Derwas Goring Charles (Dave) CUMMING MC+Bar

Poppy

CUMMING, Derwas Goring Charles

Service Number: 3087
Enlisted: 23 September 1914, Blackboy Hill, Western Australia
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: 48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Millicent, South Australia, 29 September 1891
Home Town: Doodlakine, Kellerberrin, Western Australia
Schooling: Perth Christian Brothers College and Trinity College, Melbourne University, Victoria
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Killed In Action, Monument Wood, France, 3 May 1918, aged 26 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
No known grave
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
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World War 1 Service

23 Sep 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 3087, Blackboy Hill, Western Australia
2 Nov 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Driver, SN 3087, Divisional Ammunition Column, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
2 Nov 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Driver, SN 3087, Divisional Ammunition Column, HMAT Medic, Fremantle
4 Nov 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3087, 16th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
24 Dec 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 16th Infantry Battalion
3 Mar 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, 48th Infantry Battalion
12 Mar 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 48th Infantry Battalion
23 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 48th Infantry Battalion, Pozières
6 Aug 1916: Wounded AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 48th Infantry Battalion, Pozières, GSW (arm)
1 Oct 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 48th Infantry Battalion
8 Apr 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Captain, 48th Infantry Battalion
7 Jun 1917: Honoured Military Cross, Messines, for Conspicuous gallantry and ability...
5 Apr 1918: Honoured Military Cross and bar, Villers-Bretonneux, for Conspicuous gallantry and ability in command...
3 May 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, 48th Infantry Battalion, Merris (France)

Cumming Brothers World War 1

Redmond and Derwas Cumming – two Brothers in World War 1

The centenary of World War 1 and in particular the first ANZAC Day, seemed a good time to put together what is known of the careers during the war of two heroic great uncles, the brothers Redmond and Derwas Cumming from Western Australia. Their unusual Christian names were given to them by their redoubtable mother, Kate Cumming, nee Jones. Her father, Henry Jones was a pioneer English settler in Australia in 1842, becoming a wealthy squatter in South Australia. From his family came the names Redmond and Derwas, the one Irish, the other Welsh. The two brothers’ early lives have been set out elsewhere and these notes refer only to their histories after signing up at Blackboy Hill at the beginning of the war.
The information set out below comes from the following sources:-
(a) Generally:-
Bean, Charles - Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918.
Fisher, Murray – Yalkyn, the Cumming Era – Murray purchased a property at Yalkyn, near Doodlakine in the Wheat Belt of Western Australia. He knew that it had been founded by a woman called Kate Cumming in 1905, but nothing more about her. So to celebrate Yalkyn’s centenary year in 2005, he embarked on a remarkable feat of research, discovering all sorts of fascinating information about Kate Cumming and her family which eventually turned into a 60 page book.
Walker, J – The Blood Tub – The 1st Battle of Bullecourt on 11 April 1017 was the only battle in which both brothers, Redmond and Derwas Cumming, were engaged. Some time ago I purchased the main book on this battle, by Jonathan Walker. Living in the small Devon, England, town of Sidmouth, I was surprised to find that this author also lives here; so I was able to meet with him and learn more.
(b) For Redmond Cumming and the 16th Battalion:-
His own war record
Longmore, Captain C. – The Old Sixteenth – the official battalion history written soon after the war
Gill, Ian – Bloody Angle, Bullecourt and Beyond – a recent battalion history. Sadly, none of the family saw his notices requesting information so mentions of Redmond in it are minimal.
(c) For Derwas Cumming and the 48th Battalion:-
His own war record
Devine, W – The Story of a Battalion (48th) - the official battalion history written soon after the war
Williamson, J.A. – They Simply Fade Away – written by a private in Derwas’s company in the 48th
Mitchell, G.D. – Backs to the Wall – written by a fellow officer of Derwas in the 48th
Browning, Neville – Leane’s battalion – a modern battalion history of the 48th
It has been helpful also to have oral history passed down to present day cousins. My father had been told about the two brothers by his mother, their sister, Elsie Bates (nee Cumming) and passed on to me Derwas’s medals. When his mother died in 1959, a letter of condolence from a friend mentioned that they had a Cumming family photo album from the old Yalkyn days before World War1 and my father made the journey to collect it. Redmond’s daughter Dorothy Coonan (nee Cumming) told me a great deal and her daughter Judith kindly made available an album of Redmond’s photos from the war. It is a pity that most of Redmond’s letters and all of Derwas’s seem not to have survived but there is still material to fill over 30 pages and give some picture of the bravery and perseverance of these two brothers. More information may be available from collections of their English relatives now held in the Shropshire County Record Office , Shrewsbury, England under references SRO 3975 ,SRO 3976 & 437/1. I am hopeful that wartime letters from the two brothers to their English relatives might have survived in those collections but have not yet had time to research that.
Alastair Bates, 50 Winslade Rd, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 9EX, UK 2 April 2015
alastair.bates@eclipse.co.uk

1914
SIGNING UP – BLACKBOY HILL
Redmond Cumming joined up on 22 September at Blackboy Hill, the recruiting centre for Western Australians joining the Australian Imperial Force. He had already served in the local corps for 1 year at Fremantle. He was aged 30 ½, described as a farmer although earlier that year the drought had driven him off the land and he was back in Perth working on the railways. His younger brother, Derwas Cumming joined up the next day and was described as dark complexion, hazel eyes, black hair.
Redmond was assigned to the new 16th battalion which had been formed only 6 days earlier from reinforcements for the 11th. Derwas joined the Divisional Ammunition Column.
Perhaps by now they had had letters from their English cousins describing how their uncle (their mother Kate Cumming’s brother) Colonel Frederick (Uncle Tony) Caton Jones, had taken part in the Retreat from Mons in August 1914. He was a doctor with the Royal Army Medical Corps and a veteran of India, the Omdurman campaign and the Boer War.
In D Company of the 16th Battalion under Captain Carter, Redmond was soon promoted to Lance Corporal. The new recruits underwent a rigorous programme of marching, squad drill, rifle exercises. On 13 October Redmond signed papers at Blackboy Hill – he swore to serve the King from that date to the end of the war and 4 months after that and to resist his majesty’s enemies. He was 5ft 8 ½ inches, 11 stone 1 lb, of dark complexion with brown eyes and hair and distinguishing marks, mole on right thigh and vaccination scars on his left arm
After initial training the men were sent for further training to Melbourne by sea. Derwas was the first to set off on 2.11.14 from Fremantle on the A7 “Medic”, presumably for Victoria where the new battalions were being sent for further training (although his progress between Fremantle and Egypt is not clear). Derwas’s sister in law Lyall evidently brought her 2 young sons down to Fremantle to see them off. The older son, Redmond Junior, although only 2, had a memory of seeing Derwas waving from a porthole as the boat moved away from the wharf.
Meanwhile in W.A. after two months of training, with morale high, the 16th battalion was given final leave; no doubt Redmond returned home to say his final goodbyes to Lyall and his two small sons. Then, on November 21 the battalion entrained for Fremantle embarking for a week’s voyage to Melbourne, and the military training ground of Broadmeadows. Further training began as well as the 4th Brigade Sports Championship in December and a march to a review in Melbourne before the Governor-General. By the end of the year the 16th battalion was considered ready to be sent to war.
On 22 December 1914, the 16th battalion embarked with the 15th battalion on the H M A T Ceramic, Redmond as a lance corporal No 337 in the 16th; With him in D Company was an Eric Cumming, probably his first cousin of that name. In the first few days at sea, after the initial seasickness, the men enjoyed Christmas Day cooking and Boxing Day gunnery practice and a concert. The men were kept busy with on board training including rapid loading, firing, snapshooting, physical training, semaphore signalling, bayonet fighting etc. After a brief stop (28-31 December 1914) at Albany, with no shore leave, the Ceramic, in company with fifteen other transport ships left Australia and headed for Aden.
1915
The ships travelled across the Indian Ocean keeping a careful lookout for enemy vessels. The troops were kept amused by a shipboard paper called “The Honk”. On January 20th 1915 they arrived at Aden. After three days, again with no shore leave, the Ceramic sailed on arriving passing through the Suez Canal where they saw evidences of war – a plane, warships and the canal’s defences against the Turks.
FEBRUARY 1915
EGYPT
Alexandria was reached on 1st February and the troops disembarked 2 days later for their first feel of solid ground for six weeks. A seven hour train journey followed by a 2 hour march brought them to their quarters at Heliopolis near Cairo. The next two months were spent in training with leave in Cairo a never ending source of fascination to the Australians.
With a battalion history for the 16th it is fairly easy to track Redmond’s progress; Derwas’s Divisional Ammunition Column, although clearly in Egypt for the rest of the year is difficult to trace as it has no corresponding “battalion history”.
APRIL 1915
After two months in Egypt the men of the 16th were now in high state of readiness. On April 11 the battalion, Redmond among them, left by train for Alexandria where they embarked on two transport ships. An uneventful 4 day voyage brought them to Mudros harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos. The harbour was full of ships including the warship Agamemnon, badly battered by its recent attempt to force the straits. After three days training in disembarking from small boats, followed by two days rough weather, on the 23rd April the men received a message from the King and a general order from General Birdwood about their forthcoming offensive and each man was were issued with a pick or shovel.
REDMOND AT GALLIPOLI
At last, on 25th April about noon they set off again in their transport for the unknown shore of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Here, at dawn that day, the 3rd Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force (“the AIF”) had landed at daybreak and a desperate confused battle was going on in the hillsides and gullies of the steep hills rising from the sea.
So the 16th, Redmond among them, came ashore in evening of the first Anzac landing. Edwin Bidder Clark, an English midshipman on HMS Prince of Wales (coincidentally to become later a connection of Redmond and Derwas by marriage) collected wounded from the beach; many had to be left although they begged to be taken. By that night he wrote “the whole 600 yards of beach was strewn with wounded… all in one continuous tangle”. It was into such a scene that the 16th battalion went ashore that evening. The battalion landed 959 strong but soon suffered heavy casualties.
The men of the 16th, Redmond among them, saw thick smoke and gunflashes as they neared the coast, and a line of ships strung out along the coast pounding the Turkish positions. The 16th came ashore from their transport in small boats around 5.30pm, under heavy shelling but with only half a dozen casualties. The 16th was ordered up Monash valley. Moving up through the dark they reached a fork in the valley with Pope’s Hill above them and no clear idea in the dark of where friends and foes were. After rumours of Indian forces nearby 2 officers and a soldier were captured by Turks whom they mistakenly thought were Indians. The Commanding Officer Colonel Pope narrowly also avoided capture and on his escape back to the battalion he ordered them to dig in on the summit of Pope’s Hill. This was done but under heavy Turkish fire and sniping from Russell’s Top behind them.
Daybreak showed that some of the 16th position was vulnerable to Turkish sniping and there were many casualties. On the 27th the sniping continued but the 16th beat off a determined frontal attack by the Turks. Continued digging on the 28th meant that the position became safer and less exposed to the sniper fire from Russell’s Top. At last on Friday evening, April 30th the weary 16th battalion was relieved after 5 days continuous fighting, and they rested in Rest Gully for 2 days. So limited was the Anzac beachhead, however, that 50 more men of the 16th fell to sniper fire even in this rest area.
MAY 1915
In the evening of on Sunday May 2nd the battalion advanced up the valley under orders to assault and dig in at the ridge to the left of Quinn’s Post. Again chaotic disconnected fighting in the dark in steep rough terrain left the 16th exposed to intense fire. Towards morning an attack on a Turkish position subjecting them to heavy fire was unsuccessful with many dead. Reinforcements failed to get through and eventually, isolated and running short of ammunition the 16th gradually withdrew. The battalion went into this action on May 2nd, a week after landing– the alteration in its strength on May 3rd after that battle is as follows:-
Strength May 2 Strength May 3 Losses (killed, wounded, missing)
Officers 17 9 8
Other ranks 628 298 330
645 307 338
Disreagrding earlier casualties since landing the battalion in this one action had lost over half its strength. Although ordered forward on May 4 to relieve the garrison at Quinn’s Post clearly reinforcements and reorganisation were needed. 4 companies had shrunk to two understrength companies.
Including all the battalion’s losses since the landing on 25 April, just 10 days earlier, overall the figures were even more disastrous, as follows:-
Strength April 25 (+1st reinforcements, 27.4.15) Strength May 4 Losses (killed, wounded, missing)
Officers 28 (+1 = 29) 9 20
Other ranks 898 (+68 + 966) 298 668

