Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Another Boulton 'Fly-Boy'

Men who experienced and survived the appalling trench warfare of the First World War were often keen for their sons to escape this carnage when the Second World War broke out in 1939. So it was with the Boulton family. Their young men took to the skies.

Peter Martin Boulton was born in the Sydney suburb of Ryde on 28 September 1920, the younger of two brothers.  His father was the local GP Dr Nigel Boulton, who had served as an army doctor throughout the First World War, in Egypt, Salonika and France. His parents separated when he was a small boy, and he lived at Ryde with his father and boarded for a time at his father's old school, The King's School at Parramatta.  Both of his parents remarried in 1927 but his step-mother Marie did not like having small boys around, even in school holidays. She forced Peter into an unwanted choice of going to live with his mother, now Mrs Mona Dee, at his step-father's home where he felt uncomfortable, so he often lived with his aunt Thea and his Dennis cousins at their home at Greenwich.

Peter and his older brother Philip (Pip) both served in the Air Force in World War II, as did their cousin Stephen Penn Dennis.  Pip happened to be in England when war broke out and he joined the Royal Air Force as Philip Hugh Boulton, Australian Pilot No 907098. The day after Pip completed his training as a night-fighter pilot and was posted to No 604 (Middlesex) Squadron, he was killed in an accident on 29 May 1941, travelling as an observer in a Beaufighter, after an air-sea firing exercise off Dorset in England.

Barely three weeks after his older brother was killed, on 21 June 1941 20-yr-old Peter caused great anxiety to his parents by enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force, Service No 411990.
Peter Martin Boulton, Australian Pilot No 411990
Peter was trained to fly in Rhodesia and Palestine and piloted Hurricanes in the Middle East, but in June 1943 Pilot Officer P M Boulton was thrown out of a truck in the desert and his leg was so badly broken (fracture of left humerus, injury to left cruciate ligament of knee, simple fracture of sacrum) that he required a knee reconstruction.  He was sent back to Australia to the Repatriation Hospital at Jervis Bay and there he met his wife-to-be Doris Louisa Brentnall, a Women's Australian Air Force nurse from Wagga Wagga.
Flt Lt Peter Martin Boulton
After discharge from hospital, Peter was sent to 'Ferry Flight' at Richmond, NSW.  On 5 August 1945 Flt Lieut Boulton was taking a Mustang from Sydney to Queensland when he crashed on landing at Bohle River near Townsville and was so badly injured that at first he was left for dead, with a double fracture of the skull, his ears hanging off, haemorrhage of the eyes and broken jaw.

Luckily the first doctor's opinion that he would be dead within half an hour was ignored and someone took him to be operated on at Townsville hospital, where he eventually recovered.  At an Imperial Services Ball at the Trocadero in Sydney many years later, Peter was approached by an officer who asked if he was Peter Boulton.  When Peter said 'Yes', the man said 'Good God, Good God, I left you for dead'.  He couldn't get over it and stared at Peter all night.  Peter's wife Doris observed wryly 'no doubt that doctor had a sleepless night'.
Peter Boulton survived this plane crash at Bohle River, QLD
After the war ended, in December 1945 Peter returned to his pre-war job at the Vacuum Oil Company. Doris continued serving in the Air Force as nurses were needed to look after returning injured service personnel.  Three weeks after her discharge, Peter and Doris were married, on 2 April 1947 by Reverend Price, the Chaplain at his old school The King's School.

Peter’s post-war role as a salesman and assistant advertising manager suited his rather debonair style.  He was running the Mobil Quest when a young singer named Joan Sutherland won it in 1950. He and Doris proved unable to have children and Doris began her career with David Jones, a store made unforgettable by Madeleine St John's wonderful novel 'Ladies in Black'. Doris worked here for 25 years, including about 20 years as assistant buyer in the high fashion department on the 6th floor, with high prices to match.

Peter’s father Nigel Boulton remarried in 1951, to an old family friend Thelma Attwood who was an auctioneer at Lawson’s Antiques. When Peter's mother Mona Dee moved home around 1955, Peter and Doris moved in to her old unit, Flat 5, on the waterfront at 88 West Esplanade, Manly.  Peter had lived here before the war with his mother and step-father.  Here at Manly Peter and Doris lived stylishly for over 30 years. 

During their marriage they made some good friends, holidayed in various parts of Australia and New Zealand and also enjoyed a trip to South East Asia in 1974.  Peter tried to look after his mother Mona, widowed in 1951, and his step-mother Thelma, widowed in 1969.  In the late 1960s he sent his mother and his wife on a cruise to Colombo, aboard 'Strathmore'.  Doris recalled that even in her 70s Mona still liked to flirt and she was drinking a bit by then.

Peter retired in 1985, at the age of 65, and he and Doris enjoyed many walks along the Manly foreshores until the onset of his Alzheimer's disease and his failing memory transformed Doris back into a nurse.  She was almost four years older than Peter but she looked after him for some years until, eventually, she had to put him into hospital after she herself collapsed under the strain.  Within several months he died of a heart attack, on 29 March 1995, and thus he was spared the worst phase of Alzheimer's.

Doris stayed on in the flat for about three years but the 35 stairs up to the unit became too much to manage and she moved into the Drummond House Hostel in Manly in 1998.  Before she died at Bayview Gardens Nursing Home on 12 October 2008, she wrote her own life story for the family history being prepared by her niece Pamela Lloyd.

More of the Boulton family story is told in the book 'Brothers in Arms', available through BookPOD and online through major international outlets.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Christmas Gift from a Reader

A lovely letter has just turned up in my post box, almost like a Christmas gift, from a reader named Laurie Gallop who knew Nigel Boulton.

