War Service at Gallipoli: R122 James Edward Courbarron

James Edward. Courbarron was born at Waverley, Sydney, in 1890. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 16th September, 1914 at Enoggera in Queensland giving his address as Cheynes Hotel in Atherton and naming his sister, Mildred (Mrs P.Hopkins) who was living at Kalgoorlie Street in Willoughby, as his next-of-kin rather than his mother Mary. His certificate of attestation was signed at Townsville on 17th September, 1914. At the time of his enlistment, James was 24 years of age and his certificate of medical examination described him as being five feet ten and a half inches, weighing 165lbs with dark grey eyes and light brown hair. His religious denomination is given as Catholic.

On the 24th September 1914 he was appointed to the 15th Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade of the A.I.F. The 15th Battalion AIF was raised from late September 1914, six weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. Three-quarters of the battalion were recruited as volunteers from Queensland, and the rest from Tasmania. With the 13th, 14th and 16th Battalions it formed the 4th Brigade, commanded by Colonel John Monash.

The Queensland and Tasmanian recruits were united when the battalion trained together in Victoria. They embarked for overseas on the 22nd December 1914. After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving in early February 1915. Australia already had an AIF division there, the 1st. When the 4th Brigade arrived in Egypt, it became part of the New Zealand and Australian Division. As a member of the the 4th Brigade, James Courbarron landed at ANZAC  late in the afternoon of 25 April 1915. From May to August, the battalion was heavily involved in establishing and defending the front line of the ANZAC beachhead. James took part in the April landing without injury but was wounded on the 14th July at Dardanelles and again on the 28th July at Gallipoli. He was also suffering from colic and ‘debility’ and was transferred to Mudros for treatment before rejoining his Battn at Gallipoli again on  30th August. From this point began a continuing period of various medical conditions and misdemeanors that would see his war service fraught with trouble.

On 21st September, and suffering from debilitating enteritis and dysentery, James was transported from Gallipoli by the hospital ship HMHT Dunluce Castle to hospital at Lemnos in Malta from where he was subsequently transported to England. He was admitted to 1st Southen General Hospital, Birmingham, on 18th October 1915 in very poor shape and remained there recovering from his illness until being transferred to Perham Downs Camp in Salisbury on 28th June, 1916. Perham Down was a military unit where Australians numbered heavily among those being trained there and also were transferred there after discharge from hospital. Whether his behaviour was a result of the stress from the traumas of the Gallipoli Campaign or whether he was just incorrigible, James’ period at Perham Down was marked by frequent run-ins with military authorities. From 2pm on the 14th July 1916 until 17th July he was reported as absent without leave while under embarkation orders and had to forfeit four days pay. Again on the 15th August he was absent from parade losing four days pay and from 22nd August to the 2nd September he was reported A.W.L from reveille and was forfeited nine days pay. Very much seeming to be a troubled young man.

From July until November 1916, James seemed to spend more time in trouble than out, forfeiting a total of a 6 weeks pay and often disappearing from camp for up to four days at a time without authorised leave. More often than not he would surrender himself before being arrested, however given the amount of pay he had to forfeit James would have seen very little of his earnings during 1916. On 12th December 1916, James’ health took a more serious turn for the worse when he was admitted to an Isolation Hospital with venereal disease. He was placed on the Syphilis register at Bulford on the 19th December 1916 having contracted it in Birmingham from an ‘amateur’.  By the end of January the disease had cleared and he was transferred to Parkhouse Hospital in Bulford in February 1917 before rejoining his Battn, he had clocked up a total of 68 days recuperation from the Syphilis.

On 6th May 1917, James embarked for Rouen, France, where he quickly contracted another bout of dysentery and spent the remainder of the month in hospital before being returned to England on the 31st May on the HS Aberdonian for further treatment of the dysentery at Southampton and, once more, a bout of venereal disease at Parkhouse hospital. After spending June to July  in hospital, the remainder of 1917 saw James progress from one serious misdemeanor to the next: ‘breaking out of camp whilst a defaulter’ at New Milton on the 27th July and ‘using obscene and threatening language to an NCO’ which earned him 168 hours of detention;  ‘disobedience of orders’ on the 14th August.

