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Letters from Bertie

By City of Charles Sturt

Francis Herbert ‘Bertie’ Stokes was the 24 year old son of Reverend FH Stokes, of ‘Warringa’ Henley Beach. He enlisted in the AIF in August 1914 and embarked from Adelaide with A Company, 10th Battalion aboard HMAT Ascanius in October.

Official records show that Bertie was killed in action in Gallipoli, 27 April 1915.

Bertie wrote frequent letters home, particularly to his parents. He requested that they keep the letters for his return, in lieu of him writing a diary. These letters have been generously shared with us by his family.

Warringa, Henley Beach
Dearest Father and Mother…
…I went down to be medically examined today & was passed & told to report at Morphettville Camp tomorrow…If I am accepted, I will have to go into camp for a month or so… If you would like me to draw out now, I will do so, as I should not like to go away without your wishes…

1 October 1914
Dearest Father….
...thankyou so much for all you have done for me & you have indeed been the best father a chap could have… Please don’t worry about me, as I have a sort of inner feeling that I shall come out of this alright & shall probably see you again shortly….Au revoir for the present… B

24 October 1914
My Dearest Father & Mother…
… should be in Fremantle early tomorrow… Have just dashed to the side… to see 2 schools of whales… Boxer, Coy (Company) kangaroo is nibbling at one of my shoes…
We are very well & overfed. We generally have about 2 hours or perhaps 3 hours drill or physical training. The balance of the time is our own to do what we like with… we play a great deal of bridge & do a good deal of reading… We have had a wonderful trip across so far…. We have had orders for us all to grow moustaches so mine has started!… your loving son Bertie

30 October 1914
… Here we are still at Fremantle… we only have to take the troops on board now… Our kangaroo has made quite friends with me – she has got much tamer the last few days. She is getting over her accident of last Monday. One of the horses trod on her hind legs & rather crippled her…

13 November 1914, Indian Ocean
…There is not much to tell you about since leaving Fremantle. Life on board goes on in the same old hum-drum routine! ... they have got quite a good library out of books presented to the troops… I have been appointed ‘company Librarian’…
We have had it pretty hot coming through the tropics… By jove our troop deck is sweltering! As I sit the sweat is pouring off me…
It was a wonderful sight the day we picked up the rest of our fleet. There are 38 of them and an escort of 10 war boats. There are three lines about half a mile apart with about 100 to 200 yards between the boats…

24 November 1914
… I think this letter will be a Christmas letter & it takes my fondest love to you both and all the family and best wishes for that day. It will be the third Xmas in the last 24 ½ years that I have not been with you which is a pretty good record… I shall remember you all very much on the day and probably drink to your health with dirty water!!...

3 December 1914, Port Said, Egypt
… it was announced to us officially that we are going to Alexandria & from there to Cairo and into cantonments at a place named Mena…. So all our plans are altered & we hardly know what might happen next. The heads seem to know – but think that we will be sent to the front in the spring. They also seem to think that there is a very good chance of us having some fighting while in Egypt. This latter I very much doubt myself, unless we are being kept to fight the Turks and in that case our chances of going to the front in the spring is nil. I hope we have it one way or the other but would rather fight Germans than Turks anyday!...

6 December 1914
… We have arrived at Alexandria … about 150 of our crowd went off without leave last night… there was a row when they came back… There are about 50 of them still in the ‘clink’ or gaol… The Pt Lincoln passed us coming in quite close & we could see those we knew quite plainly. She has our Lighthorse on board… It was quite nice to see old faces again…

11 December 1914, Mena AIF camp
… I am seated on my black kit bag at the foot of the Pyramids!! At least 3 of them & the Sphinx! My writing table is the rounded end of an ancient Egyptian water jug!...
We went into Cairo with the Coy. on Friday… we walked around the town seeing the sights… it was all strange & new & very interesting… The Arabic quarters are most extraordinary. Dirty is not a word for them. We are not supposed to go singly, but always in pairs, in the quarters as several men have been knifed, and it is very dangerous. Personally I will always carry my revolver fully loaded…

20 December 1914, Mena camp
… The papers here say that the coming of the Australians has relieved the financial stress in Cairo! One can quite understand it when 30,000 men are planted in a perfectly new & strange place and want to see it!...

