25 Apr 2019
April 25, 2019

Our First ANZAC

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Biography of A World War I Soldier – Private William David Maher

William David Maher, my first cousin three times removed, was the first of our family to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force following Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. He signed up exactly one month after enlistment opened for Australian volunteers, on 10 September 1914 at Bendigo, Victoria.[1] So early in the rush to enlist was he that his service number was just no. 68. At 5’ 5 1/2” tall he somehow made the height requirement, bolstered perhaps by his chest measurement of 34”. He was recorded as having a fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. It was noted that he had a distinguishing scar on his left elbow.[2]

Like so many of the Bendigo men he was an underground miner, more specifically a carpenter shoring up the drives. He completed a three year apprenticeship in carpentry as a lad with his father who was a carpentry contractor. At the time of enlistment he was 28 years of age and living in what had been his now deceased parents’ home at 14 Old High Street, Golden Square with his wife Gertrude Elizabeth Mary Maher and their two daughters Gertrude Eileen (5) and Annie Florence (1) Maher. Also living with them was his unwed sister Emmaline Maher and her two year old son Ernest Jack Maher. William’s branch of the extended Maher family had turned their back on their Irish Catholic origins, and was now followers of the Church of England.

On 1 December 1914 William David Maher was assigned to the 8th Light Horse Regiment as a Private and commenced training at the Broadmeadows Army Camp, Victoria. Just before he was due to leave Australia he was granted leave to spend a brief moment with his family. He left his wife with his seed to grow inside her and the unknown of when he would return. The 8th Light Horse Regiment sailed from Melbourne on 24 February 1914. William David Maher was amongst them on the HMAT Star of Victoria A16. They arrived in Egypt on 14 March 1915 destined for the attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

The Light Horse Brigade was considered unsuitable for the initial ANZAC attack at Gallipoli.[3] However, after a 2 month stint in Egypt, the 8th Light Horse Regiment was sent to the Gallipoli Peninsula without their horses. They embarked on the HMT Menominee from Abres, Egypt on 16 May 1915 and landed later that month.  They were attached to the New Zealand and Australian Division. At dawn on 7 August 1915, under orders to attack the Turkish trenches on the Nek, the first wave of light horsemen were shot down by Turkish rifle and machine-gun fire as they went over the top. The second wave climbed over the dead and wounded from the first wave and was also shot down. It was a disastrous attack due in part to an error in the timing of the assault that cost the 8th Light Horse Regiment 234 casualties, 154 which were fatal.[4]

If William David Maher was part of this attack on the Nek then he was one of the lucky to survive. However, he did not fare too well to life in the trenches. He contracted dysentery and was admitted to the hospital ship Guildford Castle 6 days after the assault on 13 August. Two days later he was transferred to SS Andania and steamed back to Malta arriving on 21 August. In Malta he was admitted to the military hospital at Floriano the next day. [5]

Gallipoli – plateaus & ridges

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_for_Baby_700#/media/File:Anzac_plateaus_and_ridges.png

After suffering through the critical stages of dysentery, William was sent to a convalescent hospital at the coastal village of Ghajn Tuffieha, known as the Riviera of Malta, on 8 October. Malta came to be known as “The Nurse of the Mediterranean” for its involvement in WWI.[6] Sunshine and fresh air prepared him for his transfer to the ANZAC Army Base at Mudros, on the Greek island of Lemnos, 2 weeks later on 22 October. It was whilst he was here that his daughter Joyce Maher was born back in Bendigo on 29 October. He was classed as “By” and transferred to the No. 3 A H X Base on 14 November.[7]

Faced with the prospect of returning to his regiment, reliving the horrors of war and perhaps never seeing his newborn daughter, William, perhaps absent-mindedly, was injured in an accident with boiling water. His feet were scalded and he was admitted to the No. 3 Australian General Hospital on 18 December. At the same time the 8th Light Horse Regiment were leaving Gallipoli and heading for Egypt. On 22 December William was admitted to HS Caledonia then transferred to HS Soudan, heading for Malta with a disability. When he arrived he was admitted to the military hospital Rousna on Boxing Day.

