David Wishart was born on 4 April 1892 the fourth of eight children of a farmer named David Wishart, and his wife, Annie Margaret Brien. The family lived at ‘The Willows’ in Macorna, Victoria and young David attended Macorna State School before working on the farm with his father.
He enlisted on 24 July 1915 in Bendigo and passed his medical examination without any issues. At the time was recorded as being 5ft 9” in height with a fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. It is clear from the following letter written by David to his mother when he enlisted that she was less than enthusiastic about her son joining the army, and he lays out the case for permitting him to ‘go’ to the war. The letter is headed ‘England expects every man to do his duty’:
Leigh has been writing this last night or two, so will give you all the news, so I won’t waste time but will get straight to business. I was very and surprised to see that you didn’t regard the idea of me enlisting in a more favourable light. You said that they seem to be getting along splendid at the war, well I’m blest (sic) if I can see that, but to tell you the truth I don’t read the papers such a great lot and I might say I don’t know much about it, but this much I do know, that Britain is fighting for her liberty and that if she goes down so does Australia, of course I don’t think for a minute she will go under, but if they all acted like I am acting they darned soon would, but Prime Minister says the other day ‘It is the duty of every fit and free man to enlist’ that’s me alright.
Another great man says ‘Any young fellow who is fit and free, and won’t enlist is a traitor to his country,” that’s me, at present anyhow, I don’t like the sound of it all. I have a little confession to make now Mother dear. The last time I was in Geelong seeing about my teeth, I thought I’d go and see the doctor, as to whether I was fit or not. Of course it didn’t cost me anything. I said I hadn’t got permission to go yet, but said I wouldn’t have much trouble to get as my parents always encouraged me to do what is right. The doctor reckoned I was quite right in wanting to enlist and anyhow, he examined me and passed me, so all I want now is your permission and I’m sure you will give that. For how can a fellow settle down like a good boy, when a chap picks up the Argus, The Woman, The Messenger even, it is all the same cry, “Wanted Recruits” and if I go to church the minister, asks us to pray to God to bring the war to a speedy close, well how can I do that, when I’m doing nothing to help, and how can a fellow sing ‘Rule Brittania, Britons never shall be slaves’, I would deserve to be kicked for singing it.
Of course I quite understand that all and everybody can’t go, but it’s not very many who are so free as I am, there is nobody depending on me in the slightest, and I am fully convinced that I ought to enlist, I am quite prepared to rough it, and as far as getting hurt or knocked out is concerned, this is what I think to put it in poetry, ‘Do thy duty, that is best, leave unto thy Lord the rest.’
I am enclosing a letter that was in the last Argus paper we got, and that is only one among many, how can a fellow sit down and enjoy himself when he knows he ought to be away. Some chaps reckon these loafers ought to be sent to the front, but I suppose they reckon they have nothing to defend.
I didn’t think when I started I was going to write all this, I could keep writing all night in the same strain but surely you must see I can’t do anything else, but go. So Mother you must say ‘go’, you don’t want me to be a traitor do you. Do just say ‘go’ and God bless you.
Your affectionate son,
David got his wish, and after three months training with ‘C’ Companies of both 11th and then 10th Battalions, he transferred into the 13th Reinforcements, 7th Battalion – an infantry unit that recruited in Victoria and among the first to be raised for the AIF after war broke out. The reinforcements left Melbourne on 29 December on board the HMAT Demosthenes and disembarked in Egypt several weeks later, where on arrival, they were sent to Kasr-el-Nil barracks near Cairo. On 25 February 1916 David wrote:
As you will see by the top corner I have got to another place again. Our company is on picket duty here for a fortnight, and so far it has proved a good job, quite a change from the usual drill. The hours of my particular piquet are from 7 until 11 p.m., and although we have to keep patrolling up and down the street most of the time, still it is easier than drill. The crowds of natives in the streets are very interesting to watch. It is a very quiet part, so we don’t see many rows at all. This place is built right on the bank of the Nile, and is itself a great building if it was full up, it would hold a deuce of a lot of men. Two or three of us had leave yesterday and had a bit of a walk about in Cairo. We generally make for the Esbekiah gardens where the YMCA is, and speaking for myself I am quite content to stop there all day. I haven’t seen anything of Bert just lately. I left our camp last Sunday with the intention of going over to see him. I met Heyward and Marsh. Hey was a bit off with a cold and Marsh was just going to go on guard so I went on to Zeitoun, intending to call again and see Bert when coming back. At Zeitoun I met the two Jenner boys and a lot of Inv. Fellows and I stopped there until it was too late. So I won’t see him again until we go back, and that is only providing that he is still there. Jim and jack Jenner are looking as well as anything, but like a lot more are getting a trifle tired of stopping here. I heard that B Peel was up our way again, although I’m sorry to say I didn’t see him.
