Ex-POW shared a few tales
STANLEY Forsyth seldom spoke of his experiences in the FirstWorldWar, but the rare recollections he divulged to grandson Drew Forsyth stick in the Monto resident’s mind more than 50 years later.
“He didn’t talk a lot about it and when he did it was always spur-of-themoment,” Drew said.
“He talked about eating grass roots on his hands and knees in the prisoner of war camp, and the only way to calm his burning stomach that was seared with mustard gas was with a ‘dolomite milkshake’, which he drunk every day for the rest of his life.”
Stanley Forsyth enlisted in the army on September 22, 1916, when he was a 21-year-old from Harrisville, where he was a farmer. He sailed with the 41st Battalion on February 7, 1917.
He was transferred to the 4th Machine Gun Company and arrived in England on April 11, 1917, where he trained at Salisbury Plain until September.
The Company then left for France and saw action at Ypres (Belgium), Passchendale (Belgium), Somme (France), Armentieres (France) and Hill 60 (Belgium).
“To get anywhere, they marched from place to place,” Drew said.
“Somme and Passchendaele are 185km apart from each other.
“At places like Hill 60 they had to walk along ‘duck boards’, which were planks of wood over all the slush and mud. There were no trees left and duck boards for miles and miles.”
Stanley operated the powerful Vickers machine gun, which poured bullets in a wide arc.
“He also carried a pistol for close encounters,” Drew said.
“There was some contention, but either the 41st or 42nd battalion – my grandfather was in the 41st for a bit – might have been the ones that shot the Red Baron up the tailbone when he was flying overhead.”
Stanley Forsyth was taken prisoner on April 5, 1918, at Albert and lived behind German lines in France until November 15, when the Germans retreated.
“I do clearly remember him telling me about how they got captured,” Drew said.
“They were on top of a hill and had been fighting but were out of food, water, ammunition.
“The Germans cut them off completely, they were surrounded. There were a fair mob of them (Australians) and they were cut off completely.
“They had to surrender right where they stood.”
The biggest challenge for the men behind enemy lines in the prison camps was lack of food, and there was little chance of any escaping because they were too malnourished to try.
“He said to me once they got down on their hands and knees and ate grass roots,” Drew said.
“They also had to hold servicemen down when they amputated their legs, and things like that, there was no anaesthetic.”
Despite all odds, two other men did escape from the area where Stanley was held as a prisoner of war, and word got through to his mother in Australia from a higher-ranking officer, F B Hilton, about his predicament.
“I have just received word from two of my men who escaped from German hands that your son was captured, and to the best of our knowledge he is a prisoner and well,” F B Hilton wrote.
After rejoining the Allied Army when he was released, Stanley left for Australia on April 11, 1919, and arrived June 3 and was immediately discharged.
Four months later he married Ethel May Caswell in Murgon on October 25.
Later on, in the Second WorldWar, Stanley was the officer in charge of the Monto VDCs, the volunteer defence corps, which formed a line of defence across Queensland in case the Japanese invaded.
“They had a 600-yard rifle range to the east of Abercorn where they practised with shoots,” Drew said.
WAR STORIES: Stanley Forsyth sailed from Australia with the 41st Battalion on February 7, 1917.