Remembering the Past Australia

Soldier's Letters: Written by Signaller/Sergeant W. H. Pethard, 7th Battalion, between 1914 and 1917 (6 Letters)

First published in the Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.) Thursday 28 January 1915.

The following notes are from a letter received from Private W. H. Pethard on active service in Cairo, Egypt:—

“This morning (29th December, 1914), the 2nd Infantry Brigade went out on a bivouac. They will return about midday to-morrow. All the signallers are going through a 10 days’ instructional course, leaving camp each morning about 8 o’clock, and returning at 3 p.m. On the 27th December we had church parade, and directly afterwards a tedious route march through the desert for about six or seven miles. The day was exceedingly warm, and we all felt tired by the afternoon.

“I have not received any letters from you since we left Broadmeadows. I do not know who is to blame, but it certainly is disgraceful that we do not receive our letters. But we are living in hopes of receiving a large mail of delayed letters soon.

“Our camp is situated on the out-skirts of the Sahara desert, quite different to the wind of Broadmeadows. The Spinx and Pyramids are in the vicinity of our camp. I have already paid them several visits. The climbing of the Pyramids is very good exercise before breakfast. They are really marvellous pieces of work. The Great Pyramid is 451 ft. high, covers 13 acres of ground, and has a base of 753 ft. square. I saw an Arab descend this pyramid, and ascend the second one in 7 1/2 minutes for 20 piastres. The Spinx is now very ugly and disfigured, but in the olden days was supposed to be very beautiful.

“I have also visited the Sultan Hassien’s mosque, which is one of the largest and most famous in Cairo. It contains the largest and highest dome (250 ft. high) in Cairo. I sat in the Sultan’s ‘good luck chair’. The Rifianza Mosque [Al-Rifa’i Mosque? (Royal Mosque in English). -ed.] is beautiful; the tombs of the late royalties are beyond description of my pen, some of them costing thousands of pounds. The ‘citadel’ is also one of Cairo’s noted beauty spots. You can obtain a splendid view of Cairo from the Mosque. The paths in the gardens are topcoated with colored (sic) pebbles forming nice designs.

“To-day I had a walk through a native village, and I have been wondering how it will stand when compared with the slums of London. I did not go through the dwellings, the outside being enough for me. As far as I could see, camels, donkeys, and human beings all live together. There are no sanitary arrangements. The natives squat down when and where they like, which does not help to induce tourists to visit these places. So no wonder they vaccinated and inoculated us, for the place swarms with disease.

“On Christmas Day they provided us with extra provisions, viz., breakfast, bread, butter and eggs; dinner, tough meat and watery pudding, which ran away when the cloth was removed, and stewed peaches; tea, bread and tea. Needless to say, my mate and I went into Cairo and had a real good feed, which cost us 12 piastres. I am getting quite stout on these ‘feeds’. Tram fares are cheap.

“I am in the best of health, and having a real good time. I am often with you all in spirit, and wonder how all my old friends are. Kindly remember me to them all.”

Cairo, Egypt. C. 1915.

Cairo, Egypt. c. 1915. A Cairo street scene with horse drawn carriages in the foreground. 

Australian War Memorial HO3077

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First published in the Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.) Tuesday 29 June 1915.

Mrs. G. A. Pethard has received the following letters from her son Signaller W. H. Pethard, dated 10th May, and written from Cairo:—

“Just a line to let you know I am still getting on nicely. I went under the X-Rays last Saturday. The bullet was located near the lower jaw. At about 6 o’clock they operated on me and extracted the bullet from the inside of my mouth. I think they have made a first class job of it. The wound just below the temple is healing up nicely, and will leave a very small scar.

I am sending home a knife, which is not much use to me; certainly every ounce of weight when one is moving about soon appears to develop into a lb. It has gone through the first day of our attack at the Dardanelles, it is now over nine months since I joined the forces, and have seen active service at last, and will probably have plenty in the future.

The Turks are cowards, and are driven on by their German officers, but the Australian boys shrink at nothing. Bloodshed is bound to be enormous. Our boys fight without any officers if it so happens and willingly, and with a firm resolve not to give in until our purpose is accomplished, and the enemy is defeated and crushed. Many of our lads will be maimed for life, and many will lose their lives, but we do not murmur, for we are fighting, we believe, for a righteous cause, and are willing to pay the price whatever it be.

