The Boswells from Wagga Wagga

On 30th July 1917 the Wagga Wagga Courier reported that ‘Mrs C Boswell of Kincaid Street on Saturday received a cable from her husband Private Charles Boswell stating that he and his son and brother had safely reached England. They were members of the Mayor’s unit……’ (Daily Advertiser, Wagga Wagga, 30th June 1917)

After Gallipoli, the enthusiasm that led to Australians rushing to enlist in the armed forces had subsided. Daily, causality lists were posted in the newspapers and many of the wounded had returned home. The war in Europe was no longer seen as a great adventure. Recruitment marches were one of many techniques used to encourage men to enlist. They wound their way from town to town shaming and encouraging men to join their ranks. The Kangaroo March from Wagga Wagga in September 1915 covered the greatest distance. Its members marched all the way to Sydney. Conscription was thought to be a solution but the referendum of 1916 was lost. By 1917 it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit enough men to replace those killed or wounded.

In March 1917, the mayor of Wagga Wagga, Hugh Oates, enlisted in the Australian Army. He was a forty-five years old tailor with a wife and family. He took up the challenge of recruiting a unit of 140 men from Wagga and surrounding districts. After several local businessmen and pastoralists volunteered, the mayor went on a recruitment drive, visiting the neighbouring towns of Tumut, Gundagai and Cootamundra. Eventually about 60 men enlisted. They included Charles Boswell, his brother, Henry and son Edwin.

On 23rd April, the group was escorted to the railway station with much pomp and ceremony. They travelled to Sydney and marched in the 1917 Anzac Day parade. Full of hope and enthusiasm they began their army training at Moore Park. In July, the mayor was admitted to hospital with neuralgia. He was diagnosed with a toxic infection of the back and discharged from the Army. His unit embarked for Europe without him.

Charles Boswell was over thirty -seven years old when he enlisted. He was born in Withyham, a small village near Tunbridge Wells in Sussex, England. His family lived in the Rectory Cottage of St Michael’s of the Angels Church. His father was a coachman and his aunt, a parlour maid. The Boswell family migrated to Sydney in 1882. Charles was one and a half years old. His aunt and Uncle Wall had migrated earlier and acted as sponsors. The young family moved to Wagga Wagga in the mid 1880’s. Father, Erwin, established the Riverina Nursery in Peter Street. Fruit and ornamental trees, climbers and shrubs were grown and sold. The Nursery was still operated by the family in the 1960’s. Erwin Boswell had been a member of the Imperial Army and had fought in India. When he settled in Wagga, he joined the voluntary military unit, ‘G’ Company. He served for many years as a sergeant. No doubt his two sons and grandson were proud to have followed in his footsteps.

Some members of the Mayor’s unit were assigned to the 30th Battalion. They sailed to England on 10th May 1917. The three Boswell men were with this group. They arrived at Southport in July and joined to the 8th Training Battalion at Hurdcott Training Camp near the village of Fovant in Wiltshire.   Charles Boswell was appointed to the rank of acting corporal on 20th October 1917. As his training continued he became crippled with myalgia, an acute muscular pain associated with trench fever. The fact that Charles suffered from this illness on the plains of Southern England did not auger well for his future in the army. He was hospitalised from 6th November until the 14th January 1918. At the end of the month his rank reverted to private and he was recommended for discharge as being medically unfit to serve. He left England on 14th February.

In August 1899, when he was just 18 years old, Charles married Wilhelmina (Minnie) A G Wilson. They raised two daughters and six sons.   When he was formally discharged from the army on 1st June 1918, he, his wife and four of their children were eligible for a pension. Charles received 15/- a fortnight, his wife 5/-, son Leslie 3/9, Cecil 3/9 Horace and Harold 2/6 each.

Charles aspired to become a farmer. In October 1896, he won a ballot for two blocks of land near the Murray River at Boomanoomana south of Berrigan. After he married, he lived in Wagga but retained his interest in farming. In 1916, he applied for a water pump for irrigating. His farming income needed to be supplemented. When he applied to join the Australian Army in 1917, he listed his occupation as a labourer.

After the war, Charles continued to divide his time between farming and labouring. In 1925, he was fined £ 3 for failing to control a serious rabbit plague on his property. He was still farming during the 1930’s. His wife, Minnie died in 1940. In 1943, he married war widow Marion Lugton. They moved to Sydney and took up residence in Flinders Street, Darlinghurst. Marion was involved in an accident in Taylor Square in 1946. After she died from her injuries, Charles went to live with his son, Cecil, in Appin. He died in Appin in 1974.

