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France & Flanders

FromellesKilled in action today is 1004 Pte. John Hay Wishart of the 30th Battalion, AIF. The day before, a Brigade order was received instructing John’s battalion to participate in an attack on German trenches northwest of Fromelles.. Initially tasked to provide a supporting role and carrying ammunition to the assault troops, the battalion quickly found themselves also engaging the enemy as the situation deteriorated.

John’s company had been assigned the job of repairing communications, and finding escorts for prisoners and associated parties, however as the day progressed the company were retained as reinforcements to the attacking force, which in itself caused issues with the maintenance of supplies, and they were soon caught up in the fighting. At 4 a.m. on the 20th a German counter-attack on the left forced a retirement to the 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 30 th 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 3 officers and 51 men killed, five officers and 224 men wounded and 68 other men missing. During the twenty-four hour period the Australian units sustained 5,533 casualties, including 400 prisoners and the equivalent to total Australian losses in the Boer, Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

1004 Pte. John Hay Wishart 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 as well as the Darvel War Memorial in Scotland and Wallsend WW1 Roll of Honor in New South Wales.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]