I will give you a list of what I carried when leaving the boat:—

Clothes, what I stand in,
full equipment,
one extra hat,
flannel and pair of socks,
200 rounds of ammunition,
2 1/2 lb. of beef,
two small tins of groceries,
20 dozen biscuits,
one bottle of water,
one canvas water bag,
three tins of jam,
one tin of milk,
mess tin and cover,
knife, spoon, fork,
housewife [sewing kit],
razor outfit,
tooth brush and powder,
towel and soap,
waterproof sheet,
nine small books,
seven spools of film,
two pocket knives,
one field dressing,
brush for rifle,
telescope stand,
semaphore flags,
and large morse flag,
in all nearly 100 lbs.”

Writing on 24th May Signaller Pethard said:—

“I am still here. Had rather an exciting few minutes when I visited the 4th Light Horse to say good-bye to a few Bendigo boys before they left for the Dardanelles. They been informed definitely of my death on the battlefield, so you can just imagine the looks of astonishment which greeted me when I went up to them. Why! they, could hardly believe their own eyes. There I was in the best of health, and these lads believing me to have been killed in action. The news was given to them on such good authority that several had written to Bendigo confirming my death. Well, thank God, it is not true, for I am still as good as ever, and hope to be back in the firing line soon.”

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First published in The Herald (Melbourne), Saturday 3 July 1915.

Hailed by his comrades as one risen from the dead — for it was reported that he had lost his life on the battlefield — Signaller W. H. Pethard, in a letter dated May 24, tells his Bendigo friends of the incident.

“I had rather an exciting few minutes,” he says, “when I visited the 4th Light Horse to say good-bye to a few Bendigo boys. They had been informed definitely of my death on the battlefield, so you can just imagine the looks of astonishment that greeted me when I went up to them. Why, they could hardly believe their own eyes. The news was given to them on such good authority that several had written to Bendigo announcing my death.”

In an earlier letter Signaller Pethard says,

“The Turks are great cowards, and are driven on by their German officers, but the Australians shrink at nothing. Bloodshed is bound to be enormous. Our boys fight with out any officers If it so happens, and willingly and with a firm resolve not to give in until our purpose is accomplished and the enemy is defeated and crushed. Many of our lads will be maimed for life, and many will lose their lives, but we do not murmur as we are fighting, we believe, for a righteous cause, and are willing to pay the price, whatever it be.”

Signaller Pethard was hit on the jaw, and after being under the X-rays, he was operated on and the bullet removed from the inside of the mouth. He also received a shrapnel wound below the temple, which, he says, is healing.

Men of the 7th Battalion Behind Mud Ramparts at Cape Helles, Prior to the 2nd Brigade Attack Under General M’Cay.

Australian War Memorial JO5583

Men Of The 7th Battalion Behind Mud Ramparts At Cape Helles, Prior To The 2nd Brigade Attack Under General M’cay.
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First published in the Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.), Saturday 7 August 1915.

Returning to Front
Armed with False Teeth

Signaller Pethard, writing from the National Hotel, Cairo, on 17th June, to his mother, Mrs. Pethard, Golden-square, says:—

“I have to stop here a few weeks longer to have my teeth attended to. I am working at the military P.O., and have been asked to stop permanently, but have decided to go to the front again as soon as I can. I am boarding at the National Hotel just now. Last Tuesday I received 17 more letters returned from the Dardanelles, and yesterday seven, so am doing well. Some of the poor chaps haven’t had letters for months, and we know their people are writing to them. I have been very, very fortunate — 61 letters in a fortnight. Why, I don’t, believe Kitchener himself gets such a budget in the time.”

Writing on 17th June, he added:—

“The dentist has finished my plate, and you should see it. Made for the Dardanelles service right enough. The plate is nearly an eighth of an inch in thickness, and made of some very black substance. There will be very little danger of them being broken. The teeth the private dentist is fixing for me are nearly completed, so I will soon be ready to return to the front. Three weeks at the outside, and then I ought to be on the move again. To-day three boats are leaving Alexandria, one for England, one for Australia, and one for the Dardanelles. Things seem to be much quieter now at the Dardanelles, and they say it is hard luck if you stop one. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. Anyway, I expect I shall soon find out. I am A1 again, and, believe, in better condition than ever.”

