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Premier’s Anzac Spirit School Prize 2019 – Frank Spencer Charles Day by Matilda Cotton

Thursday 15 August, 2019

This winning entry was researched and written by Matilda Cotton of Glenunga International High School

The third battle of Morlancourt, northwest of Amiens in France[i], occurred on 10th June 1918[ii], shortly after Germany’s Spring Offensive in what would be the closing year of the Great War had stalled[iii]. After the Russians and Germans signed an armistice, Germany had many soldiers ready for relocation from the Eastern Front in Russia to the Western Front, their last big push before more than 2 million Americans were set to arrive and fight with the Allies[iv]. By this stage of the war, Australia had lost nearly 60,000 killed and nearly three times that wounded, and recruitment was drying up as the slaughter of a generation had severely depleted recruitment numbers, and an appetite for conscription was still not popular enough in a referendum to force more young Australians to be sent to reinforce them[v]. The situation was dire for both the Allied and Axis powers. Everybody, except perhaps the generals were growing weary of the war.

There was a push from Australian forces and the government to fight under their own leadership instead of British command; largely generals with scant attention to detail or regard for human life. By June 1918, command of Australian forces was given to Lieutenant General John Monash[vi], who had made a name for himself on Gallipoli and in France as a meticulous planner and successful leader. Monash was an Australian Reservist before the war, with a background as an engineer. His talents as a strategist and planner would become invaluable for what lay ahead[vii]. Monash would be in charge of the Third Battle of Morlancourt, which would be used as a prelude to the famous battle of Hamel less than a month later, in which his planning would be acknowledged as the most meticulous of the war, and result in a spectacular victory for the Allies.

History has largely relegated this third battle of Morlancourt to a seemingly insignificant, largely over-shadowed battle, yet for one young Australian infantry soldier who fought in the 27th battalion, it became a transformational event in his life.

Figure 1: Map of Morlancourt

Frank Spencer Charles Day, born 1894 in Mallala South Australia[viii], was a typical country lad. His parents Helen Maud Strongman and Charles Richard Day[ix], tried as best as they could to support Frank, but with 5 children[x], they found this a hard task. When Frank was just 17 years of age, the family moved to Nangari, near Loxton SA, in search of work. Frank found work as a Farm Labourer[xi], in the hopes he could help to support his family as best he could. Here, he learned how to tend to horses, and how to shoot rabbits for the family to later eat. He was an avid member of the Loxton Rifle Club[xii], and the local Congregational Church[xiii], as well as a champion South Australian Sprinter[xiv]. He gave back to his community and worked hard to make an honest living in order to support his family as best as he could. In April 1916, Frank decided to serve his country, and joined the Army[xv]. On the 12th of June 1916, Frank, along with hundreds of others, boarded the HMAT Ballarat (A70)[xvi], and set sail for Plymouth, England as one of the 14th round of reinforcements for the 27th battalion. 

 

Figure 2: Lieutenant General John Monash

Trenches along the Western Front were cramped and muddy, with overflowing toilets and rats throughout[xvii]. The stench would have been unimaginable and living conditions sub-human, so Frank, like many, did not have a good run in the first few months of his service. After marching into Rollestone on the 30th September 1916[xviii], Frank fell sick with bronchial catarrh. After 4 days in hospital in England[xix], Frank was released fit for duty, marching into Etaples on the 29th December 1916[xx]. Frank re-joined his unit on the 18th Feb 1917[xxi]. Soon after moving forward he fell sick again, and was treated by the 6th field ambulance on the 10th of March 1917, returning to duty on the 28th of March[xxii]. The first major battle Frank participated in was as part of the first wave of the battle of Menin Road[xxiii]. From there he participated in two more battles; the capture of Broodseinde ridge, and the turning back of the German’s spring offense in April 1918[xxiv]. Through this period, when not in battle the different battalions often participated in running races to pass the time. It didn’t take long for Frank to prove himself as one of the fastest runners in the 27th battalion, and one of the fastest in the AIF[xxv]. This battalion was also nearby at the time the Red Baron was shot down, and Frank always swore that it was in fact him who shot down this infamous German Fighter.[xxvi]

