John Vernon (Herman) LARKIN

LARKIN, John Vernon

Service Number: 3160
Enlisted: 21 July 1915, Melbourne, Vic, Australia
Last Rank: Second Lieutenant
Last Unit: 8th Infantry Battalion
Born: Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia, 1891
Home Town: Swanwater, Northern Grampians, Victoria
Schooling: St Patricks' College - Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Clerk - Crown Lands Office - St Arnaud
Died: Killed In Action , France, 9 August 1918
Cemetery: Rosieres Communal Cemetery Extension, France
Grave Location: II. C. 12. Also a Memorial of Private, John Vernon Larkin (is with his parents' grave) Boroondara Cemetery [Kew Cemetery] - Grave Location: R.C., "B"; Grave 1851.
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World War 1 Service

20 Jul 1915: Involvement Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, 3160, 1st Depot Battalion, (NAA, Pg-8)
21 Jul 1915: Enlisted Australian Army (Post WW2), Private, 3160, 1st Depot Battalion, Melbourne, Vic, Australia
26 Nov 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 3160, 24th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '14' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Commonwealth embarkation_ship_number: A73 public_note: '' (NAA, Pg-8)
26 Nov 1915: Embarked Private, 3160, 24th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Commonwealth, Melbourne
24 Feb 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 3160, 8th Infantry Battalion, Merris (France), Involved from Date: 24/02/1916, Unit: 8th Aust., Inf., Btn.,; 1st Ranked, Lance Corporal -leading to- Prior & upon his death - Last Rank: 2nd Lieutenant, AIF-8th Australian Infantry Battalion; Eventual Death Date: 09/08/1918, Nth Rosierres, Frances (Killed In Action); Reference: NAA, Pg's-4, 8, 65 [Also -Textagram /or Telegram, 2/Lieut., LARKIN J. V., 8th Battalion., A.I.F., Killed In Action-9.8.19; Pg-36].
24 Feb 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 8th Infantry Battalion, (NAA, Pg-4)
28 Jul 1916: Wounded AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 3160, 8th Infantry Battalion, Merris (France), Wounded - as per stated: 28/07/1916, G.S.W., Right Hand; admitted - "Graylingwell Mil., Hosp"., Chichester, Sussex, Eng.; (NAA, Pg-47)
17 Feb 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 8th Infantry Battalion, (NAA, Pg-8)
1 Nov 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Corporal, 8th Infantry Battalion, (NAA, Pg-8)
31 Jan 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 8th Infantry Battalion, Promoted-as per stated: 31/01/1918, Sergeant (Temporary); (NAA, Pg-8).
4 Feb 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 8th Infantry Battalion, (NAA, Pg-8)
30 May 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 8th Infantry Battalion, (NAA, Pg-9)

A Life that would not be forgotten – 2nd Lieut JV Larkin

Cemeteries for some people can be quite depressing, perhaps because they bring their own fears of death to the fore. But for many history buffs they are beautiful, restful places, full of amazing stories of days gone by. I’ve had a habit of wandering cemeteries since I was young, and after a recent visit, I began to wonder whether the ‘spirits’ were perhaps becoming a little ‘familiar’. I had to admit this day to being a little spooked!

I was into the 2nd day of scouring the Boroondara Cemetery in Kew, for graves and memorials of WW1 Veterans. One of the oldest cemeteries in Melbourne, it is extremely worse for wear, though the ground staff seem to be endlessly busy. Of course we’d just had an incredibly bad storm, and there were uprooted trees and huge branches obliterating many graves, so, I’d already resigned myself to the fact that I might miss some of the Vets.

Having come upon a few lone graves buried deep under years of pine needles, I shrugged my shoulders and decided to add these to the ‘possibly missed’ category. But someone or something had other ideas, I simply couldn’t walk on. One of these graves was nagging at me, drawing me to it. Picking up a large stick, I poked it down through the mass of matted needles, and started dragging it around until I’d made an opening. The letters A.I.F. stared up at me and I instantly broke into a sweat, and the back-breaking work hadn’t even started yet!

Anyway, much later, with my trusty stick (& paintbrush) still in hand, (wondering whether I might have to start lugging a pitchfork with me as well!), I stood there, gazing down at the unearthed Memorial to Lieut John Larkin, who is actually buried in France. Convinced that his parents, whose grave this was, obviously wanted his story told, how could I, deny them.
Totally unaware at this stage, of my previous encounter with John, I began the research.

Michael LARKIN and Elizabeth GEARON (GUERAN) had both been born in Ireland, and coming to Australia, had married in 1891. Their four children were born in the nearby suburb of Hawthorn, John Vernon, their eldest, having been born the year after their marriage.