Captain Longmore, author of the battalion history, writes that “The ten days … was a hectic period in the life of the battalion. Its introduction was a terrible ordeal and the number of casualties sustained was something in the nature of a record – even for the landing operations. Although cut to pieces and disorganised at times through losing their leaders, the survivors battled through the most trying situations and hung onto ground so long as there was a chance of success.”
In early May the situation had stabilised with the Australians with a clearer front line. It was still a most precarious position and overlooked by Turkish snipers. The 15th and 16th battalions with the rest of the 4th Brigade were to hold the most dangerous part of the line, the disconnected posts at Courtney’s and Quinn’s and Pope’s Hill. The 15th and 16th were to alternate in 48 hour spells holding the position; sniping and attacks caused further casualties. One problem for the Australian especially when further down the same trench as their enemies was that the enemy had “bombs” (grenades) to throw but the Australians did not.
On May 12th the 16th went to Rest camp, where they enjoyed an issue of rum to all ranks and swimming in the sea, but also with the warmer weather experienced vermin and lice.
On May 19 in the early morning the Turks attempted a frontal assault to sweep the Australians into the sea. The attack failed and Turkish losses were something like 10,000 that day along the ANZAC front as against around 600 casualties for the defenders. After weeks of a largely unseen enemy sniping and bombing the Australians’ exposed positions a victory in open fighting of this kind had a great effect on morale. After this the two sides seem to have settled down to an acceptance of trench warfare.
On 22 May, a few weeks after landing, Redmond was promoted second lieutenant with D Company of the 16th straight from lance corporal; it showed both his ability and the casualty rate. Some years later the Bruce Rock Post [17.3.1922] commented that Redmond “had the misfortune to be wounded at Gallipoli. He proved himself to be a good soldier and a fearless fighter …”. In the Turkish attack three days before D Company had been in the front line and Redmond had presumably stood out as a potential officer. He was mentioned in dispatches for his work in this early period.
The Eastern Recorder [16.7.1915] commented that “Mrs Kate Cumming has received word that her son, Redmond H.O. Cumming, of the gun section, 16th battalion, has received his commission as second lieutenant, D Company, 16th Battalion, at the Dardanelles on May 18. He left Blackboy Camp as lance corporal, and is reported to have done good work with his gun section. His cousin, Eric Cumming, was wounded in the first week’s fighting, but recovered and has since returned to the front.”
On 31 May after 5 weeks fighting the battalion was withdrawn to a sheltered reserve position. Just before they handed over to a New Zealand force they found an order on the body of a Turkish soldier saying that all Turks fighting against Quinn’s Post would be promoted corporal; it was an unsolicited testimonial to the 16th and 2 other battalions who had held the post.
Redmond wrote home:- We are now spelling for a week after five weeks in the trenches, and I need not say how glad we all are. Everybody was very tired. We cannot say much on account of the censorship. Well, I am a great dog nowadays – got my commission on the 18th of last month. I am supposed to have done some pretty good work on the machine gun.

Derwas has not arrived here yet -stiIl in Alexandria, I think, looking after horses. I know he will be disappointed, but he is perhaps better off. I write on an average twice a week, or what we are allowed to put in a letter -rather an awkward job sitting up in your dug-out, although they are palaces compared to the trenches. I am getting on very well with my work. Have a Batman, who does all cooking, washing, shaving, thieving, etc. - the latter a very valuable asset.

Will have heaps to tell you when we meet again. I shall come out of this all right, and with something to remember for a life time. Tell the mater I saw Frank Kennedy the other day (he is very fit); also saw Leo. Roscome, Geo. Leake, and the two Watt boys, who are all O.K. The Indians here have an intense admiration for Australians. One, explaining to me the difference between Englishman and Australian, said, “Shrapnel come along Englishman duck, get in dugout: Australian turn round and say & Who the hell threw that thing?; An English officer was heard to remark ''Finest soldiers in the world, but, oh! the language." [From The Sunday Times (Perth, WA) Sunday 25 July 1915, p12 section, second section articles - Transcribed from Trove 18/2/2015 by Bruce Chandler Under Headline:-Graphic Narratives - Of the Fighting in Gallipoli - Written by Readers of The Sunday Times Letters from & our boys & who took part in the Dardanelles landing and subsequent engagements are still coming to hand[.

From 1 June to 6 August the 16th battalion was behind the line, employed mainly on fatigue duties. Longmore comments that “… the flies were exceptionally bad and the whole area swarmed with body vermin. All ranks began to suffer from diarrhoea and dysentery. The number of troops sent away [ill] … threatened to keep pace with the reinforcements arriving.
On 13 June 1915 Redmond’s third son Laurence was born back in Perth. Kate Cumming, the very forceful mother of Redmond, Derwas and their brothers and sisters had insisted to her husband that their six children all have Christian names from her family. She has also prevailed in this way over her daughter in law Lyall, in the naming of Redmond and Lyall’s first two sons, Redmond Jr and Caton; in this case, however, Lyall finally rebelled and Kate for once did not have her own way.
THREE DAYS ON MUDROS
On July 5 the battalion was taken off Gallipoli, towed out from the jetty in barges and then on board ship for Imbros. The battalion arrived there the next morning and marched to camp, receiving the next day an issue of rum and their pay. Of their three days on Imbros Redmond wrote home soon after, the letter being published in the Eastern Recorder 17th September 1915. With the Australians at the Dardanelles. :-
July 14th.
"We have been here three months and only had a spell on an adjoining island for three days. We got milk, tomatoes, cucumbers, mulberries, apples, oranges and in fact everything we wanted those three days. I went to a village with a party consisting of the Colonel, Major, Doctor and another Sub and Camp Adj'nt. We ran wild. Fancy us all up mulberry trees like school children; we came down covered with juice. The Colonel's bald patch was a fine mulberry colour - he is a good sport [prob Colonel Pope]. Our fellows are keeping wonderfully healthy in the trenches, all things considered, and as you say, we have name. I am proud to belong to them and to know we are fighting for the Empire and our women and children. I do not honestly think this affair can last very much longer, but every man who can come should be here - no time for "shirkers". Thank God I have been able to do my duty and show no cowardice. At this game nobody knows how he is going to shape. At first, of course I felt excited, but one calls to mind the enemy is in front, and one's duty is to lick him thoroughly and keep cool. "

After a route march on July 9th the battalion embarked and sailed back on July10th to Gallipoli. In a letter dated the day of their return to Gallipoli Redmond remarks:
July 10th.
"Terrific bombardment this morning down south. We can see the effect of it - awful! It is something to see 'Queen Lizzie" fire a broadside - it shakes the whole earth - and the smart cheeky little destroyers and torpedo boats poking in and out are wonderful. Generally the wounded come back as soon as they are fit - heroes. Poor old Derwas has not put in an appearance yet, much to his disgust, being kept with the horses at Alexandria. He has my sympathy. "

The next few weeks were in the back areas. Redmond write to his wife, Lyall:-

July 21.
''Don 't worry about sending me anything in the way of clothes; Grannie [Frances Eliza Callendar, previously Jones, nee Caton] in England has supplied me. Mother's idea of sending paper, envelopes and indelible pencils is just what we want, as they are unprocurable. Now that the casualty lists appear it must be a worrying time for those who are left behind, as the losses have been fairly heavy in our Battalion (16th) but it has covered itself with glory. I 'm jolly proud to belong to the 16th; our colours are white over dark blue. We have all just been inoculated for Cholera, a very wise thing, too. There is an idea here that the whole show will be over about October - shan't we be glad Australia will be a grand country after this war, for every “Pommy" I meet says he is going there. I see in some papers awfully imaginative reports re landing here, from persons who only landed a month afterwards, when things were settling down, roads made, sign posts up, etc, so take them for what they are worth. The honour of forcing a landing belongs to the 'footsloggers' alone. The Light Horse did excellent work as timely reinforcements, and it is wonderful the good comradeship existing between the men of different units - all petty grievances and jealousies forgotten, and we look upon one another as brothers. A beautiful thing it is and a grand spirit. One thing I must tell you, my Platoon says they will follow me anywhere. I am glad I have the confidence of these fine fellows. Eric Cumming is back, recovered from his wounds - a gallant boy. I have been doing some censor work and some of them are funny. One fellow wrote 'I can't say much because of the censor, but I may tell you that the Turks captured 17,000 miles of wireless," another had just seen a duel between a submarine and an aeroplane, and submarine had torpedoed the aeroplane, etc. "

Longmore comments that “The remainder of July was a quiet period … The heat, the flies and the incessant labour were having their effect on the battalion and its original members were by this time a gaunt and haggard band, showing obvious signs of the trying experiences through which they had passed. They afforded a striking contrast to the sturdy reinforcements arriving every week to make good the enormous wastage of war.” By the end of July Redmond was feeling the strain. Two thirds of the strength of the 16th battalion which landed on Anzac Day was gone, and had been replaced by later reinforcements. Redmond was one of the few who had been on Gallipoli from the beginning. He wrote to his wife of the strain and feeling unwell:-
July 28.
"Paper is getting scarce so please put a few sheets and envelopes in your letters. I am not feeling too good and am going to the doctor today, and I hope for a bit of a spell. After the three and a half months here nobody can accuse me of 'cold feet, " the constant strain makes one feel run down. "Things very slow, still doing navvies" work. A veritable hell of a bombardment this morning by ships - the Turks replying some. It is very warm and the flies are awful. I don't think these flies have ever seen jam before, they rush it a treat. Our doctor is a grand man - you remember that smart looking man you met at Blackboy, well, he is our chap - done excellent work and as brave as you make 'em. It is so beautiful here overlooking the sea, and the Mediterranean is such a lovely color. The Turk is a brave clean fighter, I wish to blazes we hadn't to kill one another. I am off to the beach with 40 picked men on special duty. You may hear from civilisation soon - out of the sound of 'Lonely Liz" and 'Dinner Time Turkey, ' two Turkish guns which annoy us, especially at dinner time. "

AUGUST 1915
A new offensive was planned for early August. Redmond would not be involved, however, as he fell ill and was taken on 5th August on the hospital ship Devanha, suffering from diarrhoea and dysentery to hospital in Malta; and so he missed the disastrous attempt on Hill 971 made in conjunction with the failed Suvla landings and most of the fighting by the 16th through August.
He disembarked feeling sick at Malta on the 5th August”. Discharged after a week as fit for active service he seems to have set off for Egypt. He was probably in hospital in Malta for most of August.
MALTA
Malta was nicknamed the nurse of the Mediterranean. It received and treated more than 100,000 casualties during the war, nearly 58,000 of them from Gallipoli.. The 27 hospitals there were stretched dealing with the flood of sick and wounded, especially Australians from Gallipoli. The first patients from the battlefield arrived in Malta in May 1915. The soldiers had to travel 850 miles across the Mediterranean to reach the safety of the island. Thousands of patients made the week-long journey on hospital ships, an average of 2000 per week arriving from Gallipoli, to be treated by several thousand doctors, nurses, and other ranks. Many of the troops were afflicted with dysentery, fever and malaria and needed ongoing care. Several convalescent hospitals were set up on the island to help those who were still not fit to return to the front.
In May, 1915 tea rooms were set up in Sliema to provide rest and refreshment for the sick and wounded soldiers. The tea rooms were manned by a band of local volunteers and hosted weekly concerts. They proved popular with the soldiers and during the course of the war around 50,000 men were served.
In October a Gymnasium in Valletta was converted into a facility for convalescents. It was equipped with a library, bar, a billiard table and a fully equipped stage. Over 80,000 men passed through its doors. Around this time Australia Hall was built by the Australian Red Cross. It was a combined recreation centre and theatre and provided entertainment for wounded soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

