John Richard BARNES


BARNES, John Richard

Service Numbers: 3355, 3355A
Enlisted: 17 October 1916, Maryborough, Qld.
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 49th Infantry Battalion
Born: Tallebudgera, Qld., 1893
Home Town: Wondai, South Burnett, Queensland
Schooling: Cordalba State School
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Killed in Action, France, 5 April 1918
Cemetery: Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension
VI H 22, Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Dernancourt, Picardie, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Moore WW1 Roll of Honour, Wondai Shire Honour Roll WW1
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World War 1 Service

17 Oct 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 3355, 49th Infantry Battalion, Maryborough, Qld.
24 Jan 1917: Involvement Private, SN 3355, 49th Infantry Battalion
24 Jan 1917: Embarked Private, SN 3355, 49th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ayrshire, Sydney
5 Apr 1918: Involvement Private, SN 3355A, 49th Infantry Battalion


John Richard BARNES #3355 49th Battalion

John Barnes was born at Tallebudgera. He attended school at Cordalba, near Gin Gin and at the time of his enlistment was farming at Wondai. His mother, Mary Jane Barnes was a widow and John was her only son.

John presented himself for enlistment in Maryborough on 17th October 1916. He stated he was 23 years old and was 6’1”tall. John embarked on the “Ayrshire” for overseas on 24th January 1917 in Sydney. He was admitted to the ship’s hospital sick and was off loaded at Sierra Leonne to hospital in Freetown on 27th March.

John spent a month in hospital before embarking on another transport ship, finally disembarking in Plymouth on 22nd of May 1917. After five months in a training battalion at Parkhouse John finally received movement orders to join his battalion, which had just come out of the battle of Passchendaele.

The 49th Battalion would spend the remainder of 1917 and early months of 1918 in rest camps in Belgium with brief interludes at the front. With the coming of spring in 1918, the German commander Ludendorff took advantage of a brief numerical superiority of troops to launch an offensive against the British on the Somme. So successful was this offensive that in a few days the Germans had retaken all of the ground surrendered earlier in the war during 1916 and 1917; and were even threatening the vital communication hub of Amiens.

In response, Haig, the supreme British Commander in France ordered units of the 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions to be rushed south. The first units to be mobilized were battalions of the 12th and 13th Brigades; which included the 49th Battalion. The battalion boarded buses and trucks for the journey south on 25th March.

The Australian battalions were ordered to make their way to Dernacourt, a small village on the railway line between Amiens and Albert. This deployment required a forced march of almost 30 kilometres through the night with the entire German army somewhere out on the left. There were reports that German armoured cars were on the roads but the cars proved to be French farm machinery.

Upon arrival at the assigned position, the 49th were ordered to take up positions on a ridge facing the gathering Germans on the other side of the railway line. There were no trenches and the men had to dig shallow pits while under enemy artillery fire. Over the next four days, the men of the 12th and 13th Brigades established a forward defensive line on the railway embankment.

On 5th April, two entire divisions of German stormtroopers equipped with automatic weapons attacked the Australian positions. Initially, the Australians holding the railway embankment were overrun and many men were killed or captured. Later in the day, the 49th and 48th Battalions were ordered to counterattack to push the Germans back across the embankment. During this action, it was reported that John Barnes was raked by a burst of machine gun fire. He sustained wounds to his thigh and side. John died on a stretcher as he was being carried to an aid post and was buried near the battlefield. Dernacourt was considered by many to be the greatest feat by any Australian troops during the war; two brigades of infantry with no artillery support stopped two and a half divisions of crack German troops.

A parcel of John’s personal belongings was despatched from London to Mary Jane Barnes in July 1918. The parcel was one of 5000 parcels being sent back to Australia on the “Barunga” when the ship was torpedoed off the Scilly Isles. There was no loss of life but all cargo was lost.

At the war’s end, temporary graves across the European battlefields were consolidated into large permanent cemeteries. Johns remains were exhumed and reinterred in the Dernacourt Communal Cemetery Extension beside the railway embankment he died to defend. His headstone bears the inscription: IN MEMORY OF THE DEARLY LOVED SON OF M.J.BARNES.

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Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Son of Thomas and Mary Jane Barnes of Wondai, Queensland