He­roes re­mem­bered at ren­o­vated memo­rial

POST Newspapers - - Letters To The Post - By BEN DICK­IN­SON

Many of the sons of West Leed­erville died in unimag­in­able con­di­tions on the Western Front as sol­diers, but be­fore the Great War they lived as car­pen­ters, jew­ellers, gar­den­ers and chemists.

Lo­cal poet Lind­say Evans has com­mem­o­rated the pre-war lives of the suburb’s war dead in his poem, A Salute, which he will re­cite at Sun­day’s cen­te­nary Armistice Day ser­vice at the Leed­erville Memo­rial Gar­dens.

“Their oc­cu­pa­tions were so in­ter­est­ing to me,” Mr Evans said.

“There were far­ri­ers, gold re­fin­ers and even con­fec­tion­ers.”

Two of the 40 men re­ferred to in Mr Evans’ poem had ties to West Leed­erville houses just 300m apart, but their lives and wartime ex­pe­ri­ences were a study in con­trasts.

Both lives ended on the bat­tle­fields of France.

Robert Steven Miles was a 23-year-old bank clerk when he en­listed in Kal­go­or­lie, in March 1915.

A foot­ball knee in­jury ren­dered him un­fit for ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to an AIF med­i­cal board, which rec­om­mended his dis­charge – but Miles was not so eas­ily de­terred.

He trav­elled to Vic­to­ria, where he en­listed again – an oc­ca­sional prac­tice, ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Shan­non Love­lady.

“Clearly he was go­ing to do his bit, come hell or high wa­ter,” she said.

At the time of Miles’s reen­list­ment in May, news had just reached Aus­tralia of the dis­as­trous Gal­lipoli cam­paign.

“The ca­su­alty lists were hit­ting the news­pa­pers and peo­ple were shocked,” Shan­non said.

“The men thought ‘we’ve got to go and fight’.”

While train­ing to be­come an of­fi­cer in Vic­to­ria in 1915, Miles mar­ried his sweet­heart, Al­berta.

He was com­mis­sioned as a sec­ond lieu­tenant in No­vem­ber, and em­barked from Mel­bourne for Egypt in Jan­uary, even­tu­ally ar­riv­ing at the Western Front.

At Pozieres, just shy of two months in the field with the 8th Bat­tal­ion, he caught some shrap­nel from a bul­let in his left el­bow.

Al­berta Miles was dis­traught to read her hus­band’s name in the list of wounded in a news­pa­per, de­spite hear­ing noth­ing from the army.

“I am his wife, and I can­not un­der­stand why I was not in­formed that he has been wounded,” she wrote to army au­thor­i­ties. “I am so wor­ried about him.” A tele­gram had been sent to Miles’s mother in Tate Street, but not to Al­berta.

The in­jured Miles was sent to Eng­land, where the bul­let frag­ment was ex­tracted at a hospi­tal in Le­ices­ter.

Five months later, in Oc­to­ber 1916, he was sent back to France.

Ten days af­ter Miles re­turned to the front, back in Perth, a West Leed­erville horse trainer named James McGur­gan Souter signed his en­list­ment pa­pers.

Souter lived at 13 Joseph Street, in a house that still stands to­day – only 300m from Miles’s mother’s house at 98 Tate Street.

A diminu­tive man at only 1.64m, Souter was among only 16% of AIF ser­vice­men who were Ro­man Catholic.

“He would not have been able to en­list be­fore June 1915 be­cause of his height,” Ms Love­lady said.

Souter’s grand-niece Di­ane Pope now lives in Dalkeith, and said she be­lieved it was likely he had en­listed to go “home” – to Eng­land – for the first time.

“It al­ways ir­ri­tated me that both my grand­mother and my grand­fa­ther called Eng­land home,” Ms Pope said.

“He was quite close, I un­der­stand, with my grand­mother.

“I’m bet­ting James would have been keen to go back ‘home’.”

Pri­vate Souter shipped out from Fre­man­tle on the Ber­rima two days be­fore Christ­mas, 1916.

While Souter’s ship was steam­ing across the In­dian Ocean, Miles was pro­moted to lieu­tenant in France.

Souter ar­rived in Eng­land, af­ter a stop in Cape Town, in Fe­bru­ary 1917.

In April, he was ad­mit­ted with gon­or­rhoea to an Aus­tralian mil­i­tary hospi­tal in Bul­ford that spe­cialised in vene­real dis­eases.

“Roughly 10% of the sol­diers who died on the Western Front had vene­real dis­ease,” Shan­non said.

“They didn’t al­ways catch it from pros­ti­tutes – of­ten they al­ready had it when they ar­rived.”

While Souter was treated, Miles’s unit was en­gaged in bat­tle 350km away, near the French town of Lag­in­court.