John Vernon LARKIN (known as Jack) was just twelve years old when he became the man of the family, his father having died at the young age of forty. The family was living in Ballarat at the time, but Michael had possibly already pre-purchased a plot, because he was buried at Kew. Jack attended St Patrick’s College in Ballarat before returning to Melbourne, where still a teenager, he served for a couple of years in the Artillery (2nd Battery at Prahran), and worked as a Clerk with the Crown Lands Office. He gave up the Artillery in 1910 when he was transferred to the country town of St Arnaud, which is where he was still working when he made the decision to enlist in the Great War, at the age of 23.

Entering into the Seymour Camp in July 1915, Jack was taken into the 7th reinforcements of the 24th Battalion in the November, and ‘set sail’ for Egypt on the 26th on board the A73 Commonwealth. They arrived at Suez on New Year’s Day 1916, and after only a day to find their land legs, were thrown into the first of many marches across the heavy sands. When all the Gallipoli troops had returned to Egypt, the rearrangement of battalions took place, and Jack and his mates were trained to the camp at Serapeum on the 24th February, where they were taken on strength with the 8th Battalion. Apart from the sandstorms, their month at Serapeum was quite enjoyable, with plenty of chances to swim and ample quality food.

This however, came to an end, and the next stage of their journey began on the 25th of March, when they packed up for the 10 hour train journey to Alexandria. Boarding the Megantic the following morning, they sailed the day after, traveling in their lifebelts and standing to, ready for torpedoes all the way to France. Disembarking at Marseilles on the 31st, they eventually endured an even longer train journey to the north of France, where they settled into their billets on the 5th of April. Moving onto Fleurbaix at the end of the month, Jack’s company took over the support trenches, and experienced their first heavy bombardment on the 5th of May. On the 15th they moved into the forward trenches for a couple of weeks, thus completing Jack’s baptism of fire on the Western Front.

The battalion’s first experience with gas came on the 17th of June, and two days later they moved to Belgium. It wasn’t long before they were back in the trenches, this time in the Messines sector, contending not only with the enemy, but also with the rain that often fell at night and the general lack of food. Relieved by the 6th Battalion on on the 7th of July, they returned to France, where their next stint was at Pozieres.

During the battle of Pozieres, Jack received a wound to his finger and hand which took him out of the line. It was the 26th of July, and a member of Jack’s company had the following to say about the day:
“A repetition of yesterday but if anything the bombardment was heavier, our trench was full of killed, the wounded we put into a deep dugout until night.
Our experience was a terrible one, it was just a matter of waiting to be killed and wondering whose turn it would be next. ….. At 8pm we saw the Germans massing on our right and that meant everybody had to stand to and be prepared to repel an attack, but fortunately it didn’t come back, by now we only had one Corporal, another Lance Corporal besides myself and thirty men left out of the Company, and the nerves of a lot of them were shattered, very few men stood that awful strain.”

Jack was lucky to be out of it, and was taken to the 1st Australian General Hospital at Rouen. The following day, the 27th of July, while his mates were being relieved from hell, he was on his way to England where he was admitted to the Greylingwell War Hospital in Chichester.

Returning to France on the 2nd of November 1916, Jack rejoined his battalion on the 17th, where they had been at rest in comfortable billets at Ribemont. The following day brought a heavy snow storm and a move to St Vasst, followed by Bernafay Camp, allowing him to ease back into it before returning to the mud filled trenches on the 14th of December. The battalion was then lucky to be out of the line and in camp at Mametz, for both Christmas and New Year.

1917 continued in the same vein as 1916 with time spent endlessly on the move, alternating between the line, fatigues, training, and rest camps. On the 17th of February, Jack was promoted to Lance Corporal. In May the battalion played a part in 2nd Bullecourt, and it was noted that: “During our forty eight hours in the line Fritz put over no less than seven heavy barrages, rather an extraordinary occurrence besides shelling us continuously between barrages.”

Having returned to Belgium, the battalion also took part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. On the 20th of September Jack’s platoon lost their Sergeant, Charlie Gladman, during the battle for Menin Road. Charlie came from Serpentine, a small farming community near my Grandfather’s hometown of Bridgewater, and is one of the many soldiers in the area that I’ve been researching. Whilst reading through Jack’s Service Record I had come across a note from Charlie’s father, written in 1917, asking for Jack’s number. The little prickles that had broken out in the back of my neck were still burning as I dug out Charlie’s file, which contained a copy of his diary and some letters. Sure enough, one of those letters was from Jack, who had written to Charlie’s family describing his last moments.

