Sunday, October 21, 2012

V is for Valiant Victims

" My word our boys are brave lads, frightened of nothing.  I have seen nearly every different type of soldier in the world but give me the old Australians and I am satisfied"  Robert Jones 1916
They were probably full of nervous excitement as they left Australia.   Little did they realise that over 30% of them would never come home and a further 35% would return home early with severe injuries.  This was a journey that would change all their lives and that of their families forever.

RMS Osterley

My Grand Uncle, Robert John Jones, was one of 153 young men of the 24th Battalion, 5th Reinforcement to leave Australia aboard the RMS Osterley, on 29th September 1915, on their way to Egypt.  Bob, as he preferred to be called, had just turned eighteen earlier in the month.   Additionally, he was likely still grieving for his mother, who had died five months earlier.

Click to enlarge
Bob was born on the 2nd September 1897 in the small mining community of Creswick, Victoria. He was the eldest of the three children of Robert and Roseana Jones.   Life was tough for most mining families but it seems this family had another obstacle to contend with - Racism.  Roseana was an illegitimate child and it is believed that her "Unknown" father was an aboriginal man.  In those days this was something that was not discussed and led to much discrimination and taunting.

Bob, a miner like his father, lied about his age on his enlistment application.  However, he was 18 by the time he embarked.

Minya, Egypt 2008

Bob was stationed at various parts of Egypt for his first six months.  He had his first stint in hospital with "minor nose trouble" at Minya in March 1916.  I didn't realise this when I visited Minya, 92 years later, in March 2008.


It seems that Bob was a rebel.  In 1914, when a cadet, he was charged at Daylesford Police court with failing to attend a compulsory drill and breach of discipline, specifically talking on parade (several times). He was fined 10s and confined in Queenscliff fortress for 7 days. You can read more here.

"You, Jones are just starting into life, and later whether you will like it or not you will become a member of the citizen forces. Your obedience of the militia laws must be willing and hearty. In the old country they have a very ready method of dealing with those who do not comply in this particular and you would find yourself clapped into the guard house. You look like a boy who will make a good man, and you should esteem it a privilege to belong to the first units of the Commonwealth forces".

His war records showing that he was often "A.W.L." (Absent without Leave), he missed many parades and was absent from several Roll Calls.  In total he was fined 52 days pay or £13 over a three year period for his indiscretions.  However, he remained steadfast and loyal when it really mattered.

After two weeks of extreme battle at Pozieres France, Bob received a "Gun Shot Wound Severe" to his left arm on the 5th August 1916.  This day was described by Major McSharry as "the heaviest barrage the battalion ever saw".  Bob was lucky to survive as "Dead and wounded lay everywhere, some killed on their stretchers, with the stretcher-bearers lying dead beside them"1.   

"Anyone who had come out of the previous months heavy fighting could shake hands with himself" Bob Jones wrote home to his father

 Mr R Jones, of Vincent Street, Daylesford has received a letter from his son, Pte R. Jones, from the 11th General Hospital, stating that he had been wounded in the arm, and that he is improving. He added that he went through a very heavy engagement on the 4th? August. He and six of his mate were buried, and when they were got out, three were wounded and the rest dead. "We were very lucky to escape with wounds, and under the heavy artillery fire were again   very lucky to get to dressing station." he concluded

"I always go in with the intention of coming out again........something tells me that I am going to come right through"  Bob Jones in a letter to his father in 1916


Within 20 days of receiving the Gun Shot wound, Bob was back in action.  He was one of the lucky ones as by the end of 1916, twenty of the men in the 24th Battalion, who had arrived on the same boat as Bob, were dead and a further 13 had been sent home injured.

Bob was now in the 2nd Machine Gun company.

On the 30th October 1917 in France, Bob was "Blown Up" and received "Shell Wounds to Head and Right Ankle".  The war record states;
"Oct. 1917, while working M. Gun, was blown up. Carried on for 5 hours till relieved.  Became unconscious and remembered nothing for 6 days.  Gradually lost power in L. arm.
17-12-17.  Can make no movement of arm or hand except slight flexion of fingers.  All muscles of arm and forearm except flexors, do not respond to faradism or galvanism, and A.C.C. greater than K.C.C. Gradually improving". 

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The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918)
Friday 21 December 1917, page 7
Mr R. Jones, of Vincent street, Daylesford, has been advised by the Base Records Office that his son, Pte R. Jones, of the 2nd Machine Gun Company (late 24th Battalion), is in the Richmond (UK) Military Hospital suffering from gunshot wound in head and right ankle.

Bob was sent to a hospital in Boulogne, France and then England.  Nearly 6 months later on the 10th April 1918, he was transferred back to Australia by the hospital ship Borda to Caulfield hospital, Victoria.

Hospital Ship - Borda

Bob wrote a letter to obtain a copy of his medical records (to apply for TPI pension)

He was discharged as medically unfit (TPI) on the 21st November 1918.  Bob may have survived the war, receiving the 1914/1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, but I believe another battle was about to begin.

After my research, I can totally understand why, and I cannot begin to imagine the horrors that he saw on a daily basis.  One of the men in Bob's regiment reported a mates death "I was about 30 yards from him and saw him killed by a shell.  There was nothing left to bury"

Our family know very little about Bob, besides what the records tell us.  My grandmother, his sister, did not talk about him, except to say that he had been burnt with gas, had a metal plate in his head and the war had changed him.  Family stories indicate that Bob was a bit of a nomad, who frequented the hotels.  My Uncle would often drink with him and describe him as a "great old fellow" who would take him fishing and ferreting.

Bob was living at his daughters home in Newborough, Victoria, prior to dying of Lung Cancer and Bronchopneumonia on the 11th September 1967, age 70.

Robert John "Bob" Jones
1  According to the "Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 - Volume 3" - Page 705, Chapter XX at

Click on the picture
 to see more "V" posts
Originally posted 21st October 2012 and updated with additional information 4th October 2013


  1. The final blog is so different to the one I had intended. After researching the members and battles of the 24th Battalion, I changed the title from "Victorious" and the tone of the blog.

  2. What a sad story. I can see why you changed the title. I am not surprised that the war changed him. He's such a strong, focused man in the uniform photo.

    1. But he looks very forlorn when he was older. To me, there is so much sadness in his eyes.

  3. I remember reading an interview that was done with my grandpa who went to Egypt in WW2 ... he said it was exciting and a real adventure for so many of them. They had no idea of the horrors that would follow. And my great grandpa who fought in WW1 ended up in the TPI, as he had after effect from a gunshot wound to the stomach and having being mustard gassed, but he still lived to 70 or so. So many were valiant victims.

    1. I saw a show on TV where veterans were talking about their initial excitement (like your grandfather)when they headed off to war to defend their country. Within 10 minutes of arriving on the front, they had changed their minds are were scared, which was soon followed by horror as they soon lost mates.

  4. These stories are always so sad. Who can blame those who were sometimes A.W.L?

    1. How they must have longed to be at home in the safety of family and their own bed!