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.
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.
Horncastle, Lincolnshire, War Memorial
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.
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.
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.