The John Laffin Memorial Lecture (JLML) held on 13th July 2008 led to a happy reunion between the family of one of the 30 members of the 54th Battalion listed as amongst the ‘missing at Fromelles’ and a portrait of a fallen 54th Battalion digger.
Photo: Speakers, Committee Members and guests at the John Laffin Memorial Lecture
Ross St.Claire, Russell Curley, Chris Munro, Anny De Decker, Neville Kidd, Lambis Englezos, Tim Whitford, Chris Bryett, Jim Munro and Graeme Hosken
Ross St.Claire, FFFAIF member and author of Our Gift to the Empire- 54th Australian Infantry Battalion 1916-1919– pictured holding photograph – brought to the John Laffin Memorial Lecture a large portrait of Private Henry Alfred Cressy, which he had obtained in the course of his research. Ross was looking for a ‘good home’ for the portrait and generously donated the portrait to FFFAIF. When Lambis Englezos attended the lecture entitled Fromelles: ‘The Slaughter Was Dreadful” presented at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance by Families and Friends of the First AIF member Ross McMullin (featured in RECENT NEWS Listening Post), he met David Meale, a relative of Private Cressy and was able to tell David of the portrait.
Photo: Private Henry Alfred Cressy, AIF
Private Cressy was returned to his family when FFFAIF President, Russell Curley, attended commemoration services, including the unveiling of the Cobbers Statue in Melbourne on the 92ndAnniversary of the Battle of Fromelles and presented family representative, David Meale with the portrait. A happy reunion.
Photo: David Meale and Russell Curley with Private Henry Cressy
Henry Albert Cressy and Edward Brougham Cressy were the sons of Brougham and Ann Cressy of Boolaroo, in country New South Wales. Edward Cressy enlisted on 15th August 1915 and the very next day his younger brother Henry enlisted.
The Cressy brothers embarked, as members of the 13th reinforcements 1st Battalion, aboardHMAT Aeneaswhen it sailed from Sydney on 20 December 1915 bound for the AIF training camps in Egypt.
Private Cressy like many soldiers kept a diary and Ross St.Claire has included extracts of Henry’s diary in Our Gift to The Empire:
His diary contains vivid descriptions of the on-board activities, designed to curb boredom. He did quite well at the boxing tournaments, and enjoyed the cards, pillow fights, concerts and fatigues, but tried to avoid church parade. Christmas 1915 was “the dryest I ever put in.” The sighting of land or another boat always caused great excitement. Cressy also wrote about a very disturbing event.
29th Decr. 1915
We had something fresh on board today – a funeral – the first one and I hope it will be the last. His name was Davies and he died of Pneumonia. There was a muster parade, every one had to fall in in full dress except mess orderlies and guards. They had a military funeral, volley firing. The ship stopped for half an hour while the burial service was held. He was dropped overboard in his canvas coffin at 4.30, this evening.
Upon there arrival in Egypt both Private Edward Cressy and Private Henry Cressy were transferred to the newly formed 54thBattalion, spending time stationed at Tel-el-Kebir. Henry’s diary reveals his thoughts on his first first to Cairo:
We landed at Suez this morning and disembarked and caught our train and started for Cairo. The trains are doers. You see women with veils. The Egyptians are a dirty race of people. Camels and donkeys are common as horses at home … We went to Cairo, the dirtiest place I have ever seen. The back streets are never cleaned up. It is disgraceful. It is no wonder they inoculated us.
In late March the 54thBattalion moved to the Suez Canal to take over the defences at the Ferry Post. The Battalion endured a force route march through the harsh desert conditions. Private Harry Cressy recorded his experience on that terrible day:
Had breakfast andstarted at 7 15 am. We had dinner after covering 9 miles which was at 11 am. After dinner we had to cover 9 miles of sand to get to where we had to rest. By the time we got to Moaska [sic] there was not a quarter of the men left that left camp that morning. I fell out about 3 mile off, Bro fell out about 1 ½ mile off Moaska [sic] There was a lot of N.Z. troops there and they volunteered to bring us water andbring our fellows in with their packs. They were decent fellows. I got in about 5 pm. Bro. half hour later and Bluey just before Bro. After dark the New Zealanders went out with horses and Red Cross Carts for the men, it was a sight I will never forget. The poor fellows were game but the want of water and the heat settled the best of them. It was a worse scene than being in the firing line. Some men walked till they fell back exhausted. There is a lot of our men in the Hospital over it.