 

The third battle of Morlancourt was to be completed at night to aid in the troop’s concealment and surprise on the enemy[xxvii]. This meant that Frank needed to creep silently to his position, along with other 2nd brigade

soldiers the night before the attack and remain concealed through the next day. This was no easy feat, but with an Australian general in command, Frank and the rest of his comrades had renewed vigour and faith.

Figure 3: HMAT Ballarat (A70)

At exactly 9:45pm[xxviii], Australian artillery began to fire, backed up by medium and light trench mortar batteries; the moment the infantry had been anticipating. Attacking troops, Frank included, moved to within 70 metres of the barrage[xxix]. Then, they fought in earnest, getting in to the trenches and amongst the Germans with rifles, bayonets and bombs.

 

Figure 4: Soldiers from the 27th Battalion marching through Somme, France, 7th April 1918

Then, a gunshot… And a scream. Frank had been hit, and fallen head first into a shell hole[xxx]. The pain would have been unimaginable. A bullet had smashed his left thigh, and fractured his femur[xxxi], and Frank soon lost consciousness from blood loss. When the stretcher bearers came around to look for casualties, Frank appeared to be dead, and so was left behind[xxxii]. On a subsequent sortie a day later however, the stretcher bearers discovered that Frank was indeed alive, and he was stretchered to the 20th Casualty Clearing station[xxxiii]. However, being as gravely injured as he was, Frank was transferred many times, finally ending up at the second Auxiliary Hospital in Southall.  He was eventually discharged on furlough[xxxiv] but returned to have his leg amputated on the 17th of August 1918[xxxv], after an accident occurred in the hospital involving boiling water[xxxvi]. Through all this Frank kept his head held high, retaining his good humour and larrikin streak, even though it meant the end of his promising running career. 

Figure 5: The starting places of battalions in the battle of Morlancourt

During the battle of Morlancourt, Australia lost 400 men; 86 of them either wounded or killed from the 27th battalion[xxxvii]. There was no compensation for these losses, but we can say one thing; they will always be remembered by a grateful country, and in the hearts of the families they left behind. Whilst Frank was one of the lucky ones, this war forever changed him, and the battle for him was never forgotten.

 

Figure 6: British War Medal

During his recuperation in England, Frank stayed at the Overseas Club[xxxviii]. After going through the trauma of his major leg injury that was not healing well, Frank needed someone’s support. With his family still back in Australia, he found solace with a nurse, Sadie Harte. Sadie helped Frank through this tough time. After spending a year together, Frank proposed, and the couple were married in a beautiful wedding in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Edinburgh, on the 10th April 1919[xxxix]. From there the couple boarded the SS ‘Bremen’ and returned to Australia[xl]. Frank was discharged on the 6 February 1920, after being pronounced medically unfit[xli]. He was awarded the British War Medal[xlii], and the Victory Medal[xliii] for his service in the war.

Together, the couple had two children and settled at Balaklava, Frank a teacher at Pinkerton Plains, and Sadie a housewife. Through Frank’s job, the couple moved around South Australia a lot, spending time at Reeves Plains (1931 – 1933) and Avon (1939 – 1946)[xliv]. Frank always retained his good nature and never let losing his leg be a setback. In fact, at a school picnic Frank ran a race, using crutches because he never liked to wear a prosthetic leg[xlv], against a boy without anyone else to run against[xlvi].

 

 

END NOTES

[i]  Morlancourt. 2019. Google Maps. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Morlancourt,+France/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x47e7f5cc6dcc5391:0x3f1208a651467ec?sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjQ7ayZ2IjiAhWITX0KHeX_B28Q8gEwDnoECA4QBA. [Accessed 13 April 2019].

