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(L to R, Alfred, Clennett, Jim Clennett, Guy Clennett, circa early 1916)

I’ve been in hospital over the past seven days.

Last Wednesday I had surgery to remove a lesion in my large bowel. The lesion was discovered, via a colonoscopy, after I had collapsed in agony at home on the morning of Valentine’s Day. Post-operation the surgeon informed me that he also found, and removed, a small tumour that had been under the lesion.

Thankfully, the subsequent biopsy revealed the tumour to be benign.

The recovery period in hospital did not go smoothly as the recommencement of normal operations in my plumbing department proved to be challenging.

One of the tasks I had set myself during my hospital recovery period was to transcribe my paternal grandfather’s 1918 diary from his time as a soldier during World War 1.

It’s not that his diary entries were illegible however the combination of his cursive writing and the slight smudging of the content over the past 102 years meant it couldn’t be easily read.

Although there were entries for only a minority of days and each day’s musings were a maximum of two sentences it still took me around seven hours to complete the transcription of the whole diary.

Alfred James Clennett was born 25 March 1888 in Dover. At that time Dover was small farming and sawmilling community about 80 kilometres south of Hobart. These days it’s a leisurely drive of just over an hour from Tasmania’s capital however early last century the only access to the town was by boat, via the Derwent and Esperance rivers.

Alf, as he was known, was the third child of four boys and four girls (although two of the girls died in infancy). Af, and his two younger brothers, Guy and James (known as Jim), enlisted in September 1914, two months after war broke out in Europe. At 26 years old, Alf was older than the average age (24) of enlisting Australian men.

As a member of the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, Alf landed at Gallipoli cove on 25 April 1915. In September 1917 Alf was awarded the Military Medal (“..awarded retrospectively for gallantry and devotion to duty performed by non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Army.”) and in May 1918 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Guy was killed in action on 5 August 1916 in France and Jim lost an arm in combat about two months before hostilities ceased in late 1918.

In the current circumstances where words such as ‘crisis’, ‘disaster’ and ‘hardship’ are heavily populating many news reports it’s a sobering reality check to read through a soldier’s diary from the front line, over a century ago. Here are ten extracts from the final six months of Alf’s three and a half years in Europe during World War 1.

Did a 20 mile march by 4am (Saturday 23 March 1918)

At daybreak the enemy made a big attack around Albert. Gave a bit of ground but was driven out again. We had a bad time. Major Garling, Sgt McFarrad & Gordon Isles killed. Several wounded. (Friday 5 April)

Enemy shelled our dugout tonight, killed two men named Erps and Abbott. We were lucky to get off as his range and line were perfect. (Saturday 20 April)

We got a relief today so I went to the waggon lines. Two of the new relief, Whitney & Hawkes were killed about two hours after they arrived. Both were good men & very popular. (Monday 29 April)

We started the attack at 4.20 am. Our part went off well, infantry had little opposition. We advanced through the fog close behind infantry. Prisoners coming from all directions, lots of guns captured. Casualties light. (Thursday 8 August)

This morning I was exploring a German dugout when I ran into a wounded German. He gave me a great scare as it was very dark. (Sunday 11 August)

We pulled our guns out just before daybreak. Got caught in a barrage while doing so. Had two men killed & 5 wounded also eight horses killed. Marched 10 miles & put guns into position in front of Harbonnieres. (Tuesday 13 August)

We started barrage at 5.20 in pouring rain. Moved forward at 9-10 a.m. Everything going well, no casualties today. (Wednesday 18 September)

Was turned out four times during night to shoot. Raining heavily, got soaked to the skin. Had a quiet day later on. Everything going well.  (Thursday 19 September)

Got word to get ready for home as have declared peace for a while. Feel very excited but sorry to leave some of the boys. (Friday 20 September)

Combat for Alf had ceased in late September 1918 although the formal end of the war was still seven weeks away. The remaining diary entries recorded the various landscapes and stops, via train then ship, on his return to Australia.

Alf stepped back onto Australian soil at Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula on Monday 25 November 1918:

Disembarked at quarantine station this morning. Very nice accommodation & food splendid. Picture show in the evening showed war pictures, which caused great amusement.

After his quarantine period was up, Alf was shipped to Tasmania, arriving back in Dover on 7 December 1918.

A newspaper clipping that Alf kept in his diary reported:

Never has Port Esperance been so gaily decorated and so lively as it was last Saturday afternoon, on the arrival of the steamer Dover, having our distinguished Anzac, Mr Alf Clennett, on board. That was the cause of the great gathering….all were warm-hearted and joyful.

I think all, from far and near were present, in many sorts of vehicles. The Raminea Band was present and played tunes on the arrival of the steamer. There was a grand arch erected at the wharf, gaily decorated with the words “Welcome Home” and flags, in fact our Anzac had to go under five other arches on his way home to “Stanmore”. Flags were shown all the way on both sides of the road.

