Biography of a Soldier – Corporal John Walls Bamford Hooper: Service number 449 (1892-1926)

I wrote the following for another UTAS Diploma of History assignment for the module – Families at War. Until recently I had never heard of John Hooper. He was an uncle of my grandmother’s who passed before she was born.  Today is Nov 11 2018, let’s remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country. 

John Walls Bamford Hooper’s time in the Great War commenced in its first year in 1914, until it’s conclusion in 1918.  Illness pervades his records, and we are left wondering how he coped with the continual stress the war claimed on his body.

Known as “Jack”, he was the youngest of three boys. His mother Maud Hooper (nee Alzano) had been widowed in 1908.[1] Her husband George Hooper had emigrated from America in the early 1880’s, telling stories of riding with “Buffalo Bill” Cody after the Civil War, keeping the Indians at bay.[2]  The truth remains a mystery, but the idea of such an adventure may have inspired Jack.

JOHN WALLS BAMFORD HOOPER
JOHN WALLS BAMFORD HOOPER – KNOWN AS JACK – AGED ABT 16.

22-year-old Jack was working as a Commercial Traveller when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Toowoomba on the 28th October 1914.[3]  Perhaps whilst he was there for work, he was swept up in the propaganda and talk of more men being needed.[4]  His two older brothers, William and Augustine “Gus” Hooper, did not enlist. They were both married with growing families.  Jack’s home was with his mother Maud, his brother Gus and his family in Woondooma st, Bundaberg.[5] It is not known how Maud coped with the news of her youngest son going to war, however Jack may have felt confident that his older brothers would look after her.

On Jack’s enlistment paperwork, he had stated that he ‘d done previous training for two years and ten months with the Wide Bay Regiment and had been freely discharged after his training.  Possibly, because of his previous military training, Jack felt obliged to fight for his country.   He was described as five feet, 10 and a half inches tall, dark complexioned, having black hair and brown eyes.[6]

Jack was sent to Enoggera in Brisbane for training with the Queenslanders of the 15th Battalion, in the 4th Infantry Brigade.[7]  Jack had been given the service number 449 and was placed into company C.  Whilst training in Enoggera Jack broke out of Camp and was given an admonishment. [8]   The Queensland members of the 15th Battalion left for Broadmeadows training camp near Melbourne by rail on the 22nd November.[9]  Jack broke out of Camp, two more times whilst at Broadmeadows, the second time costing him five shillings, for being absent from roll call. [10]  Being absent without leave was a serious offence, however this became a common occurrence in the newly formed AIF. Discipline was more relaxed than in the British Army, where punishment was severe.[11]

On the 17th December, the 4th Brigade Marched through Melbourne, watched by cheering crowds of people,[12] adding to the excitement and heightened anxieties of young soldiers, who probably had no idea of what they were about to go through.  After sailing away on the SS ‘Ceramic’, the battalion spent time in Egypt, between late January and April, training for warfare.[13]   When the AIF[14] sailed into Gallipoli along the peninsula near Cape Helles[15] and Ari Burnu (later renamed Anzac Cove),[16] the Turkish army were ready for them.  Australians were fired at whilst trying to overcome the steep hilly terrain and tangled scrub.[17]

Jack was promoted to Corporal on the 9th July when another Corporal went missing.[18]  On the 3rd September, Jack became ill with “Barcoo Rot”, a tropical skin condition that causes lesions to areas where hair grows. A lack of clean water and general hygiene from living in the trenches may have caused this.[19] After a week in hospital, Jack went back to the lines.[20]  This stay in hospital was to be the first of many for Jack, who was ill throughout most of the war.[21]

Illness and Disease occurred frequently due to flies carrying bacteria from dead bodies infecting the soldier’s food.  Their rations of Bully Beef, Army biscuits and Jam did not provide adequate nutrition. [22]   According to Charles Bean, in July of 1915 there were as many men carried out from illness as there were casualties on the battlefields[23]

Mudros Island served as a nearby Hospital Base for the army.  Jack was transferred to hospitals there when he fell from Enteric Fever. It was decided that Jack needed specialist care, so he was then sent on the ‘Aquitania’ ship to the County of London War Hospital in Epsom Surrey.[24]

After a lengthy stay in the hospital, Jack re-joined  the 15th Battalion in France in September 1916.[25] A bout of Tonsillitis left Jack “Sick in the field” on the 4th of November, requiring treatment at the 2nd Canadian General Hospital at Estaples.[26]

