The Honourable Leonie Hiscutt MLC presented the story of her grandfather, Private Albert Chatwin, to the Frank MacDonald Study Tour in 2017.
Serial number 6553
12th Battalion Infantry
My Grandfather, Albert Chatwin, enlisted on the 1 September 1916 in the 21st Reinforcement of the Australian Imperial Force and was listed as returned to Australia on the 18 October 1917.
He lived at Somerset, in Tasmania, during those days and after he returned home he married and continued to live at the back of Somerset near Yolla. He left home for war as a young 19-year-old thinking he would find adventure.
He fought in the battle for Hendecourt with an Australian attack on the German trenches east of Bullecourt village. Operations of this kind were usually supported by a prior artillery bombardment on the German trenches. However, this time they decided to discard the artillery and try to surprise the Germans and they used tanks instead. Most of the tanks failed to reach the German line but still the infantry advanced northwards, with Bullecourt on the left flank, and seized two lines of German trenches.
They were eventually halted by German reinforcements and with the failure of our artillery to fire on the German counterattack; they were driven back to the starting line. It was poorly planned and hastily executed and resulted with the loss of over 3,000 men.
Needless to say, we believe it was sometime during this battle that "Chatty", as we called him, was injured.
Chatty spent one year and 54 days overseas. My mother and Uncle tell me that he received shrapnel in the right side of his back. In all the smoke, disaster and distress, he was left for dead on the battle field by the stretcher bearers. He was obviously unconscious with a gaping wound.
He eventually regained consciousness and made his way to a medical tent where he received treatment and was sent to England for care. He stayed in hospital for about six months. He evidently didn’t talk much about his activities during the war, but my Mother remembers him saying that at one stage, he remembered thinking how wonderful and clean the sheets were.
One little story is that while on his way to war, the ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope and he was pleased with himself because he was the only non-sailor who turned up for breakfast on that day. He hung on with one hand and ate with the other….and "held it down".
My Mum says she remembers a patient father who hardly raised his voice at her and her brother. He was very gentle and only had a little drink on Anzac Days with his returned mates.
As a young child, I don’t remember a lot of him, as he was in the now defunct Mental Asylum at New Norfolk. My sister says she remembers him with big rubber gloves on because he used to scratch himself to pieces. We would all pile into the car once a month after having our travel-sick pills, to take Nana to Hobart to visit him.
He died while in Hobart aged 73 on the 21st December 1970 leaving behind two children and four grandchildren. Thankfully for us, he made it home.