So far I have received no more than the three letters. One of my mates had two or three papers sent to him, Argus’s I think they were, and according to them they are doing great things in Australia at present. It is to be hoped the blessed war isn’t going to last much longer, but I suppose everything will come right in the end. I must say the boys are pleased to get the papers, as we never read anything about Australia in the local papers, in fact there is very little about anything in them. I would just like to know what you are all up to at present, you can be sure I am wondering. I wrote a sort of letter to F Brien the other day, when I happened to have a little bit of spare time. Well I am afraid I am about run out of news so will have to close, hoping this finds you all in the best of health as it leaves (sic) me at present. I hope someone over there is getting my little bit of cash. The 1/ a day here strikes some of us a bit hard, but I think it will do me. See that the money is used too, and see that none of you get working too hard. My word Mother I would just like to be sitting down to a lunch of fresh scones and butter, and a cup of cocoa (Don’t mention it.) We can get splendid cocoa here, but I have never tasted real good butter since leaving Victoria, Australia.
Just had breakfast, two eggs and two slices bread and some sort of butter. We will most likely get a bit more leave today so goodbye to some more piastres(?) We had a more interesting time last night on duty. A drunk Italian came along and after shouting some of them a sandwich, he fell in with our section and marched around with us on our beat, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
It will soon be church parade. I expect I will get this posted today as I expect to get leave. I am glad to say I received another letter from home. No.3 letter dated Jan 17 and from you Aggie you must have been having very hot weather over there. I was out yesterday and went out to the Light Horse camp and saw Heyward and Marsh, I missed Bert and Swag by a bit. They of course all expect to leave here very soon. I must ring off now with a mighty lot of love to all from your affectionate son and brother,
A month after David wrote the letter he embarked in Alexandria and sailed for Marseilles on board the Transylvania, arriving on 4 April. He then travelled by train to the 1st Australian Divisional Base Depot in Etaples and based there until 25 June, when he marched out with the 1st ANZAC entrenching battalion, which was an advanced section of the base depot.
The battalion arrived in Bailleul and billeted on Rue Petit Vert before moving into a bivouac area near Dranoutre, Belgium. On 12 July, David left the camp with a draft of 236 other reinforcements and along with 37 other men, was taken on strength of ‘D’ Coy of the 7th Battalion. At the time the battalion was billeted at the hamlet of Berthaucourt in the Aisne region of France but moved to the Somme on 20 July. David’s first (and last) experience of battle occurred two days later when the 7th was involved in an attack on the high ground around, and including, the village Pozières.
The battalion began their assault at dawn on Sunday 23 July and engaged in heavy fighting for the next four days. In his private diaries, Sgt. W E Peach MM, who had arrived with the 7th at the same time as David, wrote in an entry for the 23rd that:
Moved into support trenches at 4 a.m. Got a very warm reception. Had to pass through a real valley of death. Corpses lying in all directions. Got into trenches and moved about a lot from place to place. Doing fatigues. Shells flying everywhere. Our boys getting terribly cut up.
David was killed in action between the 22nd and 25th with the Australian Red Cross recording following statements from other men in his unit to ascertain the circumstances under which he died.
5447 Pte. D.F. Sim reported that on 23 July he was buried by a shell in which he managed to get out, but Wishart did not and could not be recovered. 4191 Pte. A. V. Elliott said he saw ‘Wishart’ with a shrapnel wound in the leg about 4 o’clock on the 25th. 4339 Pte. Warmald said he was told by a Pte. Albert Thomas (who himself was killed) that he had seen Wishart blown to pieces by shell fire on the 25th. Another statement by a man named Elliott (possibly the same as the aforementioned) claimed he saw him coming out of a trench on the 23rd with a ‘nasty wound in his leg’ and that he passed him while walking down the trench towards the dressing station. This was apparently in the front line to the right of Pozières, and the witness said he had heard nothing of Wishart since.
Based on the evidence it appears that David was wounded in the leg at some point during the first day of the battle but subsequently killed by shell fire, perhaps the same day, or shortly thereafter. He was recorded as wounded and missing for almost a year until a Court of Enquiry on 16 June 1917 declared him as officially ‘killed in action.’
David’s body lay undiscovered for over two decades until, in late 1934 during exhumation work, the Imperial War Graves Commission found the grave of an unknown soldier in the vicinity of Pozières. On closer inspection of the remains, portions of David’s kit bearing his regimental particulars were discovered, and it was ascertained that they had found him. His father was duly notified that his son had been located.
David was reburied in Grave 20, Row C, Plot 3 of the London Cemetery in Longueval.