SEPEMBER 1915
After six weeks in Malta Redmond was discharged onto the HS Ivernia for Alexandria and on 7 September he embarked from Alexandria to rejoin his unit. Not long after this the Eastern Recorder reported [12.11.1915] that “A Doodlakine [the small Wheat Belt town where their mother Kate’s property, Yalkyn, was situated] lady has received a letter from Lieutenant Redmond H.O. Cumming (son of Mrs Kate Cumming) stating that after six weeks at Malta he was back to Lemnos and in love with soldiering, but not with war. He says that no words can describe the bravery of our boys at the front. His brother Derwas is still at Alexandria.”
A casualty return for the battalion in early September showed a loss by now of 38 officers and 1164 other ranks dead, wounded, missing or captured. This was more than the entire original strength of the battalion on landing on 25 April. The officers then on duty with the battalion were Lt Colonel Pope, Major Margolin (2nd in command), no surviving captains, and 17 lieutenants, including Redmond Cumming, newly rejoined from hospital.
Longmore writes that by the beginning of the August offensives the battalion had built up its strength with reinforcements to about 900. By early September it was down to about 200 men. “Its casualties had been exceptionally severe. The 16th at all times on Gallipoli bore a prominent part in the heavy fighting …” [84]
Redmond had rejoined the battalion just at the time that it was withdrawn a second time from Gallipoli for rest, this time on Mudros, the Greek Island the men had visited back in April just before the Anzac landings. It is not clear whether Redmond actually returned to Galllipoli or met his battalion on Mudros. On September 13th the men embarked on ships and arrived at Lemnos the next day. After a march to Sarpi camp and a night for many of them in the open in the rain (owing to a shortage of tents) matters gradually improved. Redmond, however, had a recurrence of illness and was admitted to Hospital in Mudros, although he seems to have been discharged soon after.
After weeks on Gallipoli the men’s uniforms had deteriorated to a marked degree and they presented a motley spectacle when they were inspected by a French admiral. The battalion’s stay on Mudros was for seven weeks and the men recuperated and gradually worked their way back to fitness and health. Fresh food was available including the addition to daily rations of a pint of English ale or half a bottle of stout. Eggs were issued, at two per man weekly.
The town of Castro was out of bounds and therefore visited by most of the battalion; as was an inn on the way to Castro offering good meals and natural thermal springs. Redmond appears in two group photos of this time easily distinguished by his small black moustache. The shows him seated seated holding his swagger stick commanding a small picquet (a small temporary military post) of 17 men at a Lemnos (the capital of Mudros) village. The second is a battalion group photo showing a pitifully small battalion (not more than 200 men), the officers seated on the ground at the front, Redmond lounging at his ease on the ground.
OCTOBER 1915
A neighbour of Redmond’s from the Wheat Belt, Private E. St Ives Bilston, arrived at Gallipoli at the beginning of September in the absence of Redmond, sick in Malta, and wrote this account home with a tribute to Redmond.
October 11, 1915.
"Your extremely kind and welcome letter reached me last night, for which many thanks. It is a pleasure to get letters from home, and lets you know who really are your friends. I was extremely fortunate this mail, as I got six letters.

It is unaccountable how long it takes letters to reach us. I see yours is dated August 30th, and the latest date received was Sept. 4th - 40 days in transit.
Now, as to myself (all that I am allowed to tell). I am first class, and will be here six weeks to-morrow - in the thick of it. So far I have not received anything worse than a hit on the temple from a piece of stone knocked out of a sandbag by a bullet, which gave me a very bad head for a couple of days. I have had some narrow escapes. One day four mates were killed and one wounded by shrapnel beside me, whilst my dugout was riddled Yesterday I have my rifle knocked up by a sniper, and later on a bullet grazed my right hand as I was firing. My mate had bullet put down the muzzle of his rifle, bursting it for about an inch in. Young Griff Owen, a mate of mine, stopped a bullet right over the heart by a little bible or pocket testament he had in his pocket. This may seem to you (as it often has to me) a bit "thick" but it is God's truth. Seeing is believing. He was on the next post to me at the time. The bullet is in the centre of it: it turned round after piercing the tunic and pocket book. I wrote a piece of poetry for him about it and enclose a copy.

Did you know Seymour Pead, late of South Doodlakine. He was a sergeant of ours and is among the killed - died of wounds. The papers will give you our Losses. I cannot give too much information, but will have an interesting narrative ready of "his job. " There are very few of my mates of the 4th left. I hunted up Redmond Cumming first day here, but he had gone away sick. How I hope to get the chance of "winning" like he did, and glad I am that all our district, including Kellerberrin have proved such a credit to their homeland

Familiarity breeds contempt! I take no more heed to the shrapnel and bullets flying now than I used (or even do now) to a shower of rain. I am doing my level best for the country I love and trusting to God for the rest. Whether He will fail me remains to be seen. I have no fault to find with anything here. It is rough, but I understood that a soldier had to take ''pot luck”, and am not disappointed: only I grieve to know of so many friends going under. Excuse this second-rate pencilship - no convenience. Please write again and send me THE RECORDER. Mail regularly. Letters are the bright spot of this existence. It is bitterly cold here, especially at night. The winter is coming on. I hope to be back some day, but Oh, God, when? This is a tough job and I am right into it. "

While Redmond and the exhausted 16th were enjoying a prolong rest on Lemnos, his younger brother Derwas, still frustrated at not getting to Gallipoli after 6 months, managed to arrange on 22.10.15 a transfer from the 4th Section 1st Divisional Ammunition Column to the 16th Battalion as a driver in Alexandria. Three days later on 25th October he was able to set off at last from Alexandria in HS Canada for Gallipoli.
Much recovered after seven weeks rest on Mudros, the 16th battalion finally paraded for the return to Gallipoli on October 31.

