John William Vance

John William Vance War Memorial Panel 31

This is a tribute to a young soldier in our family who died nearly 100 years ago during the freezing winter on the Western Front in December 1916. John William Vance is my daughter’s third cousin – first cousin of her grandfather Archibald Pitt Vance – and his Service No was 3962. He was the son of Joseph Edward and Mary Ada Vance (nee Fallon) and was working as a carpenter in Maryborough (Queensland) when he first enlisted on 24 August 1915. John stated that he was 18 years on his enlistment form, but his actual age was 17. It seems that he may have forged his parents’ names in the consent section on the enlistment form, because his father (Joseph Edward Vance of Cheapside Street, Maryborough) wrote to the military authorities and the Federal Member within two days, stating that he had not given his consent. Joseph desperately tried to prevent his son from going to the war. Interestingly, Joseph Vance states in his letter to the military authorities that a Sergeant-Major Thetford informed his son that if his father ‘made trouble in Brisbane he could go on to Sydney, and if he liked enlist under another name’. However, John William was discharged on 11 September 1915.

It appears that John William Vance took the Sergeant-Major’s advice, as one week later he travelled to New South Wales to enlist on 17 September. He was listed as being 18 years and one month, belonging to the Church of England, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 130 lbs in weight, with a fresh complexion, grey-blue eyes and fair-brown hair. He passed his medical exam on 3 December 1915 at Liverpool in New South Wales and was appointed to the 12th Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion. On 29 March 1916 he joined the British Expeditionary Force in Alexandria and six days later John William disembarked at Marseilles. By 9 June 1916, he was taken on strength of the 1st Battalion in France.

He contracted the mumps by the end of July 1916 and was not discharged to duty until 18 August 1916, rejoining his battalion two days later. It seems that about this time John William was wounded in action. In early December, he was receiving instruction in the use of the Lewis machine gun, but on 6 December 1916, John William was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and died five days later on 11 December 1916.

John William Vance was buried in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension in France, 2.5 miles South-south-west of Albert. Information from the  United Kingdom Commonwealth War Graves Index France lists his grave at No 177, Pt II. M-Z.



My Anzac Day Heroes

tumblr_static_poppy__1_Our family was fortunate in that, of the family members who served in World Wars I and II and in Government or Defence Service, only one was killed in action. That one was my grandfather, Private Walter Cammack 203661 who was killed on 1 April 1918, aged 33, in France while serving with the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment, 1st/5th Battalion. He is buried in the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, in France. As mentioned in an earlier blogpost, I was approached by the Horncastle (Lincolnshire) Civic Society two years ago to provide information and photographs about my grandfather (who came from Horncastle) for a commemorative booklet the society published in September 2014. Here are some extracts from the article:

‘Walter, one of six children of Alfred and Eva Cammack, was born at Horncastle in 1884. His father was a hairdresser with premises in the Market Place and had two youths working for him. Alfred then went into the business of making and selling bicycles. By the 1890s, bicycles had become popular and an everyday means of transport for many people.’

‘Walter was educated at Horncastle Grammar School and went to work in the grocery trade. He was employed as an apprentice grocer by Lunn & Dodson of Horncastle, who were wholesale and family grocers and salt merchants with retail premises in Bridge Street and a large warehouse off Bridge Street. They were also Insurance Agents for the Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Co. Walter continued in the grocery business and around 1905 he left Horncastle, whether for work or other reasons is not known.’

‘In 1908 Walter married Ellen Harper at Nottingham. They went to live in Warsop, Nottinghamshire and the census of 1911 records them at 14 Sherwood Street, Warsop. Walter was then working as a grocery assistant. He later went to work as a clerk for Warsop Colliery. Walter and Ellen had four children: Walter Frederick born Nottingham in 1909, Dorothy May born 1910 at Alfreton, Derbyshire [Ellen’s home town], Alfred arrived in 1913 and Frances Marjorie in 1917, both born in Warsop.’

