Douglas Frazer Allan, World War 1 Bomber

Douglas Frazer Allan- 1st Battalion

 Douglas Frazer Allan was a bomber. That does not mean that he flew planes or dropped explosives from the air. No, he threw bombs into enemy trenches. These were not modern grenades. Although the Mills grenade, with percussion pin, was invented in England in 1915, it did not arrive in Gallipoli until long after the battle of Lone Pine. All the hand bombs used in that battle had fuses which had to be lit with a match. The length of the fuse varied as did the time before the bomb would explode.

Private Douglas Allan was in the 1st Battalion serving in Gallipoli. On 6th August 1915 the the men of the battalion were ordered to leave the safety of their trenches and attack the Turks. Allan came late into battle. The 1st Battalion had been held in reserve while the 2nd 3rd and 4th Battalionslead the charge to the Turkish trenches. Prior to the attack, the Turks had been subjected to heavy shelling from field guns and the ships anchored in Anzac Cove. The bombardment was so intense and successful that it caused breaks in the barbed wire entanglement protecting the front of the enemy positions. It also encouraged the Turks to take shelter in tunnels behind their forward trenches. At 5.30 in the afternoon the Australians attacked. The Turks were caught off guard and their front line trenches were taken within an hour of the commencement of battle. The success came at a huge cost. Much of the fighting was hand to hand and the dead and injured accumulated in piles in the confined space of the conquered fortifications.

Shortly after 6.00pm, the 1st Battalion was called up. They joined their comrades in the newly occupied Turkish front line trenches, helping to defend and fortify them. To protect them from second line of enemy trenches immediately behind, the Australian’s had to extend the height of captured trench. They used whatever was available – pine logs that once formed the roof of the trench and even the bodies of those who had died.   All the while the Turks harassed them from trenches that were so close that it was easy for the Australians to lob bombs directly into them.

The Australians knew that the Turks would counter attack when night fell. They were not disappointed. Shortly after 7pm the attack began with a barrage of hand grenades. The Australians picked them up and threw them back at the Turks. Sometimes these spherical hand bombs went backwards and forward three times before they exploded.

Private Douglas Allan threw grenade after grenade into the enemy trench. He was lucky. The spherical Turkish grenades did not explode at his feet and they didn’t explore in his hands. Rather they exploded in the enemy trench. In fact, that night his attack was so successful that he cleared one of the enemy trenches. For his service and bravery Douglas Allan was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and was promoted to the rank of corporal.

Like many in the Australian army, Douglas was not born in Australia. He was Scottish. He was born and raised in the little town of Huntly in the far north-west of Aberdeenshire. Huntly, is on a peninsula, near the junction of two rivers. In 1890 it was a well designed prosperous looking town of over 4000 people. The streets were paved and gas lit. Many shops, several newspapers, libraries, three banks and a post office, surrounded an elegant town square. Town weavers produced linen and damask. There was a tannery and a distillery. The town also served the surrounding farming community. Salmon and trout were fished from the rivers and barley and oats were grown along the fertile banks. The hills around the town had good pasture for cattle.

William Allan, father of Douglas, was a farmer as was his father before him. Douglas was the fourth of five brothers. The family farm would hardly support all of them. Was this the reason that Douglas and his brother, David, emigrated to Australia?

Douglas landed in Sydney in 1909. He moved to the country and found employment as a teamster. What a contrast to northern Scotland. There the land was dotted with countless small villages and scattered towns. In winter the winds roared in from the North Sea and the earth was carpeted with ice and snow. By contrast, the land in country NSW, although not in drought, was dry with yellow grass on red or black soil plains. There were vast rural properties and many kilometres between towns. Bullock teams were the semitrailers of their day. They carted supplies to the far flung farming communities and, on the return journey, transported their wool, wheat or timber to the mills. It was very hard work. The bullocky walked alongside his team instructing and encouraging them with the aid of a whip. How many times a day would the whip be cracked? No doubt the exercise developed the arm muscles. Useful training for a future bomber!

Douglas Frazer Allan enlisted in the Australian army in November 1914. He left Sydney on 11th February 1915. His reserve contingent was to reinforce the 1st Battalion at Gallipoli.

The battle of Lone Pine lasted until 9th August. Then there was a stalemate. Despite their horrific casualties, the Australians were required to hold their ground. Periodically the Turks attacked. Stocks of hand bombs were scarce so they were manufactured on the beach at Anzac Cove.   Jam and condensed milk tins were packed with gunpowder and bits of metal such as barbed wire and lead shot. A fuse was added and the bomb was ready to be thrown.

On the night of the 3rd September, the Turks attacked. The fighting was fierce. Once again Douglas was required to throw his bombs into the enemy trenches. Although under heavy attack from Turkish shells and ground fire, he held his ground and continuously hurled his grenades at the enemy throughout the heavy attack. Allan survived and was recommended for Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry.

After Gallipoli was evacuated in December 1915, the 1st Battalion returned to Egypt and then was sent to France in March of 1916. Douglas earned a bar for his Military Medal on 5th November 1916. By this stage he had been promoted to the rank of sergeant.

In the early morning of November 5th, 1916 in the pouring rain and thick mud, the 1st Battalion attacked the Germans on the front line near the village of Gueudecourt in the Somme. The Germans were well entrenched. They shelled the Australians and vigorously assaulted them with machine guns, rifles and grenades. Lieutenant Finlayson took a party of bombers to attack a German trench. When he and his group got into trouble, Douglas Allan led a reserve party to re-enforce the attack. He was shot in the thigh. Although wounded, he continued to lead his men right up to the barbed wire surrounding the German trench. He remained there and fought until only two of his bombers were left standing. His commander, Lieutenant Finlayson, was killed in the attack as were seventy-three other 1st Battalion soldiers.

Wounded, Douglas Allan was evacuated. His war was over. He returned to Australia on the 19th October 1917.

He remained in Australia for the rest of his life. Instead of commanding a bullock team he drove a horse drawn dray as a carrier in Sydney. For over forty years he lived in or near Lane Cove on the lower north shore of Sydney. In 1937 he married Nellie Haywood and they had at least one son, Douglas David. Eventually trucks replaced horses so Douglas required a new career. He became a linesman stringing telephone and electrical wires around the suburbs of Sydney. It was a quiet life after the horrors of World War 1.

When he retired, Douglas and his wife moved to Townsville in Queensland. They lived in Charles Street, Heatley, a few houses away from their son.   He died there in 1968.