Archibald Percy CHOAT

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CHOAT, Archibald Percy

Service Number: 66
Enlisted: 12 July 1915, Keswick, South Australia
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 32nd Infantry Battalion
Born: Cherry Gardens, South Australia, 7 June 1897
Home Town: Clarence Park, South Australia
Schooling: Goodwood Public School
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Killed in Action , Fromelles, France, 20 July 1916, aged 19 years
Cemetery: Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery
I. L. 47
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Cherry Gardens Memorial*, Cherry Gardens WW1 Honour Board, Goodwood HB1 Goodwood Primary School*, Goodwood M Anglican Church / District Fallen of WW1 and WW II*, National War Memorial (South Australia), Unley HB01 Town Hall*
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World War 1 Service

12 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 66, Keswick, South Australia
18 Nov 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 66, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
18 Nov 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 66, 32nd Infantry Battalion, HMAT Geelong, Adelaide
19 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 66, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Fromelles (Fleurbaix)

A Tragic Coincidence………a family’s loss

For Joseph and Alice Mary Choat who were living in Clarence Park, Fromelles would be the battle that impacted their lives forever. Out of their seven sons, three of them enlisted in July, 1915.

On the 12th of July, 1915, the third son Archibald (Archie) Percy Choat enlisted with his older brother, the second son, Wesley Paul Choat. They were given the regimental numbers 66 and 68 respectively. The first child of Joseph and Alice, Raymond (Ray) Hadden Choat enlisted just a few days later on the 21st of July, 1915. He was given the service number of 67. They were all placed in ‘A’ Company, 32nd Battalion.

Private Raymond Hadden Choat was the academic mind in the family and his one aim in life was to, “excel.” Studying at Adelaide University and working as a clerk when he enlisted he was, “deeply attached to… home,” and always looking out for his two younger brothers.

Private Wesley Paul Choat was the farmer of the family and before the war broke out he had being farming on the York Peninsula for six years.

Private Archibald Percy Choat was also a farm hand, working as a labourer for several years in the Clare Valley before enlisting with his brother Raymond. Unlike Raymond Hadden, who was described as quite, Archibald Percy was “a bright, loveable disposition,” and he, “enjoyed the esteem of a wide circle of friends.”

All three brothers embarked at Adelaide on the 18th of November 1915 on HMAT Geelong (A2) and were sent to North Africa. After staying six months in Egypt, the three brothers were moved with the rest of the 32nd Battalion to the Western Front and were soon placed in the Front Line at Fromelles.

On the 19th- 20th of July 1916 all three brothers fought in the Battle of Fromelles.

Raymond Choat was killed in Action during the Battle of Fromelles on the 20th of July 1916. He was allegedly killed by a shrapnel wound that entered his heart and allegedly buried at a Cemetery nearby.
The details could not be corroborated.

Wesley Choat was luckier than his older brother and escaped the Battle of Fromelles without injury; however, like many men of the 8th Brigade, having penetrated German lines he was taken prisoner by German Troops and was not be reported as a POW for some days.

In this time he was listed Missing in Action.

Archibald Choat was also killed in Action on the 20th of July 1916 during the battle. After the battle, though, his body was recovered and identified. He is buried at the nearby a Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, behind Allied lines.

Back in Adelaide, Joseph and Alice Choat were in a state of disbelief. All three of their sons who had enlisted to go to war were listed Killed or Missing in Action either on the 19th or the 20th of July.

As they had no knowledge of the Battle of Fromelles at that point in time, all they knew was that their three sons had gone missing all on the one night somewhere in France. Both in ill health at this point in time, this shocking news made matters worse.

Only then news came through that Wesley Paul Choat, their second son, was being held as a POW in Germany. One of their three sons was alive.

In September, 1917 Wesley Choat tried to escape from captivity and after managing to escape from the camp he was later caught.

But that didn’t stop this resourceful South Australian boy. At this time he knew nothing of his brother’s deaths. In December the same year he escaped again and this time he made across the border to Holland and safety.

By January 1918, he made it across the channel to England. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery whilst escaping from captivity and discharged from duty and sent on a ship back to Australia.

By December, 1918, he was back in Adelaide, alive.
From losing all three sons in one night in one battle, the Choat family, almost by sheer luck managed to get one of their three boys back.

Wesley Paul Choat, while sailing back to Australia, wrote a personal memoir of his escape from Germany called, “A Bold Bid for Blighty.” It is available to be read at the following web-link: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2012/D14739/a3900.htm

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Biography

The third son of Joseph and Alice Mary Choat resident in Clarence Park, and born on the 7th June 1897, Archibald Percy Choat's story is one of the most remarkable tales of family tragedy from WW1 in general and the battle of Fromelles in particular.  Fromelles was to mark the Choat family like no other.

Private Archibald (Archie) Percy Choat, a farm labourer at Clare before enlisting, was educated at Goodwood Public School.

Brother of Regimental No 67 Raymond Hadden Choat (rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au) and No 68 Wesley Paul Choat (rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au).

On the 12th of July, 1915, Archibald Percy with his older brother Wesley enlisted in the AIF. They were given the regimental numbers 66 and 68 respectively. Eldest brother Ray enlisted just a few days later on the 21st of July, 1915. He was given the service number of 67.  All three were placed in ‘A’ Company, 32nd Battalion.

Their service paralleled that of their colleagues in the 32nd Battalion from embarkation on the HMAT Geelong, to their transit in Egypt and then on to the green fields of France and their arrival in the 'Nursery' sector near Armentieres and a little village called Fromelles.

The Choat brothers were caught up in the maelstrom of the battle of Fromelles  (www.rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au)on 19/20th July.  The 32nd Battalion was part of the 8th Brigade on the left of the 5th Division’s frontage.  A and C Companies were formed up on the right of the 8th Brigade’s line and were in the first wave of the attack. The Germans knew they were coming and they were met with a withering hail of fire.

The 8th Brigade managed to penetrate the German line into what they thought was to be a 2nd line of trenches.  In fact it was a series of waterlogged ditches.  Because the 14th and 15th Brigades were less successful, the 8th Brigade was now "in enfilade" to the German defences to the right meaning they were being fired on from their right flank.  They were then progressively cut off by German counter attacks and Wesleys's account described what happened to him and his colleagues.

Archie and Ray were killed in the assault most likely by the machine gun fire which swept the ground over which they attacked.  Archie's body was recovered and identified, suggesting he may have been hit and killed closer to the Australian lines.  He was interred in the nearby Rue Petillon cemetery on the 20th July 1916.  Ray's body was not identified and is either in the common grave at VC Corner Cemetery (He is commemorated on the Wall there), still in the farmland where he fell or perhaps among the unidentified remains in the Pheasant Wood Mass Grave discovered in 2008. Detritus from the battle can still be found in the surrounding fields.

Imagine the impact in Adelaide when the Choat  family received news that all three sons had been listed as killed or missing in just one night "somewhere in France".

Wesley was later discovered to have been wounded and captured behind enemy lines as a prisoner of war. He managed to escape twice; the second occasion in December 1917 and made it back to Australia by December 1918, having being awarded the Military Medal.

From losing all three sons in one night in one battle, the Choat family had managed to get one of their three boys back.  It must have seemed like an act of providence.

Archie was remembered by friends and family as, “a bright, loveable disposition,” who, “enjoyed the esteem of a wide circle of friends.”

 

Nathan Rohrlach and Steve Larkins  Jan 2014

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