Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Western Front and an Incomplete War Record

By the end of the Gallipoli campaign in December 1915, George Kirby (Dar) McArthur was a Sergeant still attached to the 3rd Light Horse Regiment.  On 5th May 1916 he had transferred to the 4th Division Artillery, as had the majority of the light horsemen because it was certain that the troops would not be able to take their horses onto the Western Front. Then, at the beginning of July, he was in France on transfer from the artillery to the newly formed 4th Division Ammunition Sub Park. The 4th Australian Ammunition Sub Park was merged into the 2nd ADMTC (Australian Division Mechanical Transport Company) on 13th March 1918.

Ammunition Sub Parks moved all forms of ammunition in lorries from the railheads to the forward ammunition dumps where they were then taken to the troops on the front line by horse units. The Sub Parks were eventually replaced by mechanical transport companies in March 1918 to take more advantage of the lorries and trucks being used.

Dar’s records show very little detail about his movements on or around the Western Front. There is nothing that indicates he was injured during his whole WWI tour of duty. There are only two entries indicating that he had time in England – June 1916 and January 1918. We believe that the June 1916 leave was actually spent at Bath in training for the newly formed Mechanical Transport units (details of this will be told in future articles).

It also appears from his record that he spent just over 14 months on duty without a break, being transferred to the Australian Army Service Corp Section of Sub Park on 18 November 1916. The next entry shows he went on leave on 25 January 1918 to the UK for only 2 weeks! Was he working solidly for this whole time? We have been told that it is almost impossible to believe that he remained on duty on the Western Front that longi.

We would presume that, as a Sergeant, he would have been responsible to some degree in organising the work of the lorry drivers in the Sub Park. We do know, from War Diaries of the 4th Div Sub Park, that the unit moved around quite a bit on the Western Front.

The 4th Division Artillery, to which the Sub Park was attached, saw action in many places on the Western Front including:
  •   the Somme (several times) – and we have a souvenir from the Somme
  •      on the Pozieres Heights
  •     at Mouquet Farm
  •      on the Hindenburg Line in the First Battle of Bullecourt
  •      in the Battle of Messines
  •      in the Battle of Polygon Wood 

The Sub Parks were stationed behind the front line but that doesn’t mean that the troops were out of harm’s way. The men driving lorries were forced to work on unsafe roads and quite often at night because that was when the trains with the goods were able to get to the railhead so the drivers had to use headlights to keep on the roads or tracks. It was not a “safe” job and the drivers were constantly in the line of fire and several were killed while driving.

During the wet winter months in France, they often found their camps were under many inches of mud. The men of the Sub Park had to continually try to ensure the camp was to some degree liveable and they also had to fix the roads as they were muddy and in shocking condition, totally unfit for heavy motor transport to travel on. In some places, logs of timber or any other available material were used to fill shell holes in the roads.

Then in September 1918, the M.T. Company Headquarters received orders that many of the officers and other ranks from the 1914 Gallipoli campaign were to be given 6 months furlough to Australia. The Commanders believed that the War would continue for some time so made arrangements to send some of the long serving troops back home.
Dar was one of the officers given this furlough, presumably because he had been on the Western Front without leave for a long time. He embarked at Taranto (Southern Italy) for Australia on Kasir-a-Hind on 26th September 1918. All the troops on board would have learnt during the return trip to Australia that the war had ended with the signing of the Armistice on 11th November 1918. They arrived back in Sydney at the end of November.

Although Dar would have been happy to see his mother again, we are pretty sure he would not have returned if he had known the war was about to end. We are not aware of what Dar did over the following year but we assume that he was communicating with Birdie (Beatrice Butt) who was still in England via letter and we also assume that they were trying to save money for her to come out to Australia. Then, when the call went out in September 1919 for troops to form a Special Service Unit to go back to England, Dar saw his opportunity and joined up. As soon as he arrived in England, he requested leave and three weeks later he married Birdie in Bath.

And the rest, as they say, is history!