On the 29th August, James again noticed the unmistakable signs of syphilis, contracted while enjoying unauthorised leave in Edinburgh and received initial treatment at Perham. On 17th September, his condition has worsened and he was admitted to hospital in Bulford for 15 days of treatment. His admittance record states that he first contracted the condition ‘sometime between 8-19th August 1917  while AWL in Edinburgh‘. He caught it from ‘a professional’….treatment consisted of a ‘washout by syringe with condys administered by self’. Treatment he received consisted of mercury, injections of Hydrarg.GRS and Novarsenobillon – makes your eyes water to think about it….he was discharged with the condition ‘inactive’ on the 29th September.

Nonetheless, James was awarded one red and three blue chevrons on the 9th November, 1917 which was in recognition of his overseas war service to date and became entitled to the 1914/15 Star in early 1918 which was awarded to subjects of the British Empire for service in the war.

After a week in hospital with scabies in March, James was assigned to 16th Battn in April 1918 and embarked for France on the 17th April from Folkstone arriving at Etaples on the 18th. He was posted to his unit for field action on the 21st where he was ‘taken on strength’ on the 27th.  Given James’ poor health record, one can only assume the need for ground troops was desperate at this stage of the war in France, for he undoubtedly would have been severely debilitated by the frequent episodes of diarrhoea – not to mention his other more ‘intimate’ illness.

During this time James’ brother, Frederick, was serving with the AIF having joined in September 1917, and had spent most of 1918 recovering in St Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors hospital in England from injuries he received in action in France. Given James’ record for being either in trouble or in hospital, it is unlikely they encountered each each other while they were both in England and subsequently Fred was returned to Australia in September 1918.

James five months tour  in France was as brutal as the assault on Gallipoli and Dardanelles in 1915 for this time marked the last great offensive for the allied forces in France. In March and April 1918, the battalion helped to stop the German Spring offensive. The battalion participated in the great allied offensive of 1918, fighting near Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as ‘..the black day of the German Army in this war’. The battalion continued operations until late September. At 11 am on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent. In November 1918, members of the AIF began to return to Australia for demobilisation and discharge.

After five months in action in France, on the 5th October 1918 and just five weeks before the Armistice was signed bringing the war to an end, Pte. James Courbarron received his ‘D30 Special 1914 Leave’ . On the 12th October James left the port of Le Havre on the ship ‘Prince George’ arriving at Southampton the next day. At this point it is both fascinating and ironic that James Courbarron, being at Le Havre in Normandy, had come full circle in that his own Courbarron ancestors had left Normandy for the island of Jersey just over a century earlier. His grandfather, Frederick, was the grandson of French immigrants who had moved to the Channel Islands to farm the land or work as labourers. James was standing, very possibly, at the same port his forebears stood before leaving France.

On the 1st November, 1918, James Courbarron returned to Australia, his embarkation orders signed by Capt. David Dunworth, Admin. HQ. London. On arrival in Sydney, James was subject to several physicals before he was recommended for discharge. His dental examination on the 11th February 1919 reported a full set of teeth that were ‘OK’, a medical examination found him to have ‘no disabilities – fit for discharge‘.  James was discharged from the army on the 25th February 1919. He was awarded three medals: the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

In 1953, James married Annie Josephine Poole in Chatswood, NSW – he was 63 years old; their son, John Hamilton Courbarron born in 1924,  had married three years prior in 1950.  Annie died in 1964 in the district of Katoomba. It is interesting to consider the constant scrapes that James got into during his war service against family accounts of him in later life as being a pleasant and quiet man who kept pretty much to himself – he seems to be like many young men back then who volunteered for an adventure they never expected to turn out  be as horrific as it did and James, like so many, just seemed to think it was the best idea to simply live each day as if it were their last. Nobody can hold that against them.

In the next article I will detail correspondence sent by his mother Mary and his sister Mildred while James was in service overseas.




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