Brother, Henry Alfred Boswell, transferred to the 33rd Battalion and left England for France in December 1917. It was winter. The 3rd Division, which included his battalion, had seen fierce fighting in October around Passchendaele in Belgian Flanders. The division was spending the winter behind the front-line recuperating and training. During winter illness was responsible for as many hospital admissions as gunshot wounds. On 5th February, Henry developed fluid on the knee. He spent March and April in hospital in France. In May he was transferred back to England. He recuperated at Hurdcott, Surrey, were he had trained twelve months earlier. He finally re-joined his battalion in France in July 1918. He had missed the vicious fighting to halt the German Spring offensive.   His first taste of war was in the Battle of Amiens in August.

The attack began, at 4.20 on 8th August, when the greatest artillery barrage of the war descended on the German trenches. A creeping barrage gave protection to a line of tanks and wave on wave of infantry troops who followed behind. The men of the 2nd and 3rd Australian Infantry Divisions lead the charge.

The 33rd and 35th Battalions were given the task of moving through Accroche Woods, from the northern to the southern end. When they set off the battleground was covered by thick mist. Visibility was restricted to a few metres. The Germans were taken by surprise and the battalions’ objectives were achieved by 7.30 in the morning. While they dug in and rested, the 4th and 5th Divisions leap- frogged those in the 2nd and 3rd Divisions and continued the assault. A hole, 20 kilometres wide and 11 kilometres deep, was punched through the German lines. Henry survived the battle unscathed. On the 12th August, the battalions left the front-line. They were accommodated and rested in the villages near the northern bank of Somme River well to the rear of the fighting.

The Australians continued to advance. On the night of the 19th and 20th August the 9th Brigade again moved to the front, near the town of Bray. Initially Henry was lucky because the 33rd Battalion remained behind in a support role but on 21st August, the battalion was ordered to move forward. On the night 24th, just before the 33rd Battalion was due to go into battle, the Germans shelled the whole area with gas. Henry was exposed and the next day began to show signs of mustard gas poisoning. His eyes became sore; his skin was itchy and beginning to blister. He was evacuated to a medical clearing centre with gas burns.

His fighting days over, Henry was evacuated to England. On 29th August, he was admitted to the Graylingwell War Hospital in Chichester Sussex. He returned to Australia early in 1919 and was discharged from the army on medical grounds.

On Saturday 29th March 1919, the daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga announced that Private Henry A Boswell would be returning that day by train from Albury. His mother said that her grandson was still in France.

In 1913 Henry had married local Wagga girl, Marie Ann Hodges. After the war, he returned to his wife and family and lived in Kincaid Street, Wagga Wagga for the remainder of his life. He joined his father at Riverina Nursery and eventually took over the business. He was still running the nursery in 1968. He died in Wagga in 1975 aged eighty-three years.

When he left Wagga to fight in the First World War, Charles took his eldest son, Edwin Charles with him. Edwin Charles Boswell was a seventeen-year-old baker when he enlisted. Both his father and mother signed his consent papers. Edwin was assigned to the 30th Battalion with his father and sailed from Sydney in May 1917. He underwent extensive training at Hurdcott near Salisbury.   In October 1917, he had the first of several hospital admissions. In November, he attended a Rifle course and qualified with a second-class knowledge of the Lewis gun. In December, he was back in hospital with appendicitis. This reoccurred whilst Edwin was on leave in February 1918. He spent a month in Croydon War hospital. Then he developed nephritis, an infection of the kidneys. He finally left hospital on 15th March 1918. The next two months were spent recuperating. After spending thirteen months in England, Edwin finally embarked for France on 19th June 1918.

Private Edwin Charles Boswell arrived at the port of Le Havre in northern France on 22nd June and joined the 30th Battalion in the field on 29th June. As luck would have it the 30th Battalion was not fighting at the front, but rather was in reserve, so Edwin had time to become acclimatised to the war before he went into battle. In mid-July, he was back in hospital, this time with stomatitis, an infection of the mouth and throat. He recovered and was directed to re-join his battalion on 17th August. The battalion was on the front- line, at the Somme near Lihons. They were part of the 5th Division, which was about to make a concerted push to unseat the Germans and force them to retreat across the Somme battlefield. This would have been Edwin’s first taste of fighting but he was not there. On 13th August, he went AWL.

The Australians were noted for the frequency of soldiers leaving their posts without permission. On most occasions, they were absent for a few hours or maybe a day or two. When they returned they would be given field punishment and docked a few days or weeks pay. This was not the case with Private Edwin Boswell. Although he had very little experience at the front, he knew that fighting in a war was not for him. Edwin was still absent on the 8th of September, when a court of enquiry was held at Bray-sur-Somme. In his absence, Edwin was found guilty of desertion and sentenced to nine months prison with hard labour. He was finally captured on 19th November.

