John Alexander (Alec) RAWS

Poppy

RAWS, John Alexander

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 15 July 1915, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Second Lieutenant
Last Unit: 23rd Infantry Battalion
Born: Manchester, England, 21 September 1883
Home Town: Elsternwick, Glen Eira, Victoria
Schooling: Way College and Prince Alfred College
Occupation: Journalist
Died: Killed in Action, Mouquet Farm, France, 23 August 1916, aged 32 years
Cemetery: Villers-Bretonneux Memorial
No known grave
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, National War Memorial (South Australia), Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)*
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World War 1 Service

15 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Sergeant, Melbourne, Victoria
17 Jan 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 22nd Infantry Battalion
29 Mar 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN Officer, 22nd Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
29 Mar 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 22nd Infantry Battalion, RMS Orontes, Melbourne
23 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 22nd Infantry Battalion, Pozières
29 Jul 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 23rd Infantry Battalion
23 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 23rd Infantry Battalion, Mouquet Farm

Perhaps the most famous quote from Pozieres

"We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven and sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood, and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains. It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three officers out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!."

Lieutenant John Raws, 23rd Battalion, 4 August 1916

John Raws was killed in action near Mouquet Farm on 23 August 1916. He has no known grave

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Under the German shelling at Pozieres

John Raws - Lieutenant

The great horror of many of us is the fear of being lost (i.e. losing the way) with troops at night on the battlefield. We do all our fighting and moving at night, and the confusion of passing through a barrage of enemy shells in the dark is pretty appalling ...

Our battalion had to march for three miles, under shellfire, go out into No Man’s Land in front of the German trenches, and dig a narrow trench to be used to jump off from in another assault.

I was posted in the rear to bring up the rear and prevent straggling. We went in single file along narrow communication trenches. We were shelled all the way up, but got absolute hell when passing through a particularly heavy curtain of fire which the enemy was playing on a ruined village (Pozières) ..

In the midst of this barrage our line was held up. I went up from the rear and found that we had been cut off, about half of us, from the rest of the battalion, and were lost. I would gladly have shot myself, for I had not the slightest idea where our lines or the enemy’s were, and the shells were coming at us from, it seemed, three directions. As a matter of fact that was right. Well, we lay down terror-stricken along a bank.

The shelling was awful. I took a long drink of neat whisky and went up and down the bank trying to find a man who could tell where we were. Eventually I found one. He led me along a broken track and we found a trench; he said he was sure it led to our lines, so we went back and got the men. It was hard to make them move, they were so badly broken.

We eventually found our way to the right spot, out in No Man’s Land. Our leader was shot before we arrived, and the strain had sent two other officers mad.

I and another new officer (Lieutenant Short) took charge and dug the trench. We were being shot at all the time and I knew that if we did not finish the job before daylight, a new assault planned for the next night would fail.

It was awful, but we had to drive the men by every possible means and dig ourselves. The wounded and killed had to be thrown on one side-I refused to let any sound man help a wounded man: the men had to dig ...

Just before daybreak an officer (of another unit) out there, who was hopelessly rattled, ordered us to go. The trench was not finished. I took it on myself to insist on the men staying, saving that any man who stopped digging would be shot. We dug on and finished amid a tornado of bursting shells. All the time, mind, the enemy flares were making the whole area almost as light as day. We got away as best we could.

I was buried twice, and thrown down several times-buried with dead and dying. The ground was covered with bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation, and I would, after struggling free from the earth, pick up a body by me to try to lift him out with me, and find him a decayed corpse. I pulled a head off was covered with blood. The horror was indescribable.

In the dim misty light of dawn I collected about 50 men and sent them off, mad with terror, on the right track for home. Then two brave fellows stayed behind and helped me with the only unburied wounded man we could find. The journey down with him was awful! He was delirious-I tied one of his legs to his pack with onE of my puttees. On the way down I found another man and made him stay and help us.

There I met another of our men, who was certain that his cobber was lying wounded in that barrage of fire. I would have given my immortal soul to get out of it, but I simply had to go back with him and a stretcher-bearer. We spent two hours in that devastated village searching for wounded-but all were dead. The sights I saw during that search, and the smell, can, I know, never be exceeded by anything else the war may show me. I went up again the next night and stayed up there. We are shelled to hell ceaselessly. X-------- [Name deleted in original] went mad and disappeared.

[Lieutenant John Raws, quoted in Charles Bean, The AIF in France, 1916, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Vol 3, Chapter 19, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1929, pp.658-659.]

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Biography contributed by Elizabeth Allen

John Alexander RAWS was born on 21st September, 1883 in Manchester, England

His parents were the Reverend John Garrard RAWS and Mary Jane LENNON

His brother Robert Goldthorpe RAWS (Lieutenant) was also Killed in Action  in WW1 on 28th July, 1916

Biography

John Alexander "Alec" Raws was the son of a vicar, the Reverend G J Raws of 'Gwenholme' No 76 Cheltenham St in Malvern, a southern suburb of Adelaide.  He and his brother Robert (Goldy) had been born in the United Kingdom in 1883 and 1886 respectively and after emigrating to Australia with the family in 1894, the boys had been educated at Adelaide's Prince Alfred College. 

Both brothers later moved to Melbourne; "Alec" was a journalist and his brother  was a warehouseman.  He and his brother both enlisted in Melbourne.  It appears that "Goldy" was the first to enlist although there is no enlistment date recorded, but he embarked in May 1915.  John enlisted in June 1915 but did not embark until March 1916.  Because they enlisted in Melbourne, neither appear on the Adelaide National War Memorial.  "Alec's" brother, Robert  "Goldy" Goldthorpe RAWS, served in the 22nd Battalion.

"Alec's" Battalion was part of the 2nd Division and after a period in the line near Armentieres the 1st 2nd and 4th Divisions moved south to the Somme during June / July of 1916.  The AIF's contribution began on 23rd July at Pozieres.

Over the next five weeks, the AIF would suffer over 23,000 casualties, of whom over 5,000 were killed.  Both of the Raws brothers were among the dead;  "Goldy" was killed in action on 28 July near Pozieres, and "Alec" on 23 August near Mouquet Farm.

"Alec" was a journalist, which is reflected in his writing, much of which has survived his brief but violent combat experience - about one month in all.  See attached stories.  His is among the most vivid of accounts of the fighting at Pozieres and Mouquet farm, and all the while it is laced with a sense of impending doom.

Medals:

British War Medal

Victory Medal

 

Steve Larkins 4 January 2015

 

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