John Smith (Pokie) POCOCK

POCOCK, John Smith

Service Number: 355
Enlisted: 14 February 1916, Bendigo, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 38th Infantry Battalion
Born: Bendigo, Victoria, 14 August 1889
Home Town: Bendigo, Greater Bendigo, Victoria
Schooling: White Hills State School
Occupation: Potter
Died: Natural causes, Geelong, Victoria, 24 April 1972, aged 82 years
Cemetery: White Hills Cemetery, Bendigo
Memorials: Bendigo White Hills Arch of Triumph
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World War 1 Service

14 Feb 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 355, Bendigo, Victoria
20 Jun 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 355, 38th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
20 Jun 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 355, 38th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Runic, Melbourne
28 May 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, 38th Infantry Battalion, GSW (face)
20 Apr 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 355, 38th Infantry Battalion, German Spring Offensive 1918, 2nd occasion - GSW (left arm - amputated)
19 Dec 1920: Discharged AIF WW1, Private, SN 355, 38th Infantry Battalion

Wounded 3 times on western front

John Smith Pocock (known as Jack Pocock) was born in 1890 at White Hills, a gold mining district three miles from Bendigo in Central Victoria. He was the son of William Pocock. By the outbreak of war, Jack had married Eliza Annie and they lived on St Kilians Rd, White Hills. Jack’s occupation was a potter at the Bendigo Pottery. His enlistment paper shows he had completed a 5-year apprenticeship to Mr George Guthrie who had foundered the Bendigo Pottery in Epsom in 1858.

At the age of 26, Jack volunteered to enlist on the 2nd of February 1916. The Gallipoli campaign had finished a month earlier and for Australian troops the theatre of war had turned to Europe. A major recruiting campaign had begun nationally to increase the Australian contribution to the war effort to 50,000 men. To boost enlistment numbers in the district, the AIF promised a ‘Bendigo Battalion’, (the 38th battalion) which would officially form in March 2016 and would have officers from the Bendigo district.
Upon enlisting, Jack would have commenced training at the Bendigo racecourse, 5 miles from the centre of town.

Upon enlistment, Jack along with all new recruits was initially placed in the 88th Battalion, A Company for training. Following training at Royal Park, Jack embarked from Melbourne on June 20, 1916 from Station Pier at Port Melbourne on HMAT A56 Runic. After a sea journey of just under two months he landed at Plymouth on the west coast of England on August 18 at the end of an English summer.

The Bendigo Advertiser on November 28, 1916 reported in a letter home from Lance Corporal S. O’Donnell to his father in Epsom, he writes on the whereabouts of a number of local district men in training on the Salisbury Plain, he mentions seeing Jack Pocock and Bob Busst both from White Hills at a camp in Codford, 100 kilometers south west of London.

After an initial 6 weeks in training camps in Southern England, Jack was drafted on October 6 into the ANZAC Provost Core, which was the Military Police. At this early stage of the war, the British Military Police had performed the role of policing Australian soldier’s behaviour. However, by July 1916 there over 90,000 Australian troops in training in Great Britain and given the tension between Australian troops and British authorities it was decided that each ANZAC battalion would establish their own military police force.
No doubt, most soldiers would probably resisted being drafted in the Military Police and Jack’s taste for policing fellow troops was to last only ten days before he is transferred to the 38th battalion. At this stage of the war, the 38th Battalion formed part of the 10th Brigade in the AIF 3rd Division.

Twelve months after enlisting in Bendigo and after 6 months of training and waiting in England, Jack’s record is stamped ‘Proceed Overseas France’ leaving from the port of Folkstone on February 13,1917.

Jack joined his unit in France on March 25 and two months later on May 28th he was wounded in action with gun shot wounds (GSW) to face and knee. Initially treated at the 83rd General Hospital in Boulonge, Northern France, he is invalided a week later back to England on board H.S Princess Elizabeth and admitted to the Brook War Hospital in Woolwich, South East London. After a month here he was transferred to the AIF 3rd Auxiliary Hospital at Perham Downs on June 26.

(Two weeks later on June 9, Jack’s wife Eliza would receive the first of many telegrams from the AIF Base Records office in the Victoria Barracks Melbourne that ‘Regret to advise – Private Jack Pocock wounded with GSW to face and knee - ‘Mild’.)

