Bencubbin's Breakell's World War I diary

24 Apr, 2015 02:00 AM
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Trooper Robert Francis Breakell, 21st Reinforcements, 10th Light Horse, 3rd Brigade, in this photo taken in Egypt in September 1916 when he was 25 years old.
Shrapnel burst over our heads on our out-post duty last night.
Trooper Robert Francis Breakell, 21st Reinforcements, 10th Light Horse, 3rd Brigade, in this photo taken in Egypt in September 1916 when he was 25 years old.

HISTORY is a record of past people, organisations and events, but the record still needs to be compiled by someone, sometimes from official reports or writings or maybe by talking to some who were present at the event.

Aware that knowledge about the history of the town and area was fading with time, the citizens of Bencubbin decided to do something about it, so the Shire set up the Mount Marshall History Working Group in 1999.

Like most shires in country WA, the Mount Marshall population has varied greatly, climbing from 373 in 1921 to 963 in 1925, but the last census in 2011 showed that it had then dropped to about 450.

The latest Working Group effort, triggered by the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and with funding from Lotterywest, was titled “Remembering Them”, and it was officially opened on March 14 at the Bencubbin Show.

The opening ceremony was performed by the Mount Marshall Shire president Robert Breakell, a fortunate choice, as one of the displays features his great uncle, Trooper Frank Breakell, 10th Light Horse.

Tpr Breakell was a part of the 21st reinforcements of the 10th Light Horse and he landed in Suez at “4 o’clock pm on September 21 1916”, and as well as taking part in the desert campaign against the Turks, he kept a diary for most of that period.

The original diary, written in a small notebook in pencil, together with his campaign medals formed a major part of the “Remembering Them” display, which also featured his brother Stanley (Private Stanley Breakell 28 AIB) who was killed in France.

One of the entries in the diary, dated December 27, 1916, says “Not heard from Stanley for a long time now”.

Only two days later, his diary entry December 29, 1916, notes the arrival of mail, 10 letters, but including “one from Aunt Emma telling the awful news of my dear brother Stanley’s death”.

As with soldiers from many wars, especially WWI, disease and illness were often just as hard on the troops as enemy bullets, with Trooper Frank Breakell having more than his fair share, including many bouts of malaria.

This entry not long after his arrival in the Middle East demonstrates the problem, and its effect:

24/9/16. Sent into hospital with influenza, and seeing that there is a scare of mumps going through the camp, I might have to stay in 21 days. The life in hospital is alright if you are sick but when you aren’t, it gets monotonous. I am on milk diet which is up to mud for an Australian.

He was obviously missing some of the comforts of home, as some of his earlier entries show:

21/9/16. We just had a feed of Bully Beef and biscuits.

22/9/16. Had to boil the billy, had bully beef and bread and tea with no sugar or milk or marmalade.

23/9/15. Got over to the YMCA and had a good feed of dates, grapes and cocoa.

4/10/16. Got over to the YMCA and had a good meal of eggs and tomatoes with Bill.

14/10/16. Just had a good bath and done some washing which is my first since enlisting.

His entries are a time capsule of language, particularly with the use of “bonza”, a word that has just about gone completely out of circulation.

22/09/16. It is the opinion of the camp that it is bonza

11/10/16. Feeling bonza, received three letters

29/10/16. Been for a swim this morning – it is bonza.

Australian troops were particularly well paid during WWI, well in excess of the rates paid to British soldiers, but this entry gives some idea of values:

5/12/16. Got paid one pound ($2). Feel quite rich again but owe about 5/-(50c).

But the war did eventually catch up with him, as these entries show:

12/3/17. Been here 48 hours and are camped in the open and it has been blowing all day, eaten more sand than anything else.

22/3/17. Passed over the border into Jerusalem.

27/3/17. Shrapnel burst over our heads on our out-post duty last night. Had a bonza swim yesterday. First shave for four days.

There was a 12-month gap in the diary which started up again on 6/4/18.

30/4/18. When we were at the top we struck a Turkish redoubt and fixed bayonets and charged over the top of one hill, down the other side and up the next, on top of which were the Turks. They put up a white flag just as soon as we got there. It was a great sensation.

4/8/18. The fourth anniversary of the war. Spending the night on Listening Post but I don’t think Jacko is game to attack. The war news from France is exceedingly good.

As the end of hostilities approached, his comments became shorter, but at the end, he still didn’t get carried away, finishing with a comment about the food.

31/10/18. Turkey finished and a good job too.

4/11/18. Austria finished also.

12/11/18. Germany signed the Armistice. Civil war in Germany. Kaiser and Crown Prince abdicated. We will soon have pears now.

The final entry in the diary was perhaps fitting, stating dryly:

10/4/19. Landed Fremantle and were put into quarantine.

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