Lest We Forget

 Ernest Henry Hickson

BLUE: Details transcribed from Ernest's War Records held by the National Archives
BLACK: Historical facts as per the given references
RED: Oral family history as told by Ernest and later his wife.

Service Number: 1342
Date of Enlistment: 1st September 1914       Place of Enlistment: Randwick
Unit Name: 3rd Battalion, G Company AIF. Later transferred to 55th Battalion
Rank: Private
Date of Discharge: 17th March 1919
At the time of his enlistment, Ernest was 21 years old and he resided at his parents home in Belmont Street, Loftus
Park, Merrylands. Ernest was of the Church of England faith.

3rd Battalion
The 3rd Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War. Like the 1st, 2nd
and 4th Battalions it was recruited from New South Wales and, together with these battalions, formed the 1st Brigade.
The battalion was raised within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked just two months
later. After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December. The
battalion took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915 as part of the second and third waves and served there until
the evacuation in December. In August, the battalion took part in the attack on Lone Pine.
[From The Australian War Memorial Website]

The 3rd Battalion, along with the 1st 2nd and 4th Battalions [NSW] formed the 1st Infantry Brigade of the First Division [Egypt
and Gallipoli 1914-1915] This is particularly useful to know when trying to trace Ernest's movements during the landing of
Gallipoli and subsequent occupation.

Ernest embarked with his Battalion from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT [His Majesty's Australian
A14 [Each transport had a number] Euripides on 20 October 1914. The following is a summary of Ernest's war
record from the National Archives:

10th Feb 1915:-  Admitted to No 2 Aust Gen Hosptial Mena House Cairo suffering from Influenza
15th Feb 1915:- Discharged
5th April 1915:- Embarked Derrflinger to join M.E.F [Mediterannean Expeditionary Forces]

The SS Derfflinger was a captured German ship which was used as a transport [Deafeat at Gallipoli - Steel and Hart -
Row boats were towed behind for the tropps to complete the landing. [NWM website info]
Ernest reported the troops nick named this ship the 'Dirt Flinger'

25th April 1915: ANZAC Landing -  The 1st Australian Brigade formed the Divisional Reserve.  According to Steel and
Hart they began landing around 10.30 am and were immediately moved to individual companies along the line of
defence with two companies being sent to reinforce the line around the Nek.  Bean [
The Story of Anzac] states parts of
the 3rd Battalion were sent to reinforce troops at Baby 700.
Although there is no notation in his record to support the story, Ernest often recounted how his landing boat came
under heavy fire and many men were lost over the side, drowning whilst still in deep water. He was the only survivor in
his boat owing to the fact he fell back into the boat where he lay wounded for up to two days until he was recovered
from the boat which had drifted away down the beach.

C.E.W. Bean in the first volume of his books The Story of Anzac states when referring to the figures for missing
soldiers in the first five days of the landing that afterwards many of these men were found to have been sent away
wounded without any record being kept.
26th June 1915:- No notation next to this date but the next entry reads...
27th June 1915:- From Hospital Anzac -
This would indicate that Ernest was being discharged from the hospital after being admitted to hospital for an injury
that is missing from the records and would support his account of his wounding at the Anzac landing.

24th July 1915:- Admitted to H.M Hospital Ship 'Somali' from Gaba Tepe suffering from diarrhoea .
Diseases such as dysentery, jaundice and paratyphoid [enteric fever] were prevalent. Sick men were expected to remain
at their post. It seems evacuation was a last resort.
Ernest told a story of how a many men fell ill with a gastric like illness and it was eventually discovered that there was
a dead donkey in the bottom of a shell cater that had filled with rainwater from which the men drank .
This illness was
probably a blessing in disguise for Ernest as he was not with his Brigade when they headed the assault at Lone Pine on
6th August which resulted in heavy casualties.
31st July 1915:- Disembarked Malta. Admitted to Military Hosptial  Ship 'Floriana'
14th August 1915:- NOK [next of kin] advised. - probably advice of Ernest's illness.
15th August 1915:- To All Saints ???
14th September 1915:- Drunk on active duty. Awarded 7 days F.P [forfeit pay]
6th October 1915:- Fit for active service ex Hospital Ship
'Karoa'. Embarked at Malta for Egypt.
18th October 1915:- Embarked for front per
30th October 1915:- Rejoined unit. Anzac
29th December 1915:- Embarked for Egypt. NOK advised.
During his time in Egypt, Ernest reported he climbed the Pyramids. There was a photo of him atop one which has now
been lost.

