500 Pte Gordon Alexander Wishart (1894 – 1971)
Gordon Alexander Wishart was born on 7 June 1894 at Macorna, Victoria, Australia and the fifth of eight children born to David Wishart, a farmer, and Annie Margaret Brien. Gordon’s grandfather had emigrated to Australia from Scotland in 1854, and his father was born at sea during the voyage. Before the war, Gordon had followed his father and two older brothers into farming and enlisted with his cousin Robert ‘Bert’ Watmough Wishart in Kerang on 17 September 1914.
No. 500 Pte. G A Wishart was described in a medical examination as being 6 ft in height with a fair complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. Subject to having some work done on his teeth Gordon was passed fit for active service and along with Bert, was assigned to ‘C’ Squadron of the 9th Light Horse Regiment.
The Wishart cousins travelled down to Melbourne on 21 September where they joined their unit at Broadmeadows on the 23rd. Both men spent just over four months in training, though were given leave to return home sporadically during this period. On 13 November Gordon and Bert were given an official send-off by the community (which Gordon refers to as a ‘spree’ in his diary) that included speeches, singing and dancing.
The regiment left Broadmeadows for Victoria docks on 11 February 1915 and sailed for Egypt on board HMAT (His Majesty’s Australian Transport) Karroo the same day. Eight days passed before the ship passed the furthermost tip of Western Australia and headed out into the Indian Ocean towards the Cocos Islands.
On 28 February the ship stopped off in Colombo, Sri Lanka before heading off again the following day. Gordon and Bert then sailed through the Gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal through which they passed as discretely as possible before anchoring at Port Said for the night on 12 March.
The regiment finally disembarked in Alexandria three days later and after a ‘lively night’ spent in the town, made their way to the Ist Australian Division Camp at Mena. In between training, and during his first few weeks in Egypt, Gordon managed a bit of sightseeing, visiting the pyramids (of which he climbed one on 18 April), the Virgin Mary’s tree and local zoo along with several ‘social’ trips into Cairo with his comrades.
Immediately before being sent to Gallipoli, the regiment were based in Heliopolis where they remained until the night of 15 May when they made their way back to Alexandria. Bert had been ill in hospital and returned to join his cousin several days before departure.
At 5 a.m. on Monday 17 May the two Wisharts left Alexandria with their unit and sailed for the Dardanelles. Gordon drew submarine guard on the first night and wrote that his watch had been quiet. The ship arrived at Cape Helles the following day but returned to Lemnos without having landed any troops. Two days later ‘C’ Squadron left Lemnos for Anzac Cove on board a torpedo boat named the Scorpion. As the craft neared the shore shrapnel and enemy aircraft fire rained down upon them (though not causing any casualties) and the squadron were able to disembark and make trenches for the night in a gully. Undeterred by all the excitement, Gordon wrote in his diary that he’d had a ‘real good time’ during the day. By noon on the 22nd, the 9th Light Horse had taken up a position along the firing line at Walker’s Ridge with the first deaths occurring a week later.
Gordon’s diary entries for the summer of 1915 are understandably brief, but where available quite detailed, and provide fascinating vignettes into life in the trenches that are not covered by the official war diaries. He mentions various assaults carried out by both sides; however, it is the minutiae of day-to-day living in between battles that give the reader some idea as to how Gordon and his comrades made the best of a bad situation. Entries such as that from 30 May hint at the barbarity of the war:
Very heavy fighting most of day. Several killed & some wounded. Seen M.C. Williams shot. Bayonet charges down at outpost same night.
While others, such as the entry from 7 June belie the notion that every day on the front was filled with terror:
Saw Geo (George) Peel & went for a swim.
Shortly after a year had passed since Gordon began his training back in Broadmeadows, he was hit by shrapnel in the back on 27 September. At the time his squadron were based on the Rhododendron Spur, and it seems likely that Gordon was one of the five men mentioned in the war diary who were wounded by a shell while at the regimental headquarters. The following day he was stretchered off the Peninsula and put on the hospital ship Glenart Castle bound for Alexandria, where he was admitted to No. 21 General Hospital.
