Herbert Ernest Baldwin

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Herbert Ernest Baldwin
Baldwin Herbert Ernest.jpg
Western Mail 20 Jul 1917 and Australian Fighting Sons of the Empire (WA Edition)
Baldwin H.jpg
photo Linton Reynolds 2015
Personal Information
Date of Birth 26 Jun 1895
Place of Birth Serpentine, Western Australia
Death 23 Oct 1918
Place of Death St Benin, France
Age at Enlistment 20 years, 7 months
Description 5'5½" (1.66m) tall ; 142 lbs
64.41 kg
; fresh complexion ; light brown eyes ; fair hair
Occupation Farm hand
Religion Church of England
Address NOK Mundijong, Western Australia
Next of Kin Father , Mr Richard Baldwin
Military Information
Reg Number 21967
Date of Enlistment 3 Feb 1916
Rank Driver
Unit/Formation Artillery reinforcements, transferred from 23rd Howitzer Bde to 27th Battery, 7th Field Artillery Brigade.
Date of Embarkation 20 May 1916 ‒ 18 Jul 1916
Ship Embarked On HMAT A7 Medic
Fate Wounded in Action 30 Jul 1917, Messines
Wounded in Action 26 Aug 1918, Somme Valley
Wounded in Action 22 Oct 1918
Died of Wounds 23 Oct 1918
Monument Mundijong Honour Roll
Serpentine Roll of Honour
North Dandalup
ANZAC Memorial Park (Byford)
Australian War Memorial
Medals British War Medal
Victory Medal



Pre War

At time of enlistment Herb was working on a farm at Coomberdale near Moora.

War Service

Herbert enlisted on 3rd Feb 1916 and was initially allocated to the 107th Battery, 23rd Howitzer Field Artillery Brigade. Following initial training in WA, Herbert was sent to Broadmeadows camp in Victoria for specialist artillery training.

He left for England with his reinforcement cadre from Melbourne on HMAT A7 Medic on 20th May 1916. After training in England for several months the unit he was with entrained at Amesbury on 31 Dec 1916 for Southampton, arriving about midday, and boarded a ship for Le Havre in France HMT Archimedes, arriving early the following morning (New Year's Day).

They were again on dry land late that day, and spent the next day or two in a rest camp. On 6 Jan 1917 Herbert was transferred from the 23rd FAB to the 27th Battery, 7th FAB (a New South Wales unit) who were camped behind the front lines at Strazael in Belgium. [The 27th Battery was formed from an amalgamation of elements of the 23rd Brigade, being the old 36th Battery and the Right Section of the 28th Battery.]

Herbert was allocated to 'B Section' with whom he remained until his death. Given his experience with horses, he was quickly allocated a driver's role, working the horse teams that were used to move the guns around the battlefield and also to carry ammunition and food from reserve stockpiles to the guns on the firing line each night. While the guns were in action, the horse teams were generally well to their rear, but still within range of the German artillery.

The battery's arrival on the battlefield was in the middle of a very cold winter, and as a Driver, Herbert would have regularly drawn 'horse piquet', which required him to place feed bags on the nearly 160 horses that the unit had.

On Jan 18 1917 the battery moved to take up their position in the line at Nouvel Houplines supporting the 3rd Infantry Division, with the horse transport then returning to their camp at Jesus Farm about five miles away. Each night the wagons carried ammunition up to the gun pits. On the 23rd the Battery was shelled by about 140 enemy shells, causing some minor damage and casualties. This continued for about a month and on the 18 Feb 1917 they were hit with gas shells. On the 19th the Battery had fired in support of a raid by the 43rd Battalion, and again on the 26th when they supported the 10th Infantry Brigade, before moving to Chapelle D 'Armentieres where it was from the 1st to 14th of March, with the only real action a shoot in support of a big raid on the night of the 13th.

The Battery next moved to Ploegsteert, 3 miles north of Armentieres, for the period 15 Mar to 4 Apr 1917 where it suffered sporadic shelling by the enemy, before joining the wagons at their lines near Steenwerk, and then leaving for a rest at Selles on April 16th. After 3 long days of travel in poor weather, they arrived there late on the 18th. On the May 1 the Battery began the reverse march, with them camping at the wagon lines at Nieppe near the railway station on the 3rd, before the guns moved forward to Houplines. On the evening of 7 May 1917 the enemy commenced a heavy bombardment of their lines, and the Battery fired in retaliation.