13th February 1916:- Transferred to 55th Battalion. Tel El Kebir
55th Battalion
The 55th Battalion was raised in Egypt on 12 February 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF. Half of its
recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 3rd Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia.
Reflecting the composition of the 3rd, the 55th was predominantly composed of men from New South Wales.
The battalion became part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division.
Arriving in France on 30 June 1916, the battalion entered the front line trenches for the first time on 12 July and
fought its first major battle at Fromelles a week later. The battle was a disaster, resulting in heavy casualties
across the division. Although in reserve, the 55th was quickly committed to the attack and eventually played a
critical role, forming the rearguard for the 14th Brigade’s withdrawal. Despite its grievous losses the 5th
Division continued to man the front in the Fromelles sector for a further two months.
After a freezing winter manning trenches in the Somme Valley, in early 1917 the 55th Battalion participated in the
advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. It was spared the assault but did, however,
defend gains made during the second battle of Bullecourt. Later in the year, the AIF’s focus of operations
switched to the Ypres sector in Belgium. The 55th’s major battle here was at Polygon Wood on 26 September.
With the collapse of Russia in October 1917, a major German offensive on the Western Front was expected in
early 1918. This came in late March and the 5th Division moved to defend the sector around Corbie. The 14th
Brigade took up positions to the north of Villers-Bretonneux and held these even when the village fell, threatening
their flanks.
Once the German offensive had been defeated, the Allies launched their own offensive in August 1918. The 14th
Brigade did not play a major role in these operations until late in the month, but its actions were critical to the
capture of Péronne, which fell on 2 September. The 55th fought its last major battle of the war, St Quentin
Canal, between 29 September and 2 October 1918.
The battalion was resting out of the line when the Armistice was declared on 11 November. The progressive
return of troops to Australia for discharge resulted in the 55th merging with the 53rd Battalion on 10 March
1919. The combined 53/55th Battalion, in turn, disbanded on 11 April.
[From The Australian War Memorial Website]

14th February 1916:- Taken on strength 55th Reg Tel-el-Kelir [Kebir?]
19th June 1916:- Embarked FT Caledonian to join B.E.F
29th June 1916:- Disembarked Marseilles ex FT Caledonian
23rd September 1916:- Admitted to hospital- Jaundice
29th September 1916:- Rejoined Unit
29th November 1916:- Leave of Absence.
18th December 1916:- Rejoined Unit.
19th October 1917:- ????? unit
7th November 1917:- Leave
25th November 1917:- Rejoined ex leave -field
5th February 1918:- To Hospital sick
5th February 1918:-  9th Field Ambulance Admitted Scorbie[?] to 5 RDRS[??]
6th February 1918:- 15th F Amb DRS [15th Field Ambulance Dressing Station?]
11th February 1918:- Discharged for duty
13th February 1918:- Rejoined unit
Late March and the 5th Division moved to defend the sector around Corbie. The 14th
Brigade took up positions to the north of Villers-Bretonneux and held these even when the village fell, threatening
their flanks [Austalian War Memorial website]
20th April 1918:- From Battalion To hospital sick - France - r Knee [right knee]
20th April 1918:- Admitted H7 R knee to 55 CCs [55th Batallion Casualty Clearing Station]
As a child, my grandfather would show me the scar on his leg where he had been shot through the knee.
22st April 1918: -Admitted H7 knee transferred to AT 14
23rd April 1918:- Rouen; From 8 Gen H [8 genral headquarters?] Private admitted ICT?? Knee Right
26th April 1918:- Rouen; transferred to 2 Con Dep [No 2 Convalescent depot at which was situated at Rouen]
26th April 1918:-  2 Con Dep - Rouen; admitted VS or NS? [not serious?]
27th April 1918:- Ernest's brother Edward Hickson was killed along with others by 'friendly fire' when a shell fell short
and landed on the trench where they were waiting. Family history tells that Ernest was one of the men to find his
brother but I am unable to confirm the story although he was in the general area. It is possible he found Edward's
grave when he returned to his unit.  Alfred Hickson, another brother, may also have been in the area at the time.
28th April 1918:-2 Con Dep - Private discharged to AIBD [Australian Infantry Base depot] Discharged from Hospital to
base. Details'A' [could this mean that details were originally attached?]
29th April 1918:- AIDB Marched in from Hosptial - Harve
17th May 1918:- Marched out to Unit
28th May 1918:- Rejoined unit-field
28th May 1918:- Rejoined unit-field

28th July 1918:- Wounded in action - France - SWL Buttock [shell wound left buttock?]
28th July 1918:- admitted to CCS [Casualty Clearing Station]
30th July 1918:- admitted to AT [Ambulance transport?]
31st July 1918:- Admitted  Le Treport
12th August 1918:- discharged to base depot - Le Treport
12th August 1918:- marched in SC Hospital Havre
13th August:- NOK advised wounded
15th August 1918:- Marched out to unit - Harve
20th August 1918:- Rejoined unit - field

21st August 1918:- The 55th was part of 'Albert 1918' from 21 August 1918 to 23 August 1918, a two-pronged attack on
Bapaume and St Quentin, as part of the Allied counter-offensives on the Western Front in the late summer of 1918.
Launched in the mist of the early morning of 21 August, the advance supported by tanks, made swift inroads into
German positions and led to the recapture of Albert. It is probably that Ernest was wounded during this action.

21st August 1918:- Wounded in action - shelled in back
21st August 1918:- Admitted 14th Af amb [Aust field ambulance??] shd back [shelled in back] to  53CCS
22nd August 1918:- admitted CCS swd back to ATG
23rd August 1918:- Admitted STY [?] Hospital Rouen
26th August 1918:-Embarked France to England per Gloucester Castle-invalided to UK
28th August - ?? in Southern General Hospital
Owing to this wound Ernest lost part of his bowel which surgeons replaced with pig gut; a ground breaking procedure at
the time.

5th September 1918:- NOK advised wounded
15th September 1918:- NOK advised in Hospital
4th December 1918:- Embarked for Australia per 'Somerset'
21st December 1918:- NOK advised returning to Australia
1st January 1919:- Arrived in Australia per 'Somerset'
3rd January 1919:- Disembarked
17th March 1919:- Discharged.

Medals Received:
1914/15 Star No 8618
British War Medal No 3386
Victory Medal No 3386

Things of interest:
In many of the records Ernest's name is spelt EARNEST.

Return to Ernest's family history page.