Service Numbers: 1402, 1283
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 8th Infantry Battalion
Born: Not yet discovered
Home Town: Not yet discovered
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Not yet discovered
Died: Killed in action, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915, age not yet discovered
Cemetery: Shell Green Cemetery
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Barkly Street Uniting Church
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World War 1 Service

2 Feb 1915: Involvement Private, SN 1402, 8th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
2 Feb 1915: Embarked Private, SN 1402, 8th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Clan McGillivray, Melbourne
25 Apr 1915: Involvement Private, SN 1283, 8th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli

LCpl Clifford Stanley George Polkinghorne

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

Immortality was not something that any Australian soldier gave a thought to as they scrambled ashore at Gallipoli on the historic April dawn. For those who survived to tell the tale, there was one thing they all appeared to agree on: this was the beginning of a legend – and those who had fallen would never be forgotten.

Clifford Stanley George Polkinghorne was born at St Arnaud, Victoria on 5 September 1891. He was the first-born son of Samuel Polkinghorne and his Ballarat-born wife, Eliza Jane Butcher.

The young family moved to Ballarat East, where Cliff’s brother, Reginald Clyde, was born in 1894, and made their home at 145 Scott’s Parade. The births of two daughters, Alice Dulcie and Ida Mercy, followed soon after.

Cliff joined the large student community at the Humffray Street State School in 1897 and completed his formal education there. During this time Clifford, who was associated with the Barkly Street Methodist Church, became a popular member of the church’s cricket team, where he played alongside his best mate, Charlie Gist. The pair also joined the Australian Native’s Association together.

After leaving school Cliff initially dabbled in clerical work before, in 1910, he entered the Victorian Education Department as a temporary teacher. During 1910 and 1911 he had charge of the small schools at Byrneville (near Horsham) and Meering West south-west of the township of Kerang. The authorities in the department found their new teacher to be ‘a well-read, earnest young man who was a good organiser.’

However, Clifford chose not to continue with the Education Department. It is not known exactly why he made the decision to resign as a teacher, perhaps it was “in the blood”, after all his father had always been a farmer. Whatever the reason, Cliff soon settled into a new life on the land. The would-be farmer acquired a block of land in the Chillingollah district near Swan Hill.

When volunteers were called for at the beginning of the war Clifford’s younger brother Reg was quick to enlist. He was assigned to the original 8th Infantry Battalion and sailed with the First Contingent.

Cliff followed his example less than a month later, enlisting at Ballarat on 4 October 1914. He went before the Medical Officer, Ballarat physician and army officer, C. H. W. Hardy, the following day. Standing 5-feet 9-inches and having a chest expansion to 35-inches, Cliff had no difficulty in passing the examination. He was described as having brown eyes, black hair and a fresh complexion. A scar on his left arm was also noted.

Despite having no military training, Cliff was immediately accepted into the AIF and signed his oath of allegiance later the same day. The attesting officer on this occasion was the well-respected Mayor of Ballarat East, Isaiah Pearce.

Like his brother, Reg, Cliff became a member of the 8th Battalion. He was appointed to the rank of lance-corporal before he embarked on 2 February 1915 with the battalion’s 1st reinforcements. This particular allotment sailed onboard the troopship Clan MacGillivray under the command of Ballarat’s Lieutenant Everett James.

The Polkinghorne brothers caught up with one another in Egypt, where they no doubt enjoyed all the exotic sights and smells of that ancient land. The pair were posted to D Company before they embarked together for Gallipoli on 5 April. It was a familiar experience for Cliff – the transport they travelled on was the faithful old Clan MacGillivray.

Clifford Polkinghorne was among those to fall during fighting that immediately followed the Landing on 25 April 1915. He was part of the 8th Battalion’s right flank that repeatedly repelled Turkish attacks on Bolton’s Ridge. His body was buried in the coming days in an isolated grave on the edge of Artillery Road.

Three days later Reg Polkinghorne was shot in the back by a Turkish soldier who, dressed in the uniform of a dead Anzac, infiltrated the Australian line and attacked from the rear.

