Wounded four times and twice decorated for his bravery, Jack Bartle served with distinction on the Western Front and was awarded the Military Medal and Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Those medals, together with his 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal, can be viewed in the Museum of Australian Military Intelligence at Kokoda Barracks, Canungra. The binoculars he souvenired from a German prisoner are displayed in the museum of the RSL Sub-branch at Tamborine Mountain, where Jack lived most of his 80 years.
Jack was born in Mackay on June 6, 1895 and moved to Tamborine Mountain with his mother and step-father in 1898.
The family lived on the northern side of Wilson Road where they grew fruit trees and, as a teenager, Jack worked as a timbercutter for the Lahey brothers.
He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Brisbane on July 22, 1915 and in August left Sydney on the Ayrshire.
After a dose of the mumps, he proceeded to France with Queensland’s 9th Battalion and was wounded for the first time on July 23, 1916, rejoining his unit in September.
He received a serious gunshot wound to the back in May 1917 and spent months in England recovering before returning to France.
Wounded in action for the third time, he recovered in France before returning to the lines and the action against a German machine gun post at Meteren, where, for his ‘fearless dash and bravery’ on July 19, 1918, documented by historian Charles Bean in his book, The AIF in France, Jack Bartle was awarded the Military Medal.
“A Lewis Gunner, Lance Corporal Bartle, worked from shell-hole to shell-hole round its eastern flank and, when thirty yards away, charged at it firing his gun from the hip, and captured the gun,” wrote Bean.
“Two guns in a farther hedge next stopped the platoon’s advance, but Bartle took these under fire from a flank and the platoon charged and captured guns and crew.”
Just three weeks later, on August 11, 1918, the newly promoted Corporal Bartle saw his last action of the war, near Lihons, in the Somme, where he was severely wounded.
For his ‘great tactical ability and clear-headedness in the handling of his Lewis Gun section’, Jack was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Commending Corporal Bartle, the 9th Battalion’s commanding officer wrote:
“At one stage of the attack the Battalion was held up by an enemy strong post. Cpl. Bartle with remarkable bravery advanced alone with his Lewis Gun under heavy enemy machine gun fire and by his personal efforts enabled his platoon to rush the post and thereby allowed the advance to continue.
“Later when the enemy counter-attacked he again showed great dash and with his Lewis Gun engaged the enemy at close quarters, inflicting heavy casualties and thwarting the attack until he was severely wounded in the stomach with a machine gun bullet.”
Evacuated to England to recover from his wound, he embarked for Australia on the Nestor in December, 1918.
Jack returned to Tamborine Mountain in early 1919 and married Mary Ann (Polly) Wilson.
They had four children, George, Peg, Marj and Val.
Jack is remembered by George’s daughter, Muriel Shephard (nee Bartle), as a quiet man of few words, who preferred to forget the horrors of the battlefields of France.
However, he was persuaded to speak of some of his war experiences and recounted a chance meeting with a dying German soldier as an almost sacred moment in his life.
Around the age of 15, Muriel was told of a very touching event that occurred just after a fierce battle, when Jack came upon a German soldier who was mortally wounded.
Close to death, and in a remarkable act of generosity towards his enemy, the German soldier took his water bottle from its pouch and offered it to the Australian, as if to say, ‘I have no further need of this, I give the water to you’.
Muriel has fond memories of her grandfather as a private, humble man with a ‘wicked sense of humour’.
In later life he was admitted to Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital in Brisbane on a number of occasions. During one of these visits he enjoyed a hearty laugh at the expense of an astonished radiographer who, looking at his chest x-ray, exclaimed: “Mr Bartle, do you know you’ve got a bullet in your back?”
Jack had carried that bullet, lodged neatly against his spine, since 1917.
It was still there when he passed away in 1975.