NOVEMBER 1915
Owing to difficult landing conditions the ship ran away from Gallipoli for Imbros where the 16th disembarked, finally returning to Gallipoli on November 2. On arrival the 16th was sent to garrison part of the Aghyl Dere.
Derwas Cumming seems to have arrived two days later on 4th November, reporting to 16 Btn Brigade HQ and being transferred to the 16th almost immediately, where he would finally have rejoined Redmond. The onset of winter caused digging of underground shelters and concern when the water cooling machine guns froze causing them to malfunction. After a couple of weeks Redmond’s sickness recurred and he was sent first to the Gallipoli field hospital and then back to Malta at the very end of November. He arrived at Malta “slightly sick” but was “seriously ill” with varicocele a few days later and he remained in hospital there for the rest of the year. His Gallipoli experience was over. In the meantime Derwas was promoted corporal on 24th November.
DECEMBER 1915
Back home at Doodlakine the Eastern Recorder reported [10.12.1915] that “Private Derwas Cumming has joined his brother (Captain Redmond Cumming) and is now in the firing line in Gallipoli. Until quite recently Private Cumming was stationed in Alexandria [the ranks given for both brothers at the time seem to be incorrect]. As preparations were now in hand for evacuation of the untenable position on Gallipoli the men were ordered to observe long periods of not firing, in order to normalise that in the Turks’ eyes.
On December 13 snow fell. A rumour began that the positions were to be evacuated, substantiated by the progressive evacuation of the men. The 16th set up the famous delayed firing system to deceive the Turks of dripping cans of water, a mechanism which when the receiving can was heavy enough, released the trigger and fired the rifle. The men of the 16th left on the 18,19 and 20th December, Derwas Cumming (now Corporal) with D Company on the 19th. Under cover of darkness they embarked on the lighter to join H M S Mars. Had the Turks realised what was happening casualties among the rear-guard would have been heavy. As it was the evacuation was a brilliant success and achieved without loss and without the Turks realising.
The 16th was landed at Lemnos the next day and marched in camp at Mudros East, finding this time tents erected for them. On Christmas Eve Derwas was promoted to sergeant. After a few days of light training and a relaxing Christmas Day, the 16th led by its band, embarked on the Ascanius arriving on December 29th 1915 back at Alexandria which the original members, including Redmond, had left with such high hopes in April.
REDMOND SUMMARY
On 4th January 1916 Redmond was discharged from Malta, fit for active service, and sailed to rejoin his unit, reaching Alexandria on 11 January. In view of later events, one questions whether Redmond was permanently affected both physically and mentally by what he had gone through on Gallipoli.
From September 1914 to April 1915, he had been part of a battalion which had trained together at Blackboy Hill and Broadmeadow, sailed together to Egypt, worked, trained and played together in Egypt. Over those seven months the battalion had become very close, and then they underwent together the baptism of fire of going ashore on the first day at Anzac Cove. In less than two weeks, more than two thirds of Redmond’s comrades were gone – killed, wounded, sick, captured or missing, the men with whom he had joined up, trained, travelled, prepared and gone into battle with.
The situation he found himself in was in some ways worse even than the trenches on the Western Front. There were not the appalling unending bombardments suffered in France from the German artillery sometimes for days on end. On the other hand, the positions held in Gallipoli were often exposed and overlooked and vulnerable to Turkish snipers so men were constantly being killed and wounded. Even when the battalion went out of the front positions to the rest area it was never out of danger. On the Western Front the troops would retire to safe billets well behind the lines and when off duty could relax completely. On Anzac, there was nowhere safe to rest, even swimmers in the sea being shot at by Turkish riflemen, so confined and fragile was the foothold the Anzacs had gained. Add to this the terrible conditions, the heat, the terrible sights of dead and wounded men, the constant horror of seeing his comrades killed, the stench of decomposing bodies, the difficulty of giving dead comrades a decent burial, the flies, dysentery and malaria, the shortage of water and the poor food. By August he was one of the few original members of the 16th who had survived on Anzac since the first landing and had undergone these conditions for over three months non stop. It seems likely that physically he was never the same again, as illness kept recurring throughout the war; and that he may mentally suffered from some form of shell shock or post traumatic stress syndrome.
1916
JANUARY 1916
Landing in Alexandria on January 1st the 16th battalion was sent to Ismailia on the Suez Canal and later to Moascar nearby, at these two places for a total of five weeks. Reinforcements from Australia were received, building up the battalion towards its old strength. Derwas would have been with the battalion.
Redmond was discharged from hospital in Malta on 4th January as fit for active service arrived on HL Bornu in Alexandria on 11 January.
Longmore writes that “all the vacant positions in the ranks of officers and NCOs were filled by promotions”. One of these, despite his absence in hospital, was of Redmond, from 2nd to 1st Lieutenant. By the end of January Redmond was released from the seriously ill list and he was sent for convalescence in Cairo where the Australians had waited so long to fight in early 1915. At 2nd Gen Hosp Cairo N.Y.D. – he was allowed an ordinary diet of 1 pint of soda water, with jelly, milk, custard pudding and rice pudding and chicken or ordinary diet. An operation on 15 January left him with a high temperature for a week and rated seriously ill. However, despite his absence from the battalion he was promoted on 20 January to 1st Lieutenant. He was discharged from the seriously ill list on 24 January and discharged on 27th apparently to a convalescent unit in Helouan south of Cairo.
Meanwhile Redmond’s battalion, the 16th, Derwas now among them, travelled by train to Tel el Kebir, settling into camp for reorganisation.
FEBRUARY 1916
Redmond’s illness recurred in February, hospitalising him for two months.
MARCH 1916
For the 16th battalion, the biggest change, in early March, was the detachment of part of the battalion to form an entirely new battalion, the 48th. This was part of the raising of two new Australian divisions, and the new battalions were all to be started with a core of seasoned troops from the old existing battalions. Redmond (still unwell) remained in the 16th but Derwas was transferred to the new 48th. Both battalions were then filled up with reinforcements from Australia.
Devine was the Chaplain of the new 48th Battalion and author of the battalion history. He describes how on 3rd March 1916.3.16 four officers and three hundred and fifty other ranks, Sergeant Derwas Cumming among them, “lined up on the parade ground in the large Australian camp at Tel-el-Kebir.” They were addressed by Colonel Pope, who had gained their admiration for his bravery and leadership at Gallipoli. He was sorry to lose them but the demands of the service made it necessary; they were going to be the basis of the new 48th battalion. When the colonel finished another officer, from a different battalion, Major R L Leane, marched them off to a different part of the camp; they were now a new battalion. Other officers and men joined during the following week, from other units and from the training battalion. There were still insufficient officers, so a board was set up to examine the non commissioned officers on their suitability for promotion. A week later ten of these were promoted, Derwas Cumming among them, to the rank of second lieutenant.
Devine writes that the new battalion was mainly West Australians and mainly from the country “and therefore they were the best of material.” Miners, foresters, blacksmiths, mining engineers, railway men, swagmen, farmers and farm labourers – “they were not a kid glove lot of men and required something firmer than kid glove handling.” On 27 March the battalion set out to march 43 miles across the desert to Serapeum on the Suez canal, taking them several days through blazing heat and soft sand. It was a gruelling journey, long remembered. John Williamson who joined the 48th battalion in 1917, long after Gallipoli, recounts how in quiet moments of relaxation with older soldiers “with great frequency discussion centred round the epic 43 miles march in 1916 across the Egyptian desert from Tel el Kebir to Serapeum.”
APRIL 1916
Meanwhile, Redmond, still ill in hospital was “struck off strength” of the 16th battalion on the 16th April, being placed on the A “Supernumerary” list.
MAY 1916
Throughout May 1916, the new 48th underwent weeks of training (and swimming in the Suez Canal).and guard duty against a non existent Turkish attack. At the end of May it was time at last to head for Europe to join the main conflict. The 48th battalion, with Second Lieutenant Derwas Cumming, left the Suez Canal and travelled, marching and by train, to Alexandria. Here, the 48th embarked on the “Caledonia” for France. A week later they disembarked at Marseilles on 9th June and entrained for Northern France. A weekend travelling in cattle trucks was compensated for by the remarkable greenness of the scenery after the deserts of Egypt.
About a week after the 48th left Egypt, Redmond now deemed fit enough to travel, embarked on June 7 on the Ionian at Alexandria and arrived in Marseilles on 14 June. The 16th had already left Alexandria for France on 1st June, arriving on 7th.
JUNE 1916
Derwas with the 48th battalion arrived at the village of Merris near Bailleul. After a few weeks training and a brief and uneventful taste of the front line they travelled south again to billets at Berteaucourt. This was in the Somme department where the battalion was to spend most of the rest of the war. Towards the end of June the battalion in easy marches made its way towards Albert. The great Battle of the Somme began on July 1st 1916 but the Australians were not yet to be committed to it for a few more weeks.
However Redmond and Derwas’s uncle, Kate Cumming’s brother, Michael Derwas Goring Jones, recently promoted to Brigadier General commanded the 146th Brigade on the first day of the Somme. It met with no more success than most of the British units that day. He had already commanded the Durham Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion, at the Battle of Hooge in August 1915. So the two brothers had two English uncles with senior rank in the British army in France; as well as three Brewer cousins and at least one Cumming cousin in the AIF.
Some time in July was spent by the 48th battalion in support trenches near Fleurbaix. On the first of August they rested on the western side of Albert – in this area they were later to fight a most desperate battle, and Derwas was to win the Military Cross. But that was nearly two years in the future.
AUGUST 1916
The as yet untried 48th was part of the 4th Division under General Cox which was to be committed to battle on the Somme to relieve the 2nd Australian Division and to bring out the wounded. It was, suggests Peter Charlton (“Australians on the Somme” p216) “demonstrably a better division than the 2nd …. This division too, had the inestimable advantage of possessing … two of the best battalions of the AIF …. The 14th, “Jacka’s mob”; the other was the 48th …”
Since the disaster for the British Army of July 1st, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British and French had been gradually pushing back the Germans. It was at a terrible cost for both sides. On the 4th August the 48th battalion camped on Tara Hill, 2 miles NE of Albert, seeing the intense British bombardment of the German positions on the ridge above Pozieres. Next day orders came to move up to the new front line and hold the ground gained at all costs.
That evening they made their way up into the high ground via Sausage valley the only way up, Casualty Corner, the Sunken Road and Pioneer Trench, Copse Avenue and Chalk Pit.
They moved up to Pozieres through what Leane later said was the worst bombardment he experienced in the whole war. Colonel Leane disobeyed his superior officer Glasfurd’s orders to put 2 companies in the OG trenches because of the higher casualties likely from concentrating men in the forward trenches under such a bombardment
B & C companies , Derwas among them, were then sent on to the front line with orders to relieve the devastated unit that had won trenches OG 1 and OG2 and to clear the wounded in the abandoned OG2 trench. ; then to dig in to these wrecked and shallow trenches and to defend them with Lewis gunners in shell holes in advance of OG2.
The 48th was sent forward therefore under an intense bombardment. Bean says it was “so dense that men were falling everywhere. Leane could nowhere find the commander of the 27th, whom he was to relieve, nor could his forward companies find the front-line garrison. Dead and wounded lay everywhere, some killed on their stretchers, with the stretcher bearers lying dead beside them… the troops of the 48th occupied OG1 and relieved the troops there. but their shouts through the dark brought no answer from anyone in front, nor could they find OG2.”
There was no answering shout through the darkness from the defenders of OG2 in front. At this
point Bean (the Australian official historian) mentions Derwas – OG2, he writes, “would probably
have been left unoccupied if a junior officer, Lieutenant Cumming, had not insisted on leading his
men forward in further search of it. They discovered the reason for no response – all the defenders
were dead or wounded.
Scouting parties crossed trench OG2, no longer recognisable as a trench, and dug positions further forward in front of the great mound which had been the windmill on the crest of the hill. It was clear that the Australians were not facing a continuous German line, and Derwas led his men further forward. They scoured the ground so far in front of the crest that at dawn, Lieutenant Brown … seeing them returning up the hill from the direction of Courcelette (“a mile in front of the windmill …”) at first mistook them for Germans. General Page Croft also saw Derwas and his men “coming over the hill from Martinpuich.” and also took them for Germans until they turned to face the enemy whereupon he thought they were Australians returning from a “hunting expedition”; they brought a few German prisoners.
The support trenches had been significantly destroyed by the German bombardment and so soldiers bringing rations and ammunitions and stretcher bearers bringing back the wounded did so over open ground and suffered serious casualties. Casualties continued to rise under the ongoing bombardment although a German counter attack was beaten off.
The battalion was in position by 11pm already severely depleted in numbers by the appalling bombardment it had come through on its way up. Devine writes “Throughout the whole evening the terrible drumfire of the enemy had been incessant. It still continued with unabated fury…. All through the night of the 5th, all through the 6th it lasted, a great impersonal horror, until noon on the 7th.”
Thanks to Derwas’s initiative both OG lines were now reoccupied by the Australians; but the heavy shell fire which continued to fall on them meant that when Colonel Leane visited in the morning he found “the trenches merely a string of shell-holes tenanted by dead and wounded and a bare remnant of his companies.” A lull in the shelling as day broke lasted only till mid morning when the bombardment was resumed.
When they were relieved Devine comments “Their work had been to hold OG 1 and OG 2 at all costs. They delivered over those trenches to the relieving units. They had done their work.” [p43]
At Pozieres in 2 days fighting the 48th lost 598 officers and men killed, wounded, prisoners or missing. Derwas was one of them. At some stage on the 6th perhaps even during his daring reconnaissance through the apparent gap in the German lines opposite on the morning of 6th August Derwas was wounded in his right arm – the wound is variously described in his papers as a shell wound which suggests the bombardment during the night and a gunshot wound which given the lack of Germans immediately in front of OG2 suggests that he might have been hit while leading his men forward on reconnaissance.
Derwas was evacuated on 6 August from Pozieres with a perforating shell or gunshot (both seem to be mentioned) wound through the middle of his right and was taken to the 4th A.F.A. hospital, thence to the 7 Stat Hosp in Boulogne and just two days after the battle embarked to England “H S Cambria”. He was admitted to hospital at the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, and placed on seconded list from the 48th battalion. He was discharged on 13 August discharged from hospital but a medical board of three officers on 17 August found that although there was no injury to bone or nerve and the wound was nearly healed he had undergone a good deal of haemorrhage and was not fit yet for general service or service at home. He should have 3 weeks for home rest and 6 weeks from military service.
A further medical board at the Australian Military Offices London decided “His wounds are healed. He is easily tired and below par”. He was passed fit for service at home but not for military service for another 2 weeks. If given leave it is likely that he would have headed to Shropshire to the various family homes there south of Shrewsbury. Elderly relatives were living at Pontesford House and Earlsdale but it is most likely he would have stayed with his aunt Ettie (Gwen Ethlin Georgiana Chitty), his mother’s younger sister, married to Rev. Jim Chitty, the rector of Hanwood. Their older son, John Chitty was to endure Passchendaele the following year and Jim faithfully corresponded with the boys from the village who had gone out with the British army.
Redmond’s actions and movements for the next few months in France are not clear as he seems to have been, as a supernumerary, detached for a while from the 16th battalion and to have missed the battalion’s involvement in the later stages of the Battle of the Somme and the fighting at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm. In August 1916 he was temporarily an instructor at the Bull Ring at Etaples in northern France. Here he met J A Roddick of the Liverpool Scottish (who years later, on arrival in Australia in 1936, now a Major, made enquiries for Redmond’s whereabouts presumably wanting to resume acquaintance with a friend from the war). Also in August, Redmond was promoted to the rank of Captain.