After four months of treatment and recovery in England he is ready to fight again and sails this time from Southampton in Southern England for France on September 17 and rejoined his unit at Roulles, France on September 29, 1917.

Jack could not have picked a worst time to return to the front, this time in Flanders, Southern Belgium that bloody October 1917. The 38th fought in two major attacks in Flanders, the battle of Broodseinde on 4 October, and the battle of Passchendaele on 12 October where he is wounded again.

The battle of Broodseinde was a success for the 38th, reflecting careful planning and preparation, but the 38th still suffered 29 per cent casualties. Passchendaele, however, was a disaster, executed in haste amidst horrendous conditions brought on by torrential rain. It was the 38th's most costly operation of the war, resulting in 62 per cent casualties.

British Field Marshall Haig is largely blamed for this senseless loss of life on the Flanders killing fields. Haig went on with this battle, even though the rain and bitter cold had set in. On October the 12th,1917 Haig ordered another attack, which was fated to fail miserably, with men struggling up to their knees and waists in the dreadful stinking mud and with their rifles and machine guns clogged with it. The only solid objects in this endless waste of cratered mud were the German concrete pillboxes with their machine guns which were protected from the mud and which operated only too well.
This attack cost 7000 casualties, The Australian 3rd Division lost 3199 lives in the 24 hours of this attack. The exhausted Australians were at last withdrawn but Haig was still pathologically obsessed with capturing Passchendaele Village and ordered the Canadians to take over the battle. However the Canadian General Currie, who retained his common sense and refused to move until the weather had eased and adequate supplies were available.

All up, the first and second battles of Passchendaele cost over half a million lives in 3 months. The Germans lost 250,000 lives and the British Imperial forces and French 300,000 of whom 36,500 were Australian.
Ninety thousand British or Australian bodies were never identified, 42,000 were never recovered; these had been blown to bits or had drowned in the dreadful mud morass. Many of the drowned were exhausted or wounded men who had slipped or fallen off the duckboards and were unable to escape the filthy, foul-smelling glutinous mud, sinking deeper to their deaths as they struggled.

In his Memoirs of 1938, Lloyd George wrote, "Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war ... No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign.

The details of Jack’s wounding at Passchendaele are not recorded as so many AIF soldiers were killed and wounded in that 24 hour period. His casualty form shows a ‘GSW to the back’ described as ‘serious’ and ‘multiple’. Reports of this battle on October 12 indicate hundreds, possibly thousands of wounded troops were left behind in ‘No Man’s land’ in the mud and blood in front of the deadly German machine gun boxes.
Jack was initially treated in the 5th General Field hospital in Rouen, France and three weeks later sent to England for treatment on HS Panama on October 27. Back in England, he was admitted to the Southern General Hospital in Oxford on October 30. Five weeks later on December 3, he is sufficiently recovered to be again transfer back to the AIF 3rd Auxiliary Hospital at Weymouth for further convalescence until discharged on December 19, 1917.
(Jack’s wife Eliza is again advised by telegram on November 6 that her husband has been wounded for a second time with no more detail. What must have been an agonising three weeks, she is advised on November 22 that he is back in England and has ‘GSW to the back’ which this time is described as ‘severe’. On December 8 she hears he is progressing favourably and on December 17 he is classified as a ‘convalescent’. )

For Jack, Christmas and winter 1917 were spent with other AIF troops convalescing or back in training in Southern England.

On March 13, 1918, Jack’s record is stamped again (Proceed Overseas France) for the third time again via Southhampton on board the HMAT Longbridge Deveall.

Just a week later back in France, Jack’s Casualty form states he is admitted to the NZ Stationary Hospital at Wisques on March 22 suffering from an old wound, right side. Being at the front he was just given 5 days of treatment and rejoins the 38th on March 27.

Back in action, Jack was wounded for the 3rd occasion a month later on April 20th. This time the wound is a ‘GSW to the left elbow’ and described as ‘Severe’.
Two days later he is invalided again to England. On arrival in England on April 23 he is admitted to the Orthopaedic Military Hospital in Sheppard’s Bush, London and his left arm is amputated that very day.

