Ex-POW shared a few tales

Central and North Burnett Times - - ANZAC CENTENARY - Emily Smith emily.smith@cnbtimes.com.au

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.

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