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Voyage to war.

George Leslie Davidson was a 23 year old clerk when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 September 1915. Born in Melbourne in 1892, George came with his family to Western Australia in 1894; his father setting up a wood business in Fremantle. George attended the Fremantle Primary School and later obtained his junior certificate from Adelaide University in 1908, and soon after obtained employment as a clerk with the Fremantle office of the shipping company, McIlwraith McEacharn & Co.

George did not join up when war was declared as he was looking after his sick mother. He would have liked to have enlisted in 1914, particularly as his best mate from McIlwraith & McEacharn, Emie Moorhouse, had joined the 16th Battalion. Other friends from the office also joined up and one, Tom Elder, after service with the artillery, would write in 1919 that:
 My greatest regret is the large number of mates who gave their
 lives. Seven of us young men volunteered from the Shipping Office
 where we worked--five of whom lost their lives, and only two
 of us survived. (2)

Though all that was still in the future. 1914 came to a close and George continued working at the shipping office racking up five years of employment: As the months of 1915 passed by, George heard with excitement the landing of the Australians on Gallipoli. Little did he know that by the time he heard of the landing, Ernie Moorhouse would already be dead, killed in the 16th Battalion's charge at the Bloody Angle on 2 May.

When word of Ernie's death did come, this only made George more determined to enlist, which he did in August 1915. Owing to a minor sight disability he was not accepted straight away but in September was accepted for inclusion in the Army Medical Corps, and on 11 October:
 Left Fremantle by 8.20 am for Drill Hall Perth. Joined others there
 and after receiving instructions left Perth by 10.15 am for Midland
 Junction thence to Blackboy Hill by car arriving between 11 am and
 noon. Tom Young and I went direct to the AMC lines where we were
 fixed up in a tent with five others. We were given two blankets and
 an oil sheet & told this would be our home for the time being. The
 weather was very wet and the ground muddy, so naturally my first
 impression was not very favourable but as time went on and the
 weather improved I got used to it. (3)

George was comfortable in the AMC as many of his friends from Fremantle were also in camp, but as November passed his friends continued to be sent away to the war while he remained at Belmont and later Claremont Camp. In December he continued in his role as a camp medic, but a positive was that he was able to gain some leave to spend time at home for Christmas and go for a trip to Albany with a mate, Ralph Mole.

After returning home from Albany he got the news he had been waiting for:
 Heard that Jack Brady, Bill Williams, Ralph Mole, Tom Young, Percy
 Payne & myself were included in the recruits selected to go overseas
 in the 14th reinforcements to AMC units already overseas.

The men learned that they would be allotted to the 14th Reinforcements to the 4th Field Ambulance. Before they would embark on 13 February 1916 aboard A28 HMAT Miltiades, training continued at Blackboy Hill. After a late night of farewells on the 12th, on the 13th it was."
 Reveille 5 am as usual & after breakfast were marched down to Helena
 Vale station to entrain for Fremantle. Arrived at Fremantle wharf at
 8.30 am. All the way down people were lined up to wish us farewell.
 There were crowds at the wharf. I saw my people as I left the train
 and also after I boarded the troopship. The Miltiades A28 left the
 wharf at 10.30 am amid a great den of cheering and shouting and
 after an hour or two set sail for Egypt via Colombo. The troops
 on board comprised 14th/10th, 9th/27th, 14th/11th, 14th/16th,
 9th/28th, 14th/2nd Stat. Hosp, 14th/4th Fld Amb. From WA and
 3rd/32nd from South Australia about 1270 all told. I was part of the
 14th/4th Field Amb. quartered in the upper troop deck aft, fitted
 out to sleep 83 and mess 122. The food and accommodation was good.

Unfortunately the weather at the start of the trip was very rough and two days after leaving port a life boat broke loose and smashed into a soldier, breaking his leg in two places. Not a very good start for the trip but worse was to come the following day. Lt Benno Lehmann, a Marine Engineer from Fremantle & formerly a Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery who was in command of the 14th Reinforcements to the 11th Battalion wrote back home that:
 Have had both good and bad weather, one gale gave us a very bad
 time, my cabin was swamped and all my things were under water in a
 few minutes. The same sea did a lot of damage on deck smashing a
 temporary deck house and pinning several men underneath. One of my
 company was killed outright, another, a South Australian has since
 died. So we have had two burials at sea already. There are several
 others still in hospital but they will all recover.

 Apart from these troubles we are now having a good trip and are
 living in luxury as this is a splendidly fitted boat but the heat
 is awful. I am the senior subaltern on board, have a deck to myself
 and am enjoying the trip. (4)

Two deaths just four days out of Fremantle was truly bad luck. The accident is more fully described by George Davidson, whose medical training would prove to come in very handy:
 Weather very rough and I felt very much off colour. Huge waves
 washed over the ship & there was water everywhere. Between 6 & 7 am
 a huge wave dashed against one of the huge out houses on the port
 after well deck and smashed it to splinters causing many casualties.
 One Arthur Gillies of the 14th/11th (WA) was killed instantly &
 several others were seriously injured. A busy morning for the A.M.C.
 men but we were equal to the occasion. The remains of the late
 Arthur Gillies was committed to the deep at 4.15 pm. The body was
 sewn in canvas & lowered from the Poop deck after which the buglers
 sounded the last post. During the proceedings the engines were
 stopped as a mark of respect and all was quiet on board. (5)

No. 4641 Pte Arthur Gillies was a 41 year old miner who had spent the last few years working around the towns of Fimiston and Boulder. He is commemorated on the Chatby Memorial in Egypt. The following day the weather had improved slightly and the men of the AMC continued to treat the casualties of the previous day's occurrence:
 Feb 17th. Weather fine & getting hot. Pte Rowntree of the 3rd/32nd
 (SA) who was injured yesterday died this evening ... The body of Pte
 Rowntree was committed to the deep at 8 am.