From the middle of May until the end of the month, a large number of additional artillery batteries arrived in the area, and ammunition dumps were everywhere. The 27th Battery were kept busy firing harassing missions, and covering infantry raids, before being on the receiving end on 8 Jun 1917 when a shell started a fire in netting covering A sub's pit and its nearby ammunition dump. Two men who fought the fire and stopped it spreading to other ammunition dumps were each awarded the Military Medal for their efforts.

During this time the Battery's drivers were hauling loads of ammunition from the railhead and rear dumps day and night while under fire from the enemy in order to keep the guns supplied. This level of activity continued until the major bombardment that signaled the June 7th attack on Messines, which was also accompanied by the firing of the 19 mines that had painstakingly been dug under enemy trenches over the previous year. These explosions are said to have been heard in London.

During the Messines barrages, the enemy showered the allied positions with gas, but the Battery fired from 3.10am until 10.30am, by which time the guns were red hot. That evening the battery fired for two hours in repulsing an enemy counter attack on the positions gained by the infantry earlier that day. The day was a great success with more than 7,000 German POWs captured in addition to their casualties.

On June 14th the Battery was relocated to a more exposed position and the move was not completed early enough for the wagons to withdraw under the cover of darkness. On the night of the 25th the Battery was relieved from the line, and the withdrawal was undertaken in heavy rain - of both water and enemy HE shells. At this time the Battery received its first bombing raid. Each time a bomb was likely to land nearby the men had to stand to their horses to quieten them and stop them from taking off in fright.

The Battery returned to the front on July 2nd as part of the build up for a battle later known as Messines Ridge. For weeks the teamsters had to draw more and more ammunition up to the guns over the area previously known as no man's land that was now a pockmarked muddy waste caused by the heavy shelling in the previous battle. The going became so difficult that pack horses were tried and the gunners had to carry the ammunition the last 300 yards. The attack timed for the 25th eventually occurred on the 31st. At 3.50am the Battery began firing to support the Infantry and continued nonstop until almost 9.00am. The Battery remained engaged with fire support missions for infantry raids and in response to attacks by the Germans for the rest of the month and well into August. Meanwhile the Drivers were not home safe - the wagon lines being shelled on a regular basis.

Herbert was one of a number of casualties during this period, being Wounded in Action on the 30th July 1917, but able to return to duty relatively soon after on the 8th of August. On the morning of 1st September the Battery pulled back from the front lines for a period of rest which was meant to be several months in duration.

However, five days after reaching their rest position at Merck-St-Lievain, they were again warned for service at the front, returning there on September 10th. The unit camped at the wagon lines at Dickebusch, and as it was summer and there was no area of land not covered by man or horse, there was no vegetation to speak of.

The guns, on September 11th moved forward, via Ypres and the Menin gate and along the main road from Ypres, and this was followed by many hard day's work transferring ammunition to their position. On September 15th, 17th and 18th the Battery fired in support of raids on the enemy's trenches. The night of September 19-20 saw the Battery fire mission last from 5.40am till 1.30pm the same day, and once again later in the day they fired to repel enemy counter attacks. The battery continued to support infantry attacks until the morning of 30 Sep 1917 and as such were involved in battles known as Menin Road and Polygon Wood, much of the time receiving return fire from enemy artillery. On the 30th they exchanged positions and guns with a NZ battery, but remained in action as the battle for Passchendaele raged in heavy rain and deep mud.

While the gunners were regularly subject to being shelled by the Germans, the Drivers who were required to bring up a never ending supply of shells through the rain and mud were also regularly on the receiving end of enemy shells. A normal day saw each driver leading two horses (each horse carrying 10 shells) making up to 4 trips of several miles from the ammunition dump to the battery through deep mud as the roads were not only seldom available to them, but were also key targets for the enemy artillery. Finally on 24 Oct 1917 the battery was relieved having been in action almost constantly since 20th September. In that time the Drivers had brought forward 40,000 rounds, despite the conditions.

However it was not until 5 Jan 1918 that the battery was withdrawn from firing positions and was able to send seven men on leave to England each week. The month of January was spent at Steente-Je far enough back from the lines to allow them a welcome break.

The battery was located on the top of Hill 63 from 30 Jan to 11 Mar 1918. During the six weeks that they were here they fired in support of several raids by groups of infantry on the enemy trenches and at anything visible behind the enemy's trenches. The battery was then given a spell away from the front until 23 Mar 1918 when they were at two hours notice told to move south to assist in blocking the German advance then underway in the Somme region.

The next four days saw the battery relocate along with thousands of other Australian troops from the Ypres salient to the Somme Valley, and in the battery's case a horse ride of 136 kms to the village of Béhencourt north of the Amiens to Albert road in the Somme Valley.