Miles led his men into en­emy ter­ri­tory “with great dash and skill” to cap­ture a Ger­man ma­chine gun post, ac­cord­ing to a com­men­da­tion.

His unit achieved its ob­jec­tive, but the vic­tory was short-lived.

Dur­ing heavy shelling from the Ger­mans, he was crit­i­cally wounded in both legs.

“Dur­ing the in­tense hos­tile bom­bard­ment which fol­lowed he set a splen­did ex­am­ple to his men un­til he was se­verely wounded,” his ser­vice records re­veal.

Miles died of his wounds on April 22, at an Aus­tralian ca­su­alty clear­ing sta­tion.

Tele­grams to his wife and par­ents told them he had been buried at Gre­villers Bri­tish Ceme­tery.

He was posthu­mously awarded the Mil­i­tary Cross for “con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry and de­vo­tion to duty”.

While Miles’s war ended on an army stretcher, Souter’s was about to be­gin.

Dis­charged from hospi­tal af­ter his gon­or­rhoea treat­ment, he sent a post­card to his sis­ter in Perth from Cod­ford train­ing camp along with pic­tures of him in full uni­form amid a field of wild­flow­ers.

“They were taken out in a green field – note the wild­flow­ers,” Souter wrote. “I am sick of this place.

“Won’t be sorry to leave here now.” Ms Pope has kept Souter’s post­cards, some of them framed, since they were passed down by her fa­ther.

“I quite liked that he was con­scious of the wild­flow­ers, be­ing a West Aus­tralian,” Ms Pope said.

While at train­ing camp, Souter was charged with ne­glect­ing to obey an or­der and docked a day’s pay.

“That was a slap on the wrist, it would have been for ne­glect­ing some­thing mi­nor, like ‘fix your col­lar’,” Shan­non said.

Five months later, in the dead of win­ter, Souter ar­rived at the front­line. He sur­vived for less than two months. He was re­ported miss­ing in ac­tion af­ter an en­gage­ment in April, 1918.

A month later, a fel­low soldier re­called his death for an of­fi­cial state­ment.

“I saw him wounded at Al­bert Ridge,” the soldier wrote.

“Lance Cor­po­ral Thomas was seen car­ry­ing Pri­vate Souter along the ridge, un­der heavy ma­chine gun fire, and was forced to drop him be­cause of the fir­ing.

“He ap­peared to be se­verely wounded in the leg, kneecap blown away, but he was not un­con­scious.

“The ma­chine gun fire caught him badly then and af­ter.”

Shan­non said Souter’s death was one of thou­sands of sto­ries of mate­ship on the Western Front.

“The other man car­ried him away un­til he had to drop him,” she said. “He was fully con­scious to the last.” Souter re­ceived no medals, and there are no known records of where, if any­where, the horse trainer from 13 Joseph Street was buried.

But his oth­er­wise in­con­spic­u­ous ser­vice should not di­min­ish his sac­ri­fice, ac­cord­ing to Shan­non.

“Most of the men were or­di­nary,” she said.

“It’s just that some of them did ex­tra­or­di­nary things.

“Some were seen and awarded suit­able hon­ours but many, many more were not.”

Mr Evans’ poem com­mem­o­rat­ing the horse trainer and the bank clerk, along with 38 other West Leed­erville men, will be re­cited at a cer­e­mony at the re­de­vel­oped memo­rial gar­den.

Cam­bridge RSL pres­i­dent John Mur­phy said his sub-branch was one of the old­est in Aus­tralia, though it had changed its name af­ter the Town of Cam­bridge was formed.

It was founded in 1917 by wounded Gal­lipoli veter­ans, and first met at the Leed­erville Town Hall.

Fre­man­tle artist Jenny Daw­son has cre­ated five mo­saics of pop­pies and rose­mary sprigs that have been in­stalled around the 1924 ceno­taph.

Cam­bridge coun­cil has paid $26,000 for the art­works, on top of a $21,728 fed­eral grant.

Plaques are be­ing in­stalled by the coun­cil on six new con­crete seats, telling the sto­ries of six lo­cal sol­diers.

“They were ... post of­fice work­ers, draughts­men and clean­ers, from all walks of life with dif­fer­ent de­meanours,” Mr Evans’ poem reads.

“Ac­counts, jew­ellers and an auc­tion­eer.

“All of these sol­diers lived around here.”

Photo: Bil­lie Fair­clough

Cam­bridge RSL’s John Mur­phy, left, mo­saic artist Jenny Daw­son and poet Lind­say Evans at the re­de­vel­oped West Leed­erville Memo­rial Gar­den, whichwill re-open on Re­mem­brance Day this Sun­day.

James McGur­gan Souter

Robert Steven Miles

Conor Chriswell will play the bu­gle for two 100th Re­mem­brance Day events.

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