Coraki digger who kept the trains on their tracks under fire

SOLDIERS at Westhoek Ridge waiting for Decauville light railway to be repaired.
SOLDIERS at Westhoek Ridge waiting for Decauville light railway to be repaired.

THE more one researches the people who went to the First World War the more one learns about the history of the War itself, especially the animals and machines which were used to transport equipment and sometimes men.

Usually, of course, men had to walk. Road transport often got bogged down so horses and mules were used. Motor vehicles were new to warfare, and rather primitive tanks were not there initially. Most Generals still preferred the foot-slogger anyway!

There were railways of course but these were often blown up by shells and were difficult to repair.

However, there was one railway which had proved itself excellent for military work and that was the Decauville Light Rail or Tramway.

This was invented by Paul Decauville, a Frenchman, and consisted of ready-made sections of light, narrow gauge track fastened to steel sleepers. The track was light enough to be carried easily from place to place and could be dismantled and moved if necessary.

The Decauville Manufacturing Company also built engines and cars to run on the railway and, from 1875, it had been exporting the system to many countries.

By the end of the 1880s the French military had become interested in the system and began using it for moving artillery and ammunition during military exercises and campaigns, especially in its colonies.

However, it was in the First World War that the system was truly tested, at first by the French and British, but later also by the Germans. The tracks could also be laid through trenches and apparently thousands of miles of track were laid in this way.

Men of the Pioneer Battalions (as part of the Engineers) normally looked after the building and maintenance of these tracks and we see a little of what they had to do from one of our local soldiers who fought in the First World War.

This was Sergeant Robert Leslie Busteed, who, before enlisting, was a shop assistant at Coraki.

His mother had married again and was a Mrs E. Gully. The family apparently ran the Commercial Hotel at Coraki for some time.

Sgt Busteed had been born at Croydon in Sydney in 1891 and enlisted in 1915.

Initially he was attached to the 20th Infantry Battalion but later transferred to the 5th Pioneer Battalion. It was here that he became involved with the Decauville railway.

As a senior NCO he had to make sure that his men kept the railway repaired as it provided a vital link in communications as well as bringing in much needed supplies.

On 20 October 1917 Robert Busteed earned himself a Distinguished Service Medal as well as several mentions in despatches. Apparently he was in charge of a party repairing two breaks in the line caused by enemy shelling.

This was near Westhoek, east of Ypres, Belgium.

The party was forced to withdraw three times because of particularly severe enemy shelling but Busteed persevered and returned to the work, taking with him as few men as he could possibly use.

The line was repaired finally.

It is said that he had displayed exceptional coolness and set a splendid example to his men under the most trying conditions.

Robert Busteed returned to Australia in October 1918 and in 1920 he married Annie Johnstone Napthali. They had three children. He died in 1932 aged only 41.

Topics:  history, light rail, margaret henderson, world war 1



Local Real Estate

Featured Real Estate
VIEWS TO DIE FOR $330,000
Rural 3 1 1
Lovable Lilli Pilli... Auction
House 4 2 1
Affordable and On the... Price Guide...
House 3 1 1

Featured Jobs

finda logo

Lismore jobs listed daily

Featured Jobs
Cook Required Lismore Full Time
Restaurant Cook Ballina Full Time
LABOURER Casino Casual
Want to lead an... Tenterfield Full Time


Local Partners

LATEST DEALS AND OFFERS

Job Listings

Search for your next job now.
Learn More

Your Chance to Win!

Click here for more details...
Learn More

Cars For Sale

Find cars for sale online now.
Learn More

Property Listings

Search for a property online right now.
Learn More

Local Profile

Stay Connected

Get the news as it happens, in your inbox

You can change the newsletters you are subscribed to when you edit your profile

Edit Profile


Special Offers

Latest deals and offers

View today's ePaper!

Read the digital edition
Learn More

Horoscopes

Virgo

Your mental energies may be at an all-time high, but your physical levels could be well below par. Don't burn yourself out too soon. You...

read more

Marketplace

Special Offers & Promotions

Compare & Save