Saturday, 23 November 2013

Fascinating Facts of the Great War - Australian Troops camped out on the Wiltshire Downs

Photo taken by George Donohue, 1917
As those of you who follow my weblog will know I have added a section entitled 'Fascinating Facts of the Great War' in order to be able to include topics other than poetry and inspirational women.

Here is one such fact about the Australian troops camped out in WW1 on the Wiltshire Downs in Compton Chamberlayne, near Wilton in Wiltshire, England, before leaving for the various theatres of war on the Continent of Europe and elsewhere.

If anyone knows of a relative of any of those mentioned below, please could they get in touch. Thank you.

My grateful thanks to Yvon Davis of the wonderful Mud, Mining, Medals Facebook Page for her continuing support of my project.

When George Gross took over Compton Park in Compton Chamberlayne, Wiltshire - the manor house had been built rebuilt during the 1500s by Sir Edward Penruddocke and remained in the same family until the early 20th Century - the estate was in need of a great deal of repair.

In the chapter of his book entitled “Wiltshire” George shares with us a “very human record of Australia’s share in the Great War.  On a number of beech trees in Compton Park, probably planted before the discovery of Australia, are the names or initials, wrought with their own hands, of young men who came from that far-distant land to give themselves to the Empire in her hour of need.  They were encamped in their thousands at the foot of the Wiltshire Downs, in Compton Chamberlayne and the adjoining parishes, and many a strong man’s thoughts as he sauntered through the silent woods and saw the smooth grey skin of the beeches must have turned to his dear ones, and he felt irresistibly impelled to leave some record of himself before he faced annihilation." 

George wondered, “how many of those fine fellows are alive and well today?  Of some hundreds of names and initials, many partly obliterated, I mention a few:

C. Delarvillers was no mean woodcarver, R.M. of Sydney was madly in love with his Nina; her name in his hand-carving is still all over the wood.  I trust he survived and between them they now have grown-up children.  J.A.B. was a good designer as well as a carver;  C.D. climbed twenty feet up the tree to leave his mark.  C.A.W. of London, NSW, had a big bulbous heart; let’s hope he proved a better lover than a woodcarver!  Tom May – I suppose it is Tom May? – the design is ingenious but rather cryptic – is a man of ieas and if he lives has probably made a fortune. Private G. Penny and E.J. Rowlands were evidently great chums.

On the Downs overlooking the main road these handy lads outlined in the chalk a map of Australia as large as St. Paul’s Cathedral, and although overgrown by grass it can still be clearly seen.

Some of the AIF have, dead or alive, left their tangible mark behind – those strong, dare-devil, handsome cousins who had come to our aid from beyond the seas.  In the little cemetery off the village street rest the bodies of thirty or forty who died before they were vouchsafed an opportunity of firing a shot for their motherland.” (pp. 419 – 420 "Suffolk Punch").

From the autobiography “Suffolk Punch A Business Man’s Autobiography” by George Cross. Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1937.

Note:  The badges are still clearly visible on the Downs and as far as I know they are very carefully tended, however, I understand that the map of Australia has unfortunately been allowed to grass over which is such a shame.

The photograph of George Herbert Cross is one that has been in our family for a very long time.  It must have been taken around 1910 -  the name of the photographer has faded.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful work and remarkably moving material, Lucy. Mr George Cross was, as you know, a distant cousin of my wife. Thank you for writing it all up.