Wild Colonial Boy

New-Australia-Map-3Wild Colonial Boy

Australia officially became a nation on 1st January 1901 and over the next decade, the new country was desperate for young men to farm its wide open empty spaces. Young strong lads like Alfred George Chipperfield from 2 Maskell Road in Summerstown. According to the April 1911 census, Alfred was the son of a hostel attendant who worked for the council. The youngest of four, he was employed as a porter for a drapers. A sister was a machinist in one of the laundries and a brother worked in a candle factory. But in December of that year, at the age of eighteen, the intrepid Alfred set off for a new life, twelve thousand miles away in New South Wales, Australia where he intended to work on the land. Christmas 1911 must have been a time of mixed emotions at Maskell Road for on 28th December he set sail from the Port of London for Sydney, one of 750 passengers on The Geelong. For two years he wrote regularly to his mother and ‘appeared very happy’ with life on a farm outside Sydney. He even mentioned that he was considering ‘going up country to start on his own’. Then came the war. Ties to the mother country were strong and almost half a million Aussies answered the call to arms, sixty percent of these were born in Britain. Among them were Alfred Chipperfield and three other Summerstown 182 soldiers; Percy Cowles, Spencer Tibbenham and Philip Chapman. The extensive service records of all four are preserved in the National Archives of Australia and are accessible online. Alfred’s 56 page file indicates that he joined the 9th Battalion of The Australian Imperial Force in Brisbane, Queensland on 25th May 1915. This was possibly as a result of the news from Gallipoli. An attempt to force a passage through the narrow Dardanelles straits to Constantinople saw thousands of Australians slaughtered by a better equipped and more favourably postitioned Turkish army. Alfred and the 9th Battalion sailed from Sydney on 20th August on HMAT Shropshire and by the autumn were in The Balkans. He soon fell sick and was in and out of hospital with jaundice as they evacuated Gallipoli and moved on to Egypt. On 3rd April 1916 his regiment sailed from Alexandria to Marseilles and would see service on the Somme and at Pozières. Perhaps letting off a bit of steam after a summer of hard fighting, from 21st to 26th November, Alfred went absent without leave for five days. At his court martial, on 7th December he was charged and found guilty. According to his service records, he was sentenced to ‘45 days, F.P. No1’.  ‘Field Punishment Number One’ involved a prisoner being shackled to the wheel of a gun or a fixed post for a few hours each day. Left on public view as an example to the victim’s comrades, it was both humiliating and degrading. His hands and legs were tied, his body sometimes spreadeagled in the form of an X. This punishment was used over 60,000 times during the war, but not apparently widely by Australian forces. Indeed there are accounts of Aussie soldiers releasing someone they came across who was tied up in this way. Whether the punishment was followed through or not, the next mention of Alfred Chipperfield is on 25th January when he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. The height of the winter would not have been a good time to be tethered to a field gun. On the 28th he was on his way to England and was admitted to 1st London General Hospital on 29th and later transfered from there to another hospital in Wareham in Dorset. He was discharged from here in March. In May he was in trouble again, briefly ‘overstaying leave’ and sentenced to lose two days pay. In August and still in Wareham, the troublesome Aussie was in more hot water when he was charged with ‘disobeying brigade orders by gambling in camp’. This resulted in the loss of a further 14 days pay. On 25th October Alfred was back in France. Throughout the first part of 1918, he suffered more bouts of ill health, including hospitalisation for influenza. On 15th June he rejoined his battalion and would have been ready for the great allied surge that summer. The Battle of Amiens which began on 8th August was the opening phase of an attack which became known as the Hundred Days Offensive and ultimately lead to the end of the First World War. Allied forces advanced over seven miles on that first day, the greatest territorial gain in a single day on the western front. The German General, Erich Ludendorff described it as ‘the black day of the German Army in this war’. But on 23rd August, Alfred Chipperfield was killed in action. A grim typewritten note in his file indicates that ‘He was blown to pieces by shell fire near Luck Wood (Cappy) on 23rd August last. He was not buried as there was not enough of his body left to enable him to be identified’. TD Farmer, Capt, Commanding Officer. Cappy is a small village on the River Somme, not far south of Albert. He is commemorated at Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, a few miles further south. Also in his service records is a letter from his Mother, Sarah Chipperfield, back in Maskell Road, who wrote to the Australian War Office in August 1915 enquiring as to whether her son had joined up. She mentioned that he had written regularly but that ever since January 1914, her letters had been returned. Alfred was in fact fortunate, had he been in the British Army his absences without leave would very possibly have resulted in him facing a firing squad on a charge of desertion. Fortunately the Australians were the only country in the Empire who didn’t allow its soldiers to be executed. Just as well for the wild colonial boy from Summerstown with an inclination to go walkabout.

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