After being wounded three times, the last one costing him his left arm, Jack Pocock’s time on the western front was over. Recuperation takes place again the AIF’s 1st Auxiliary hospital at Harefield near Harrow and on June 25 he is transferred to No.2 Command depot at Weymouth.
(Jack’s wife Eliza receives another telegram on April 30, 1918 that her husband has been wounded a third time with no more detail. Another agonising three weeks pass and on May 16 she receives the news her husband’s left arm has been amputated and details of the Hospital where he is recovering. A further 2 weeks later she receives better news that he is ‘recovering favourably’.)

A further three months pass and on July 31 Jack embarks for home on the ‘Hospital Transport Malta’ from Plymouth. In the following two months the war in Europe takes a decisive turn as the Allies break through on the Somme.

Jack’s 38th battalion, known as the ‘Bendigo battalion’ go on to play a major part in the taking of the crucial German stronghold of Mont St Quentin on the Somme River protecting the nearby town of Péronne. AIF battalions from every Australian state led for the first time by an Australian Lieutenant General Sir John Monash captured this valuable position with the 38th losing over 1200 casualties.
At a cost of 3000 casualties, the AIF dealt a stunning blow to five German divisions and caused a general German withdrawal eastwards to the Hindenburg Line. The taking of Mont St Quentin and Péronne is regarded as among the finest Australian feats on the Western Front and the intensity of the action is evident from the fact that eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians between 31 August and 2 September 1918”. 9 British Commander General Lord Rawlinson remarked that ‘this feat by the Australian troops under Monash's command was the greatest of the war’.

Eliza Pocock receives the news by telegram on August 24 that Jack would be coming home. A month later Jack’s Hospital ship arrives back in Melbourne on the 28th of September, following 2 months at sea.

The Bendigo Advertiser reported the following Welcome Home story on October 2nd, 1918.
‘The residents of White Hills and surrounding districts gathered in large numbers at the Post Office on Monday to welcome home Pte Jack Pocock. He was met at the Bendigo railway station by a large circle of friends and also a by Messes F.J Every and W.H Henston, who welcomed him home on behalf of the Welcome Home Committee of White Hills. Then he was motored to White Hills where he was received by Mr F.H Benson, President of the Welcome Home Committee. The school children, under the leadership of their head teacher (Mr Whitlock) gave hearty cheers on the arrival of the car and then sang ‘Home, Sweet Home’. Mr F.H Benson, the Lord Bishop of Bendigo, and Mr A. Bamford delivered congratulatory addresses after which Pte Pocock was given three hearty cheers. On his arrival at the residence of his brother in law (Mr T. Davis) about 35 relatives met him and adjourned to a sumptuous repast. Mr W. Houston acted as chairman and expressed his pleasure at being present at such a happy family reunion. Mr Robert Hay of Goornong supported Mr Houston’s remarks, after which Pte Jack Pocock thanked the company for the good wishes to himself, his wife and parents. – Mr W.H Pocock thanked the company for the reception they had given his son. Pte Pocock was later given a public reception at the White Hills Public Hall.’

Jack Pocock was not discharged from the AIF until December 19, 1920 almost two years after returning from Europe. John Smith (Jack) Pocock was issued the British War Medal #A6800 and the Victory medal #45984 in 1923.


Ex-Soldier Gets Watch Back

In 1931, memories of an eventful day on a battlefield in France in 1917 were revived for Mr John Smith Pocock, of Bendigo by the return of his wrist watch.

"As Private Pocock, he was going into action (28/5/1917) when he lent his watch to Private H. Marra, of Nhill. In the engagement Marra was killed and Pocock was seriously injured. This was a year before he lost his arm.

The watch was sent to Pte Marra's family in Nhill, with his belongings and it was not until 1931 that Pte Marra's mother noticed the name on the inside of the leather watch case "Pocock" and set about to return it to Pocock.

An advertisement was placed in the Bendigo paper asking the whereabouts of a John Smith Pocock, which was duly answered.

An article then appeared in the Gippsland Times on the 16 February 1931 and other local area papers telling the story of the watch and how it was reunited with John Pocock,14 years later."

The watch is still in our family's possession.

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