The Aif Headquarters Dental Unit.

The AIF Headquarters Dental Unit. A dentist taking the impression for a gold denture, the assistant, standing by with a bowl of plaster. Egypt, Cairo.

Australian War Memorial BO1222

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First published in The Argus (Vic.), Thursday 6 January 1916.

Hints to Senders

Signaller W. H. Pethard of Bendigo who left with the First Expeditionary Force was wounded at the landing at the Dardanelles on April 25, and on his recovery was taken on at the post office where he worked for five months. He has rejoined his unit and he writes as follows regarding precautions to be adopted by senders of letters and parcels:-

After five months experience with postal work, I feel confident that I can now give a little helpful advice to those communicating with soldiers at the front, in hospitals, or elsewhere. During my connection with the post-office work I was struck very forcibly by the number of letters insufficiently addressed. In nearly every case the sender was to blame. Just prior to leaving a letter passed through my hands addressed to

Pte John Smith
On Active Service, Egypt

Apart from being a very common name, one cannot but admit that such an address is altogether too vague and insufficient; yet this is only one of many similar cases. In addressing letters, &c., to soldiers, it is essential that the addressee’s regimental number, name and battalion be inserted. The platoon, company, brigade, division, or number of reinforcements, if such be the case, is an advisable addition.

Very often people are careless in making initials, with the result that a letter addressed to “Healy” is taken for “Sealy”. If this lad happens to be wounded his letters are sent back to the Wounded Department, where the letters are sorted into their various units, and then into alphabetical order. This poor lad’s letters will probably be placed amongst the “S’s” instead of the “H’s” and eventually sent back to Australia amongst the “Unable to trace”.

When writing to lads in hospitals it is always wise to insert the unit address somewhere if only in a corner for often when the letters arrive at the various hospitals the addressees have been discharged. Repeatedly letters addressed to hospital, have been returned to the Wounded Department without any information of the whereabouts or unit of the discharged soldier. Such letters as these are generally bundled back to Australia as insufficiently addressed.

Regarding parcels – I have found boxes to be a very poor covering for articles. A little rough usage and the box is broken and the contents separated. Tins are certainly preferable, but very often a few knocks and they are out of shape; the tin then quickly cutting through its wrappings. For small parcels, strong brown paper, tightly tied, is generally substantial enough. For larger parcels, canvas, strong cloth, or bagging, prove, almost without exception, an excellent wrapping for parcels. The address should always be written twice in case one becomes torn or illegible through continuous travel.

Always write distinctly, address fully, and you will greatly facilitate postal work, also ensuring quicker and more accurate delivery of mails.

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First published in the Bendigonian (Vic.), Thursday 20 September 1917.

In a letter to his father, Sgt. W. H. Pethard, writing from “somewhere in France,” on 24th June, describes a visit which he paid while in England to Plymouth; which proved to be a most enjoyable trip. The beautiful Hoe and esplanade, which thousands delight to promenade, was to me a most welcome place for relaxation. A taxi drive out to the renowned Dartmoor, with the glorious undulating moors, disappearing far into Cornwall, was indeed a sight never to be forgotten.

While the soldiers on leave preferred to spend their holiday in the city, Sgt. Pethard betook himself to his father’s birthplace, Alvechurch, near Birmingham, and found great pleasure in visiting the home which stands on the site of that in which his father was born. He met some of the people who had entertained Mr. Pethard on the occasion of his visit a few years ago, and they took him to places of interest, foremost amongst them being the chapel which Mr. Pethard had assisted to erect. Referring to the country lanes, Sgt. Pethard writes:

“I was quite surprised at the excellent condition of these tracks which would be simply splendid for road races. The exuberant foliage on each side completed the scene, and greatly added to the exquisitiveness (sic) of it all. Then a stroll across some of the fields was muchly enjoyed. Lickey Hills were pointed out to me, and Parson’s Dip we visited. I wondered if the parsons of your time carried on their theological studies in this quiet and isolated corner. Probably they did, hence the origin of the name. I continued my journey to Redditch, where you also spent a number of years of your early life. I was quite delighted with Redditch, and never dreamt it was so large a township.”

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Soldier Identified: Signaller William Henry Pethard, Service No: 811, 7th Battalion, 1st Australian Overseas Expeditionary Force, A.I.F. Returned to Australia, 19 December 1918.

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