Sunday, 21 August 2016

A battle with the AIF

The prompt for this (third) week of the NFHM Blogging Challenge refers to some of the significant battles of two World Wars that will be remembered during this month. But, not all of the battles that took place in 1916 and have shaped our family histories across generations were military actions. There were personal battles, bureaucratic battles and domestic battles taking place on the Home Front that were to prove equally influential.

On the 19th of August 1915, Recruiting Train 3 returned to Brisbane1 via the North Coast Line after a final major rally at Gympie intended to attract new recruits for the Expeditionary Force.

In the next few weeks, Queenslanders began to get an inkling of the tragedy occurring in Turkey. On 7 September, the Brisbane Courier carried a small item2 referring to heavy Australian losses that hinted at (what we now know as) the disastrous attack on Hill 60 (Kaiajik Aghala) without any explicit reference.

So it was not surprising that by the middle of September 1915 there would be a surge in the number of men presenting themselves at Victoria Barracks eager "to do their bit" One might not have expected to see Alfred Edward Noyes among them. He was no youthful bushman in search of adventure but a 33-year-old former timber-getter tending a small fruit farm at Palmwoods to support his wife Emily and their six surviving children.

Nevertheless, on 18 September 1915, Alfred swore that he would "well and truly serve our Sovereign Lord the King in the Australian Imperial Force from [that day] until the end of the war" and Dr. Cameron of the Army Medical Corp declared him fit do so (although he noted a "large scar on the front of his right leg"). The group of new recruits was assigned to A Company, 7th Depot Battalion at Enoggera for their basic training3.

Alfred's first few months in the Army must have been unexceptional. The only entry on his record concerns a 5/- fine for a bout of drunkenness to celebrate the New Year. The same period was much harder for Emily. As she wrote in a letter to confirm a meeting with an Army Chaplain, "all his interests on the farm are going to rack and ruin [...] the man he left to look after it has cleared out [...] I have five young children that prevents me from doing anything". She apparently felt it would be too much to add that the twins had celebrated their first birthday after Alfred enlisted and that Doreen (apparently not counted among the "young" children) was not yet 11.

On 20 January 1916, the recruits were deemed ready to be assigned to their eventual unit for final training before departure. Alfred was included in the 17th Reinforcements for the famed 9th Battalion with whom he moved to Exhibition Camp at Bowen Hills. Given the need to ensure that the available weapons and ammunition went to the troops at the Front, much of basic training in 1915 was undertaken with broomstick "rifles". At Exhibition Camp, Alfred was issued with a real SMLE service weapon which would reveal a flaw in his readiness for embarkation. Not only was Private Noyes unable to fire the rifle successfully, he could barely handle it. His difficulty was attributed to a "stiff wrist".

Meanwhile Emily was continuing her campaign to have her husband sent home. She wrote that "An examination of his arm and leg should convince anyone that he is not fit for active service". It seems that the interests of an angry wife and a frustrated company commander coincided and, on the 8th of February, a Medical Board was convened to determine whether Alfred should be discharged as medically unfit.

When questioned, he freely acknowledged that a log had fallen on him at Killarney in 1902 crushing his right side. He had since had two operations on his right arm but the wrist was still twisted. The official medical examination identified "atrophy of right forearm ... deformity of wrist ... loss of bone ... adhesions between ulna and radius preventing rotation". The professional opinion of the Board members was that this represented a 50% reduction in the man's capacity for earning a full livelihood in the general labour market.

On 21 February 1916, Alfred Noyes' war ended. He was discharged and caught a train back to Palmwoods to tend his pineapples (and to extend his family when young Edward Alfred was born in the following January).

It seems probable that even after her husband's return, Emily continued to be responsible for most of the heavy work. Eldest daughter Doreen had strong recollections of "looking after the little ones" while her mother undertook farm work that possibly contributed to her early death at just 39 years old in 1927.

It was not just on the Western Front, that there were extended battles from which no real winner would emerge.


  1. Queensland State Archives: Police Commissioner's Office; 16865 Correspondence 1861-1987; 2041776, Correspondence about advertising and arrangements for the Recruiting Train (1268M 50); digital image; ; accessed 19 August 2016
  2. 1915 'THE DARDANELLES.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 7 September, p. 7. , viewed 21 Aug 2016,
  3. National Archives of Australia: Australian Military Forces; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920; 7999844, NOYES ALFRED EDWARD; digital image; ; accessed 19 August 2016


  1. Poor Emily certainly endured a long battle of her own. Alfred's battle seems to have been not coming to terms with his injuries and the constraints they caused him.

  2. This is a wonderful account of real happenings during the war to ordinary people. I love the amount of detail into the ordinary. I find trying to understand my grandfather's war records very difficult and appreciate how you managed to contextualize your story. Great work.

  3. Bob...a really thoughtful contribution to this week's blgging meme. Thank you so much for your story which I found fascinaying.


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