Herbert Havelock (Bert) ATKINSON

ATKINSON, Herbert Havelock

Service Number: 791
Enlisted: 27 January 1915, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 21st Infantry Battalion
Born: North Melbourne, Victoria, 3 June 1892
Home Town: Coburg, Moreland, Victoria
Schooling: North Melbourne State School
Occupation: Sheet iron worker
Died: Natural causes, Footscray, Victoria, 28 August 1966, aged 74 years
Cemetery: Fawkner Memorial Park Cemetery, Victoria
Fourth Avenue Wall, section 2, left hand side facing the chapel.
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World War 1 Service

27 Jan 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 791, Melbourne, Victoria
10 May 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 791, 24th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ulysses, Melbourne
10 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 791, 24th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
29 Aug 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 791, 21st Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
8 Oct 1917: Discharged AIF WW1, Private, SN 791, 21st Infantry Battalion

Help us honour Herbert Havelock Atkinson's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Robyne Undy

Herbert Havelock Atkinson was the first of three sons, belonging to Amelia and Richard Atkinson, to enlist. Herbert was a 22 year old sheet iron worker at the time he enlisted on 03/02/1915 in Melbourne. Herbert was living at home in Coburn, Victoria with his parents and 5 of his 6 siblings.

Herbert embarked from Melbourne on 10/05/1915, onboard the HMAT "ULYSSES" A38, as part of the 21st Battalion which was raised as part of the 6th Brigade at Broadmeadows. While Herbert was part of the Infantry he was also a musician, playing several different instruments, which lead him to also become a band member in the Army, attending band practise while onboard the Ulysses. Herb was also a stretcher bearer and worked on trolleys moving ammunitions.

On 08/10/1915 Herbert was suffering from Pyrexia (high fever), Typhoid/Enteric Fever. On the 13/10/1915 he was transferred to the Hospital ship Soudan and on arriving in Malta, Herb was said to be suffering from Pneumonia or Enteric/Typhoid Fever (at the time these diseases were said to have been caused by poor hygeine, especially in the trenches, and by flies). Herb was transferred to the hospital ship Regina de Italia on 03/11/1915 and conveyed to the 3rd South General Hospital, Oxford, England for treatment on 12/11/1915.

On the 11/01/1916 Herbert wrote from London to his younger sister Ida saying how happy he was to receive her letter and two others, a great day! He jokes about how his hair is falling out, he says probably due to having had the fever. His letter is light hearted and cheery as you would expect writing to a beloved sister of 18, kidding around and not dwelling on the war. He does mention how he'd not had the company of any young lady since leaving home and how the young women seemed to be throwing themselves at the Australian soldiers. He commented how it was very difficult to tell bad women from the good but on seeing other soldiers with sweethearts he wished he had someone. He talks about Ida teaching Sunday school and how he'd like to sit in on one of her classes. That he feels her class would be uplifting and how proud he is of her. He also talks of his own efforts as a Sunday school teacher and how he doesn't think he will have another go at it having gotten off to a bad start with too many in the class.

On 02/07/1916 Herb rejoined his unit in France. The 21st Battalion saw some of the heaviest fighting during the battle for Poziers and sustained the heaviest casualties of the war near Mouquet Farm.

On the Tuesday 04/08/1916 Herb wrote in his diary: "Albert, arrived here 10 days ago. I am working on trolleys taking ammunition to firing line with plenty of shrapnel showers. There is a horrible smell of decaying dead & bodies of unburied heroes lie where they have fallen 14 days ago. We are four mile from the firing line but shells whizzing to & fro just the same.  There is to be a big advance tonight and we await the call to bring in the wounded. We hope to gain the ridge at Pickardy and then to drive “Fritzy” into the open, ready for the cavalry to deal with."

On the 26/08/1916 Herb was wounded in the field. He returned to active service with his unit on the 02/09/1916.

During October 1916 Richard and Amelia Atkinson were notified that Herb had been wounded but did not know the extent of his injuries or where he had been taken. Days turned into weeks and soon several months had passed by without any news. The family's concerns were compounded by returned mail. In the mean time Herb had been wounded in action for a second time, on the 08/03/1917, and boarded the HS Lanfranc at Harve on the 15/03/1917 for treatment in England, suffering from gunshot wounds to the right hand and thigh.

Richard Atkinson wrote to Major Lean to try to ascertain Herb's address and the officer in charge confirmed that he had been admitted to the Southern General Hospital on 16/03/1917. The family had by now, also been informed that their two other sons Frederick Gordon Thomas Atkinson and Raymond Leslie Atkinson had both been killed.

On 28/05/1917 the Minister of Defence approved the discharge and return home of their remaining son Herbert Atkinson and orders were sent to facilitate this decision but on the 14/06/1917 Herbert was returned to active duty in France.

Eventually, Herb was returned home to Australia on 24/09/1917.

The family's losses were great and on 04/10/1921, their father Richard Atkinson signed for a memorial scroll and King's message in memory of his sons' sacrifices during the war.

Herb later married Florence Phair on the 02/09/1916 and they had four children, 2 boys and two girls living in Coburg, Victoria, Australia.

Herb continued working as a sheet iron worker and painted oil paintings in his spare time. He talked little of his time in the war but did mention that while working as a stretcher bearer, he had found his own brother Frederick's remains. He also related how during a cease fire, while collecting the bodies of fallen soldiers, he had been able to exchange with enemy soldiers, cigarettes (that he didn't smoke) for fruit. After the cease fire it was back to your sides and start shooting at each other again. The family believe that he used his painting as therapy. Few of his paintings remain but they are treasured by his family. Herb will always be remembered as a quiet, gentle, kind and loving soul, even before he went off to war. He was a small man in build but extremely artistic and clever with his hands. Herbert was able to make items like a copper tea pot and elaborate tin objects. These talents would have been very useful when returning home to shortages of many things. The reality of Herbert being involved in fighting in a war is quite contrary to our understanding of our very caring little Pa.

By 2017 Herbert's descendants numbered:  4 children, 13 grandchildren, 28 great grandchildren and 28 great great grandchildren.

Compiled by Robyne Undy (Grand daughter) with reference to the WW1 diary of Herbert Atkinson, his letters, WW1 official documents and information compiled by Lee-ann Atkinson (Grand daughter-in-law) for the book "The Thames Legacy" The Atkinson Family History.