From Béhencourt they moved into a defensive position south of the main road, between it and the village of Heilly, still not sure of where the enemy was or where the front line was. Given the confused state of affairs caused by the urgent, rushed nature of their deployment they had to largely 'live of the land' for several weeks, and the unit's butchers were kept busy dealing with wandering livestock and poultry.

The battery remained near Heilly from 27 Mar to 24 Apr 1918, firing on targets of opportunity and being shelled in return with casualties taken by both sides. During this time on 21 April, Baron von Richthofen was shot down in their neighbourhood. On 24 April the enemy attacked and for a time captured Villers-Bretonneux. It appears that the 27th Battery played only a minor roll in the fierce fighting that took place around Villers-Bretonneux and remained in the vicinity of Heilly until 9 May 1918.

The next four days were spent manning a battery in front of Albert during which they were regularly shelled, but appear to have avoided casualties. Between 14 May and 2 Jun 1918 the battery was 'spelled' in the 'back area' at Cocquerel a small village on the north bank of the Somme some 30 kms or so north west of Amiens, and far removed from the fighting.

From 2 Jun to 16 Jul 1918 the 27th Battery manned guns in a defensive position near Villers-Bretonneux and during this period the successful capture of Hamel occurred. On 16 Jul they swapped positions with a battery from the 2nd Division, with the 27th manning guns located near Fouilloy on the opposite side of the Somme from Corbie. They remained in this position until 8 Aug 1918 when along with the rest of the Australian Army under General Monash, they went on the attack and were constantly on the move. This continued until the end of October, with short halts at Morcourt from 10 to 12 Aug 1918; Rosiéres from 13 - 16 Aug; Mallard Wood from 20 to 24 Aug; Etinehem and Bray from 25 - 27 Aug 1918.

During this last phase, on the afternoon of 26 Aug 1918 'B Sub's' horse teams which were bringing up ammunition for the guns, were shelled. The driver of the central team was killed and Herb and two others were injured by shrapnel. Herb was released to the Base from hospital on 21 Sep 1918 and rejoined the battery on 10 Oct 1918. Sadly worse was to come.

Herb rejoined the battery while they were at Montbrehain firing in support of US Infantry units. [At this point all Australian infantry units had been relieved and were being rested.] The talk of the war being almost ended was rife and no doubt all were now trying to keep their heads down to avoid becoming a casualty when the end was though to be close.

On 13 Oct 1918 the battery was again called back to the front lines and moved to Buscigny some 10 km north east of Saint-Quentin, and then moved again to near Escaufourt, all the while firing to support the US 27th Division and after they were withdrawn, in support of the English 6th Division attacks.

On 21 Oct 1918 the battery had moved forward again, and the wagon lines moved to a paddock adjacent to St Benin. On arrival the Drivers were advised that 1,800 rounds had to be carted immediately to the position of the guns.

On October 21st 1918, the 27th had set its guns up in a position just less than 500 meters in the rear of Bazuel, a commune in the Nord department of northern France. The battery's drivers including Herbert were kept busy moving their own lines to a paddock adjacent to St Benin and they spent the 22nd and 23rd of October ferrying up the ammunition for the guns' next task. Enemy shelling during this period was heavy everywhere around the town of St Benin, especially the crossroads used by the drivers, and as it was well directed, it often came close to the Battery and their accommodation.

At 10pm on the night of the 22nd, when nearly all of the drivers had retired to bed under their tarpaulin, eight rounds of 4.2 inch shells burst at 10 second intervals in the paddock in which the horses and men were settled down for the night.

"One of the shells burst right alongside 'B' Sub's tarpaulin, and Driver F. Terry was killed on the spot. Drivers H. Baldwin, V.N. Bayliss and H.A. Pettard were all seriously wounded. They were immediately taken to the dressing station, quite handy, but Drivers Bayliss and Pettard died shortly after admittance, and Driver Baldwin the following morning."[1].
.

Four other men were wounded. This was the second last engagement that the battery was involved in before the Armistice, their last active involvement in the war coming only 12 days after Herbert died.

Herbert's army records inform us that he died shortly after admission to the Advanced Dressing Station of the 76th Field Ambulance on 23rd October 1918, suffering from a shell wound to the chest (penetrating). Herb's Red Cross file also mentions the 2/3rd East Lancashire Field Ambulance who may have processed him prior to the 76th Field Ambulance.[2].

  • Site of Herb's grave


Notes

For other information relating to Herbert Baldwin's war experience try "With the 27th Battery in France" Each of Herbert's injuries are mentioned.

  1. With the 27th Battery in France
  2. "Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files - Herbert Ernest Baldwin". Australian War Memorial. 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2018. 

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