[ii] 27th Australian Infantry Battalion | The Australian War Memorial. 2019. 27th Australian Infantry Battalion | The Australian War Memorial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51467/. [Accessed 11 April 2019].

[iii] Sir John Monash Centre. 2019. The German Spring Offensive – ‘The Kaiser’s Battle’ | Sir John Monash Centre. [ONLINE] Available at: https://sjmc.gov.au/german-spring-offensives-kaiserschlact-kaisers-battle/. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

[iv] Kaiserschlacht: The German Spring Offensive of 1918 – Remembrance Trails of the Great War in Northern France. 2019. Kaiserschlacht: The German Spring Offensive of 1918 – Remembrance Trails of the Great War in Northern France. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.remembrancetrails-northernfrance.com/history/battles/kaiserschlacht-the-german-spring-offensive-of-1918.html. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

[v] Oral Interview with amateur war historian, Chris Cotton May 2019

[vi] Australian Battlefields of World War 1 – France – 1918. 2019. Australian Battlefields of World War 1 – France – 1918. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.anzacsinfrance.com/1918/. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[vii] The Strategist. 2019. John Monash: the case against a field marshal’s baton | The Strategist. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/john-monash-case-field-marshals-baton/. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

[viii] World War I Pictorial Honour Roll of South Australians. 2019. Da – World War I Pictorial Honour Roll of South Australians. [ONLINE] Available at: http://ww1sa.gravesecrets.net/da.html. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[ix] Ancestry – Sign In . 2019. Ancestry – Sign In . [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/tree/108483542/family?cfpid=240065206999&selnode=1&usePUBJs=true. [Accessed 27th March 2019].

[x] Ancestry – Sign In . 2019. Ancestry – Sign In . [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/tree/108483542/family?cfpid=240065206999&selnode=1&usePUBJs=true. [Accessed 27th March 2019].

[xi] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=1. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xii] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=1. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xiii] Australian Imperial Force – Nominal Roll. Australian War Memorial. Available At: https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/RCDIG1067477/large/5370922.JPG [Accessed 11 April 2019].

[xiv] Burra Record (SA: 1878 – 1954) Wednesday 31 October 1928 p 6 Article [Viewed 17 April 2019]

[xv] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=1. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xvi] Frank Spencer Charles Day | The Australian War Memorial. 2019. Frank Spencer Charles Day | The Australian War Memorial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1946835. [Accessed 17 April 2019].

[xvii] BBC Bitesize. 2019. What was life like in a World War One trench? – BBC Bitesize. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/articles/z8sssbk. [Accessed 10th May 2019].

[xviii] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=7. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xix] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=7. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xx] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=7. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xxi] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=7. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xxii] Frank Spencer Charles Day. 2019. AIF Project Home. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=75631. [Accessed 2nd May 2019].

[xxiii] 27th Australian Infantry Battalion | The Australian War Memorial. 2019. 27th Australian Infantry Battalion | The Australian War Memorial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51467/. [Accessed 11th April 2019].

[xxiv] 27th Australian Infantry Battalion | The Australian War Memorial. 2019. 27th Australian Infantry Battalion | The Australian War Memorial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51467/. [Accessed 11th April 2019].

[xxv] Burra Record (SA: 1878 – 1954) Wednesday 31 October 1928 p 6 Article [Viewed 17 April 2019]

[xxvi] Family folklore told by Frank’s son La-Verne Day

[xxvii] Veterans SA. 2019. Third Battle of Morlancourt – Veterans SA | Veterans SA. [ONLINE] Available at: https://veteranssa.sa.gov.au/story/third-battle-of-morlancourt/. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

[xxviii] The blue and brown diamond : a history of the 27th Battalion Australian Imperial Force, 1915-1919 [Viewed 19 April 2019]

[xxix] The blue and brown diamond : a history of the 27th Battalion Australian Imperial Force, 1915-1919 [Viewed 19 April 2019]

[xxx] Family folklore told by Frank’s son La-Verne Day

[xxxi] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=8. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xxxii] Family folklore told by Frank’s son La-Verne Day

[xxxiii] Frank Spencer Charles Day. 2019. AIF Project Home. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=75631. [Accessed 2nd May 2019].