“….. Charlie met his death on the morning of Thursday, 20th September 1917, when we made a very successful push and advance to the east of Ypres, between Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. …..
He and I were together all the way through, and we were going splendidly until after we passed the first two objectives for fully 1000 yards. Just in front of our third objective, our barrage was holding us up a bit, and also one of Fritz’s famous block houses, or pill-boxes, from which he was continuously firing a machine gun at us. Charlie was up on top, and we were discussing as to how we would crawl around this pill-box and bomb the occupants out. We were then less than fifty yards off. Unfortunately it was at that time a heavy 9.2 shell landed less than 10 yards from us, and a piece of the shell casing struck Charlie on the center of the left thigh, practically severing the leg in two. A couple of us laid him in a shell hole, bound up the wound as well as we could and tied a tourniquet of rubber tubing on the top of the thigh. ….. I then left him as we had to continue on with our advance and dig in, but our barrage drove us out, and we had to retire for about 20 minutes, until it lifted. I again went back to Charlie, and found him in really good heart, …..
Unfortunately, next day I found out another shell came whilst he was sitting in the shell hole and tore half his back away, thus killing one of the finest and most conscientious soldiers I have ever met in the army. …..
Kindly excuse me if I have been harsh in expressing myself in such a letter as this, but you probably know two and a half years of this life tend to make one very hard and unemotional.” …..

Following close on the heels of Menin Rd, was the attack on Broodseinde Ridge on the 4th of October, which miraculously coincided with an attack by the enemy at the same hour. However, the Australians won through and achieved their objectives, but at a cost. At the end of October the depleted battalion received a batch of much needed reinforcements, and during the following reorganization, Jack was promoted to Corporal.

His promotion was followed a few weeks later by a month of leave from the 19/11/1917 to 17/12/17, at Desvres where the battalion was resting. Unlike 1916, Christmas 1917 was spent in the mud-filled trenches, but at least they didn’t miss out on their plum pudding. While out resting at Locre at the end of January, Jack was promoted to Temporary Sergeant, then Sergeant 2 weeks later. This was again followed by leave, but this time Jack was off to Paris for a couple of weeks. The timing proved fortuitous, because 2 days after his return to his battalion, all Paris leave was cancelled until further notice.

By the 12th of April the 8th Battalion had been rushed to Hazebrouck, to help in the defence of the Channel Ports, and after their success, were moved into the line at Strazeele. On the 19th of May they were again relieved from the line, and the following day Jack was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.

The next 2 months were spent in and out of the line, and then after being relieved on the night of the 2nd of August, the battalion began the move to the Aubigny area, where they arrived on the 8th of August, Ludendorff’s ‘black day of the German army’. The next morning they moved off through Villers-Bretonneux towards the village of Rosieres, to take their part in the Allied offensive that had begun the day before.

The War Diary states: “The weather was bright and warm, and the country to be covered flat and open. In front at a distance of about 8000 yards was a ridge held by the enemy, which on account of good visibility gave him a clear view of the whole of our advance.” The battalion “first encountered strong opposition on the outskirts of Rosieres, though MG Fire opened almost as soon as the advance began.”

Lt Col Mitchell, CO of 8th Bn wrote: “2nd Lt J.V. Larkin was wounded during the advance of the battalion North of Rosieres on 9/8/18 by a machine gun bullet through the body. He was carried back about half a mile on a stretcher but died before reaching the dressing station. He was buried by Chaplain Hayden 12th Bn, 2,400 yards south south west of cross roads in Vauvillers and a cross was erected over the grave.”

After the war Jack’s body was exhumed and re-interred at the Rosieres Communal Cemetery Extension, where he lies amongst 65 of his countrymen, most of whom where killed in the same battle.

A short time before Jack had embarked for overseas, his younger brother William had joined the Permanent Forces as a Military Staff Clerk, at the age of 17. In March 1917 he’d enlisted for overseas service, sailing in the June. Unlike Jack, William returned home in 1920, and went on to become a Lieut-Col in WW2.

Their mother, Elizabeth lived to the age of 92, dying in Kew in 1949, never having remarried. Fifty-nine years later her grave has been temporarily rescued from the pine needles, and the cold stone once more dances with the rays of the warming sun. I can’t help wondering if in years to come, when nature has again obscured her resting place, whether her spirit will reach out once more and snag yet another curious history buff. I can only hope so.

Remembering Jack – John Vernon Larkin – Lest We Forget.

Heather (Frev) Ford 2008

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Biography contributed by Daniel Bishop

Son of Michael LARKIN, & Elizabeth (nee GEAROM) LARKIN, of Howitt St - Wendouree, Victoria, Austalia.

Hometown / Place of Association - upon WW1 enlistment of Private, John Vernon LARKIN, SN-3160:  St Arnaud, Wimmera Region, Victoria, Australia.