In March 1916 the 3rd Light Horse Brigade became part of the ANZAC Mounted Division and was assigned to defend the Suez Canal from a Turkish drive across the Sinai Desert. William David Maher returned to duty on 27 March 2016 with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, Reserve Regiment in Heliopolis, Egypt (a major city north of Cairo).  On 6 August 1916 he rejoined the 8th Light Horse Regiment at Moascar, Egypt.

Australian Light Horse camp, Moascar, Egypt, ca 1916; held by the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The Turks were stopped at Romani and the 8th Light Horse participated in the advance following their retreat back across the desert. They reached the Palestine frontier by December then were involved in the fighting to secure the Turkish outpost of Maghdaba. It was captured at bayonet point on 23 December. In their advance, the 3rd Light Horse reached the next Turkish stronghold at Gaza in March 1917. William Maher was incapacitated with teeth caries on the 17 March at Beersheba just before the two abortive battles to capture Gaza on 27 March and 19 April.

A year later with the Egypt Expeditionary Force in Gaza, William was suffering from haemorrhoids, probably from sitting too long in the saddle. Irritated by this condition he failed to comply with command to fall in on parade and used obscene language. He was deprived of 14 days pay on 21 April 2018 for this offence. Two days later he was admitted to hospital for a week because of the haemorrhoids.[8] After rejoining his regiment on 20 July 2018 it was not too long before he was afflicted with illness again. The 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance transported him to hospital at Kantara, headquarters of the No. 3 section, Canal Defences with malaria. His condition worsened and developed pneumonia where he was transferred to 27th General Hospital, Abbrassia in Cairo on 29 September. He remained here until the end of the war. On 22 December 1918 he embarked at Suez on the H T Leicestershire for Australia, still suffering from pneumonia.[9]

William returned to his wife and three daughters in Bendigo. On the 1919 Australian Electoral Roll his occupation is noted as pensioner.[10] By the 1921 Electoral Roll he is working as a labourer.[11] By 1924 his marriage had broken down and he was living in Melbourne working as an ironworker.[12] He changed his name to William David Walker and was re-married in 1926. He went on to have more children with his new wife and lived a quiet life. He went to the ANZAC marches in Melbourne and regularly visited Bendigo for family reunions.[13]

Bibliography

‘Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903 – 1954’, Australian Electoral Commission, Ancestry, Accessed 24 March 2018.

Australian War Memorial, ‘8th Australian Light Horse Regiment’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51042/, Accessed 24 March 2018.

Australian War Memorial, ‘Charge at the Nek’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E133, Accessed 24 March 2018.

‘Australia, WWI Service Records, 1914 – 1920’, Ancestry, Accessed 22 March 2018.

BBC News, ‘Malta: the Nurse of the Mediterranean’,

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-29650147/malta-the-nurse-of-the-mediterranean, Accessed 24 March 2018.

Unknown, Australian Light Horse Camp, Moascar, Egypt, circa 1916, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Wikipedia, ‘Battle for Baby 700’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_for_Baby_700#/media/File:Anzac_plateaus_and_ridges.png, Accessed 24 March 2018.

[1] Ancestry, Military service record for William David Maher, ‘Australia, WWI Service Records, 1914 – 1920’, Accessed 22 March 2018.

[2] Ancestry, Military service record for William David Maher, Australia

[3] Australian War Memorial, ‘8th Australian Light Horse Regiment’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51042/, Accessed 24 March 2018.

[4] Australian War Memorial, ‘Charge at the Nek’, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E133, Accessed 24 March 2018.

[5]  Ancestry, Military service record for William David Maher.

[6] BBC News, ‘Malta: the Nurse of the Mediterranean’,

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-29650147/malta-the-nurse-of-the-mediterranean, Accessed 24 March 2018.

[7] Ancestry, Military service record for William David Maher.

[8]  Ancestry, Military service record for William David Maher.

[9]   Ancestry, Military service record for William David Maher.

[10] Ancestry, Electoral Roll record for William David Maher, ‘Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903 – 1954’, Australian Electoral Commission, Accessed 24 March 2018.

[11] Ancestry, Electoral Roll record for William David Maher.

[12] Ancestry, Electoral Roll record for William David Maher.

[13] Lyndal Simmonds to Margaret Hockey, telephone conversation, 23 March 2018.

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