Edwin was lucky that the death penalty was not an option in the Australian forces. With such a lengthy absence, it would have been the likely outcome in many other armies. He was also lucky because he was not sent to prison but rather he was released to his unit, to serve his sentence in the field. By this time the war was over and although the punishment would be arduous, he was not in danger of being killed. Many would consider themselves fortunate, not Edwin. He escaped on 8th February 1919. He was recaptured two weeks later. Sick again, he was admitted to hospital with bronchitis. This time he was held under guard and when released to his unit in March, he was sent to a military prison in France. At the end of May he was shipped to England under escort to serve the remainder of his sentence at Norwich prison.

Despite his behaviour, Private Edwin Boswell had his sentence suspended on 18th June. He embarked for Australia on the 7th July,1919 and was discharged from the army in September. He was 19 years old.

Erwin did not return to Wagga Wagga after the war. He moved to Tumbarumba. In 1920, he married Johanna Heinecke. She was the youngest of five children of George and Mary Heinecke.

The Heinecke family were pioneers in Tumbarumba. When he was an infant, father, Charles emigrated from Hanover, Germany, to California. In 1858, when he was 20 years old, he migrated to Victoria and mined gold in Bendigo and Beechworth. He married in 1859 and moved to Back Creek, Tumbarumba. He continued searching for gold there until his death, age 90. Charles sired six sons and four daughters. His oldest son, George, became a pillar of Tumbarumba society. He was a very successful miner, inventor and farmer. His two sons, Herbert Henry and George Christmas enlisted together on 24th March 1916. In June 1916, during his final leave before embarking for overseas, George married local girl Alice Bradley.

The brothers were posted to the 56th Battalion, 14th Brigade. Herbert was in ‘B’ Company, George in ‘D’ Company. They sailed from Sydney in early September and arrived in England at the end of October 1916. They joined their battalion in France on 29th December 1916. The 56th Battalion was training in the Somme. Every few days the battalion moved to another camp. It was icy cold and snow carpeted the ground. Some men joined work parties. Cables were buried in the snow. Some members of the battalion underwent special training in preparation for a raid against a German trench. Because the ground was covered in snow, white patrol suits were issued. On 25th January, 25 men joined the 14th Brigade Mining Company. Possibly chosen because of their mining experience, both Herbert and George Heinecke were part of this group. Trenches had been heavily shelled and damaged. The Mining Company repaired and deepened damaged trenches by clearing out many cubic metres of earth. They scooped out the sides of trenches to provide shelters and protect against shrapnel. They excavated a dugout for the company headquarters. On 7th March, the commander of the 56th Battalion reported that two miners were killed and one was wounded by enemy shell fire. One of the dead was twenty-five-year-old, Herbert Henry Heinecke. He died on 6th March whilst working as a stretcher bearer. At the time, the battalion was chasing the Germans as they retreated towards the Hindenburg Line. Two months later, on 15th May, his brother was one of 7000 Australian casualties resulting from a counter attack by the Germans during the second Battle of Bullecourt.

The 56th Battalion was not directly involved in the battle. Rather they were the support battalion and positioned to the right of the fighting. Work parties from ‘D’ company laid barbed wire along the front. They were subjected to periods of heavy German shelling. Several soldiers were wounded. One was Private George Heinecke. He received shrapnel wounds to both thighs. In addition, his left leg and hand were fractured. George went into shock and died of his wounds on 15th May 1917.

Three years later the Heinecke family, who lost two sons in the war, welcomed a son-in-law who went AWL rather than fight in his first battle.

Edwin and Johanna Boswell raised four sons. They farmed in southern NSW throughout most of their long marriage. When they were not on the land, they lived in Tumbarumba. They farmed at Merungle Hill near Leeton and grew fruit at Kunama near Batlow north of Tumbarumba. By the time World War 11 broke out the family was back in Tumbarumba and Edwin was working as a labourer. In July 1940, he enlisted in the Australian Army. He was discharged on 23rd December whilst assigned to the 13th Infantry Training Battalion. The following year he enlisted again. This time travelling to Melbourne and enlisting at Royal Park. He was discharged again on 10th November.

In 1948 Edwin applied for a Soldier Settlement dairy block at Tintaldra on the Victorian side of the Murray River about 70km south of Tumbarumba. He was unsuccessful and placed on the reserve list. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Edwin and Johanna were farming at Wakool north east of Swan Hill. Son Thomas was also a farmer in the area.

When they retired, Edwin and Johanna returned to Tumbarumba. They died a year apart, she in 1980 and he in December 1981.