‘In 1916, Walter was called up to the Army. He enlisted in Nottingham and joined the local regiment known as the Sherwood Foresters. He was in France and around July/August 1917 he wrote to his parents in Horncastle and gave them the following account of his recent experience:

“We raided the German trenches the other morning going ‘over the top’ at 2 am. We had our Lewis Gun with us and our job was to stop on Fritz’s parapet with the gun on our left flank while the rest of the Company raided his front lines. We got across alright and it seemed as if Hell was let loose for a bit until we got the signal to return. I was carrying a bag of bombs and they tripped me up into a hole and by the time I had sorted myself out my party had disappeared in the darkness. Fritz was letting go all over the place and by that time I’d lost my direction absolutely. I crawled into a shell hole and found two more of our fellows – lost the same as myself. We knew we could not get back by daylight so we decided after a fit to crawl in what was the direction of our lines. After wriggling along for some time we came up against some barbed wire and somebody opened fire on us. We soon found out that we were in front of Fritz’s line. I rolled over and dropped into a shell hole. It was just breaking day then so I had to lie in that hole all day. I didn’t know until after what happened to the other two chaps. I have never known such a long day as that was. I’d nothing to eat or drink and I daren’t smoke as the Germans were so near I could hear them talking. I just had to lie still and wait for darkness. To put the lid on it started to rain in the early evening. When it got dark again I crawled out of my hole and started the journey – on my stomach – for our lines. Fritz was sending up lights every few seconds making ‘no man’s land’ bright as day. Every time the lights went up I had to lie still. The machine gun bullets were pinging over my head and rifle grenades dropping all over the place. It took me all night to get through to our lines. I was not touched except for a slight tap on the knee with a bit off a rifle grenade. Our chaps were surprised to see me as I had been reported missing.”

‘Walter did not make it back home to Warsop. He would have had several more months of fighting before he was killed in action in France, 1st April 1918. He may have lived just long enough to see the Germans start their retreat and to know that an allied victory would be won.’

On a previous occasion, I was also in contact with the Nottinghamshire County Council as they set up an online Roll of Honour, as my grandparents and their four children were living in Nottinghamshire when my grandfather was called up. Walter Cammack’s name is also on the War Memorial in Warsop, in Nottinghamshire. My grandfather was working as a Foreman in one of the collieries. It is great that such initiatives are up and running and that he has not been forgotten in his home town or the place where he worked.  Horncastle, though, is the traditional home of the Cammack clan and has been for generations, going back beyond Dr Richard Cammack who served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy in the mid-1800s.

St Peter and St Paul Church Warsop 2

Horncastle, Lincolnshire, War Memorial

W Cammack 03
Walter Cammack, killed France, 1 April 1918

Walter Cammack war memorial 2

So, my Anzac Day Heroes start with my few greats-grandfather, Navy Doctor Cammack. Come down a couple of generations to my grandfather, Walter Cammack (pictured above), down another generation to my father, Sergeant Alfred Cammack (RAAF), and his brother, Warrant Officer Walter Frederick Cammack (RAAF).

Left: Warrant Officer Walter Frederick Cammack (RAAF) 1942

Right: Sergeant Alfred Cammack (RAAF) c1939

Next, down to my first husband, Corporal Barry Vance (RAAF) who died from Leukaemia in 1977 after being involved in the RAAF Deseal/Reseal Project on the F111s at RAAF Base Amberley. Barry was an electrical fitter and the photograph below is taken from his graduation from 53 ELECFITT Course in November 1970, when he was 23.

Barry ElecFitt Course 1970 3

Corporal Barry James Vance (RAAF)

So, these are my Anzac Day Heroes and the people I will be remembering on Anzac Day. Alongside these though, is someone else I will never forget: my brother, Neil Cammack, who died in 2010. Neil served his country in another way – he was for many years a National Account Manager with Telstra (based in Canberra) and he was the man who ensured Defence’s Telstra telephone communications stayed up-to-date and operational.