The 54th Battalion embarked to join the British Expeditionary Force in France in June 1916. Disembarking at Marseilles the 54thBattalion entrained north and then marched towards the frontline. Ross St.Claire notes that on ‘9 July, led by their drum band for the last time, the 54th Battalion marched to new billets at Estaires en route to Sailly. They began what was to be first of many marches to the front line. The hard cobblestone roads caused immense difficulties after months of marching in Egyptian sands. Private Cressy had been in the Desert March but wrote in his diary: It was the stiffest march I have had since being in the army. My feet were that sore I could hardly put them to the ground due to the hard stone and block roads.’
The 54thfought its first major battle on the Western Front at Fromelles, on 19 July. The Australian War Memorial website states: It was a disaster. The 54th was part of the initial assault andsuffered casualties equivalent to 65 per cent of its fighting strength.
The Cressy brothers were one of at least 24 sets of brother, from the AIF, who fought in the Battle of Fromelles. Private Henry Cressy was reported killed in action by his commanding officer and Private Edward Cressy suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh. They were amongst the 5,533 casualties suffered by the Australian Imperial Force during the battle.
Henry’s body was never found and documents within his Service Record, available on line at the National Archives of Australia and The Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Files indicated to amateur historian Lambis Englezos that his name should be added to those of the missing buried by the German Army, in the field adjacent to Pheasant Wood at Fromelles.
Photo: Pheasant Wood 15 July 2008 (Carole Laignel)
After convalescing Edward Cressy rejoined the 54th Battalion on the Western Front and went on to be wounded twice more before returning to Australia as a Lance Corporal in December 1918.
The three week archaeological dig at Pheasant Wood, undertaken by the Australian Army and the Glasgow University Archaeological Research Department (GUARD), commenced on 27 May 2008. The FFFAIF website has been posting daily news on the project following it’s course through to completion on 13 June 2008. During that time we have introduced visitors to just a handful of the members of the AIF who took part in the Battle of Fromelles.
These news items have been archived on the site and can be accessed by clicking on the PAST NEWS tab on the right hand side of the page below the FFFAIF Photo strip. Simply click on the drop down menu to select a month and you will have access to all past news items. So if you wish to revisit the TV news footage of the dig, read the newspaper reports or refresh your memory of the photos, the PAST NEWS is the place to go. The soldier profiles are a valuable resource as are the links to other web-sites. Many of the photos are now available in high resolution through the FFFAIF Photos.
The FFFAIF website is updated for the benefit of FFFAIF members and visitors to the site. Are you interested in writing a news item? Contributions of individual soldier’s stories or extracts from their diaries or letters describing their experiences would be welcome, along with reports on commemorations or visits to sites of significance. Authors are asked to write their contributions in the style of the RECENT NEWS items.
With the archaeological dig at Fromelles, the John Laffin Memorial Lecture and the Fromelles commemorations, the FFFAIF web-site has become a significant source of contemporary information related to the Battle of Fromelles. www.fffaif.org.au has recorded over 10,000 visits during the past 2 months, with visitors from Australia, France, Belgium, UK and perhaps other countries. To those who have made a contribution, the ‘web editors’ would like to say thanks. Special thanks are due our on-the-spot photographer Carole Laignel, Secretary of the Association Fromelles-Weppes-Terre de Memoire 14-18 (F.W.T.M. 14-18 or FromellesMuseum), whose photos have truly shown the benefits of the world-wide-web with photos on-line on the other side of the world within hours.
It is now time for the FFFAIF web-site to return to a less demanding schedule. The RECENT NEWS items will be regularly updated each WEB-WEDNESDAY, or when there is breaking news during the week.
Please check back regularly to keep up to date on what’s happening with the Families and Friends of the First AIF and check out our other pages on this site. Look for updates in the Research area and the Member’s area. To contribute or make ‘constructive’ comments on our website please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, our aim is to ‘Keep the Memory Alive’ – KTMA.
If you enjoy reading our news and visiting our website you are invited to join the Families and Friends of the First AIF. We have members all over Australia and a growing worldwide membership. To meet some of our members click here.
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FROMELLES IS NOT HONOURED ON THE NATIONAL OR ANY STATE MEMORIAL IN AUSTRALIA.
FFFAIF SUPPORTS ALL EFFORTS TO RECOGNISE FROMELLES ON OR AT THE NATIONAL AND ALL STATE MEMORIALS THAT PRESENTLY LIST BATTLES BY NAME.
FFFAIF Policy Statement
The Families and Friends of the First AIF believes that the Australian Government through the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs should commit the to re-burial of the “missing of Fromelles” with individual graves and headstones in a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Pheasant Wood after DNA testing.