In the evening the Dover Hall was filled to overflowing, the attraction being a concert.

Alf returned to a life on the family farm and died of a heart attack in December 1950, aged 62. His youngest son, Tony (my father), was just 16 years old.

I am currently in pain and have suffered during the past seven days, subsequent to my operation. The economy is already in pain and there is much suffering ahead for many hundreds of thousands of Australians. As a self-employed person I will undoubtedly have my own difficulties as the economy digests the full impact of Covid-19.

It would be easy for me to consider the various hardships I am enduring and will almost certainly endure in the foreseeable future. Instead my choice is to reflect on the brutal conditions of World War 1 (20 million deaths, 21 million wounded, one in every seven Australians who enlisted were killed) and to reflect on the things I have never done, and will never have to do, thanks to what my grandfather, his brother and many millions of others did during that war.

Things I will never have to experience are things such as embarking on a 20 mile march at night during a French winter; such as receiving the news of a sibling’s death on the front line; such as seeing friends alongside me die in an instant; such as getting up at 3 am to start an enemy attack in the pouring rain; such as confronting an enemy soldier face-to-face, and, mostly, not knowing whether I would be alive tomorrow, let alone in a month’s or a year’s time.

Compared to what Alf went through, I’ve got plenty to be grateful for, regardless of the economic conditions.

Thanks Grandpa Alf; we never met but I thank you for your sacrifice and the lessons you have given me about what being in “challenging times” really means.

40 Comments

  1. Alicia on 02/04/2020 at 11:25 am

    Ross keep well and wishing you a speedy recovery. We do indeed have so much to be grateful for.

    • Dita on 02/04/2020 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks for this article Ross it was very interesting and I am glad you are doing ok. Agree with your thoughts and also it’s ok by the same token to grieve what we are experiencing whilst doing our best to work through it.

    • Ross Clennett on 07/04/2020 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks Alicia, I appreciate both sentiments.

  2. Maree Harris on 02/04/2020 at 11:25 am

    Ross, what a wonderful story, both yours and that of your grandfather. Take care. The world needs you. Get well and stay well. All the best,
    Maree

    • Lynn McTye on 02/04/2020 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing that Ross. It’s a good reminder to us all to be so very grateful for our circumstances. I hope you make a full and speedy recovery. Sending you healing thoughts xo

    • Stav Dunkerley on 03/04/2020 at 1:26 pm

      Hey hi Ross!
      First and foremost – hoping you have a very safe and speedy recovery. You certainly haven’t been living la dolce vita!

      And secondly thank you for sharing these personal and heartfelt thoughts. It certainly puts many things into perspective during these troubling times: appreciate what you’ve got; it’s the simple things in life that matter; and most importantly, your health is your wealth for without it you have nothing.

      Stay safe and keep well dear Ross.
      Love, Stav xx🙏

      • Ross Clennett on 07/04/2020 at 2:31 pm

        Thanks Stav, I appreciate your feedback and best wishes.

    • Ross Clennett on 07/04/2020 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks Maree, that’s very nice of you to say.

  3. Garry King on 02/04/2020 at 11:48 am

    Ross,
    A great article. Get well soon
    Best wishes
    Garry

    • Mark Smith on 02/04/2020 at 6:52 pm

      Well said Ross. I really enjoyed your post and in these times it is good to take stock and some perspective.

      • Ross Clennett on 07/04/2020 at 2:30 pm

        Thanks Mark, I appreciate the feedback.

    • Ross Clennett on 07/04/2020 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks Garry. Much appreciated.

  4. Shelley Mackie on 02/04/2020 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for sharing Ross, and get well soon! Take your time and enjoy the peace and quiet while you recover 🙂

    • Geoff Balmer on 02/04/2020 at 8:36 pm

      Great blog Ross, hope you feel better soon

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:22 am

      Thanks Shelley, I am feeling much better now.

  5. Rachel Groth on 02/04/2020 at 11:55 am

    Ross, wishing you a speedy recovery and what a great reminder to us all your grandfather’s story is of what true hardship really is. As an avid genealogist in my spare time what a fabulous piece of your family history you have. Let’s hope we get through this with our health and our families, for those are the most important things really.

    • Ross Clennett on 11/04/2020 at 9:48 am

      Thanks Rachel. Yes, the context of a world war is a useful one for all of us when we consider how difficult things might be right now.

  6. Sharon Vandermeer on 02/04/2020 at 12:37 pm

    Another great article and what perspective!.We definitely have a lot to be very grateful indeed and perhaps this is the lesson we are all meant to learn. Thanks again and wishing you a full and speedy recovery Ross.