Neil Cammack 1942-2010


So, these are just a few of my family who are no longer around and this is why Anzac Day has become a special day in the lives of myself and other family members.


copyrightby Carol Roberts

‘With heaps and heaps of love and kisses’: the Boulton brothers’ war

‘With heaps and heaps of love and kisses’: the Boulton brothers’ warBrothers in Arms photo from Louise

Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F.

Compiled and edited by Louise Wilson

425pp, $39.95

Available from the author at

On reading the first of the Great War letters written by the Boulton brothers, Nigel and Stephen, it became obvious that this was going to be an emotional, poignant and at times, disturbing journey. The content of the letters will appeal strongly to anyone who has family who served during the Great War and in my own case, they echo the trauma experienced by my English grandfather in the letters he wrote to family from the Western Front. The letters in this book were written by the great-uncles of Melbourne-based author, Louise Wilson, and when letters such as these fall into the hands of an accomplished author and family historian the results promise to be outstanding.

An award-winning author, Louise Wilson brings to this work the meticulous research skills shown in her previous excellent publications, Robert Forrester, First Fleeter; Paul Bushell, Second Fleeter and Southwark Luck: the story of Charles Homer Martin, Ann Forrester and their children. Brothers in Arms is different in terms of subject matter, scope and style from any of Louise’s previous works and her experience as an author is evident in this well-referenced collection. A debt of thanks is due to the late Dora Mary Boulton for keeping her sons’ letters and having the foresight to distribute typed copies amongst family members, and to the late Julia Woodhouse, the author’s mother, for keeping the family photographs. The original letters are held by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The presence of Nigel and Stephen Boulton is strong in this book and it fills gaps in the historiography of the Great War. It is a valuable resource that allows us to discover what it was like to serve as an Australian doctor under British command in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Captain Nigel Boulton) and an artillery gunner, later commissioned as an officer in the Australian Infantry Forces (Lieutenant Stephen Boulton). What is exceptional about this book is the fact that this collection of letters has remained intact for at least one hundred years, to become a rich source of first-hand social history. They increase our understanding of life as experienced by the Boulton brothers during their years of military service during World War I and of life at home for Nigel and Stephen’s grandmother, widowed mother, sister and aunts.

Nigel and Stephen Boulton’s parents were both English and the brothers were educated firstly in England and then at The Kings School in Parramatta. Nigel, who was living and continuing his medical studies in England when war was declared in 1914, appears to be the more Anglophilic, espousing the strength of the British character in his letters to ‘Dearest Mother’, ‘how glorious it is to feel one is a Britisher at a time like this…I thank God I was born of English parents every time I think of it’. Despite Nigel’s obvious love of England and all things British, towards the end of the war he writes, ‘how I wish I could be with you again in dear old New South Wales’. By this time too, Stephen Boulton is ‘heartily sick of the whole business’ and writes that ‘everyone is living for the day they arrive back home again in Australia’.

Of course, Nigel’s attitude towards the Mother Country is not surprising for it was one shared by thousands of volunteer troops who enlisted to fight for Empire, King and Country. As Les Carlyon comments in The Great War: ‘To many Australians the prospect of war seemed exhilarating…Australians rushed to join up’. Although shipping and passenger services were greatly disrupted both in and out of England because of the war, Nigel is surprised that ‘a large number of Australians seem to be returning to Australia’. He considers that ‘Europe is a far more exciting place to live in just now’. In the census of 1911 close to ninety-six per cent of Australia’s population identified as British, thus Australians, on the whole, classed themselves as British. Testimony to this had been the introduction of Empire Day on 24 May 1905, on the birthday of the late Queen Victoria. Celebrations were held every year on this date, in schools, churches and universities, such as the University of Sydney where Nigel completed his medical training.

But in Australia on Empire Day after the landing on Gallipoli in 1915, the casualty lists revealed the dark side of Empire. By this time, Nigel Boulton had been transferred from the Section Hospital at Dover Castle in England to No 15 General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. He was under no illusions as to the appalling casualties expected during the war and observes that England estimated that the war was ‘going to be a short one’. In his opinion, England was slow to realise the seriousness and complexity of events unfolding at the front. As Nigel was treating hundreds of Australian wounded after their arrival at the hospital he comments, ‘our fellows have done splendidly and are doing all that is required of them…our casualties, however, have been heavy’. He comments further, ‘You can have no idea how shockingly mutilated some of our poor fellows are…’.

