Wednesday, 25 April 2018

In the Service of his Country…

My Anzac Day tribute this year is in honour of my husband's grandfather.  The following piece was written for "Families at War", a unit in the University of Tasmania's Diploma of Family History.

                                               JAMES JOSHUA PERRY
                                   1889 - 1934

The physical and psychological injuries sustained by so many Australian men returned from World War 1 (WW1) changed the course of not only their own lives, but those of their families too.  His children grew up believing that James Joshua Perry died as a result of being gassed in the trenches of France.  In reality, 44-year-old Jim died from aortitis resulting from syphilis contracted while convalescing in England after being wounded.  Jim was one of an estimated 60,000 Australian troops treated for venereal disease during WW1.
The fourth child of James and Catherine Perry, Jim was born in 1889 near Jugiong in rural New South Wales.  He left home as a youth and spent several years as a sailor on trading vessels. Jim enlisted for service in Melbourne on 6th October 1914.  There is no record of what motivated him to enlist, but he was subsequently posted as a  deserter from the steamship Marere on 16th October. The Marere had spent the previous month in Sydney being converted to a troop ship, and was in Melbourne en route to Albany, Western Australia, where she joined the first convoy of Australian Imperial Forces.  
After enlisting, Jim would have spent a few weeks at the Broadmeadows Training Camp north of Melbourne. Initial training consisted of instruction in the use and care of weapons, entrenching tools, and instilling military discipline into the recruits.  Jim was assigned the rank of Driver in the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade Reinforcements, a role for which his family background of breeding horses would have suited him well.  In WW1, Driver was an equivalent rank to Private and was responsible for a wagon and team of horses used to transport weapons, ammunition and supplies to the Front, and transport the wounded back. Drivers were responsible for the care of the horses in their team.  Although not directly involved in fighting, they were often a target for enemy fire because of the work they performed.
Jim embarked from Port Melbourne on 22nd December 1914, on board HMAT A30 Borda.  The ship then sailed from Albany, Western Australia in convoy with 16 other vessels on 31st December 1914 as the Second Detachment of the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Expeditionary Forces.  On arrival in Egypt, Jim was transferred to the 2nd Field Company Divisional Engineers.  It is uncertain what part he played in the Gallipoli campaign, as his record does not reflect this.  Field diaries reveal the 2nd Field Company didn’t land at Gallipoli until 7th November.  Jim’s record shows that after the Gallipoli evacuation in December 1915, he was transferred to Maadi, the Cairo camp of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade, so it is possible he was with them. 

Jim re-joined the 2nd Field Company Engineers at Tel El Kabir at the end of December 1915.  This was a training camp set up in the Egyptian desert for recuperation and re-organisation of troops, with intensive training in preparation for transfer to the Western Front.  Three months later he proceeded to Alexandria, embarking on S.S. Simla, to arrive at Marseilles on 30th March.  
From Marseilles, the unit had a grueling three day train journey to the village of Steenbecque in Northern France, arriving at 0200 on 2nd April only to find they then had a twenty mile march to their camp.  Although tedious, several diarists commented on the contrasting beauty of the landscape compared with Egypt.
Throughout April, the men moved north to the battlefields. Jim was re-mustered as a Sapper, and the remainder of 1916 was spent working to reinforce trenches, create new dug-outs for gun crews and road-building works.   The appalling weather conditions of the 1916-17 winter hampered progress as the men faced freezing temperatures and constant mud & snow.

On 27th January Jim took a gunshot wound to his left thigh. He was treated at the 45th Casualty Clearing Station at Edgehill (Dernancourt), before being transported via Rouen to 2nd Birmingham War Hospital, England on 1st February 1917. 
                                             Figure 1: Description of wound

‘Gas’ was the dreaded gas gangrene, caused by the bacteria Clostridium Welchii, which thrived in deep wounds and often led to amputation.  Prevention included leaving the wounds open to allow oxygen circulation and minimise the infection.  This delayed healing time compared with suturing wounds closed.  Jim spent two months at Birmingham, where he probably met his sister Eleanor who was stationed there with the Australian Army Nursing Service.  
 After six weeks convalescing at 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, Jim had 3 weeks furlough, following which he spent time at various command depots and training camps in preparation for returning to the Front.  However on 25th July, Jim was admitted to hospital diagnosed with venereal disease. He was treated for both gonorrhoea and syphilis at 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital at Bulford for 2 periods of 20 days and 22 days during the months of July to September.  Treatment was complicated, painful and not guaranteed to be effective.  In Jim’s case he was deemed to be cured, as evidenced by a negative screening test obtained in March 1918. 
The next eight months were spent in training camps recovering and building up strength before returning to France in May 1918, to the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre. There is no record of where Jim went from there, or if he saw any active service again. As a 1914 enlister, Jim qualified for six months ‘Special 1914 Leave’, and left for Australia on 13th October 1918.  When the Armistice was signed on 11th November, he would have been at sea.
Back in Australia, Jim returned to his former life on the trading ships, until his brother’s wife introduced him to her cousin Mary Forristal. They married on 10th February 1923, and Jim took employment with the Tramways.  The following year, they became parents to twin daughters Theresa and Patricia, followed in 1930 by son Jack.

In September 1933, Jim presented to his doctor with pain in his left leg, shortness of breath, and swelling of his face.  He was referred to the Alfred Hospital where his heart condition was diagnosed. His application to the Repatriation Commission for a pension in November 1933, when he could no longer work, was rejected on the grounds that his condition was not due to war service.   Two appeals were also rejected.  It was not until Mary Perry notified the Repatriation Commission of her husband’s death, and requested a pension for herself that the Board relented and granted approval in September 1934.

James Perry died in the Alfred Hospital on 12 July 1934.  The War pension enabled Mary to bring up their young family, and provide them with a good education.  Jim was as much a victim of his war service as anyone else who served.  He was one of an estimated 38 men and 1 woman from Jugiong who enlisted, but surprisingly there was no war memorial raised in Jugiong after WW1.  In 2014 a memorial was erected to mark the 100-year anniversary, but although his brother John is listed, Jim and his sister Eleanor are not mentioned.  His many grandchildren and great grandchildren are a testament to his sacrifice and service.

Jim & Mary Perry with Theresa & Patricia c1928

  © Katrina Vincent 2018. Written for Families at War unit, University of Tasmania. A fully referenced PDF of this work is available on request.


  1. He certainly did his bit.. so sad that he was rejected by the Repatriation Commission, this happened far too often. It was a 'kick in the teeth' to so many of our brave servicemen and women.
    A great story and tribute.

    1. I have included your blog/s in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

      Thank you, Chris

  2. Thanks Chris, I really must try & post more often!