  7. Tom Lipczynski on 02/04/2020 at 1:48 pm

    Great piece Ross and as a history buff I would be keen to read more about your grandfather once you have transcribed it all. Wishing you a speedy recovery mate

  8. Karen Paxton on 02/04/2020 at 2:59 pm

    Ross

    Thank you for all you do with assessing and commenting in our industry.

    It is truly appreciated.

    May the future hold only good things for you and your family.

    Health is your wealth.

    regards,
    Karen

    • June Woolley on 02/04/2020 at 7:52 pm

      Get well soon Ross
      You have written a great article Ross.
      Your dad would have been very proud of what you have written and I know your mum certainly would be.
      Keep safe with everything that is going on
      Xxoo

      • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:54 am

        Thanks, June. Yes, I am sure Dad would have appreciated my musings. I was lucky enough to have my father in my life for 49 years. Dad only had 16 years with his father.

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:53 am

      Thanks for your feedback and best wishes, Karen.

  9. Deb Capuano on 02/04/2020 at 3:38 pm

    What a remarkable blog you’ve shared with us today Ross. Thank you. Alf’s attitude to what came his way will help a lot of us keep perspective in this time. Praying for a speedy recovery for you. I’m so happy it’s benign. Stay safe, get well and keep being your kindness as I know you will.

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:30 am

      Thanks Deb, I am grateful for the era that I live in, compared to Alf.

  10. Carl on 02/04/2020 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing. If you haven’t already listened to it I can highly recommend the Armageddon podcast series on WW1 by Dan Carlin. It’s long, but it’s mind blowing!

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:29 am

      Sounds fascinating, Carl, I’ll check it out.

  11. Steve Heather on 02/04/2020 at 3:56 pm

    What a wonderful story Ross and please allow me a little levity. I consider myself a bit of bush poet so wrote this one for you.

    “He said today seems tough, but less so, if we’re reflective,
    Because history has a way, of teaching perspective.

    After reading the diary, of his Grandpa Alf,
    Suddenly today seems not as bad, by half.

    A beautiful story, describing grit and endurance.
    But ultimately one of stoic acceptance.

    I’ll end with a piece of personal levity,
    To balance the focus, on all this doom and gravity.

    What is also instructional, is those “Clennett ears”.
    They too have endured, for one hundred years.

    Steve Heather

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:29 am

      Superb, Steve. You’ve nailed it – the ‘Clennett Ears’ remain a bit of a running joke in our family!

  12. Paula McGavin on 02/04/2020 at 10:34 pm

    Wow Rosco, what’s week you’ve had. Sad to hear your health issues. Do look after yourself, wishing you a speedy recovery.

    As to your blog on your grandfather, how interesting. So special that you have his history, his story. Thankyou for sharing,

    I do hope you are ok work wise dealing with a Covid-19. I pray your fabulous work will continue.

    Much love, Paula 💜

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:27 am

      Thanks Paula, I appreciate your best wishes. It’s always great to hear from you. I hope all is well with you and Geoff.

  13. Shaban on 02/04/2020 at 11:44 pm

    That is one brutal life Af lived, but I wouldnt downplay your own hardships. Id take going to war over having my tumor backdoor poked any day of the week.

  14. Andrew larkey on 03/04/2020 at 7:42 am

    Great story and insight thanks Ross… hope on the mend

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:26 am

      Thanks Andy, Two weeks later, I am slowly approaching my normal self.

  15. Michael Dunn on 03/04/2020 at 8:55 am

    Ross. I wish you a speedy recovery. My own paternal grandfather succumbed to the influenza during the 1918/9 pandemic. My father was just 3 at the time. Fortunately, my grandmother survived and cared well for their 4 children, with financial support from her father. I am grateful to my cousin who has been stalwart in researching our family history. Please reach out if you need to talk about how to manage and thrive in the current situation

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:25 am

      Thanks Michael, that’s a fascinating piece of your own family history.

  16. Jock Elliott on 03/04/2020 at 1:03 pm

    Hello Ross,

    glad to hear that you are now getting better. I remember the entry in Alf’s (my grandfather) diary when he writes of the death of Guy and the grief it will give their mother. I was only three when Alf died but I remember him quite well as I stayed with Nan and Alf when my first sister (stillborn) was born and Mum herself being very ill. Stanmore to a three year old was cold and vast and very spooky. Your dad Tony used to call me Tonk, which for some reason infuriated me.

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:24 am

      I didn’t know any of that, Jock. I look forward to having a chat to you about your recollections.

  17. Martin Darke on 03/04/2020 at 7:23 pm

    We’re the lucky generation and thanks for sharing, Ross. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    • Ross Clennett on 09/04/2020 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Martin, I am doing well so far.

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