The doctors dealing with the horrific injuries caused by bombs, bullets and shrapnel were also dealing with a long list of illnesses and diseases. A large number of the Australians and New Zealanders contracted pneumonia and Nigel comments that this is surprising because ‘they are in the majority of cases superior physically to the English soldiers’. As well as pneumonia, the list of illnesses mentioned throughout the letters includes diphtheria, typhoid, dysentery, diarrhoea, boils, sores, rheumatic fever, enteritis (disease of the intestines), frost-bite and trench foot. The long-term effects of this war were to prove long-lasting and catastrophic to thousands of troops and their families.

By May 1915, Nigel’s younger brother, Stephen, had joined the artillery and was anchored off the coast of Gallipoli. Appearing to be quite the opposite of his brother, Stephen’s early letters to his mother ‘Dear Matee-Boos or Dear Matee’, feature down-to-earth comments on his voyage from Australia on a transport ship with four hundred Waler horses from Muswellbrook in New South Wales. His letters are easy to read and it’s impossible not to become excited and appreciative of the personal content because it is accurate and descriptive, although it could initially be upsetting for horse-lovers. He describes in detail how the horses were confined to stalls ‘just made big enough to hold them…they cannot sit down and have to stand the whole time…their legs get a bit puffed and swollen after a time’. The horses were well looked after though, as Stephen explains, ‘each man had seven horses to look after, feed, water and exercise’. The horses were ‘the whole business’ on a horse transport and their welfare came before anything else. The eighty-five men slept in hammocks slung from the ceiling in the foc’sle where they lived, dressed and ate. As an officer, Stephen’s brother, Nigel, had quite a different experience on his voyage to Egypt where he shared a stateroom with one other officer.

Considering the rigid censorship of letters from the troops to home, the amount of information contained in the Boulton brothers’ letters is surprising. Stephen elucidates details about his training, movements, equipment and military situations to the extent that one becomes emotionally caught up in his life as an artillery gunner. Nigel too, reveals information about hospital life and his war as a medical officer, with wonderful anecdotes and asides about his girlfriend and mother-in-law who travelled to England and then Egypt to be near him, the lack of discipline in the Australian troops: ‘they are undisciplined to a degree and are very reckless’, comments about the incompetency of some of his British senior officers and vivid descriptions of some of his surgical and medical exploits. Particular phrases, mainly in Stephen’s letters, are typical of Australian idiom of the time, such as ‘phiz’ for physiognomy, ‘la de da’, ‘some splosh’, ‘birthenday’, ‘raking in the spondoolicks’, ‘a veritable sollicker’, ‘worriting’.

The writing and receiving of letters and parcels in an uncertain world was crucial to the morale of the troops serving overseas. Throughout their letters, Nigel and Stephen constantly lament the fact that their letters and parcels have been delayed, lost or misappropriated. At other times they are over-joyed when they receive bundles of mail and newspapers from home in one delivery. Stephen was particularly thankful for a Christmas parcel received from the Red Cross containing a pack of cards, fifty cigarettes, chocolate, tobacco, writing paper and envelopes. For many troops, the writing of letters and diaries away from the fighting was a necessary temporary escape from the reality of the horrors of war and being able to share their thoughts and experiences with loved ones at home, even if they were written on the tiniest scrap of paper, was an important therapeutic escape.

Nigel’s letters are descriptive and largely self-explanatory while Stephen’s letters, although just as descriptive, leave one with the feeling that something deeper is implied. It’s necessary to read between the silences in Stephen’s letters because he often minimises the horrors of his experiences, especially on the Western Front: ‘We are extremely busy just now…the last fortnight up in the line was pretty hot…we had a pretty fair dose’ and ‘I had rather a narrow squeak’ when he was buried after a bomb hit the trench at Pozières. Stephen is definitely the brother for whom I felt more compassion, but this is most likely because Nigel seems a little more remote.

