Henry Sproule Wishart was born on 28 May 1889 at ‘The Willows’ in Macorna, Victoria, Australia. He was the third of eight children of a farmer named David Wishart, and his wife, Annie Margaret Brien. Henry attended Macorna North State School, after which he went to work with his father on the farm.
On 2 March 1916 Henry visited the recruiting office in Bendigo and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. At the time he was recorded in a medical examination as being 5ft seven ¾ inches in height with a dark complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. He was passed fit for active duty and sent to join the 4th Reinforcements of the 60th Infantry Battalion for training at Campbellfield. On 15 June he was transferred to ‘C’ Coy, 38th Infantry Battalion and along with cousin Reginald (Rex) Alexander Wishart, who was in ‘A’ Coy, embarked in Melbourne for England on the HMAT Runic five days later.
The voyage took almost two months, during which time Henry fell sick with measles but was discharged back to duty from the ship’s hospital on 9 August. The Runic docked in Plymouth the following day, and Henry’s battalion made their way to Larkhill camp on Salisbury Plains for further training. While there it seems probable that Henry would have received word that his brother David had been killed in France during July.
The 38th left Southampton for Le Havre on 22 November, at which point they made their way to the Armentieres area, where they remained until early 1917. Henry’s first taste of life in the trenches probably occurred on 1 December when his unit relieved a battalion of New Zealanders in the Houplines sector with Christmas spent in billets around Château de la Rose.
On 13 January 1917, during a heavy enemy barrage that was coupled with persistent rifle fire, Henry received gunshot wounds in his right leg and thigh and sent from the regimental aid post to the 10th Australian Field Ambulance. From there he was taken to No.2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station before being transferred to the 13th General Hospital in Boulogne on the 17th and then sent back to England three days later on board the hospital ship Formosa. On arrival, he was taken by train to Birmingham and admitted to the 2nd Southern General Hospital. By early March he had made sufficient progress on the route to recovery and allowed two weeks leave from the 14th. After which he was told to report to No.2 Command Depot In Weymouth before being sent on to the Australian training camp at Perham Down, where he would have been hardened up for life back in the trenches.
Henry’s war reconvened on 26 June when he was posted back to France and sent to the 3rd Australian Division Base Depot at Rouelles, eventually rejoining his old unit on 13 July at Messines Ridge. He would have seen action at the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October and wounded for the second time eight days later on the 12th when he was hit by shrapnel in both his chin and left shoulder during the First Battle of Passchendaele. In the attack, the 38th were tasked with taking a line beyond the village of Passchendaele, which was the final objective. The attack was a disaster and battalion casualties during the day were estimated at 62%, so Henry was fortunate to have made it out alive. Once again he was sent down the traditional evacuation route for a wounded soldier and invalided back to England on board the hospital ship Princess Elizabeth three days later.
Henry spent the next two months recuperating at the 1st Eastern General Hospital in Cambridge before being given two weeks leave from 31 December 1917 – after which he was ordered to report to No. 4 Command Depot in Hurdcott to complete his convalescence. He returned to the Front for a third time on 3 March 1918 and swiftly processed at the Australian Infantry Base Depot at Rouelles before marching off to rejoin his battalion, who were based at Affringues in the Lumbers area. Shortly after Henry arrived back in the trenches, the Germans launched what would be known as the Kaiserschlacht (or Spring Offensive) along the Western Front on 21 March. With the enemy successfully creating a wide breach in the Allied front lines within the space of a few hours, orders received instructing the 38th to entrain for billets in Caëstre were promptly cancelled and it was rushed to the village of Merricourt, where they prepared to meet the advance.
On the 26th ‘C’ Company (which included Henry) pushed forward and occupied Marett Wood, which was about 1000 yards from the main line of defence. The Germans flooded down the side of a hill in four waves towards the Australians, but faced with stiff opposition; suffered about 50% casualties, and those who were not killed or wounded retreated over the hill. With no further attacks occurring, the company consolidated their position and held the line until the 30th when they were relieved by ‘A’ Coy. Henry and his comrades returned to the front line the following day, and despite being wet through from three days of heavy rain, were said to have ended the month in good spirits and renewed confidence.
At the start of April, enemy activity had increased, with artillery, machine-gun fire and aeroplanes noted as becoming particularly active in the battalion War Diary. Henry’s unit was relieved during the evening of the 3rd and briefly retired to Ribemont; however, it wasn’t long before they found themselves back in the front lines.
As dawn broke on 9 April, ‘C’ Company was positioned along a section of the railway line on the outskirts of the village of Buire. A thick mist covered the landscape; however, the poor visibility did not deter the Germans, who engaged in continuous harassing fire throughout the day. Between 8:30 am and 9:30 am, they reputedly sent over 1000 shells onto the villages of Buire, Treux and the area held by Henry’s unit. The shelling was reported as being considerably more violent near the ‘clock’ hours, and it became ‘third time unlucky’ for Henry when shrapnel tore through his right hip and penetrated his abdomen. He was immediately taken to the 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens but was pronounced dead on arrival.
Henry was buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery (grave VI. C. 24.) and also commemorated on Panel 130 of the Australian War Memorial. On 15 September 1918 a ‘United in Memoriam Service’ was held for Henry and another local soldier at the Tragowel & Macorna Presbyterian Church.
Photograph of Henry Sproule Wishart courtesy of Julie Dworak