SEPTEMBER 1916
On 1 September Derwas reported to no 1 com depot at Perham Downs on the Salisbury Plain & taken on strength and was taken on strength, no doubt involved in training the Australian reinforcements. John Williamson, arriving in England in December 1916 spent several months training at Codford but after Derwas’s departure. However Williamson gives a vivid description of the daily grind of training, the route marches on duty or long walks when not to Salisbury, Stonehenge, Warminster etc.. The evenings saw card games, billiards and home made concerts; and they eagerly looked forward to the 4 days leave allowed to each man during training. Derwas as an officer presumably involved in training would not have shared the huts each for 30 or so men but presumably only the same limited options were open to him. Later Williamson found himself in Derwas’s company under his command.
After just over three weeks at Perham Downs, Derwas marched out to report at Folkestone for embarkation to France.
OCTOBER 1916
On 1st October Derwas was promoted to lieutenant and soon after he rejoined the 48th. When Derwas rejoined the battalion on 9 October 1916 it was to endure with them the coldest winter for many years. The battalion was in Flanders, not far from Ypres, manning the front line. This was a time of normal front line trench warfare with no major attacks but trench repairs and maintenance, the monotony broken by repelling a German trench raid. After a fortnight in the front line and a few days after Derwas’s return, the battalion was withdrawn to the back areas; and then on 22 October it set off again for the Somme area, partly by train and partly marching.
In late October GD Mitchell, arrived from Australia earlier that year, was sent in a draft from the 10th battalion to the 48th; unwillingly, for the men of the 10th did not think much of “these new mushroom battalions …. Upstart cheapjack units.” [11]. But when he caught up with the 48th he said “something about this crowd caught my eye … laughing groups of big, able men … a sing-song in progress … someone reciting “The Man from Snowy River” … something about them attracted me greatly.” On parade, given the chance to rejoin the 10th by “the Bull”, Colonel Leane, the commanding officer of the 48th, Mitchell decided to stay. After the war he put his memories of the 48th into a book, Backs to the Wall.
NOVEMBER 1916
In early November they returned to a support line at Switch Trench. Here they suffered from shelling but much more heavily from “their most formidable enemy during the next five months – the winter, its rain and snow, its frost, its hunger and cold.” [p65] This was the coldest winter for many years and the men suffered. “The German was no longer the great enemy”, comments Devine, “it was the winter.” On 18 November they moved up to the front line which was a more tolerable trench than Switch, but Devine talks of “that great struggle for existence and endurance”. Meals had to be cooked in the ruined village of Flers, nearly a mile away and brought up in petrol tins with Bovril and hot milk and dry socks brought to them daily. After eight days they were withdrawn
On November 16, 1916 Redmond was restored to the establishment of the 16th from where he was seconded for duty as Adjutant of the 4th Infantry Brigade (made up of the 13 to 16th battalions). [p51]
DECEMBER 1916
In early December Redmond was at the 4th A.D.B.D. in depot at Etaples. There seems to have been recurrent illness as when Redmond rejoined the battalion on 14 December it was again apparently from hospital.
48th and spent the rest of December in various villages a mile or two behind the front line.
1917
JANUARY 1917
The new year found Redmond back at last with his old battalion, no doubt with more new faces than familiar ones from Gallipoli. There had been many drafts of reinforcements from Australia and Redmond’s surviving comrades from the beginning in September 1914 were few. His chronic sickness persisted. 11 January he fell ill again, and was transferred to 15 Field Ambulance C R S and from there admitted to the 38th Casualty Clearing Station Hospital with inflammation of the joints and on 16th January to the 2nd Red Cross Hospital in Rouen with synovitis of the ankle. He was admitted to the Champs des Courses from Hospital and joined the 4th Australian Division Depot at Etaples in early February.
For Derwas the early part of the new year saw spells in the front line alternating with periods in the reserve areas. When the battalion left the front line on 22 February 1917 its scouts in no mans land reported no sound from the enemy, and that the enemy’s trenches seemed empty. It was in fact the beginning of the great withdrawal by the Germans in order to shorten their line back to the supposedly impregnable Hindenburg Line.
After a few weeks training at Henecourt in March, the 48th battalion was moved east, far past the scene of their old struggles at Pozieres where Derwas had been wounded and on to the environs of Bapaume. The beginning of April found them at Noreiul preparing for an assault on the Hindenburg Line itself. Redmond’s battalion, the 16th, was also to take part in this offensive.
FEBRUARY 1917
Redmond, still off strength of his battalion, was issued on February 18 with his 1914/1915 Star medal. His medical condition was not improving. On February 24th a medical board at Etaples ruled that Redmond was - “still quite unfit for regular duties. He has had only one week’s leave since joining the A.I.F. His condition of nervous irritability requires rest and change. Recommended for three weeks’ sick leave to England.”
MARCH 1917
So on March 5 Redmond set off from the 4th Division Depot for England.
Almost certainly he went to his mother’s relatives in Shropshire. When Redmond’s “squatter” grandfather had gone bankrupt in the 1870s and lost his big property, Binnum Binnum, in South Australia, the three oldest children, including Redmond’s mother Kate Cumming, nee Jones, had stayed in Australia. The youngest three children had returned to England with their parents to the family properties, two substantial country houses, Earlsdale and Pontesford House , in the village of Pontesbury south of Shrewsbury. His grandmother Fanny JCallender who he had mentioned writing to him at Gallipoli was living in Pontesford village.
After three weeks in England Redmond returned to France, joining the no 4 Australian Division Depot at Etaples on 26 March and a few days later at the end of March, he at last rejoined the 16th. During his absence the Germans had retreated from their front line to the new Hindenburg Line leaving a devastated wilderness and many booby traps. From March 27th the 16th battalion was at Biefvillers for two or three days busy digging out the officers and men buried in the town hall at Bapaume blown up by a delayed mine. Redmond returned to France in late March, arriving at Etaples depot on 26th, rejoining his battalion on 29th. This was just in time for the disastrous first battle of Bullecourt.
APRIL 1917
From 1st to 7th April 1916 the 48th marched to Beugnatre, just north east of Bapaume and about 10 miles south of Bullecourt. They remained there through sleet, rain and snow over the next few days.
Private Williamson seems to have shared the universal admiration of the 48th battalion for its commanding officer Colonel Raymond Leane, known admiringly as “the Bull”. It was the presence of several members of the Leane family in the battalion which gave rise to its nickname of the Joan of Arc Battalion (“All Leanes” = “Orleans”). Like Devine, Williamson devotes a whole chapter to a eulogy of Leane. Bean calls him “the head of the most famous family of soldiers in Australian history, and the fighting general par excellence.” [Vol1, Official History] Leane promoted Derwas Cumming to captain on 8 April 1917. Williamson comments that Leane was “a splendid judge of men … he chose his officers with nice distinction. He believed that the essentials for promotion to commissioned rank were fitness, physically and mentally, gameness, and – youth …. And, in general, his “pups”, as they came to be called, served him well.” Derwas was one of these pups and as a captain and commander of one of the four companies in the battalion was one of the five or so most senior officers under Colonel Leane. [Wmson p 89]
Devine calls Leane “pre-eminently a judge of men…. Pozieres taught him this was a young man’s war…. The kindergarten gathered around him was known as Leane’s pups. The pups were well worthy of the big mastiff that led them. “ [85]
British advances at nearby Arras were to be followed up by an assault on the Hindenburg line. After an officers patrol of the 16th on the night of the 9th April the battalion formed up in a sunken road ready to attack the next morning. The plan was to use tanks rather than a bombardment to break through the enemy wire; but when the tanks failed to arrive the attack was postponed.
On the morning of the 10th April the various battalions, including both the 16th and the 48th, lay at the jumping off position in heavy snow, awaiting the tanks which were to go before them and flatten the formidable wire defences, in place of an artillery bombardment.
With no sign if the tanks the order was a t last given to retire. The disgruntled Australians got up as Devine says “stiff and cold and cramped … just as does a crowd disperse after a football match.” The Germans saw the withdrawal, realised that hey had just escaped a surprise attack, and were now on the alert.
The attack was rescheduled for the 11th. Six tanks were allocated to break through the wire so the men could easily follow. The men reached their jumping off positions by 3.30 a.m. but only three tanks arrived, the other three having broken down. At 4.45 a.m. the battalion advanced out of their jumping off point. After a short way two of the tanks broke down and stopped, leaving the infantry to push on ahead unsupported by tanks or artillery. They advanced through the thick barbed wire, taking heavy casualties. Astonishingly, despite heavy wire entanglements and machine gun fire the Australians broke through and captured the first German trench. This was the first allied capture of any of the Hindenburg Line to which the Germans had fallen back earlier in the year.
It was the more astonishing because the British General Gough had selected as the point of attack a “re-entrant” in the German lines. The German front line at this point was some way behind their front line either side; so an attacking force was not just shot from the front but enfiladed from left and right.
The 16th then passed through the 47th battalion which had captured the first enemy trench and moved on through uncut wire and . In spite of this, the death of Major Black, ferocious fighting and heavy losses the 16th with the support of the 13th battalion pressed on and took the second trench. The Australians had achieved their objective all along their front and were now fighting along the trench.
The position however was desperate. Because the attack had been made into a reentrant there was fierce machine gun fire from three sides. Carrying parties bringing up ammunition and supplies were shot down. The frontal counterattacks by the Germans were not hampered by the Australian artillery because they mistakenly thought the Australians had advanced beyond the second trench.
The dangers of attacking into a re-entrant became apparent. Both enemy prisoners sent back to the Australian lines and Australian carriers bringing up bombs and ammunition came under heavy machine gun fire from 3 sides. The advanced Australians sent up the SOS signal but the artillery did not reply with fire on the enemy positions, apparently because of uncertainty as to where exactly their own men had reached.
Years later the Bruce Rock Post commented of Redmond’s part in this attack “it is on record that he particularly distinguished himself at Bullecourt – doing splendid work but unfortunately was again wounded…” [17.3.1922].
The Australians, Redmond included, were now the defenders, attacked from three sides and in a desperate position. They beat back several counter attacks, but by 11.30 all the bombs had been used, ammunition was running low, 75% of the 16th battalion were casualties and the Germans were closing in from three sides. However their position soon became untenable. They could make no contact with their friends on either flank and they were close to being surrounded. At 11.45 the left gave way and they had no choice but to retire all the way back to their starting point, leaving very many of their comrades dead or wounded prisoners or missing on the battlefield. A substantial number were not able to escape and were captured by the Germans – 9 officers and many other ranks. By the end of the day the 16th had lost 17 out of 20 officers and 623 out of 797 other ranks. Bullecourt was the most disastrous single action of the whole war for the 16th battalion.
Redmond and Derwas may have met before the battle as both their battalions were involved, Derwas’s 48th attacking on the left and Redmond’s 16th on the right. The part played by Derwas, then a first lieutenant, at Bullecourt is unknown. He was promoted to Captain on 8 April, immediately before Bullecourt. During the battle his B Company was led by another officer. His nephew Redmond Jr later said that Derwas was the battalion adjutant in the 48th; so perhaps Colonel Leane promoted him just before the battle with the idea of having Derwas on his staff.
The remnants of the 48th battalion withdrew to Bapaume. The operation had been a disaster; the battalion had lost 14 officers and 421 other ranks. And yet, as Devine observes, “the the 4th Australian Division [of which the 48th was part]… had penetrated the Hindenburg Line and gained its objective.”
And what of Redmond Cumming? After several months of illness he was thrown into this disastrous attack less than 2 weeks after rejoining the battalion, as lieutenant. With his men he got through the wire and into the German trenches. He was not among those who returned to the Australian lines and was posted on 11 April as missing. Given the heavy casualties sustained by the battalion, it was almost certain that he had been killed.
He was posted as wounded and missing and struck off the strength of the 16th along with so many of his comrades. Presumably he was wounded before the retreat and some of his comrades brought back that news. His brother Derwas was desperately worried, writing with the sad news back to his aunt Ettie in Shropshire. It was not until the end of May that Redmond’s commanding officer received a letter informing him that Redmond was a prisoner of war in Germany. Derwas was greatly relieved to know that his brother had survived the battle.
Later Redmond told his story. In the last desperate fighting he received a gunshot wound in the left upper arm. A grenade thrown by the advancing Germans exploded a short distance away and Redmond had a blast of dirt in his face – any closer and he would have been killed. When the position was hopeless, and bombs and ammunition had run out and escape was impossible, there was no alternative but surrender. As the Germans approached he tore off his officer’s badges, perhaps to be with his men even though he would be less well treated. As the Australians were marched away into captivity an allied airman, mistaking them for Germans strafed the column and killed some of the prisoners.
After weeks of anxious waiting with no word, news arrived on 1 June by letter from Redmond to his commanding officer that Redmond was a prisoner of war in Germany. He had been interned at Gelangelager, Karlsruhe., Germany.
German documents added to his war record show that 10 days after capture Redmond was at a camp in Mons, (Stammlager – Wahn, Lazarett Jesinsenschule Mons) apparently at a mental hospital being used to hold prisoners of war. His father (Charles Cumming, not his wife or mother) was shown as next of kin at address of father, Post office Mullewa, Western Australia.
He was subsequently interned at the Gelangerenlager in Karlsruhe. His widow seems not to have been officially advised until September although adjustments were made to the pension paid to her because he was now a prisoner of war; and he remained a prisoner for another 20 months. It was of course necessary to disclose his true rank and officers were better treated than other ranks. It must have been intensely frustrating to remain in enforced inactivity for so many months.
It seems that he was with Allied officers of various nationalities. One British officer was from a wealthy family and was sent a camera from home; so various photos survive of Redmond and his colleagues at the camp. One experience which added to Redmond’s mental burdens was the attempt by some Australian soldiers to break out of the camp and escape. They were recaptured and sentenced to be shot by firing squad. As an officer (perhaps they were his own men from the 16th) Redmond was required to be present and to witness these executions.
MAY 1917
