FIELD OF BATTLE: A mule train moves supplies during the First World War I. Drivers performed a dangerous job.
FIELD OF BATTLE: A mule train moves supplies during the First World War I. Drivers performed a dangerous job.

History: Brave soldiers win war cross

THERE is something rather romantic about receiving an award from another country, especially in wartime.

So you could well ask what was the Croix de Guerre (War Cross), why was it awarded to foreign soldiers, and were any of our local soldiers recipients.

The first thing one discovers is that there were two countries which awarded the Croix de Guerre - Belgium and France.

The French award was established in April 1915 and was to be given to any soldier, French or from an Allied country, who showed extreme bravery against the enemy in battle. Units could also receive the award.

The Belgian award was established in October 1915 for similar acts of bravery in battle.

It is difficult to establish exactly how many awards were given to Australians, though it seems both Belgium and France gave more than 700.

So far two local soldiers have been identified as recipients of the Belgian Croix de Guerre - Private Arthur Martin of Ulmarra and Sergeant Charles Frederick Wakely of Pearces Creek.

One local soldier was recommended to receive the French Croix de Guerre - driver Andrew Smith of Glenreagh.

Private Arthur Joseph Martin enlisted in 1916 aged 25.

He was one of eight children born to Reuben and Matilda Martin (nee Knox) of the Pillar Valley near Ulmarra. Arthur was attached to the 41st Infantry Battalion and fought in France and Belgium. He was at Ypres in Belgium in 1917 during some of the heaviest fighting. Between October 4 and 24, he acted as a stretcher-bearer.

As was often the case, there were so many wounded lying in the field that ambulance units could not cope. At these times the infantry had to retrieve their wounded.

According to the citation attached to his award, he "repeatedly went out in the face of heavy machine gun and shell fire, under the worst weather conditions, to attend to wounded, many of whom would have died if they had not received early attention". Pte Martin returned home in May 1919. He died in 1977 at Grafton aged 86.

Sergeant Charles Frederick Wakely also enlisted in 1916, aged 23.

He had been born at Pearces Creek, the son of John and Maria Bella Wakely, and was a member of the famous family of Wakely bakers. He enlisted at Cairns while a resident of Atherton so had apparently struck out to make his own fortune in dairying!

Charles was attached to the 7th Machine Gun Corps (later to become the 2nd). It is not clear where he earned his Croix de Guerre but it was possibly during the third Battle of Ypres.

This saw some of the worst carnage in the war and continued right up until the Armistice in November 1918. The award was made on January 12, 1919.

He returned to Australia in May but was not discharged until August 1919, which perhaps means that he had been wounded. He died in Queensland in 1957.

Driver Andrew Smith was a miner from Glenreagh when he enlisted in 1915.

He was attached initially to the 30th Infantry Battalion but in 1916 was transferred to the 46th and became a mule driver. In October 1917 he was awarded the Military Medal for great coolness under heavy shell fire when the mules he was driving were hit. They panicked but he managed to clear the fallen animals, make repairs and continue his task. In November 1918 he was recommended for the French Croix de Guerre for a similar event. He returned to Australia in April 1919.

Prepared by Geoff & Margaret Henderson for Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore.

Telephone: 02 6621 9993. Email: info@richhistory.org.au

Hours: Museum - Monday-Friday 10am-4pm; Research Room - Monday & Wednesday 10am-4pm.



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