James Lidjot (Jim) BEATON

BEATON, James Lidjot

Service Number: 518
Enlisted: 17 August 1914, Sydney, New South Wales
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 4th Divisional Train
Born: Sydney, New South Wales, 22 May 1880
Home Town: Granville, Parramatta, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Fitter's labourer
Died: Natural causes (heart failure), North Sydney, New South Wales, 7 August 1962, aged 82 years
Cemetery: Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium, NSW
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Granville St Mark's Anglican Church Memorial Windows
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World War 1 Service

17 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 518, Sydney, New South Wales
18 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 518, 1st Divisional Train, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
18 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 518, 1st Divisional Train, HMAT Afric, Sydney
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, Australian Army Service Corps, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
23 Jan 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 518, 4th Divisional Train

Our Grandfather - James Beaton

A Devoted Soldier

James Beaton, born 1880, was an adventurous soul coming from a family of pioneers, convicts, sailors and gold miners. His own courageous spirit first showed when he ran away from home when only 3 years old. Thirty years later he felt not only the call of adventure, but also of patriotism - immediately attesting his allegiance to his country. This same selfless devotion to others was demonstrated throughout his life

Pop (as we grandchildren called him) was 34 years old and a fitter’s labourer. He was also a Corporal in the Militia, so isn’t surprising to learn that he was waiting on the doorstep of Victoria Barracks in Sydney on that first morning of enrolment. The following week at Randwick Training Camp he was placed in 2nd Company, 1st Australian Divisional Train of the Australian Service Corp. Within days James was promoted to Sergeant due to his previously recognised diligence and work ethics. Their Division was soon fully equipped, although it was considered that the draught horses (known as Walers) were on the slightly heavy side.

On that wet and stormy morning of 18th October, 1914 his ship “HMAT Afric” sailed from Sydney to join the First Convoy of 38 ANZAC ships off Western Australia a week later.

The Afric had a printing press on board, offering a daily newspaper called “The Kangaroo - Out of his Element”, which helped keep the troops informed and entertained. Not only was it the first newspaper published on a troopship, but it was the first newspaper in the world to report the demise of the Emden.

The convoy arrived in Alexandria at the end of November where their horses were unloaded in slings. James’ last pay on board was 14 shillings, followed by his new “average” wage of £1.0.6 at Camp Mena, near Cairo.

As a member of the Supply and Transport Division his duties involved providing everything needed for the 1st Division. His horse and wagon transported food, fodder, horseshoes, tents, timber, sandbags, clothing, etc – often returning back to base with the sick and the dying. They also probably dragged the Furfy Water Carts for the troops and their horses.

The English-made nose-bags were too small for the large Australian draught horses and James would have been one of the men in the supply division who had to remake them from hessian bags.

Understandably, with all the heavy lifting required as part of his duties, our grandfather soon developed a hernia and by January 1915 was admitted to Ward 5 of the No 2 Mena House General Hospital. A week later, with blood found in his urine, he was transferred to Ward 29 of the same hospital at the foot of the pyramids.

As a result of his prolonged hospitalisation he probably missed the worst of the fighting to retain the Suez Canal.

On 25th April, 1915, when his 1st Division Train arrived at Gallipoli, their horses were unable to land due to the unsuitable conditions - and the majority of the horses were returned to Egypt. James was transferred to No.2 Company AASC at Mex Camp where the older men stayed to look after the horses.

Finally he was back with the 1st Division and in December 1915 they were ordered to the Western front at Matruah.

Some of his duties involved transporting patients for the Ambulance section and at one stage they were “given a motorised ambulance – but he always regretted that nobody could drive it”.

His health was not holding well though and he was soon back in hospital in Alexandria suffering from Rheumatic Fever. Here he languished for the next few months, including a stint in the convalescent hospital at Te-el-Kabah, Montezah.

Ultimately, in June, 1916, James marched in to the newly established Training Camps in England – initially to Perham Downs, with a short stint at Codford and finally to the Musketry Training Division at Parkhouse for another six months. In all he spent nine months in the Salisbury Plains area of England (with souvenir train tickets indicating that he also had a few trips to London during that time.)

In March 1917 he eventually returned to his 1st Division Train – now in France - and was able to assist troops on the Western Front. Yet once again it was only for a short while, as three months later “Defective Vision and Eyesight problems” forced him into 5th Divisional Rest Station at Vignacourt on the Somme for a few weeks.

1st Division was now incorporated into the 1st Anzac Corp and James was re-attached for duty in August 1917.

The next twelve months saw him change units and Battalions in France and Belgium a number of times (depending where supplies were most needed). During this time he received shrapnel injuries, but nothing to put him out of action. Finally he was transferred to 4th Division Train of the 12th Army Brigade (just before the Battle of Amiens).

However James had applied for Leave – and it was granted! To Australia!

His ship “HMAT Devon” left from Taranto, Italy, in mid-September, 1918.

Throughout Pop’s 4 years’ service his constant companion was his horse "Jim" and they were known as the “Two Jims".

He was heart-broken when he couldn’t bring Jim home and had to shoot him, as he refused to leave the horse to be misused by the local people.

The Armistice was signed on 11th November, 1918, whilst James Beaton was on the high seas – just two weeks away from home!

Like many servicemen, he rarely talked about his war service, although he regularly attended Anzac Day Marches.

For a number of years in the 20’s and early 30’s he obtained sailing positions with shipping companies calling into many places he had served during the War and he always returned with souvenirs and postcards from the towns he had been associated with in Egypt, France, Belgium and England. Maybe he went there to see how the towns had recovered; to meet again with the locals and help in some small way; or maybe it was his way of “dealing with his own demons” – we will never know.

James corresponded regularly with a French nurse (the namesake of his youngest daughter, Marie.) He was very distressed when he lost track of Madam Cerebelli’s family in France during WW2.

For 30 - 40 years Pop spent many weeks in hospitals and rehabs (although sadly, today we don’t know the reason.) Possibly it was for earlier shrapnel wounds; or the results of his “Rheumatic Fever”; or maybe even “Shell Shock”. He was in Randwick War Veterans hospital in 1937 on the day his daughter Marie was married and too sick to attend the wedding, so she visited him on her way to the church.

Yet each time he seemed to “bounce back”. I now wonder if he was just as stoic as he had always been and “I’m alright Jack”.

His horse “Jim” was never forgotten and every year James Beaton and his wife Lavina would put flowers on the “Horses’ Memorial” near the gates of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney. (A tradition which is continued by his family to this day.)

Overall, I believe our Grandfather was “lucky” in that quite by co-incidence he seems to have escaped the worst areas of fighting, by either serious illness or being sent to different locations.

He, with Lavina by his side, lived his life out in a tiny rented cottage in North Sydney, dying at 82 years of age in 1962.


Our Grandfather

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