John Read


By the 1911 census John was no longer living with his family in Hoxne but was listed as a boarder and employed as a groom (domestic) at the White Horse Public House in Earl Stonham, a village on the main road between Norwich and Ipswich. Other than the immediate family of the Publican, the inhabitants included two Telegraph Wiremen employed by the Post Office, a labourer, another groom and a Chauffeur (Domestic), the latter may well have sparked John's interest in motor vehicles and driving. The Public House still survives as a private residence.

After the 1911 census, the Read family moved from Hoxne to Leonards-on-Sea, it is not known whether John followed them there but at some point after 1911 he decided to emigrate to Australia, whether he followed family members already there is not known. On the 24th August 1914 John walked into a recruiting office in Sydney and enlisted in the 3rd Battery, Australian Field Artillery, Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force and was given the service number 392. John gave his place of residence as Barraba a town situated on the Manilla River some 300 miles north of Sydney where he was employed as driver at Clifton & Co.. Barraba was a mining town, the discovery of gold in 1850 gave the town a decade of growth and prosperity, once the gold field was played out agriculture took over until tin and yet more gold was discovered in the late nineteenth century. Early photographs show a main street that would not look out of place in the American "wild west".

In August 1914 John was 26 years 7 months old, his occupation is listed as motor driving, his height was 5 foot 2 inches, his weight 8 stone 8 lbs and waist measurement 34 inches. Distinguishing marks were five vaccination marks on his right arm. His mother is noted as his next of kin and, at this point, is still living in Hoxne. He was passed fit by Doctor A.L. Buchanan though John's examination must have been fairly cursory as he was declared medically unfit and discharged from the Army on the 15th October 1914.

John may have been temporarily fazed by this turn of events but he soon put an alternative plan into place. Travelling the 700 miles from Barraba to Melbourne John arrived at the Broad Meadows Recruiting office in one of Melbourne's suburbs and re-enlisted. Ignoring his previous service he completed a new Attestation Paper, the detail replicated his original application with the exception that he now had a scar on his left hand in addition to the vaccination marks. John's attestation paper was signed on the 19th November 1914, it was certified by the attestation officer on the 16th December and the Oath was finally taken on the 19th December and his unit given as the 1st Field Artillery Brigade. John was also given a new service number, 3168. At a later date, a good deal of administrative confusion would result in John's actions.

The Australian Field Artillery was formed to support the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force (A.I.E.F.) Infantry Divisions and were organised along the same lines as the British Army and equipped with the standard British 18 pounder. After basic training it is probable that John was sent to Egypt where the A.I.E.F was part of the force blocking the Turkish army from advancing and taking the Suez Canal and Egypt whilst also training for the Gallipoli campaign. This was an ambitious combined arm's operation involving Australian, New Zealand, British and French troops as well as Naval assets whose task was to force the Dardanelle's and seize the Gallipoli peninsula prior to capturing the Turkish capital Istanbul. On the 25th April 1915 the Australian's landed at Anzac Cove where they established a beach head. What followed was a grim battle of attrition as the Allies tried to force the Turkish lines and the Turks tried to throw them back into the sea. The ensuing stalemate continued until the Allies recognised that the campaign was not succeeding and, in what has been has been described as a 'text book operation', evacuated all their troops between the 15th and 20th December with very few casualties. However the campaign cost the Allies 141,547 casualties whilst the Ottoman Empire suffered 251,309.

John, to add to the confusion in his records, actually started the second phase of his war service in the same artillery battery that joined originally in August 1914, the 3rd Field Artillery Battery, 1st Field Artillery Brigade, 1st Division Artillery. On the 4th August 1915 John was evacuated from Gallipoli with an unspecified physical illness, first to a hospital ship and then on to the island of Lemnos for recuperation. He appears to recover and is returned to his unit on the at Gallipoli but in less than a month was back in hospital on another Greek island, Mudros, suffering from jaundice and appendicitis. This stay in hospital is considerable longer and it is not until early Janauary 1916 that he is released and shipped back to Tel el Kabir in Egypt and transferred to the 10th Field Artillery Brigade, 4th Division where, in March, he started his service with the 38th Field Artillery Battery as a driver.

In June 1916 many A.I.E.F Divisions were transferred from Egypt to serve with the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. John sailed from Alexandria on the 5th June and disembarked at Marseilles on the 13th. The 4th Division moved into a quite sector near Armentieres but was soon involved in the continuing Somme offensive, fighting in the Battles of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm. Having survived these encounters January 1917 saw him fracturing his right Fibula whilst transferring, as John's Casualty Form records, "Bty (Battery) stores from one position to another by Truck on Light Rly (Railway) And is not to blame". On the 25th January John was transferred to the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station and then on to the 8th Stationary Hospital at Boulogne and after one days stay shipped back to the United Kingdom to the Southwark Military Hospital where he remained until the 13th April. Clearly on the mend John was transferred yet again to the No 3 Australian Auxillary Hospital in Dartford, Essex and given leave from the 18th April to 3rd May.

Returning from leave John was classified B1A which meant that he was fit for light duties for four weeks and posted to Larkhill Military Camp on Salisbury Plain and, was quickly transferred to the Australian Army training camp at Perham Down where he was temporarily transferred from the 38th Battery to a pioneer Battalion. A little over six weeks after his return from leave John was back in France disembarking at Le Havre on 21st June and probably being sent to a holding camp before being transferred to work in an Australian Ammunition Sub Park (A.A.S.P.) on the 18th July. His stay with the A.A.S.P was punctuated with an illness which could not be diagnosed by the medical staff at the nearest hospital but included vomiting, although he was sufficiently recovered to be taken back on the strength of the 10th Field Artillery Brigade on the 18th August.

On the day that John returned to the 10th Brigade they had just returned to their wagon lines where they were involved in training and refitting until the 10th September when the Division's battery's were back in action at Ypres. The rest of September was spent in the line supporting the attack on the Gheluvelt Ridge and, in turn, being subject to accurate German counter battery fire with the Divisions battery positions often being relayed by spotter planes. The support required for this attack was enormous and it was men like John who had the task of taking ammunition and supplies up the Ypres/Menin Road to support the gunners.

The 4th Division's War Diary records very little for the 2nd October other than an officer from the Divisional Command went sick/wounded. The 10th Field Artillery War Diary has not survived so it can only be presumed that John Read was killed on that date by German artillery whilst delivering ammunition to the Brigades batteries. Initially buried at Simons Post Cemetery Zillebeke John was re buried at the Hooge Crater Cemetery on 30th June 1919. John Read is commemorated on the National Australian War Memorial, The Barraba and District War Memorial in addition to Hoxne. He is buried (memorial reference 1.F.11) at the Hooge Crater Cemetery in Belgium.