Alfred COOMBES (1887-1917)

9th Infantry Brigade AIF

MAIN MENU. 34th BATTALION PAGE.


Menin Gate War Memorial

34th BATTALION A.I.F.

Private: 41 Alfred COOMBES.


Born: 1887. Forbes River, New South Wales, Australia. Birth Cert:23931/1887.

Died: 7th June 1917. Killed in Action Messines, Belgium.


Father: John Coombes.

Mother: Sarah J Coombes. nee: Cameron.


INFORMATION

Alfred Coombes enlisted with A Company 34th Battalion AIF in January 1916 and was an original member of the Battalion and had his attestation forms signed by Lieutenant Colonel. Malcolm St John LAMB. Commanding Officer of the 34th Battalion AIF.

"Until the 10th of March, early training and formation of the Battalion was in progress. On that day the Battalion marched to the newly pitched camp at Rutherford and was completed with the exception of the Transport. These joined later and came from the Army Service Corps camp near Sydney. Here strenuous training was carried out. The men were very keen and fit, whilst their comfort and health were made a special study. Food was good and ample and sports and recreation were not overlooked.

Maitland Camp at Rutherford 1916

MAITLAND CAMP RUTHERFORD N.S.W. 1916.

A Girl's League was formed to cater for the comforts of the Battalion, under the supervision of Miss Violet MACKAY, who took a keen interest from the beginning, having, with the Mayor of Maitland met the men of the Wallaby March at East Greta and prepared dinner for them on their arrival. On 1st May 1916, the Battalion left by Train from Farley Station for the Showground in Sydney, equipped with kit bags and neccessary clothing, and was reviewed in Moore Park by General: Gustave Mario RAMACCOTTI. On the following morninng, 2nd May 1916 the men embarked on the transport HMAT A20 "HORORATA" and sailed at 4:00pm".

HMAT A20 Hororata

H.M.A.T. A20 "HORORATA"

The voyage to England was without any unusual incidents and a good passage throughout. The first port of call was Albany, where three days were spent. Columbo was reached on Empire Day, 24th May. Here two days were taken up coaling and taking on provisions, etc. During the stay the Battalion carried out a route march through the town. Suez was reached on 8th June, where a party of Light Horse and some details were disembarked. Arriving at Port Said on 9th, the ship coaled and proceeded to Alexandria which was reached on 11th June 1916.

Here the Battalion transferred to S.S."Aragon", E867. Some Australian Details were on board, also a number of Tommies going to England on Furlough. Devonport was reached on the 23rd June, the Battalion disembarked at Plymouth at 1:00pm and entrained during the afternoon for Amesbury, arriving at midnight and marching to hutments at No: 1 Camp, Larkhill. Here the Battalion settled down to hard training, which included Route Marching, Trench Digging, Bomb Practice, Musketry and general Camp Routine. Later the Battalion moved to the No: 25 Camp and finished off their training, which included six days' battle practice and field work at the Bustard Trenches.

Four days' disembarkation leave was given from 6th to 10th July and later King's Leave from November 5th to 9th. Whilst here the Official Colours were issued. Purple over Green (Oval), these replacing the Colours presented to the Battalion (Old Gold on Shoulder Straps) by the Ladies of West Maitland. A Signal Section was formed at Larkhill under Lieutenant: Harold Henry McMINN. The weather in England was mostly fine until the latter part of training, when a good deal of rain and snow caused inconvenience. In October the 34th Battalion was reviewed at a Divisional Parade by His Majesty King George V at Bulford.

The 34th Battalion left Larkhill on the 21st November and entrained at Amesbury for Southampton, embarking on the S.S "Arundel". The transport section left by S.S. "Princess Victoria". The Battalion arrived at Le Harve, France on the 22nd November 1916. Disembarkation commenced at 8:00am and the Battalion marched to No;1 camp on the Hill, arriving at 2:00pm. The men carried heavy loads, in some cases amounting to miniature Q.M.' Stores. The march over cobblestones was very tiring, notwithstanding the many route marches which had been carried out at Larkhill. However, after bathing their feet and receiving treatment, as well partaking of a good meal, some spent a comfortable night.

The following morning the Battalion moved to Le Harve Railway Station, leaving D Company behind. On arrival at the Station entraining commenced at 8:00am and the train left at 11:15am. The journey was slow and occupied until 4:30pm on the 24th. On arrival at Bailleul the men detrained and marched to Outtersteene. D Company arrived at 4:00pm the following day. The Battalion rested here in billets for two days previous to taking over garrison duties in the Line at Armenties. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel. Malcolm St John LAMB. with the Adjutant, Company Commanders, N.C.O's and Specialists went into the Line to inspect Trenches, Stores, Plans and to arrange for the taking over this Section of the line on the following day.