25 December 1914, Mena camp
… What a different xmas to any others that I have ever had. We have not been doing anything of interest in camp and the chief item of interest to us all was Xmas dinner, which turned out rather a failure… our fare was stewed beef, cauliflower & potatoes… Our lieutenants… came along & bought the whole company oranges, 2 per man, and tinned fruit, and sultana biscuits. It was really very decent of them!? Capt Henry Nott, like a Briton & good chap that he is, brought us a bottle of Champagne from their mess!!... we all admitted eventually that we wished we were at home! We don’t show very much of one’s feelings on a trip like this – it doesn’t do. Sometimes one would like to but it does no good…

2 January 1915, Mena camp
… The papers tonight inform us of Australia’s intention of sending 100,000 men. It is a very fine thing if they do! At least 4% of their male population I should think…

30 January 1915
…we have had a lot of night work this week… We were highly complimented on all work we have done both in shooting & night manoeuvres…

5 February 1915
… we have just changed our daily routine and we still get less time to ourselves. Reveille 6:15, early parade 6:45 to 7:15, Breakfast 7:45, Morning Parade 8:30 till 12:0, Lunch 12:0 till 12:30, Afternoon Parade 21:30 till 4:30, Tea 5:0, Last Post 9:15, Lights out 9:45…

21 February 1915
… It is 6 months since we joined – it seems more like 6 years to me. How one longs to get back at times though I should hate not to see some fighting first!...

23 February 1915
… Our brigade the 3rd has had official instructions from headquarters that we are to leave on Saturday next… we have no news as to our destination… It is extremely satisfactory for us to know that at last we are on the move!...

26 February 1915 Mena Camp
… It was duly announced last night that this Battalion leaves here on Sunday… We are of course immensely pleased about leaving Egypt & only hope it is France we are bound…

Wednesday 3-4 March 1915 – 1 ½ from Alexandria
… We are bound for Lemnos Island about x miles from the Dardanelles and chiefly inhabited by Greeks & Turks. I don’t remember having heard of it before… I fancy Lemnos belongs to Turkey & we are to annex it but I’m not sure. Anyhow we know that the Turks there have been giving the Greeks a fairly rough passage…

13 April 1915
We are only allowed 1 sheet per letter so I must crowd all my news into this… I am as fit as a fiddle and looking forward to “the day”…

20 April 1915
… Still we go on waiting patiently for some fresh move which unfortunately seems loath to come along. We arrived here on 3rd march and it is now 20/4/15!!... We have had a great honor bestowed on us and no doubt you will hear of it in a short time – more I can’t say!...

24 April 1915
Dearest Father & Mother
We are now on the way to the Ds and are landing there tonight. It will be a hard business for us all & we only hope that we will be successful & live up to our national aspirations. You will know all about it long before you receive this and it will all be now history made & if successful one of the greatest blows & achievements against the Germans. We are all confident in ourselves & proud too.
Although the French & British forces are participating to a large extent the pride of the position has been given to the Aus. ie the Central attack. The 3rd Brigade is to be the covering party for the Division & the 10th Batt has the central position in the landing. So indeed we should feel proud & honored. Please God we may uphold the judgement of those who chose us & good old South Australia. Well my dears time is scarce & we have little light left.
Goodbye & God bless you both. Best love to Edith, all the Family, friends & relations and your two dear selves. From yours. B.

May 6 1915
Dear Mr Stokes
It is with very deep regret that I write to you to tell you of Bertie’s death. The Censorship is such that I am unable to give you any details of the fighting but I may say that Bertie was killed in the doing of a deed which will make South Australia very proud of her soldiers when the story of that fight is made known. Bertie was killed by shrapnel and died instantly…
With sincerest sympathy, I remain yours sincerely, Arthur S Blackburn, A Company.

Gaba Tepe, 14th Aug 1915
Rev Stokes
Dear Sir
I have been screwing my courage up for nearly 16 weeks now to write to you…
Bertie & I soon became friends down at the School of Mines in the Carpentry Class & later when we joined this Regiment this friendship grew daily.
It was a great shock to me when I learned of his death. The first Sunday when Bertie fell he was on this ridge with Malcolm Smith… I have tried repeatedly to find out how Bertie died & from what I can gather he was hit with shrapnel in several places & died almost immediately. He was a soldier & died a soldier’s death with his boots on & face to the foe, as we all hope to go if it is our lot to pay the extreme price for our country… It is the men of his type that made this force achieve the impossible on that terrible Sunday & also stick on to that ridge for 3 awful nights & days before reinforcements came… We have their glorious example & their magnificent memory to live up to… May the pain of the blow be annulled by the pride felt for the way in which he fell. Yours sincerely Felix Heritage.

Australian Imperial Force
Base Records Office, Melbourne
3 April 1916
Dear Sir
With reference to the report of the regrettable loss of your son, the late No. 40, Private F H Stokes, 10th Battalion, I am now in receipt of advice which shows that he was killed in action at Gallipoli Peninsula, on the 27th April 1915….

For more information on Bertie’s service: http://www.rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/people/60171

PrivateFHStokes  Stokes1  stokes2

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