Meanwhile, for a few weeks in April and May Derwas, with the 48TH battalion, was back in Millencourt recovering, receiving badly needed reinforcements from Australia and training . In mid May they moved north, to Bailleul in Flanders in preparation for the attack which aimed to capture Messines Ridge.
In the Wheat Belt back in Australia, the Eastern Recorder noted that Redmond was posted as wounded and missing.
JUNE 1917
After the initial success of the British attack on Messines Ridge the attack progressed beyond the Ridge. The 48th had received orders too late to attack so its companies were distributed among neighbouring battalions which had made the attack that afternoon. Shortly before midnight Captain Cumming’s company was sent to reinforce the 47th battalion. They arrived at where the 47th and others were occupying blockhouses on the southern shoulder of the Messines Ridge. As they arrived after 2 in the morning and Derwas was seeking instructions from Colonel Imlay, messengers arrived with orders to attack at 3.00am. Given the short time to prepare, Bean relates:- “Imlay told [Cumming] to line out his company in the Black Line … and then prepare for the attack by pushing forward his men – by two’s and three’s if necessary , and from shell-hole to shell-hole – as far as he could. Meanwhile Imlay would arrange for a new bombardment, and when it descended Cumming should begin the final advance.”
Bean continues his narrative:- “Cumming duly led his men to the Black Line … The front was exceedingly quiet, and therefore, after widely extending their men, they simply climbed out of the trench and advanced in line. The sky was now light and shots began to ring out from unseen German snipers ahead. A distant machine gun or two, and presently a field gun, opened. \north of Huns’ Walk the line of men, after going 150 yards, came, to its complete surprise, upon a very old trench, not marked on the maps, possibly a relic of the First Battle of Messines. It afforded sufficient shelter for a jumping off trench; the troops settled into it, and the remnant – about 80 – of the 47th, reorganised under Captain Williams, joined them. Meanwhile Lieutenant Stoerkel of Cumming’s company moved out to patrol, taking Sergeant O’Brien and a private named Wall.
In front there was a dip, and although many snipers and a machine gun in some trees north of Huns’ Walk, were firing spitefully, the three men worked down the depression to Oxygen Trench, 200 yards ahead and returned with the news that it was empty. Cumming at once sent a platoon by the same route to occupy it. From there, a row of willow trees, somewhat widely spaced, gave sufficient cover to allow the same three scouts to reach the first Oosttaverne Trench (Owl trench). They reported this too to be empty, although fierce machine gun fire came from the lump of trees beyond.
Cumming sent forward another platoon, this time in extended order. As it reached the Oosttaverne Line entanglement, a German machine-gun on its left opened fire, but the troops got through with only four casualties. Cumming now brought up the rest of his company. Mayersbeth’s company followed, and Captain Williams (47th) advanced to Oxygen Trench in support and to guard the flanks.
Meanwhile the same patrol of three went out to discover the supposed support trench, and the enemy. The Germans were now almost silent, and this silence, together with the absence of any visible sign of the enemy, led the Australians to suspect a trap. But the three scouts reached the existent portion of the Oosttaverne support trench, and on their report that no Germans were there, Cumming sent on thither a platoon of his company and one of Mayersbeth’s. These were heavily fired upon but reached the trench with few casualties, and found there a Lewis gun team of the 47th which had not retired when the artillery shelled out the rest of the troops on the previous night…. “
Two other companies of the 48th came up and were sent to “join in the operation on the left flank of Mayersbeth and Cumming. At that moment word had arrived from Cumming that Owl Trench had been found empty.” Derwas sent runners back and reinforcements duly arrived. Bean comments that “north of Huns’ Walk, through an exceptionally fine combination of enterprise and cool judgement on the part of battalion and company commanders , the objectives seized in the original attack had been reoccupied before the Germans had taken advantage.” It seems clear from Bean’s narrative that his primary praise is for Derwas Cumming in this action.
For this action Derwas was awarded the Miltary Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During an attack he handle two companies with great ability, and by his quick appreciation of the situation and prompt and effective action he was greatly responsible for the final success.”
For the rest of June and early July the 48th was in reserve near Ypres.
In mid June a pension was being paid to Lyall back in Perth of 70/- per fortnight; her sons also received pensions of 20/-, 15/- and 10/- from same date. This was no doubt on the basis that Redmond was dead. On 26 June, however, all 4 pensions were cancelled as Redmond was notified to be a Prisoner of War (upgraded on 18 July to “wounded prisoner of war”). On
16 September an allotment was made to Mrs L Cumming from 4/- to 12/- per diem from 1 Sept 1916 at her home at 24 Keightley Rd, Subiaco.
JULY 1917
In early July Derwas’s award of the Military Cross came through. From Ypres, on 23 July, Derwas was seconded to England to join the 12th Training Battalion. Captain Carter took charge of B Company in his absence. Perhaps it was known that the next couple of months were to be an easier time for the battalion and so an able officer could be released for the valuable work of training new recruits. He seems to have spent the next four months in England, based probably at Longbridge Deverill, on the Salisbury Plain, presumably training reinforcements arriving from Australia.
Derwas missed the 48th’s action at Passchendaele but rejoined them in late November 1917. December, January and February were all quiet months for the 48th battalion with just two short and undemanding spells in the front line.[107] Meanwhile Redmond and his colleagues continued the immensely frustrating experience of being prisoners of war in Germany, with no idea of how long the war would last, who would be the winners and what would happen to the prisoners.
NOVEMBER 1917
In early November Derwas marched in from HQ (Longbridge Deverill) to overseas training brigade. Three weeks later he was off to Folkestone and France to resume battalion duty.
Williamson writes around this time of a peaceful period behind the lines for the 48th being interrupted by a 4 mile March at midnight from camp to the station, describing “the flaring of lights in the darkness, the barking of commands to heavy-eyed troops, the noise and bustle of loading and entraining …”. These scenes would have swept Derwas up on his return to the battalion. A bleak camp near Peronne involved intensive training especially in open warfare method, charging day by day in extended formation over snow covered hills. Leave was taken in Peronne 4 miles away for concerts, picture shows, canteen or simply wandering round. In the evenings around fires made from ruined buildings stories would be told of all the previous experiences of the old soldiers at Gallipoli, Egypt, Pozieres, Bullecourt and so on.
Back in Australia, the Eastern Recorder reported Derwas’s award of the Military Cross for his work at Messines in July and noted that he had received a number of very complimentary cards and letters from prominent military men, including the late Major General W Holmes, CMG and Brigadier-General J C Robertson.
DECEMBER 1917
1917 ended with the Battle of Passchedaele, disastrously costly for the Allies; and the withdrawal of Russia from the war following the November Revolution, with punitive terms imposed by the Germans. It allowed the Germans to move their vast forces from the Russian Front across to the west. Although the Americans had now entered the war it seemed likely that the massive German offensive on the Western Front in March 1918 would defeat the Allies before the Americans could arrive in strength. These must have been intensely worrying times for the Allied prisoners such as Redmond, no doubt kept fully informed by their captors of the latest German successes. In December Derwas wrote his will in his pocket book, leaving all to his mother, Kate Cumming.
1918
JANUARY 1918
Early 1918 was a quiet period, the lull before the storm. The 48th moved north on January 9th to Bailleul where quiet periods in the front line alternated with quiet periods in reserve. On January 11 B Company (led by Derwas) and D Company marched to reserve positions behind the snow covered front line. On January 13th B company was engaged in stacking sandbags on the parapets and laying duckboards. The snow was replaced by rain and B Company relieved C Company in support. The enemy was extremely quiet and the Australians patrolled no mans land regularly. On the night of the 15th Derwas sent out a patrol of one Lewis gunner and 4 men who managed to silence a German machine gun post.
MARCH 1918
March 1918 saw the battalion continuing its long spell away from battle, in the village of Meteren reached on 27 February. On March 1st a brigade NCOs’ class was started by Derwas while other training continued for the rest of the battalion. A group photo was taken at Meteren of the 36 officers of the battalion, Derwas among them. The weather was fine and the men enjoyed playing various codes of football and concerts by the band, with training continuing all the time. This peaceful period was the calm before the storm.
The remarkable and rapid German advance across the devastated old Somme battlefield in March 1918 must have evoked conflicting response in the German soldiers – elation, on the one hand, at the speed of their advance; concern, on the other at the quality of the Allied supplies of food and materiel which fell into their hands as they advanced, when the food supplied them from a Germany stifled by the Allied blockade was so poor. The rapid advance reached the old town of Albert, immediately behind the original starting line for the Allied advance at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. A German officer approaching Albert and wondering why the advance was held up found the town in the hands of his own soldiers but disorderly and drunk, having plundered the town and found food and supplies which were only a distant pre war memory to them. Beyond Albert, across the River Ancre, the land rose and there a hastily constructed Allied defence line awaited the Germans as they advanced out of the valley from Albert up the main road leading to the great prize of the city of Amiens. If the German thrust could reach there, then it would have driven a wedge between the British in the north and the French in the south, and captured a hugely strategic railway and road junction.
The 48th resting in the north at Meteren heard of the great German breakthrough and was ordered south, back towards the Somme. They travelled in a convoy of motor lorries. Dropped at Beaumetz, south west of Arras they spent the next night and day subject to rumours about the German advance. The night march to Senlis that followed was made with patrols two hundred yards out to their left as they were marching south across the line of the westward German advance.
Arriving at Millencourt a mile or so west of Albert with shells landing in the area, they were met by an English officer advising that the Germans had taken Albert and the railway line in front of it and were still advancing. The battalion moved forward, having had very little sleep for the last 24 hours, through fine weather and therefore good visibility to the enemy who brought artillery fire to bear on them though with no loss. The position they took up was two thousand yards behind a Scottish unit holding the railway embankment on the right of the Amiens Road while the Germans held it on the left.
There were no casualties except from a British aircraft which mistakenly directed machine gun fire on the trench, killing one man and wounding four. One of the four wounded was John Williamson, a signaller with the 48th, and in Derwas Cumming’s company. He describes how his friend Frank Lilley casually remarked of the British plane “What game does that silly b-------- up there think he’s playing?” Next moment Williamson felt a terrible blow on his left arm where a bullet had entered; Frank jumped, ran a few steps and then collapsed dying, a bullet having gone through his neck. He spluttered out to Williamson “Where did they get you, Jack?”, and died.
Williamson, the main nerve of his arm severed, was patched up with his emergency dressing and headed for the rear, reporting first to the Medical officer, Captain Collins, who labelled his uniform with a tag giving rank, number etc. and the nature of the wound – “G.S.W. left arm”. Williamson then writes “Thus labelled, I then searched out our Company Commanding Officer, Captain [Derwas] Cumming, a good soldier and a good leader …. Great was his disgust when he learned of the loss of two of his signallers – and the manner of their loss – so early in the piece. To say the least the position seemed to be causing him considerable concern, and I fancy my cheerful demeanour jarred on his mood, for he gripped my empty tunic sleeve and flung it from him.”
Williamson says he continued on his way rejoicing, hoping his wound was a”blighty”. [DEVINE] Meanwhile, that night, the battalion, Derwas among them, moved up to the railway embankment right of the road, relieving the Scots. During the night patrols went out some distance ahead before meeting any enemy and to the left where they finally made contact with English troops. Around five o cock parties of marching Germans appeared through the fog, not attacking but simply advancing and they were shot down by the defending Australians. After a couple more fairly uneventful days the battalion was relieved and retired two miles to Millencourt.
APRIL 1918
After three days the battalion moved forward again to their old positions reaching them by 11 pm on 3 April. This time the line extended on the left as far north as the Amiens Road. This was a particularly vulnerable area because of the cover of trees and buildings under which the enemy could advance. On the morning of the 5th April the enemy advanced in great numbers into a crescent which swung back from the main line in a small ravine.
Bean writes that at 9.00 a.m the heavy German bombardment on the Australian lines lifted and “the German infantry attacked along the whole line, their pressure being particularly heavy up the gully and at the south side of its entrance, against the post of the 48th that held the angle of the gully and the railway. The 48th was entirely ready and wave after wave of Germans was shattered by Lewis gun and rifle fire. The northernmost platoon of the 48th held a post at a farmhouse beside the Albert Road on the north side of the ravine.” This would have been Derwas’s company holding the left end of the 48th’s line. By 10.00 a.m the Germans were digging in the lower part of the valley. Further south, however, the thinly spread Australian battalions holding the railway embankment near Dernancourt were being pushed back, the houses and foliage making it easy for the Germans to approach under cover in great numbers. The danger for the 48th was of being outflanked.
As the 47th withdrew northwards, through the area held by the 48th, a sergeant of the 47th said “You’ll be surrounded and captured if you don’t get back.” Bean continues “But the front line of the 48th was not yet withdrawing. Captain Anderson, after conferring with the commander of the centre company, Lieutenant Pavy, decided to wait for a short time in case the 47th counter-attacked to recapture the sector. Derwas Cumming disobeyed Leane’s first order to retire, feeling that he and his company could still hold their position.
Devine writes of Derwas’s handling of this situation - “The situation required careful handling to prevent the two companies holding the railway embankment from being cut off. It was here that Captain Cumming’s ability so conspicuously displayed itself. He was in command of that company which for the time being had adjusted its own quarrel satisfactorily on the extreme left of the battalion front. An officer who loved a puzzling situation for its own sake, this one gave him the novel experience of being able to protect both flanks of the retreating companies. Whilst parts of his men engaged the enemy threatening the left flank, others kept up a continuous machine-gun barrage on Germans attempting to approach the right flank from Dernancourt. In this way the two companies were safely withdrawn some twelve hundred yards back, where they established a line of outposts running north and south of the Amiens Road and also took up position in a well dug trench further to the rear.