The specialists and N.C.O's remained in the Line. On 27th November the Battalion went into the Line in the L'Epinette Sector. The men were taken up by motor lorries as far as the Square near Houplines Station, and marched via Butterne Avenue and Willow Walk to the Line, carrying their packs and blankets into the trenches. Lewis Gun ammunition was taken into the Line with the tin cases. The going was difficult owing to the conditions of the Trenches and the heavy and bulky loads. Later the blankets were dumped near Tussage Dump, from which most of them disappeared. This was the main incident of our relief in the Line.

The Sector taken over had been held by the NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILLIERS whom the 34th Battalion relieved. Specialists of this Regiment remained for a couple of days to arrange and assist in the routine. We were greeted with a display of Verey Lights and, apparently anxious to see the newcomers, the enemy searched our Sector with his searchlights throughout the night, which was misty and dark. Our Artillery and Trench Mortars put over a heavy barrage, either to let Fritz know we had arrived or to cover the change over; this was the signal for increased activity of enemy Machine Gun and Rifle fire to which the Battalion energetically replied.

During the night Patrols were sent out, Listening Posts established and wiring was commenced. Dawn broke with a thick mist hanging over the Sector and our men could get very little idea of the new frontage. Our Artillery and Trench Mortars were busy registering on the enemy positions throughout the day and Fritz retaliated with Machine Gun and Rifle fire. The first day passed with no special incidents. Our first Casualty occured on the following morning at sunrise when Private: 148 William PECK was sniped with an explosive bullet through the forehead. Counter battery work, Machine Gun firing and sniping were fairly active during our first term in the Line. The first Casualty occured on the morning of the 3rd of December at sunrise when Private: 148 William PECK was sniped with an explosive bullet through the forehead. Counter battery work, Machine Gun firing and sniping were fairly active during our first term in the Line.

Considerable damage was done to our Trenches and parapets and one of our Listening Posts was destroyed. Some enemy Patrols were dispered by our snipers. Enemy working parties were fairly active on our front and his patrols were strong. Considerable road and rail transport was noticeable behind the enemy lines. The Battalion livened things up generally in the Sector which of late had been fairly quiet and Fritz did not appreciate the change. Just before being relieved we presented them with an issue of Gas. The Trenches were in a very wet and muddy condition. The water in the bottom of them being frequently frozen, the ice had to be broken to provide sufficient cover for the men, as the parapets were not high enough to allow walking on the ice. Thus the men had to stand in the freezing water and mud, with the result that the constant wet and cold caused many evacuations with trench feet.

The 33rd Battalion was on our left and the New Zealanders were on our flank during this period. After six days in the Line we were relieved and marched to Billets in Armentieres. The Battalion Headquarters were at No: 6 Rue de Strasburg, the Quarter Master's Store at No: 28. Billet routine from the 4th to 10th December 1916 consisted of a general clean up and Bath Parades to Erquinghem.

On the 11th December 1916 the 34th Battalion went into the Line again. "B" Company occupying the Subsidiary line instead of "D" Company, as in the first period. The weather was still cold and misty. The usual counter battery work was carried out by the Artillery and Trench Mortars. Some shells from our own "Heavies" dropped short and fell into our front Line. Sniping on both sides was again active. Extra Patrols were sent out to engage the strong fighting enemy Patrols in No Man's Land. The enemy was busy with his Working Parties and good work was also done by the wiring parties. Two extra Lewis Guns were added to the Front Line for the purpose of sweeping the enemy parapets and wire, in retaliation for enemy sniping which had become most active and causing trouble.

This was the beginning of continuous sweeping of parapets on both sides during the whole period of holding this Sector of the Line. The 34th Battalion Patrols were contesting No Man's Land, which up to this time Fritz considered belonged to him. Heavy bombardments were carried out which caused considerable damage to the Trenches and Supports on both sides. quite a number of Men were being evacuated with trench feet through standing in the cold and wet, notwithstanding that dry socks were issued every day to the troops. during this period there were a number of casualties, including 6 K.I.A.and Lieutenant: Stephen Matthew HARRIS was the first the Officer wounded. Captain: Walter Hedland Valentine BAKER. and Lieutenant: Frederick Llewllyn EAST. and a number of men were also evacuated sick.