As soon as he was able, Reg wrote home to his mother,

‘…Off Gibraltar,
May 7th, 1915

Dear Mother,

This is a very hard letter to write, although I know you will expect it. You will by now have the list of the killed and wounded, Clifford died a glorious death, a hero in the very front line of battle. Thousands of others fell that same day (April 25th) Although it was fall of glory for us who were fighting, it meant a lot of suffering to all of you at home. It was a terrible fight, but not one of us shirked it at all. Indeed, we were like old soldiers, the way we took the bloodshed around us.

Cliff and I were together all the time after he arrived in Egypt and on the boat going to the Dardanelles. After we landed, we were together for about ten minutes, and then we got separated. He was picked to go to the right and I to the left of our company.

We advanced and came under heavy fire at once. That was about 9 o'clock in the morning of the first day. After that I never had time to look or think until after dark, when we tried to reform our company. But only 50 returned; the other 200 being either killed, wounded or missing. Before morning, however, 26 more turned up, making only 76 out of our company of over 250. It was then the boys told me that Cliff was gone.

The fire of the Turks was so terrific that we could not get up to get Cliff until Tuesday morning. The boys did all they could for him. We buried him by himself in a grave on the hillside just where the fiercest of the fighting had been. Capt Coulter was very good and gave him a decent burial. The captain read a service, and all the boys who could be spared from the trenches came to pay their last respects to an honoured comrade.

It was terribly sudden, but still I am sure that Cliff was prepared for it. Captain Coulter asked me about you, and asked me to write as soon as possible. He had a brother killed beside him in South Africa.

Cliff's death was just the kind of a death that a soldier wishes for. It is terrible to see those badly wounded lying around you when you cannot do anything for them. That Sunday, April 25th, was the hottest battle ever fought. The "heads " thought we would retreat, in fact a retreat was ordered, but our general said he knew we would never retreat while there was a man alive; so we held on and won.

The next three days and nights were just the same, only we had dug trenches, and so held the position. We had no sleep and only a little bully and biscuit to eat for the whole time. The Turks got at the back of us dressed in our uniforms, which they had stolen from the Australians who were killed. One of them got me in the back on the Wednesday morning. It knocked me over. The bullet went in just half an inch from the spine, just missed my lung and stopped up under the shoulder bone. When they took it out it gave a ping as it came from under the bone.

Colonel Gartside was in the trench. He had me sent straight away to the AMC. They took the bullet out and I was sent on to the hospital ship and am now on my way to England.

I know you will be grieving about Cliff, but do not worry, He died with others, and all their memories will be honoured for centuries to come. We were against great odds that day. The Turks were 10 to 1 against us. They had artillery, but we held our own and I think we beat them.

I am recovering now, but I have nothing left, not even my uniform, but I will get some in England.
With love,

After recovering, Reg remained in England as a member of the Dental Corps. He was there for the duration of the war. When he returned to Australia, he was accompanied by his English wife, Ellen May Marshallsay. The couple had been married in the Parish Church at Chickerell, Weymouth, on 15 May 1918. Their first-born son, born at Swan Hill in 1921, was named Clifford in honour of Reg’s fallen brother.

In April 1921, the Polkinghorne family received word that Cliff’s remains had been exhumed and re-interred in the Artillery Road Cemetery, about 5/8-mile south-south-east of ANZAC Cove. Distressingly, less than three years later they received the following letter from the Base Records Office,

‘…with further reference to the report of burial of your son…I have now to inform you that owing to the somewhat inaccessible situation of the Artillery Road Cemetery, it has been found necessary to remove all graves therein to a more central position in the ANZAC area…’

Cliff Polkinghorne was finally laid permanently to rest in the Shell Green Cemetery, lying on the edge of a steep slope that leads from Bolton’s Ridge to the sea.

The sadness and difficulties the families often endured during these times is almost impossible to comprehend over 100 years later. Cliff’s parent and his youngest sister, Ida, were all dependent on the allotment from his army pay.

When his personal effects arrived home – just a Testament, his pocket wallet and identity disc – concerns were raised as to a sum of money that they believed should also have been contained in the package. Reg had seen the money amongst his brother's belongings and had alerted his mother. She was desperate for the army to take action because she was ‘in poor circumstances and impaired health.’ Nothing was ever heard of the missing money. But their situation was alleviated somewhat, when they were all granted pensions by the military.

In a way, Cliff was still looking after them...

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