At 12.15, as the Germans were firing from his rear, Anderson gave the word for both companies to retire, platoon by platoon. The left company (Captain Cumming), holding both sides of the ravine by the Albert Road, and the British north of the road, were still in position guarding the left. The Germans had made no progress in the ravine, and Cumming had urged that he could hold on indefinitely. But as Anderson’s company was retiring, it was considered necessary to withdraw also all posts on the spur south of the gully. Captain Cumming tried to signal information of this intention to the post of the 7th Suffolk Regiment north of the ravine to his left but could not attract its notice.
“In the angle formed by the railway line and the main road, Captain Cumming’s company still remained. Its ranks had already been thinned by casualties, and the enemy now further threatened it by occupying immediately the positions evacuated on the right. Its retirement was ordered but before this could be accomplished the troops on the left, north of the road, had to be appraised of the situation. Efforts to communicate with them by visual signalling failed, and young Tregoweth, a signaller, undertook to run the gauntlet across the Amiens Road with a message. He fell badly wounded when about one hundred yards from a position the other side of the road, and after he had crawled for some distance men were seen to rush out and carry him to safety. Apparently he was able to deliver some part of his message, for the unit holding that part of the front immediately signalled asking for information. It was made acquainted with the position on the right and forthwith retired to the new line further back, whilst all that was left of Cumming’s company withdrew in line with the remainder of the battalion after enduring three hours of splendid isolation.” Derwas gave the order to B Company to withdraw at 3.30pm and this was successfully achieved by 4.00pm.
G.D. Mitchell, already mentioned,who had joined the 48th back in 1916, found himself in tears as the incessant German pressure pushed back the Australians and he concluded that his battalion had been defeated. “”One forty eight company under Captain Cumming was holding fast. Down the valley on the left galloped Pottsy with his gallant little platoon, to help extricate them …. Then came back the last survivors of the front line garrison [Derwas’s men] Bitterly they fought, as though their lives were already forfeit, stopping to swap shots with their pursuers. They fired and moved in a desperate heroic gesture. Hard faced, they passed into security beyond my trench.
“The world had fallen. The Australian line had been broken. Not even pride was left. Tears of grief ran down my face. I did not know that fifteen [German] storm divisions had attacked the shattered 12th and 13th Brigades.” But after fighting a desperate rearguard action and finally retreating Mitchell found a little way further up the hill that “there to my delighted eyes there stretched a well-sited new dug trench lined with capable-looking Australians.”
This action, in which Derwas had played so capable a part, was the high tide of the German advance. There was little further action before the battalion was relived on 6th. The German goal of reaching Amiens had been thwarted for good by this stubborn and intelligent rearguard action blocking the Amiens Road commanded by Derwas. Devine comments “The battalion had played its part well in a great work.”
For his actions Derwas was to receive a bar to his Military Cross – the citation read “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in command of a flank company. When the enemy attacked he repeatedly repulsed them, and later protected the left, bringing very heavy fire on the enemy practically right angles to the line, and fighting a brilliant rearguard action until the battalion was established in fresh positions.” Derwas had been recommended for the Distinguished Service Order but that was not confirmed.
MAY 1918
A few weeks later, the 48th was further south, near the town of Villers Brettoneux. The second Battle of Villers Brettoneux retook the town but the position was tenuous. It was decided that to consolidate the Allied hold on the Villers Brettoneux plateau the French should attack and capture Hangard wood and the Australians next to them should take Monument Wood. Colonel Leane chose the 48th battalion for this attack. Two companies would approach along the railway cutting and assemble just south of it before attacking from the north, clearing the wood from north to south and digging in the south side. A third company would start behind them and advance west to east through the wood already cleared and dig in on the east. To achieve surprise a short bombardment only was prepared followed by an immediate attack. Derwas must have been among the officers going up the cutting to study the assembly area on the south side and the short distance from there to the northern edge of the wood. They were repeatedly offered wine by the hospitable French of the Foreign Legion on the flank.
In readiness for the attack at 2.00am on 3rd May the men of the 48th made their way from 11.15 along the railway cutting to the assembly area. After the heavy losses a month before at Dernancourt many of them were new recruits, completely inexperienced. MIitchell describes himself as in a bad temper with “an untrained rabble ….all for a rotten little attack on a narrow sector that would draw a concentration of all enemy artillery within miles.” With regard to the climb up out of the railway cutting to the assembly area, Mitchell commented that “a mob of elephants would have climbed more quietly” and noted that unlike the seasoned soldiers the new recruits were not yet able to see in the darkness.[217] The men congregated in the assembly area, unnoticed in spite of German flares until 2 minutes before the bombardment was due when a flare showed the Germans some men still standing and moving around. Mitchell commented that the left platoon was moving around … several machine guns opened, and they went down like wheat before the reaper.” [217]
The bombardment was so short that the Australians were surprised and disappointed. When it petered out there was some uncertainty as to whether any more would follow. However the two captains, Derwas (with B Company on the right) and Captain Imlay (with C Company on the left) ordered the advance. Derwas said to his men “Spread out boys and give the bullets a chance to get through”. They were met with heavy German machine gun fire, Major Allen, a Gallipoli veteran describing it as the heaviest he had encountered. Captain Imlay was hit and both companies were held up by wire, the heavy machine gun fire and the bombs which the German defenders began to throw. B Company under Derwas suffered heavy casualties. The attackers sought what cover they could in shell holes firing at the German defenders .
Derwas now led some of his men westwards hoping to find an easier approach from to the wood from the west. Mitchell, meanwhile had gone to ground in front of the German wire under the heavy machine gun fire. Bean wrote “Captain Cumming now led a second rush when opposition seemed least. ‘Straight at them’ he called, but within five yards he was killed and, though some of his raw recruits almost reached the Germans, the attempt failed.” Mitchell wrote “A sudden tattoo of bombs and rifle fire forty yards to the right. It was Captain Cumming and three men who rushed vainly at the enemy trench. By the light of bursting bombs I saw them fall.”
Sergeant M…. later recounted how he was with Derwas under increasingly heavy fire. Derwas decided to move and was killed. The sergeant stayed where he was and survived. Derwas’s movement may have been the initial movement round to the right; or it might have been Derwas’s fatal final rush towards the German lines. Browning states that “at 2.35 am Captain D GC Cummng leapt from a shell hole and ordered B Company forward and was shot and killed almost immediately, along with signaller A K Mallyon who followed in his wake.”
In the centre a party of Australians under Lieutenant McDowall did manage to enter the wood where they were joined by some of Derwas’s company and penetrate to the southern edge. However finding no Australians on either flank and seeing German flares going up 1000 yards behind him he was forced to retreat as were all the survivors of the 48th, back to their starting point. Mitchell meanwhile, seeing that the attack was through uncut wire and in view of the very large number of machine guns in the German lines looked for another officer to share responsibility for ordering withdrawal. “Inquired again for officers , but they were all gone. … No wonder there had been no impetus in the attack. All our officers and most of our men chopped down before they had gone ten yards.”
With dawn approaching a forty minute armistice was arranged between Lieutenant Mitchell and a tall young German officer “with a voice like a bull” who met in no mans land. The Australians buried their dead in no mans land. Mitchell adds “He gave us Captain Cumming’s body – wrist-watch and papers intact. Shades of Ned Kelly! Could you imagine an enemy officer in our lines being unrifled? Besides the papers in his possession must have had military value. [225] Mitchell and the German then saluted, walked back to their lines and reentered their trenches. The 48th before this attack was 27 officers and 665 other ranks. The attack cost it 12 officers and 143 other ranks (Devine says 9 officers and 150 other ranks), an appalling cost for a complete lack of success.
Major Moyes wrote of Derwas – “The death of Captain D G C Cumming M C and Bar was a sad blow to the 48th Battalion, he being one of the old time officers and certainly one of the cleverest and bravest we have ever had. The grand work he has done for the battalion will not easily be forgotten.” [Browning 268]
The Eastern Recorder announced Derwas’s death on 24 May – “He enlisted as a private, and by sheer merit subsequently attained the rank of Captain. [he] was a splendid athlete, and his performances as a pedestrian and footballer were quite in keeping with the prowess displayed by him on the battlefield.””
On 28th May, Lieutenant Colonel Perry, the new commanding officer of the 48th wrote “Captain D G C Cumming M C was killed by machine gun wounds in the body whilst leading his company in the attack on Monument Wood 3.5.18. He was buried by No 1024, Sgt W H Craig and No 1394, Sgt E.T.Williams at approximately (Sheet 62D S.W.) O.35 d 8.1. Signed S L Perry Lieut-Col Commanding Officer, 48th Battalion, A.I.F.”
Derwas’s body was buried at B2091 in the Austral British Cemetery 4 ½ miles E S E of Amiens and 2 photos of grave were forwarded to his mother Kate Cumming in Australia. [[p181]. His personal effects were sent to London to the A I F Kit Store 110 Greyhound Rd Hammersmith London W6 and from here in June 1918 they were shipped to his mother to Mrs K Cumming. A green valise containing photos, 1 small book, 1 rain proof coat, 1 pair leggings, 2 ties, 1 pair gum boots, 1 pair evening shoes, 1 pair putties, 3 books, 1 blue Guernsey, 2 pairs socks, 1 whistle, keys on ring, 1 Sam Browne belt, 4 collars, 1 S.D. tunic was shipped on 20 June aboard the Barunga.
JUNE 1918
Kate Cumming had already on 15 June signed receipt for Derwas’s effects, namely 1 form of commission but she was not destined to receive his valise of effects – the Barunga was sunk on the way to Australia. A separate parcel (sealed) sent on 24th June on the Australcrag containing metal cigarette case, photos apparently made it back to Kate safely although not received until January 1919.
The tragic news of Derwas’s death after surviving three and a half years of the war presumably eventually reached Redmond still a prisoner of war in Germany. In mid 1918 Redmond was promoted captain, in captivity. Out of the more than eight thousand men who joined the battalion as the war progressed 67 were promoted to officers most reaching only lieutenant. Redmond seems to have been one of only 10 were promoted captain.