Casualties; Private: 742 Clifford Reginal DAVIES.

The 34th Battalion was relieved on the 18th of December 1916 and marched to billets in Armentieres. Captain: Edmund BEAVER injured by shell fire, and several other ranks sick, were evacuated from here. On the 23rd December 1916 the 34th Battalion moved to Reserve Billets at La Blanc Masion, where the buildings of hutments and stables for muleswas carried out. The roads were flooded two or three feet deep and Carrying Parties of men erecting the hutments had to wade through this, in many cases waist deep. While here the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel. Malcolm St John LAMB. left for Army School. Christmas Day, the first and what proved to be the worst in France, was spent in Billets, only in the course of erection. The rations for Christmas Dinner were plentiful, but the cooking facilities were poor and the troops were somewhat "fed up" with the environment and bad weather.

Each man had 1lb of Pudding and a quart of Beer if he wished. The Pudding was supplied by the Comforts Fund and the Beer from the Regimental Funds. Working Parties had to be provided both on Christmas and New Year's Day. On the 31st of December 1916 Lieutenant Colonel. Malcolm St John LAMB. returned to the 34th Battalion and on the 4th January 1917 Headquarters and "A" Company moved to Jesus Farm and joined the remainded of the 34th Battalion in hutments, which were now finished. The following day Major: Walter Arnold LeRoy FRY. left for the Training Battalion at Larkhill. A few men were evacuated sick and one, Private: A LEACH of the Australian Medical Corps Staff, died.

On the 24th January 1917 the Specialists went into the Line in the Houplines Sector. The following day the 34th Battalion took over from the 36th Battalion, whos Commanding Officer:Lieutenant Colonel: James William Albert SIMPSON. had been killed the previous day. On the 29th January 1917 Major: Ernest Edward MARTIN. temporarily transfered to command the 36th Battalion until the 20th February when Lieutenant Colonel: John Alexander MILNE. became Commanding Officer. The Front Line here was very similar to last Sector. During this period a good deal of shelling was carried out on both sides enemy sending over "Pineaples" freely. Aerial activity increased and many fights took place. The Patrols were now gaining mastery of No Man's Land and Fritz was getting the "Wind up". Verey Light displays, constant use of his Searchlights and bombing of his own wire were common occurences during the night time.

On the 26th of January 1917 2nd Lieutenant: Gordon Thomas WOOD was the first Officer Killed in Action who was killed by shell fire. Also during this period the first Non Commissioned Officer killed in Action was Sergeant: 165 William James "Bully" RICHMOND. The 34th Battalion was relieved on the 31st of January 1917 and moved to Billets in Armentieres. Whilst here a number of the men were evacuated suffering from trench feet and trench fever, caused by the appaulling conditions in the Trenches, No Man's Land and a Listining Post. Working Parties were supplied, a general cleaning up carried out and Bath Parades held.

On the 6th February the 34th Battalion relieved the 36th Battalion in the Houplines Sector. Patrols only occupied Listening Posts as the nights were very bright and moonlit. The Battalion's Trench Mortors put over a large quantity of shells, to which Fritz replied vigorously with "Minnies" and "Pineapples" but very little damage was done. Enemy planes were active over our Lines, but the Australian Aircraft drove him back. Air fights were frequent now. Also there was quite a lot of Anti-Aircraft firing, but no planes were brought down. Enemy Planes dropped bombs on our Sector and Working Parties, while his Working Parties were dispersed by the Brigades 18 Pounders. "Minnies an "Pineapples" caused damage to our Trenches and Brigades Artillery did likewise to the enemy placements.

Lieutenant: William Henry SALVATORI. and Lieutanant: Ray WOLSTENHOLME. and a number of men sick were evacuated here. The 34th Battalion relieved on the 12th February and until the 17th February, the usual routine of supplying Working Parties, general cleaning up, was carried out. The 34th Battalion went into the Line again from the 18th to 25th February and Patrols were busy exploring No Man's Land. The enemy Patrols and Working Parties, which were strong, were dispersed by Lewis Gunners. Snipers were very active and the enemy Machine Gun fire greatly increased. From the 25th of February the 34th Battalion was in Billets.

