, he survived the war, married and raised his family, firstly at 2 Sheffield Street, Coburg and later at 10 Laurel Street, Coburg. He died in 1956 aged 59.

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