Redmond’s medals, 1914/1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal were presented, presumably to his wife Lyall. Back home in Perth, Lyall struggled on her own to bring up a family of three children, far from her own people in Adelaide. She probably had some support for her mother in law Kate Cumming and her sisters in law Elsie and Laura Cumming. She was also visited by her father in law Charles Cumming. Her son Redmond Cumming Jr recalled from his childhood “I remember him as a tall man who used to visit us at Subiaco WA prior to the end of World War I armed with about 4 Scottish songbooks with tartan covers. He had a rather good voice and my mother accompanied him on the piano. He was extremely proud of his Scottish ancestry. At this time he and my grandmother Kate had parted …”.
On 17 June 1918 Lyall received 1 Form of commission for Redmond. On 15 August, while in captivity, he was promoted to Captain. Out of the thousands of men who joined the battalion as private soldiers as the war progressed only 67 reached commissioned officer rank, most reaching only lieutenant. Redmond seems to have been one of only10 who were promoted captain.
OCTOBER 1918
In October with the war coming to its end, letters of admin with will annexe were granted for Derwas.
JANUARY 1919
The war ended on 11 November 1918 but it was not until 1 January 1919 that Redmond was finally repatriated to England. He was sent to Ripon where he was on 4 January and then he went to Pontesford in Shropshire and stayed there with Aunt Polly, his mother Kate’s first cousin and benefactor to Redmond’s younger brother Caton. During this time it was suggested to him that he might bring his family across from Australia and inherit Pontesford House, but it appears that he decided against it.
In the meantime a copy of Derwas’s will was made available from AIF HQ. Some of Derwas’s personal effects were received in Perth off the Australcrag on 17 January by his mother Kate.
FEBRUARY 1919
Through February 1919 Redmond was no doubt recuperating in Shropshire. Kate Cumming wrote on 12 February asking about her son Derwas’s grave.
MARCH 1919
On 1 March Redmond’s mother Kate was informed that he was returning to Australia on the Dunluce Castle out of the Czaritza. He set sail from England on 16 March embarked on Czaritza classified as “invalid”.
In the meantime, Kate wrote as Derwas’s next of kin advising change of address & asking about his badge. Sadly his effects sent on the Barunga were lost at sea.
APRIL 1919
On 1 April 1919 next of kin (presumably his wife Lyall) was advised that Redmond was at last returning to Australia. His mother Mrs Kate Cumming was also advised. After a three week voyage from England he disembarked at Alexandria, so familiar from 4-5 years earlier, for transhipment to H.M.A.T “Czar”. The magnitude (and no doubt confusion) of the task of repatriating thousands of Australian soldiers is suggested by the fact that on 10 April Redmond was transhipped from Czar to Dongola at Alexandria and taken on strength of that ship on 12 April for the continuation of its voyage to Australia and 3 days later he was recorded as failing to embark on the “Dunluce Castle” from “Czaritza”.
MAY 1919
Although by now the war had been over for 6 months, there seem to have been a number of unresolved issues for Kate, the mother of the two boys, grieving the loss of one son and eagerly awaiting the return of the other. The death of a son in France seems to have involved a long unfolding of various matters as the authorities sorted things out, repatriating the soldiers and wanting to mark adequately the sacrifices which each individual had made. At the beginning of May Kate wrote to Defence Central Administration requesting Derwas’s medal and bar. She soon received a response that as medal was presented to Derwas personally and left with relatives in England – for Kate to arrange its forwarding
On 16 May 1919 Redmond disembarked Fremantle described as an “invalid”. What was that meeting like with his wife Lyall and three boys, on of whom he had never met? How did Redmond adjust to life in Australia and Lyall adjust to a husband she had not seen for four and a half years and who was profoundly affected by the horrors he had been through and seen? Captain Longmore’s battalion history comments that some men came back “broken in body and mind by the stresses they had undergone. They found civilian life a hard struggle.” Does this describe Redmond? There is no doubt that he was deeply affected by his experiences in Gallipoli, France and Germany and that he suffered both mentally and physically.
On 14 July 1919 Redmond’s army appointment was finally terminated at Perth. Redmond and Lyall took up a farm of about 3600 acres under the retired soldiers settlement scheme. It was at Babakin, about 20 miles from Bruce Rock, out in the Wheat Belt of Western Australia, not far from Doodlakine where Redmond’s first farming venture had failed in the 1914 drought. Here two more children were born, two girls Dorothy and Nancy, to join the three boys born before or at the beginning of the war, Redmond Jr, Caton and Lawrence. Dorothy was given the middle Christian name Norieul after the French village where the 16th battalion had been immediately before the Battle of Bullecourt.
In October the bar to Derwas’s Military Cross was available but the authorities had discovered that Kate was divorced and wondered if this made her unsuitable to receive the medal. A Department of Defence, Melbourne, minute of 1 October requested discreet enquiries how Mrs Cumming was given guardianship of her children in order to decide who should receive bar to Military Cross
A report by Corporal R Robinson said that he had searched police court records finding suing by Kate in 1898 of husband Charles Cumming for maintenance (but no further evidence). He had interviewed Mr Snook, an ex Superintendant of telegraph for W.A. who knew that Kate living apart from husband for years past but said that she was a very respectable woman. She appears to have been sent the Bar on 29 October and with it a photograph in duplicate of Derwas’s grave. This was followed in December by Circular BRM 46/1868 and a Booklet about the graves.
In May 1920 the Military Cross itself was received by Commonwealth Military Forces, District Head Quarters Perth from Melbourne. Redmond Cumming Jr said it was presented to Kate Cumming at Government House Perth by the Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor. Redmond Jr believed that Derwas was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm and said that had he survived the Battle at monument Wood Derwas would have been promoted to Major. Redmond had met several officers and men of Derwas’s battalion over the years and he gathered the impression that Derwas was evidently a born leader among men and much respected. Derwas’s older sister Elsie Bates (nee Cumming) attended Mosman Baptist Church in Sydney/Perth? after the war. The minster there was a Mr Pickup who had been an army chaplain. He had known Derwas and thought highly of him.
In June 1920 the 1914/15 Star was issued “BRM” (?) to the Commandant 5th MD, and in February 1921 the British War medal was sent to Commandant 5th MDBRM.
In June 1921 “Where the Australians Rest” pamphlet and a memorial scroll were sent to Kate Cumming.
1922
The long drawn out commemoration efforts continued into 1922. In March Kate wrote to Base records – (1) sending back the memorial form with details (2) asking what inscription was on the temporary wooden cross and (3) asking for temporary cross put up over Derwas’s first grave to go to her brother Colonel Tony Caton Jones in Shropshire, England. She was disappointed, the authorities replying that they lacked the resources to do this as so many other families would want it as well.
We know little of Redmond and Lyall’s life from 1919 to 1922 and their struggles to work a farm, bring up a family of five, rebuild their marriage after a four and a half year break and deal with Redmond’s traumas from his war experiences. What we do know is that on 3 March 1922, returning from playing for the Bruce Rock-Merredin team in a country cricket week in Perth, Redmond stopped his car on a remote country road and took his own life. He was found by his Model T Ford. His war record stated that he died of Poisoning self administered while of unsound mind, indirectly due to war service.
A telegram was sent to England to the family in Shropshire to advise of Redmond’s death, no doubt by Kate Cumming. Back came a telegram “Which one?”. There were of course three generations of Redmonds, Redmond Cumming himself, his uncle Redmond Jones (Kate’s brother) and his young son, Redmond Cumming Jr.
His oldest son Redmond Junior wrote many years later of his father “He was evidently a good leader among men, and in this short period in the country was well respected by his neighbours.” Lyall, Redmond’s widow, had most of her third pregnancy and the birth of Lawrence her third son without her husband (away in Egypt and Gallipoli). Her fifth child, Nancy, was born two months after the tragic loss of her husband, leaving her with a family of five. With the bank foreclosing on Redmond’s borrowing Lyall and her young family moved back to Adelaide where her only sister and father lived.
While there she received one British War Medal for Redmond in Adelaide. A melancholy footnote to this tale was the enquiry to Lyall by a sergeant M. in Adelaide, as to whether she was the widow of Captain Cumming. On her replying in the affirmative, she received the astonishing reply that the sergeant was in the same battalion as Captain Cumming, and had been with him when he died. The thought that this sergeant had been with Redmond on the lonely road in the Wheat Belt when he took his own life must have been overwhelming for Lyall – until further conversation established the fact that it was Derwas, not Redmond, the sergeant had been with, when Derwas was killed at Monument Wood in May 1918. Redmond Jr wrote that he had met a man who was with Derwas when he was killed; but Dorothy Coonan years later told this fuller version of the story.
Lyall eventually received a war widow’s pension and died in 1964 aged 77. She seems to have married a Mr Griffiths but presumably much later on as her 4th child, Dorothy Coonan, commented that she was brought up without a father.
On ANZAC Day 1922 Kate Cumming, still grieving the death of her son Redmond, was presented with the Long Service Medal won by her son Derwas. Soon after she was told that the inscription on Derwas’s temporary wooden cross was not known, and that the graves of fallen soldiers were to be given permanent uniform design headstones. The enormous project of reinterring the bodies of soldiers into consolidated cemeteries with proper headstones was continuing. In June she received his Victory Medal and in December his memorial plaque.
In May 1923 Kate Cumming received a distressing communication from Australia House via Base Records, Department of Defence, Melbourne. The body of Derwas ha been originally reported buried in Austral British cemetery, which was to be subsequently concentrated into Villers Brettonneux cemetery. There was no report of burial found so the matter was referred to Imperial War graves commission for investigation. It was ascertained that the cross erected for Captain Derwas Cumming in the Austral British cemetery was a memorial cross only and did not mark an actual grave. No trace of the grave of this officer could be found – and the records were marked “No trace on research”.
In July Kate was Kate Cumming informed that “it is proposed to suitably commemorate his memory by the inclusion of his full regimental description and date of death on one of the collective memorials to be erected to the missing.” This was later done and Derwas’s name appears on the vas wall listing the missing dead at the Australian cemetery at Villers Brettoneux. Elsie Bates, Derwas’s sister was told that there was a possibility of eventually recovering and identifying remains. The search for the missing was being continued overseas.
So for the bereaved family there was a long process of seeking and obtaining scraps of information from time to time, lasting in this case 5 years from the death and nearly 5 years from the end of the war. A final twist came 10 years later when Base Records at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne managed to publish Derwas’s Christian name as “Dewar” – the family informed the Commission but was told that unfortunately printed copies had already prepared for publication.
As a child I met Redmond and Derwas’s two sisters in the 1950s, my grandmother Elsie Bates and Laura Cumming. Had it not been for the war, no doubt I would have memories of Great Uncles Redmond and Derwas in their old age.











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