Jack’s battalion was part of the first battle of Bullecourt on the 11th April.  After dodging machine gun fire and breaking through the enemies barbed wire, he and others who managed to survive were captured at Reincourt.[27] Jack was now a prisoner of war and was sent to Limburg, in Germany.[28]

His mother was informed that he was missing, and she received a war pension. When he was located, her pension was stopped.[29]  His cousin residing at the Chisledon Camp in Wiltshire wrote to the Red Cross and asked what could be done to alleviate Jack’s suffering at Limburg, as he wrote to her stating “the food is not what it should be.”[30]   Life in a German prison camp was said to be harsh. Captured soldiers were used as slave labour and kept in poor condition.[31] The Red Cross society helped families locate their loved ones who were prisoners of war and assisted prisoners with parcels of food and clothing. [32] Jack may have fell ill whilst a prisoner as he was eventually sent to Friedrichsfeld camp[33], where conditions were not as bad.[34]  Karl Goellmann states “Most of the prisoners who lived in the Friedrichsfeld camp were wounded and sick soldiers and those who for other grounds could not be employed in industry or agricultural labor”[35].   Jack was eventually released 20 months later and returned to England in December 1918 after the war had ended.[36]

Jack was officially discharged from service after arriving back in Australia in June 1919.[37] He returned to Bundaberg and again lived with his mother, brother Gus and his family. It must have been strange trying to adjust back to civilian life after being in a dangerous environment for over 4 years.  On the 1922 & 1925 electoral roll, there is no entry for Jack’s employment, simply stating his address.[38] This may imply that Jack had difficulty in keeping a regular job due to medical issues. However, another document states he was a Sugar Chemist at the mill.[39]  In 1923 Jack passed an examination for learning to make dairy products.[40] This course may have been funded by the government to rehabilitate and steer Jack towards Soldier settlement on the land. [41]  It is not known whether Jack suffered from “shell shock”[42], as many soldiers did.  It would be reasonable to assume from what he went through that his mental state had been affected.

John Walls Bamford Hooper was a young and healthy young man before the war began. He survived the duration of the war but came back old before his time, ill and damaged.  His life was turned upside down at a young age.

Jack never married and died in hospital on the 24th March 1926 from “Ulceration of the Sigmoid and Pulmonary embolism”[43], probably due to the enteric illnesses he endured throughout the war.[44]

33-year-old Jack was buried in an unmarked grave atop his father and three years later, his mother joined him.[45] It is said that she never recovered from the shock of losing her son.[46] To this day there is no headstone to mark his name or service in the Great War.*

* Update – An Australian War Memorial Grave has now been placed at this gravesite  to mark his resting place.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

[1] Death Certificate of George Harris Westley Hooper, died 1st Oct 1908, Death in the District of Bundaberg, in the State of Queensland, 262/12084.

[2] Guy Hooper’s letter to David, Donna and Jarrod, October 1985, copied letter in authors personal collection.

[3] Service Record of John Walls Bamford Hooper, National Archives of Australia: B2455, pg1, https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=8334139

[4] An example of strong encouragement from patriotic members of the public, was this poem by G.D. Hodges, Laidley, “PLAY THE GAME!” Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld.: 1912 – 1936) 14 November 1914: 4 (SECOND EDITION). Web. 3 Mar 2018.

[5] i)Ancestry, Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980, Accessed 3 March 2018, ii) Service Record of John Walls Bamford Hooper, NAA: B2455, pg1.

[6] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp 1,4,8.

[7] Lieut. T.P. Chataway, History of the 15th Battalion AIF 1914-1918, Edited by Lt Col. Paul Goldenstedt, Sussex England, The Naval and Military Press Ltd and The Imperial War Museum London, 1948.

[8] Service Record of John Walls Bamford Hooper, NAA: B2455, pg39.

[9] Chataway, History of the 15th Battalion AIF 1914-1918, Introduction.

[10] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp. 38 & 23.

[11] State Library of Victoria – Ergo, Training and Preparation, http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/explore-history/australia-wwi/home-wwi/training-preparation accessed 11 Mar 2018.

[12] Chataway, History of the 15th Battalion AIF 1914-1918, Introduction.

