It was a long war for Sapper Arnold Graham, who left his Tabragalba home as a teenage boy in early 1915, returning almost five years later as a veteran of Gallipoli and the Western Front with a wife and child.
On February 25, 1915, Arnold’s father, Thomas Graham, had written a letter addressed to the “authorities of the Mounted Infantry of Australia” in proud support of his son’s enlistment, adding his hope that “he may do good work for the Empire”.
Four months later, Arnold, originally marked for the Light Horse, left Brisbane on the HMAT Aeneas as a Private, with A Company of the 25th Infantry Battalion and the regimental number of 108.
The battalion had been raised at Brisbane, comprising mostly Queenslanders who, by early September, 1915, were manning the trenches at Gallipoli.
However, remustered as a Sapper with the regimental number of 4566, Arnold left Egypt from Alexandria for Gallipoli as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force with the 8th Field Company Engineers on September 19.
Within weeks of landing on the peninsula, Arnold was hospitalised with influenza and was evacuated from Gallipoli and transferred to hospital in Malta.
On January 25, 1916, Arnold’s mother, Mary Jane Graham, received a telegram advising that her son had left Malta on January 16 on the hospital ship Valdivia for Egypt “with the object of his being returned to Australia”.
In the next telegram, dated February 3, Mrs Graham was told her son had been admitted to the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital in Cairo, “evidently only until arrangements can be made for his return to Australia”.
However, Arnold was far from being on his way home, and it would be another four years before he was finally back in Australia being discharged from the AIF.
On June 11, 1916, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, Arnold left Alexandria for England on the Aragon. Two months later, on August 18, he embarked for France and the Western Front from Christchurch in Dorset.
Arnold was taken on strength of the 6th Field Company Engineers in Belgium on September 13. The engineers were tasked with finding practical solutions to the myriad problems faced by the fighting men, and illustrations from unit diaries which have been digitised by the Australian War Memorial show their ingenuity and initiative.
Just as they could disrupt the enemy by destroying bridges, they could also improve the lot of the ordinary Digger by building improvised bathing facilities where soldiers could enjoy the luxury of a hot shower.
The engineers developed ways to negotiate shell-ravaged battlefields, constructed lines of defence a well as tunnels and trenches, established observation posts and communication lines, built temporary bridges and repaired roads and railway lines.
On December 1, near Longueval in France where, according to the 6th Field Company Engineers’ war diary the engineers were building a trench railway, Arnold was wounded in action suffering a gunshot wound to the head. He had been out of hospital and back in the field for six days before a telegram dated December 19 was sent to his mother.
By that time, Arnold was in hospital again, this time suffering scabies, which put him out of action until early January, 1917. As the men in the field endured wet and freezing conditions in France’s worst winter in decades, Arnold was hospitalised with inflammation of the connective tissues of the feet on January 25.
From Rouen and then Havre, he was transferred to England, where he was admitted to the 3rd Southern General Hospital on January 31. Discharged to headquarters on March 3, Arnold arrived at Parkhouse on April 2 and was taken on strength of the 8th Field Company Engineers.
In the months to come he was transferred between Perham Downs, Codford, Bulford and Sutton Veny before being posted to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill on December 17.
It was while based at Sandhill Camp, Longbridge Deverill, that Arnold then 21, married Ethel Hawes, a domestic servant also 21 years old. The marriage took place in the Church of England at Brill, Buckinghamshire, on March 21, 1918.
It was late August before Arnold returned to France and the Western Front, rejoining the 8th Field Company Engineers on September 3.
Following the end of the war on November 11, Arnold returned to England on February 1, 1919. He failed to board the China which left Plymouth on May 2 and instead was granted leave from May 8 to August 8 to undertake training in farming and gardening.
This “course” at the Walks Cottages, Brill, Buckinghamshire, was with Mr J Claridge. Interestingly, John Claridge is listed as Ethel’s stepfather on Arnold and Ethel’s marriage certificate. Arnold, a farmer before the war, passed the course with “no deficiencies”.
On August 23, Arnold was granted indefinite leave, subject to recall, to wait for a family ship to travel home to Australia.
It was another two months before Arnold and his wife and child boarded the Orontes. The ship left England on October 25 and arrived in Brisbane on December 12.
Arnold was discharged from the AIF on February 2, 1920, almost five years after his father had written that letter supporting his enlistment.