John Hay Wishart was born on 14 February 1878 at 71 Dover Street in the Kelvin district of Glasgow. He was the seventh of thirteen children of John Hay Wishart, a joiner (journeyman) and his wife, Helen McNab. By 1881 the family had moved to Darvel in Ayrshire and were living at 87 East Main Street. At the time of the 1891 census, John was enumerated with his parents and eight siblings at 10 West Main Street and listed as being at school while his father worked as a house joiner.
After finishing school, John went into teaching and on 31 March 1899, he emigrated to Australia on the RMS Orizaba – sailing from London to Sydney. The ship arrived on 12 May with John eventually taking up residence in Wallsend, near Newcastle in New South Wales, where he found work as a dispenser for Dr H. K. Bean.
On 10 July 1915, while resident at Nelson Street in Plattsburg, John visited the Sydney recruiting office and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was described in his medical as being 5ft 5 ¾” in height with a dark complexion, dark grey eyes and black hair. On his attestation papers, John listed ‘ambulance’ as a special qualification, and that he was a dispenser by trade, but not married. He also informed the recruiting officer that he was 34 years old when in actuality he was 37.
John was posted to ‘D’ Coy of the 30th Infantry Battalion on 1 August and sent for training in Liverpool, NSW. The daily routine for the new recruits was as follows:
6 a.m. Reveille
6:30 a.m. Fatigues Parade
6:45 a.m. Officers, Staff NCO’s and NCO’s parade.
6:45 a.m. Sick parade.
7-7:45 a.m. General Parade
8 a.m. Breakfast
8:45 a.m. Guard-Mounting Parade
9 a.m. Battalion Orderly Room
9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. General Parade (15 mins. Break on bugle sounding “Fall Out”)
12:45 p.m. Lunch
1:45 – 3:45 p.m. General Parade
3:45 pm. Sick Parade
4:45 p.m. Tea
5:15 p.m. Retreat (Orderly Sergeants Parade, Orderly Room)
9:30 p.m. First Post
10 p.m. Tattoo
10:15 p.m. Lights Out
On 2 September John’s unit moved from Liverpool to the Royal Agricultural Society Grounds in Moore Park, Sydney and two months later, on 9 November, the battalion, which consisted of 30 officers and 971 other ranks, sailed from Sydney to Suez on board the HMAT Beltana. The voyage was recorded in the battalion war diary as being uneventful with no deaths, no serious sickness and good discipline with an absence of crime of a serious nature.
At 8 am on 8 December the ship anchored at Suez, with disembarkation occurring three days later when the battalion caught the train to Helmieh and marched to Aerodrome Camp in Heliopolis. John spent the next seven months in Egypt and eventually received orders to proceed with the 30th to France in June 1916.
Leaving the camp at Moascar on 15 June, they entrained for Alexandria and boarded the HT Hororata – sailing for Marseilles two days later. The sea crossing took five days and having safely disembarked the men spent a further three days travelling by train to Hazebrouck. At the end of the month, the battalion found themselves billeted near the village of Morbecque. John’s first taste of life in the trenches came ten days later when the battalion took over front line trenches at Bois Grenier. Almost immediately after arriving the Germans sent a heavy artillery bombardment onto their new neighbours. John’s company was positioned on the left section of the battalion line, and although shelling continued for the next few days, casualties were mercifully light.
At 1 am on 16 July, the battalion was relieved by the 3rd New Zealand Rifles and marched to billets in Fleurbaix where they received orders instructing them to participate in an attack on German trenches northwest of Fromelles three days later. Initially tasked to provide a supporting role and carrying ammunition to the assaulting troops, men of the 30th soon found themselves also engaging the enemy as the situation deteriorated and they were drawn further into the battle.
John’s company had been assigned the job of repairing communications and finding escorts for prisoners and associated parties. As the day progressed they were retained as reinforcements to the attacking force, and it wasn’t long before they caught up in the fighting. At 4 am on the 20th a German counter-attack on the left forced retirement to the Australian’s original front line. C.E.W. Bean in his Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 gave further details of the battle:
The machine-gunners and others, who throughout the night had blocked the enemy’s way up the Kastenweg [ a German trench], had received no order to withdraw, and, being left alone and counter-attacked from all sides, most of them were overwhelmed and shot down or captured. Captain Krinks’s post,however, in the craters east of the trench was missed by the enemy. Being close in front of the Farm [Delangre Farm] and situated on the same rise, its occupants could see what was happening on the lower ground in their rear on both sides of the Kastenweg. Realising that they were cut off, and being eleven in number, they decided – after debate – to make a run for it together rather than separately, and to assist any among them who met with trouble. Leaving their arms, and trusting to surprise, half of them succeeded in crossing two enemy trenches, each containing Germans. In the second trench two of them were seized; but the remainder instantly turned round, as they had arranged to do, scared the Germans, released their comrades, and escaped with them into No-Man’s Land, Krinks and three comrades eventually reaching the front of the 60th British Brigade.
He goes on to write in a footnote:
This daring escape had a sad sequel. The men who reached safety with Krinks were Corporal A. H. Mc L. Forbes and Private J. H. Wishart (both of Wallsend, N.S.W.) and Private T. L. Watts (of Huntsville, N.S.W.); but two others, L/Cpl. S. B. Wells (of Wollongong, N.S.W.) and Private E. C. E. Amps (of Coff’s Harbour, N.S.W.), had got clear of the German trenches, but in the wire-entanglement Wells was shot down and Amps injured. The 30th Battalion after the fight was sent to reserve, but Krinks and his three companions returned to the trenches as soon as it was dusk, and, taking a stretcher, went out into No-Man’s Land to find their comrades. In this they succeeded, and were bringing in Wells on a stretcher when a sentry of their own brigade, catching sight of their figures, fired, killing Wishart and Watts with a single shot.
John Spooner, a cousin of John’s, wrote:
Wishart, Watts and Wells had joined up together and had consecutive service numbers. Forbes was from the same town as Wishart and also enlisted on the same day. There were obviously very close bonds of friendship.
Battalion casualties for the attack were three officers and 51 men killed, five officers and 224 men wounded and 68 other men missing. During the twenty-four hour period, Australian units sustained 5,533 casualties, including 400 prisoners and the equivalent to total Australian losses in the Boer, Korean and Vietnam wars combined.
John was officially recorded as being killed in action on 20 July. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 3 of the V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial in Fromelles, the Darvel War Memorial in Scotland and also the Wallsend WW1 Roll of Honor in New South Wales.