No. 2103 Pte Joseph Lancelot Rowntree was a Yorkshire born 25 year old driver/mechanic from Port Adelaide. Strangely while Gillies is commemorated on the Chatby Memorial, Rowntree is listed on the Jerusalem Memorial in Israel.

In the next week of the voyage the weather grew hotter and life for those on board was getting monotonous, but the AMC men were kept busy as all the vaccinations were needed to be completed before the ship docked in Colombo, and on 24 February the ship reached Ceylon. Fortunately all the vaccinations had been completed and the men were granted their leave.
 Anchored outside Colombo harbour early a.m, entered and tied up at
 a buoy in the harbour about 7 am. Coal & water supplies were
 replenished ex lighters. Shore leave was granted to the troops in
 sections. L/Corp Bentley-Taylor, Pt. Arthur Baker & I went ashore in
 the morning & was on duty in the afternoon. Had a roam around the
 town, visited the Cinnamon Gardens, had lunch at the Globe Hotel, a
 six course meal if you wanted it for 2/-, then returned to the ship
 to relieve the morning shift. Went ashore again in the evening with
 Ralph Mole & did a bit of rickshaw riding around the town.

The next day was similarly spent in seeing the sights of Colombo, but on 26 February no leave was granted as the ship was due to leave at midday. The next week Davidson was kept busy with hospital duty and was quite excited when they could see land again as they passed Aden. On 5 March the Miltiades was:
 Now in the Red Sea. Sea choppy causing the ship to roll appreciably,
 although the weather was generally fine. Had the first glimpse of
 Africa and during the day passed a number of small islands including
 the "Twelve Apostles" group.

On 9 March they reached Suez in calm conditions and saw a crowded port:
 A dozen troopships and several warships were in the harbour
 including a few familiar to me namely Aurora, Thermistocles and
 Willochra. A triplane, the first I and many others have seen flew
 overhead. The Beltana came through the canal and anchored near us
 for an hour or so. She had on board 3000 British soldiers who had
 seen service in France and were on their way to relieve garrison
 troops in India.

The following day the troops on the Miltiades commenced to disembark and went their own ways for their various training camps. Lt Lehmann led the 3 officers & 202 men of the 14th Reinforcements to the 11th Battalion off the ship. Not all were destined for the 11th Battalion however. Many were directed to the 51st Battalion, the newly formed "daughter" unit of the 11th, while others went to ancillary units such as artillery & signals. Lt Lehmann himself was directed to the 1st Australian Divisional Base Depot due to his experience in training from pre war days. He would eventually reach the 11th Battalion in December 1916 and a short time later the 3rd Machine Gun Company. With the 3rd MGC he was wounded & awarded the MC at the 2nd Battle for Bullecourt. When recovered he would rejoin his unit, only to be killed at Clapham Junction during the Third Battle of Ypres on 21 September 1917.

Pte George Davidson and the rest of the 14th Reinforcements to the 4th Field Ambulance would be sent to Zeitoun camp to join up with their unit, though many of the group never ended up serving with the 4th but were transferred to other medical units. Davidson was one of these and spent much of 1916 with the AMC & the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital in Egypt before reaching England in a draft of the AMC Details. He was then sent to the 5th Field Ambulance, with whom he would serve through 1917-18, before arriving home in Fremantle in June 1919. Upon discharge from the AIF he married & recommenced employment with Mcllwraith McEacharn & Co, retiring in 1960. In the post war years he was heavily involved in the local rowing & swimming clubs and was a foundation member of Fremantle Legacy, an interest he continued all his life. He died in 1988 aged 96 years.

(2) Tom Elder, Recollections of war service, Battye Library.

(3) This and the following two quotes are from George Davidson Diary, Army Museum of WA.

(4) Letters of Lt Lehmann MC, private family archive.

(5) The remaining five quotes are from the George Davidson Diary, Army Museum of Western Australia.

Andrew Pittaway (1)

(1) The author has compiled a nominal roll of the approx 3000 Fremantle people who served in the AIF in World War One and is currently writing a history of Fremantle people in World War One using their letters & diaries. He would welcome feedback regarding this article or from anyone who has any information regarding Fremantle people who served in World War One. Contact Andrew Pittaway, Archivist, City of Fremantle, PO Box 807, Fremantle WA 6959; phone (08)9432-9583;
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Title Annotation:George Leslie Davidson
Author:Pittaway, Andrew
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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Next Article:The Counter Intelligence Corps and its activities in Australia and New Guinea 1942-1945.

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