On 10 October Gordon underwent an operation to remove the shrapnel. He wrote to his mother from his bed:
Dearest Mother & all,
You will be anxiously wondering how I am doing, well I don’t think I can complain as I am doing pretty fair considering I was lying down when I was struck right in the middle of my back. Last Monday evening they operated on me & got the shrapnel out. You can nearly put your head in the wound now so you can guess I don’t feel just the thing so excuse poor letters won’t you?
I expect I won’t be able to get out of bed for some considerable time yet, thank goodness I can generally sleep a bit at nights. I suppose I can consider myself lucky if I get any letters from home. Nevermind, I hope to have Xmas dinner with you all that’s something to look forward to. We will have the best turkey in the yard.
I left Bert well on the Peninsula also Geo Peel; he helped to carry me to the beach on a stretcher. I hope this finds you all in the best of health over there, harvest will be in full swing by the time this reaches home I guess. I wonder how the fruit crop is this year. Fancy it Sunday today a fellow forgets the days here altogether.
Well it doesn’t really seem much like Sunday. I hope this finds you all in the best of health. I think I am about out of news for this time so will have to conclude with all best wishes to all and may God bless & keep you all strong is the wish of your Grandson, Son & brother.
Well, I’m afraid I cannot write anymore. I really don’t feel equal to it. So with all best wishes to all, I am your Grandson, Son & brother
I will soon be well again so don’t worry about me Mother
X X X X X X Gordon
Gordon received news about plans to return him home on 27 October and left Port Suez on 4 November on board the Karoola. Within a week he was able to walk about and spent the rest of the month in transit back to Australia.
The Karoola reached Melbourne an hour before sunset on 3 December with Gordon given permission to disembark the following morning. On arrival he returned to Macorna (where he was met at the station by a large crowd) and spent the next three months convalescing, only leaving to attend medical boards in Melbourne. Shortly after returning home Gordon was invited to a local meeting where he was officially welcomed back on behalf the local residents by Mr Lord, vice president of the Progress Association. An account of the gathering was published in the Kerang New Times on 17 December:
Private Wishart, the speaker said, went away with the second contingent as a member of the 9th Light Horse, and on arriving at Gallipoli was sent into the firing line next morning. They all extremely regretted that Private Wishart was so badly wounded, the effects of which were still visible, but they were pleased and delighted to have him back again, and trusted that under the doctor’s treatment he would soon be the same old Gordon. Every person under the Union Jack, Mr Lord said, must feel very proud of Australia. Their soldiers had made a name that had never been equalled in history, and Private Gordon Wishart was one who helped to win that name. They had in every sense done their duty, and proved how ready they were to answer the nation’s call for assistance’ He hoped that more would be like Private Wishart and answer the nation’s call, and do their duty to the flag they were so proud of, and thereby help to bring this terrible war to an early conclusion.
Three hearty cheers were then given for Private Wishart and the boys at the front. Mr Lord then referred to another member of the same family whom he understood was on his last visit to Macorna before going to the front. On behalf of those present, he wished him a safe and victorious trip, and when he returned he hoped it would be with a flag of victory.
Sadly the Private Wishart referred to in the article was Gordon’s older brother David who left for Europe shortly after the article was written and was killed in action the following July.
On 22 March Gordon returned to duty and sent to the AIF camp at Seymour, where he was assigned to the 17th Infantry Reinforcements. Three days later having participated in horse drill and a night route march, Gordon went on sick parade and put in front of a medical board and subsequently discharged from service on 18 May. His diary entry for 1 June reads:
Arrived back in Macorna on 1/6/16 after discharge. Soldiering finished.
Gordon returned to farming and married Lilian Thurza Bramley on 21 October 1919. The couple had five children between 1920 and 1940 named (in order) Vernon, Keith, Valda, Gwenda and John. He died on 14 December 1971 in Kerang.
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