25 April each year, the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in 1915, Australia pays tribute to Australian soldiers past and present, and in particular, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
ANZAC Day ceremonies are held at dawn in cities and towns across the country, followed by a march down the main street and then it’s off to the local pub for a few beers and a game of two-up.
It is a tradition that becomes stronger with each passing year, a tradition that is cherished by young and old Australians alike.
In tribute to this special day, weirdaustralia delves into stories of supernatural warnings, premonitions of death, visions, and some happy coincidences of war.
A mother’s premonition saves her son
Just before the outbreak of war in 1939, 16 year-old Lloyd Gilbert joined the steamer Dalryna as an apprentice when it sailed from Bunbury Western Australia to England.
The Charleville Times on 8 December 1939, reported that Lloyd’s mother’s dreams and inexplicable premonitions of danger saved her 16-year-old son
“Lloyd signed up on the torpedoed ship, the Dalryna in May when it sailed from Bunbury. He was to undergo five years’ apprenticeship, but when the war broke out his mother developed a strange premonition of danger, and used to have most terrible dreams of the ship sinking and her son brought to her dead. She made application to break the boy’s indentures, and in view of the war her appeal was granted.
“Her son left the Dalryna at Shanghai six weeks ago, and arrived back in Western Australia a fortnight ago. ‘I heard this morning that the Dalryna had been torpedoed off the coast of England. It was a terrible shock to me, and a terribly lucky escape for Lloyd. If I had not had those dreams he would have been on that ship,’ said Mrs. Gilbert.
“Lloyd now is working in an office in Geraldton. “I don’t think he wants to go back to sea again,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “I think he will be quite happy working on dry land.”
Mother’s strange visions of wounded son
The Kalgoorlie mother of a soldier fighting in the Great War was not so lucky when she had visions of her son while he was fighting in far off Malta in 1915.
The Kalgoorlie Western Argus, on 21 September 1915, reported that:
“A weird story surrounds the reported death at Malta on August 1, from wounds, of Private A. Grant, of the 11th Battalion. Mystic warnings bordering on the supernatural seemed to have been given his aged mother according to her granddaughter, Mrs Cartlidge.
“One day, five days before the soldier is said to have died, his mother was going to her bedroom to lie down, when she stopped suddenly at the door. She exclaimed, ‘Alec,’ said Mrs Cartlidge. ‘We thought he must have come back.’
“Then she told them she had seen her son lying on the floor clad in his uniform ‘with his rifle resting on one arm’ in which she thought a wound appeared, but was not certain. On either side of him sat a black dog. Around were other soldiers, the whole making, as it were, a picture taken from the actual battlefield. Then came the news that the son had been wounded.
“Shortly afterwards one night the old lady came into the kitchen where Mrs Cartlidge and her husband were sitting, declaring agitatedly that she had heard a voice calling ‘Mother’ three times. They assured her it was not they, and the explanation of the affair remained a mystery.
“About the same time, sitting at night together in the kitchen, husband and wife heard sundry vigorous knocks on front and back doors. ‘Warnings,’ Mrs Cartlidge called them because the most quick response failed to reveal any human agency. Then on September 5, a fortnight after the mother’s ‘warning,’ came the news that Grant had died in hospital on August 1.
“This was not quite the finish of these mystic happenings. Afterwards another vision appeared to the mother. She could see her son standing by her bed in his uniform with one hand pointing upwards. She said afterwards: ‘I’m quite sure Alec’s made his peace with God before he died. He came to the bedpost and pointed his finger up just as if he said everything was all right.”
Premonitions of death
Perhaps in the following case, Soldier’s Premonition Of Death in the Barrier Miner of 22 March 1917, it was not so much a premonition, but a fatalistic feeling that must surely have been common among soldier’s fighting in the bloody trenches of the Western front.
“Mrs. F. Bootes … has received a letter written by her son and forwarded by a friend on the Western front. She has been notified that her son is missing since November 5, and the letter was evidently written by him prior to going into action,” the report stated.
The soldier’s letter to his mother follows:
“Just a short letter to provide you with the real news in case of my death, I am writing this note, and intend to leave it in my kit bag in the base before I go into the stunt [battle], I did the same thing before we went into Pozieres, but I came out all right, and so you did not get it. This letter is really to give you first-hand information of my death, so that you will not be in doubt about me.
“You must not think I am down-hearted. It is quite possible to be killed on the front. I understand we are going into the biggest stunt that ever occured on this front, and I cannot say I am looking forward to the prospect with any joy, as it is rotten business even the best of it. The going over the top or the charge is not so bad. In fact, it is ridiculously easy compared with the rotten time you have next day holding the trench you have captured. Try not to worry or grieve too much. Every one has to die some time, and it’s far better for me to die here doing my duty than to have been a coward and died at home. I don’t feel too heroic. If you get this letter my time will have come. Cheer up and think of me as being in a better place.”
A common sentiment of soldiers fighting on the front?
The following story told by a London policeman shows that same fatailistic sentiment, but what is peculiar here is that the Aussie soldier thought he would be killed in the relative safety of London, rather than in the killing fields of Flanders.