From the 13th to the 17th of March 1917 the 34th battalion were again in Billets. Lieutenant: Henry Cecil BENNETT was evacuated here. The 34th Battalion occupied to Line from 17th to 25th March 1917. The enemy persistently bombarded Hobb and Edmonds' Arc with 7.7's, 5.9's and 4.2's and had arial observation throughout. Later quite a number of Gas Shells came over and a powerful enemy searchlight was constantly playing over Japan Road. On the 17th/18th March 1917 we released a quantity of Gas which brought a retaliation of Machine Gun fire.

During the night of 19th March 1917 the enemy set up red lights and the Brigades Artillery up in the vicinity of the S.O.S. Signal. Several craters and also gaps were made in the enemy wire. Patrols saw a large party leave the enemy trenches and advance to shell holes where they left bombs, etc, a number of which were connected by tape. The enemy had apparently been suprised when making a silent raid. On the 20th of March, Frtiz put down a heavy bombardment on our Front Line, doing some damage. On the night of 20th/21st March, the enemy attempted a false S.O.S. by sending up Red Lights, which was the Battalions S.O.S. Signal. The Brigade's Artillery opened up, narrowly missing one of our Patrols which was just about to go into No Man's Land. Having obtained the mastery of No Man's Land with our Fighting Patrols, Fritz apparantly hoped to get the Battalions Artillery to open up on No Man's Land when Patrols were out.

However it did not succeed as a number of enemy dead were found by Scouts, lying in No Man's Land. Owing to the snow-clad ground Scouts were greatly hampered in thier work. Fritz was holding Posts every twenty yards on our Front, which wer strongly manned, and was very active digging communication Trenches.

On the 17th of May 1917 the Germans tried to raid the 34th Battalion at Le Touquet. The enemy this time employed the British method of a very short, though heavy, preliminary bombardment. The preliminary registration however had been observed and the Australian counter-barrage came down within 10 seconds of the S.O.S signal fired by Lieutenant: 4559 Frederick Murchison WAUGH. M.C. 34th Battalion. A party of Bavarians attempted to enter by a gap in the front line. One climbed the parapet and said "Hands Oop!" He was at once shot, and fell dead into the trench. Lewis Guns, in particular that of Private: 1416 Joseph Edward KIRK. M.M 34th Battalion, drove the enemy off.

On the 18th of May the previous night's attempt against the 34th Battalion was repeated after a short heave bombardment. On the S.O.S. being fired by Lieutenant: 1118 William Wright EDMONDS. M.C. 34th Battalion, the protecting barrage again came down instantly, but the enermy entered a gap near a sector in which cylinders had been installed for an impending release of gas. Working alone the line, they bombed a Lewis Gun Team, wounding three. The remaining men, Lance Corporal: 1530 James HAM D.C.M. 34th Battalion and Private 1248 Bertram Guy TAYLOR M.M. 34th Battalion, continued to fire, and killed all five intruders.

Lieutenant: Benjamin Greenup BRODIE and the scouts afterwards went out, driving back the German covering party and stretcher-bearers, brought in a wounded Baverian Pioneer, and evidence and identification from 11 Germans who had been killed.

( History of World War 1. Vol IV. Bean) Charles Edwin Woodrow BEAN

Private: 418 William EAGLES. M.M. B Company 34th Battalion was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal This man showed Great Courage and Devotion to Duty on the night of 17th under a severe enemy Bombardment, he carried Messages overland from right to left Centre Companies and back to Battalion Headquarters, accomplishing a journey over a mile and a half while the whole area on which he travelled was being subjected to heavy H.E and shrapnel fire.

BATTLE OF MESSINES

At 10 pm on the 6th June 1917, the Battalion left its billets fully equipted for the assembly Trenches. The order of march being "D", "A", "C" and "B" Companies. All went well until just before reaching Gunners Farm, where the enemy was putting a number of Gas Shells over and Masks had to be put on. Ploegsteert Wood and the back area were receiving particular attention. All Companies were greatly delayed of the amount of Gas in the Wood, which resulted in a number of men being gassed on the way up and many others were completely exhausted. A number of men lost there way in the darkness and smoke. Many could not see at all and had to be led back by there comrades. I many cases it was the blind leading the blind. After a gruelling March, the first arrivals reached the Assembly Points 30 minutes before Zero Hour, while the last company arrived only 10 minutes before Zero.

On the 7th June, seven seconds before Zero Hour, which was 3.10am, four Miles on our front were fired. There was a voilent swaying as if an eatherquake had taken place and the men in many instances were thrown together. The sky was brilliantly illuminated by the explosives and terrific Artillery fire, the sound of which could not be heard over the intense Machine Gun Barrage. The men left the Trenches immediately and there were a number of casualties on the parapet owing to the heavy enemy Barrage. The supports were also being shelled and the Reserve Company ("D") suffered considerable losses. The weather was hot and sultry and every one felt the tyring march.