[13] Chataway, History of the 15th Battalion AIF 1914-1918, Introduction

[14] Australian Imperial Forces

[15] William Westerman, Warfare 1914-1918, https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/warfare_1914-1918_australia , accessed 4 March 2018

[16] Battles – The Gallipoli Landings at Helles and Anzac Cove 1915, http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/landings_apr15.htm

[17] Joan Beaumont, Broken Nation – Australians in the Great War, Crows Nest NSW, Allen and Unwin, 2014, pg73.

[18] Service Records, NAA: B2455, p5. Cpl C.H. Hodsden missing.

[19] i)Service Records, NAA: B2455, p5; ii) H.S. Stannus, “Barcoo Rot (Veldt Sore)” The British Medical Journal, Vol 1, No.2982, Feb 23, 1918), pp. 231-232.

[20] Service Records, NAA: B2455, p.p. 5, 16.

[21] Service Records, NAA: B2455, p5,16, 17.

[22] Geoffrey W Rice, The New Zealand Medical Journal, ‘Nutrition and Disease: Lessons learnt from Gallipoli’,  https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2013/vol-126-no-1373/editorial-rice, Accessed 8 March 2018.

[23] Charles E.W. Bean, The sickness of the Army, First World War Official Histories, Vol 2, Chapter 13, pp366&367, Digitised Collection found on https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1416617 .

[24]Service Records, NAA: B2455, p5; Hospital stay in Epsom reported in Newspaper “PERSONAL” The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld.: 1892 – 1917) 28 December 1915: 3. Web. Accessed 20 Feb 2018

[25] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp. 5, 7, 17, 18.

[26] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp. 7, 17, 18.

[27] David Coombes, A Greater Sum of Sorrow, the Battles of Bullecourt, Big Sky Publishing, Newport, 2016, chapter 6, pp 145-146, Chapter 7, pp 157-158.

[28] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp. 3, 7,19,35,44

[29] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp. 3,7,12,19,32,34,35,44

[30] 449 Corporal John Walls Hooper 15th Battalion, Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428, Digital File https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10090647, Accessed 25 Jan 2018.

[31] Beaumont, Broken Nation – Australians in the Great War pp 303-305.

[32] Aaron Pegram, Prisoners of War Australia, V1 July 2015, 1914-1918 Online International Encyclopaedia of the First World War, https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/prisoners_of_war_australia Accessed 13 Mar 2018.

[33] Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428

[34] Kaye Hill, Palmer WW1 POW Trail, Friedrichsfeld POW Camp, blog entry, https://palmerww1powtrail.wordpress.com/2016/12/04/friedrichsfeld-pow-camp/ accessed 11 Mar 2018.

[35]  Karl Goellmann. English Translation : Jeremy Popkin, The Friedrichsfeld POW camp blog, Tumblr, https://friedrischfeldpowcamp-blog.tumblr.com/post/83200039589/im-lager-friedrichsfeld-lebten-in-der-hauptsache  accessed 8 March 2018.

[36] Service Records, NAA: B2455, pp 7,19,44

[37] Service Records, NAA: B2455, p11.

[38] Ancestry, Australia Electoral Rolls 1903-1980, Australian Electoral Commission. Accessed 10 Mar 2018.

[39] Bundaberg Regional Libraries,  Cemetery Registers, http://library.bundaberg.qld.gov.au/heritage/cemetery-registers Accessed 10 Mar 2018.

[40] “CREAM AND MILK.” Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld.: 1912 – 1936) 15 January 1923: 3 (SECOND EDITION). Web. 21 Feb 2018.

[41] Veterans of World War 1, NAA, research guides, http://guides.naa.gov.au/records-about-south-australia/chapter6/veterans-wwi.aspx Accessed 13 Mar 2018.

[42] Jeremiah Taylor, 2015. Shell shock Salem Press Encyclopedia Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed March 13, 2018).

[43]Death Entry of John Walls Bamford Hooper, 24 March 1926, Deaths in the District of Brisbane, State of Queensland, 1926/B48344.

[44] ‘Obituary’, Brisbane Courier (Qld, 1864-1933), Wed 31 March 1926, pg 13. Accessed 1 Mar 2018.

[45] Bundaberg Regional Libraries, Cemetery Registers.

[46] Author Unknown, Obituary Mrs Maud Mary Hooper, from unknown newspaper clipping, In Collection of Hooper Memorabilia, previously owned by Valarie Norma Archer (nee Hooper), found in 2015, in Kim Nissen’s possession.

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