“I was on duty outside King’s Cross railway station, London, when an Australian soldier, unshaven, unkempt, with Flanders mud still on his clothes, asked me if I could recommend him to decent lodgings.
“I directed him to a place quite near.
“It will be remembered by many Australian soldiers when I say that the two daughters of the landlady sang and played the piano and did their best generally to entertain soldiers staying there.
“The soldier mentioned met me the next evening, said he had good ‘digs’ and had enjoyed a good bath. He was an altered man, and I did not recognise in the clean soldier before me the one I had directed the night before.
“He told me he came from Victoria, was married, and had a little child. He was on leave. The next night we had an air raid. In fact there were 11 in 14 days, and many evenings on my beat I was accompanied by this Australian soldier, and always he was saying: ‘I wish my leave was up. I hate these bombs. I feel they will get me yet.’
“However, one evening my soldier friend was happy. He said: ‘Thank God, my leave is up. I leave early tomorrow morning from St. Pancras,’ when lo! the whistle blew, the bombs crashed and the anti-aircraft guns flashed from every direction. Another air raid was on.
“I was called by a police runner to take out an ambulance squad. We found eight dead, took 16 seriously injured to hospital, and bandaged 85 other injured.
“We had taken our last casualty to the hospital, and there, brought in cn a stretcher, was my Australian soldier, with both legs missing. He was dying, and nothing could be done. He had been on St. Pancras station, on which three bombs had fallen, and was one of 22 killed and injured found there. All this happened within half a mile of King’s Cross and it was only a small part of one night’s damage.
“Next morning the report passed by the censor read: ‘Air raid over London and Eastern Counties; eight dead. 25 injured; no military damage.’ But an Australian wife and child were looking for a loving husband and father and a fine soldier who would never return.”
Brothers’ happy coincidences
Amid the death, destruction and heartbreak of war, sometimes, miracles and happy coincidences do occur. The McErvale brothers, of Camperdown in Victoria, experienced one such happy coincidence. Their story was retold in the Camperdown Chronicle on 21 April 1942.
“How two Camperdown brothers on overseas service tried hard to meet each other, on several occasions without success, and then met twice by coincidence, was related by Gunner Norman McErvale, while on leave here recently.
“His brother and he had often been within cooee of each other –sometimes in the same town with out knowing it, until they had moved on.
“Then, it looked as though they would meet in Cairo. Norman had his Christmas leave there and a quarter of an hour before his unit was to leave one night, he was given a letter from Tom saying he was coming to Cairo. Norman just had time to go to the station, but only four Australians got off the crowded train, and Tom was not among them — because another train had collided with the one he was on, and he had to hitch hike for some miles to Cairo.
“And so, once again, the brothers failed to make contact with each other.
“Then, Norm was moved to a camp 100 miles from Cairo and was on guard one night, when a big convoy of troops arrived. ‘I had a premonition,’ he said ‘that Tom was among them and sang out ‘Is Tom McErvale there?’’ Most of the troops in the truck were asleep, but one sleepy voice replied ‘Yes, in the next truck.’
“There was a great reunion, but it would have been a very short one, as the trucks were moving on almost immediately, had it not been for that spirit of comradeship which exists between Diggers [Aussie soldiers]. Norman’s mates took on his duties, as well as their own, so that he could spend some time with his brother.
“The two brothers met again at a port on their way back to Australia. Norm was reading on deck one day when he heard his name called in a familiar voice. Tom was on the same boat. They parted at an Australian port. Tom has not yet been able to get to Victoria to see his parents.”
The coinicences did not end there for Norman, however.
“One of the first questions Aussie soldiers ask each other, when they meet overseas is ‘Where do you come from?’ It was through such a question that Gnr Norman McErvale and Sergeant M. Watts, both of Camperdown, met,” the article continued.
“A coincidence attached to the meeting was related by Norm on his return home. ‘It was shortly after I arrived in Cairo, that I met Sergeant Watts,’ he said ‘and when I told him my name he said ‘I know you well, your people are the stud stock breeders’.
“He recalled having located some years ago for my parents two stud Jerseys, which we thought had been stolen, and which had wandered to Derrinalum. ‘lts a small world,’ said Norm, when he had finished telling of this coincidence, ‘and yet you’ve got to go a long way sometimes to discover that it is’.”
Another one of those happy coincidences occurred at a field hospital during the Great War as the following letter published in the Western Mail on 22 December 1917 explains.
“April 6, 1917, bad been a strenuous day in the 34th Casualty Clearing Station on the Poperinghe road. Wounded soldiers had been pouring in all day. A request went around for a volunteer from among the nursing staff for a blood transfusion for a poor fellow lying almost at the door of death.
“Feeling that I should get a rest from the horrors around me, I volunteered. A test was taken of my blood, and I was chosen. After the transfusion I had 24 hours’ rest, and when I resumed to my duties I was told by the doctor that the man to whom I had given my blood wished to see me. I made my way to his side, and when I saw his face I promptly fainted across the bed.
“He was my own brother, who had been reported ‘killed in action’ eight months previously. He is alive today.-’Springbok, Perth’.”
Lest we forget.