The Battalion passed through the 35th Battalion in the vacinity of the enemy's original Front Line, near Ulsters Switch. The enemy fire had been very severe up to theis point and many men were lying here. A halt in our Barrage gave the Company Commanders an opportunity of Checking their Compass Bearings, defining their limits, and getting into position for the next advance. At the left of the Barrage a fine assault in complete waves was made. The men gained their objective in fine style behind a perfect Barrage and commenced consolidating their position. The mopping up of the Trench System was soon accomplished and many of the enemy were killed in their Dugouts. By 5.30am fair cover had been obtained on the Consilidation Line. At 6.30am Enemy Machine Guns were located in a rebout in "Uncertain Trench" and heavy Artillery was brought to bear on them with good results. By 7.30am the Black Line was down to two thirds of its depth and linking up by Companies and Platoons were in progress. The enemy was seen moving along "Uncertain Trench" and also reports were received from the 33rd Battalion that the enemy was massing 1,000 yards in front. Reports of enemy movement continued throughout the early part of the morning, but Artillery co-operation helped to disperse the tendency and during the day no organised counter attack was attempted.

At 8.30am the Line was well dug along the Front and affording excellent protection for the men. By 9.30am only one gap remained between "A" and "B" Companies in the full length of the consolidation of the "Black Line" to the River La Douve. The Trenches being now well down, widening and sandbagging were now in progress and at 11.30am showed very plainly in an Arial Photo as a good defensive Trench. There were repeated enquiries for water from the Front Line. Carrying Parties were suffering heavy casulties and were completely knocked up with the long distance.

At 1.40pm Captain: Arthur Sidney WHITLOCK with "D" Company advanced to the Green Line, without Artillery support, owing to an alteration in the Zero Hour not reaching him. At 2.45pm he reported by Runner that, having waited 30 minutes and no Artillery Barrage as arranged have been put down, he had advenced to the Green Line and was consolidating. by 7.30pm all Companies reported that their positions were well consolidated. Just before midnight Captain: Arthur Sidney WHITLOCK was killed between the Green and Black Lines, and Captain: Robert Joseph STEWART took command of "D" Company. Patrols under the Scout Officers were sent out during the night and encountered enermy Patrols which were dispersed. A number of enemry patrols were also killed by our Machine Gun and Lewis Gun fire earlier in the night. At 5.00am on the 8th June an enermy Plane over, flying low and inspecting our new position.

Our casualties to date had been 8 Officers and 236 other ranks. Captain: Arthur Sidney WHITLOCK and Lieutenant: 584 Leslie William Roy WARNER K.I.A. Lieutenant's Lieutenant: William Walter MATTHEWS   Lieutenant: Hector Reginald McLEOD,   Lieutenant: Bruce Gray McKENZIE,   Lieutenant: Benjamin Greenup BRODIE, Lieutenant: Thomas Clifton PITTAWAY and Lieutenant: Frederick Winn WALKER wounded.

Field Dressing Station, Messines 07/06/1917

FIELD DRESSING STATION, MESSINES 7th June 1917.

Alfred was Killed in Action during this action and it was reported by Lieutenant: J HOLLAWAY of the Anzac Section, 3rd Echelon, G.H.O. of his burial. But Alfred has no known grave is remembered with honour and is commemerated in perpetuity by the Commonweath War Graves Commission at the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Flanders, Belgium.

Menin Gate War Memorial

MENIN GATE WAR MEMORIAL

Family Information

Alfred was a single 28 year old Labourer from Forbes River, N.S.W. upon enlistment. Alfred's parents John and Sarah Coombes were married in 1880 at Port Macquarie, N.S.W. Marriage Cert:4697/1880.

Cousins, Private: 5060 Arthur James COOMBES. 1st Battalion. Killed in action, 22-25 July 1916. Private: 4565 Arthur COOMBES, 45th Bn, returned to Australia, 13 February 1917; Private: 1669 Matthew John COOMBES, 5th Light Trench Mortar Battery, returned to Australia, 4 May 1917. Lance Corporal: 4564 Stanley COOMBES, 45th Bn, died of wounds, 12 October 1917.

Details supplied by Steven Faulds; Great Grand Nephew of Private: 41 Alfred COOMBES.

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Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia)

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