In the months before he was sent to France, Stephen suffered a series of illnesses and was sent to St John’s Military Hospital, Malta, then to Ghain-Tuffieha Convalescent Camp where there are ‘no sheets..after so many different men coming in one after another the tents and blankets are not too clean’ and ‘there are bags of fleas’. By this time too (December 1915), Stephen explains that the ‘Colonial’ troops are no longer to be sent to England to convalesce, so they will more than likely be sent to Egypt. It is difficult not to feel slightly angry as Stephen explains the treatment and conditions meted out to the ‘Colonials’. Later, it seems that Stephen can’t take a trick as he comes down with the mumps shortly before being transferred to Officer Cadet School in England.

To alleviate the constant stress of war and of writing about their experiences, each of the brothers escapes in their minds to home by writing and enquiring about different family members. Because of their close family ties with family in England and Australia, Nigel and Stephen regularly correspond with their mother, grandmother and younger sister (nicknamed ‘The Child’) a network of aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and friends from school and university. The author constantly communicates with the reader with well-placed notes and footnotes, carefully explaining military terminology and family relationships, interspersed with historic detail. It’s not an easy task to decipher military terminology in unit and service war records, but Louise has achieved the inclusion of accurate information and maps with great success. Her inclusion of charts showing family relationships, along with well-placed photographs from family and Australian War Memorial collections creates interest, intimacy and intensity. It’s impossible not to feel emotionally involved with these two brothers, especially as one gets closer to the end of the book.

In 1916, Stephen writes of sending home a copy of The Anzac book, the contents of which were subject to censorship. As editor, the official Australian war correspondent, Charles Bean, called for submissions for The Anzac book knowing that he had to keep within the strict British War Office guidelines and those set by the Australian Defence Department. He therefore requested submissions such as ‘short poems and stories, pictures, jokes, topical advertisements, skits, limericks, cartoons and the Anzac alphabet’ and from these he selected those that did not criticise or ‘needlessly distress’ the people of Australia.

Despite the rigours of censorship, Charles Bean managed to capture the essence of why many of the Australians were fighting in a foreign country and convey that message in his writings. Bean has in the past been criticised for rejecting contributions from the troops for The Anzac book that undermined his ideal of the Australian fighting man or were detrimental to morale or too depressing, but the Anzac book which Stephen Boulton sent home to his family helped the Australian public realise the danger and conditions under which the men of the Australian Imperial Force were fighting. In a letter sent after weeks of fighting at Pozières, Stephen writes that the commanders are ‘making great use of the Australians and they are reckoned absolutely the best and not greatly over-exaggerated’. Australia endured great losses at Pozières and suffered as many casualties as in the entire Gallipoli campaign.

Each of the Boulton brothers at various points in their letters, praises the stamina of the Australian soldiers: ‘They are the very devil as far as fighting goes and fight till the last man…our chaps have behaved magnificently and are so cheerful and brave…the English chaps are positively amazed at the Australians…they are the most magnificent men they have ever seen’. But Stephen also adds his opinion of Billy Hughes 1916 Australian conscription referendum: ‘If he only gives the troops over here a vote, I know what will win’.

At different times, Nigel and Stephen manage to gain approval for leave in England which is a welcome respite from the ravages of war. They carry out whirlwind visits with relatives and friends before heading back to the Western Front. The uncertainty and constant anxiety felt by family members in England and Australia for the safe return of their loved ‘Nige’ and ‘Toots’ is shared by the reader as they experience life and turmoil with two brothers during one of the worst periods in the history of recent times.

Louise Wilson is to be congratulated on producing such a superb compilation of letters in this brilliant publication. Be prepared to shed a few tears.


Carol Roberts PHANSW, is an historian, researcher and cultural heritage tour designer working in the Hawkesbury area of New South Wales