Heroes remembered at renovated memorial
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.”
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.