[xxxiv] Frank Spencer Charles Day. 2019. AIF Project Home. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=75631. [Accessed 2nd May 2019].

[xxxv] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=8. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xxxvi] Oral Interview with daughter, Helen Cullen (Nee Day)

[xxxvii] Veterans SA. 2019. Third Battle of Morlancourt – Veterans SA | Veterans SA. [ONLINE] Available at: https://veteranssa.sa.gov.au/story/third-battle-of-morlancourt/. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

[xxxviii] Oral Interview with granddaughter Keryn Kay (Nee Cullen) [April 2019]

[xxxix] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=13. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xl] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=9. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xli] Frank Spencer Charles Day. 2019. AIF Project Home. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aif.adfa.edu.au/showPerson?pid=75631. [Accessed 2nd May 2019].

[xlii] Digital Item Page Gallery . 2019. Digital Item Page Gallery . [ONLINE] Available at: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Gallery151/dist/JGalleryViewer.aspx?B=3493956&S=1&N=19&R=0#/SearchNRetrieve/NAAMedia/ShowImage.aspx?B=3493956&T=P&S=16. [Accessed 2nd April 2019].

[xliii] World War I Pictorial Honour Roll of South Australians. 2019. Da – World War I Pictorial Honour Roll of South Australians. [ONLINE] Available at: http://ww1sa.gravesecrets.net/da.html. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

[xliv] Frank Spencer Charles Day – Mallala. 2019. Paula Bartsch. [ONLINE] Available at: https://mallala.nowandthen.net.au/Frank_Spencer_Charles_Day. [Accessed 13 May 2019].

[xlv] Family folklore told by Frank’s son La-Verne Day

[xlvi] Burra Record (SA: 1878 – 1954) Wednesday 31 October 1928 p 6 Article [Viewed 17 April 2019]

 

 

 

Opening Image: Virtual War Memorial | Frank Spencer Charles DAY. 2019. Virtual War Memorial | Frank Spencer Charles DAY. [ONLINE] Available at: https://vwma.org.au/explore/people/145113. [Accessed 13 May 2019].

 

Figure 1: Following the Twenty-Second. 2019. Morlancourt: 22nd Battalion – Following the Twenty-Second. [ONLINE] Available at: https://anzac-22nd-battalion.com/morlancourt-22nd-battalion/. [Accessed 13 May 2019].

 

Figure 2: General John Monash | The Australian War Memorial. 2019. General John Monash | The Australian War Memorial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P11013307. [Accessed 13 May 2019].

 

Figure 3: HMAT Ballarat (A70). | The Australian War Memorial. 2019. HMAT Ballarat (A70). | The Australian War Memorial. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/PB0182/. [Accessed 13 May 2019].

 

Figure 4: Wikipedia. 2019. File:27th battalion france.JPG – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:27th_battalion_france.JPG. [Accessed 13 May 2019].

 

Figure 5: Australian Light Horse Studies Centre [Extracted from Bean, Vol. VI, p. 234]. 2019. Australian Light Horse Studies Centre. [ONLINE] Available at: http://alh-research.tripod.com/Light_Horse/index.blog/1887657/third-morlancourt-france-june-10-1918/. [Accessed 12 May 2019].

 

Figure 6: British War Medal 1914-1920 : World War One : Department of Defence. 2019. British War Medal 1914-20 : World War One : Department of Defence. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.defence.gov.au/Medals/Imperial/WWI/British-War-Medal-1914-20.asp. [Accessed 13 May 2019].


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