Naturally I had to ring him straight away to say thank you. Laurie's nephew recently bought him a copy of Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F., having heard Laurie reminisce so fondly about his old family doctor, 'Dr Boulton'. Laurie thinks many more old patients of Dr Boulton's at Ryde would love to read this book, if only they knew of its existence.
Dr Nigel Boulton
Although he is 85 years old, Laurie also enclosed with his letter his own drawing of the Old Bank House at Ryde, copied from a picture in the paper. He says this building, on the corner of Church St & Victoria Rd, housed the Bank of New South Wales until 1914 and included a hitching rail for horse-drawn vehicles. Dr Boulton purchased the building in 1922 and practised there until after the Second World War. He then moved to a new home and practice in Blaxland Rd, opposite the tram terminus.
Old Bank Building, Ryde, drawn by Laurie Gallop, 2017
Laurie drew this picture especially for me, as a gift to keep. At this time of year, it's a Christmas gift. Drawing is his hobby, he says, as his health status means he doesn't get out much. He was never an artist himself but his father made his living teaching art at the East Sydney Technical College, a.k.a. the National Art School at Darlinghurst. Coincidentally, this means that my mother Julia Woodhouse was an art student of Laurie's father, around 1940.

On the phone Laurie described Dr Boulton as quiet and gentlemanly, but not without humour, and very well-trained as a doctor. Here's Laurie's letter:

Dear Louise 

I must congratulate you on your fine book BROTHERS IN ARMS. It has meant a lot to me, as it has filled a void in the life of Dr Nigel Boulton. 

Dr Boulton and Nurse Lane were present at my birth on the xxxxxx 1931. The now faded Birth Certificate has one error. The Register Clerk mispelt Dr Boulton's name as Dr Boutton. O well! 

I have some very close memories of Dr Boulton and I must say they are part of my regular reminiscent moments in life. I kept in touch with Dr Boulton up until his death, spanning over 35 years. He was a fine and capable surgeon, especially as a setter of broken bones. His concern for the welfare of his patients was legendary. 

I have always wondered about the family life of Dr Boulton in particular. BROTHERS IN ARMS says it all. It is so interesting to read those beautiful letters between their mother and her two heroic sons. Without BROTHERS IN ARMS many people like myself would never have known very much about the Boultons and what a loss that would have been. 

My parents were married in 1920 and they set up home in Meadow Crescent, Meadowbank, and there they raised five children. We were all born at home except my sister Clare who was born at Wollongong. Dr Boulton was no doubt assisted by nurse Black or nurse Lane on the other occasions. 

The whole family were treated by Dr Boulton at one time or another. He got me through pneumonia with the trusty sulphur drugs, along with home care from my good mother. This was during the Second World War. He also removed a Half Penny from my stomach, without surgery in 1934. I was playing with coins laying down on the floor. I threw them up without care, at age three. Down the Half Penny went. Dr Boulton arrived at Ryde Hospital in no time, and I remember this event as if it was only yesterday. [On the phone to me, Laurie said he remembered choking and foaming at the mouth, a white sheet being placed over his head, and an overnight stay in hospital, so he assumes he was chlorofomed and the coin was extracted from his throat with a long instrument of some kind.]

Dr Boulton took over some of Dr Gordon Smith's patients at his retirement, about 1935. I can remember the old Bank House about this time. Dr Boulton had some of his wartime souvenirs on the picture ledges in the waiting room. He later moved to nearby Blaxland Rd opposite the tram terminus. It was a two story brick building and he remained there for the rest of his life. 

Dr Boulton loved his aeroplane. He was reported flying it, "Barnstorming" the railway bridge and going under it one Sunday afternoon, to the thrill of the picnic crowds in the park. This was some time in the 1930s. [Note - This story came to Laurie from his parents. My research shows that Nigel obtained his licence to fly a Gypsy Moth from the Royal Aero Club of NSW in 1928 and he flew a B.J. Monoplane on the Sydney to Melbourne leg of the East-West Air Race to Perth in 1929. His brother-in-law Cleon Dennis knew the Kingsford-Smith family.]
Gypsy Moth Plane, picture from en.Wikipedia.org
I worked and lived in Ryde for 55 years, and I remember the good Doctor doing his rounds in his 1946 Ford MERCURY. It was a big powerful car and it suited his tall lean stature.
1946 Ford Mercury, picture from www.hireoldcar.com
BROTHERS IN ARMS has given us a wonderful insight into the Boulton family. It has added a rich chapter into the history of Ryde and its people. 
Cheerio for now 

NOTE: The book Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F. recently rated very highly among all the books read by members of the Athenaeum Book Club in Melbourne during 2017. Hearing of that verdict was like another Christmas gift to me. The book's available in Australia via BookPOD and internationally via the online sources such as Amazon and Book Depository which are mentioned on my website. I hope everyone reading this post will enjoy some equally unexpected pleasures this Christmas and that the year to come, 2018, will be loving, healthy, safe and happy for you.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Pip's Life Circle

The book Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F. is a remarkably moving story of the lives of two brothers during the First World War. Nigel was an Australian doctor serving with the British Army and his brother Stephen served in the Australian artillery. During that war, on 21 November 1916, Nigel and his Australian wife Mona’s first child, Philip Hugh Boulton a.k.a. Pip, was born in England. The adorable Pip features strongly in the book. 
Nigel, Pip & Mona, England, mid 1918 (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
The family returned to Sydney in 1919 and a second son, Peter, was born in 1920. The marriage was already in trouble when Peter arrived and in 1923 Pip’s mother ran off with Jimmy Dee, who’d stayed at home in Australia during the First World War and had not endured its agonies. Pip’s parents divorced in 1924 and both remarried in 1927. Nigel and Mona were not on good terms.
Peter, Mona & Pip, c 1925 (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
Pip’s father had custody of the boys but family stories relate how their stepmother did not want them around and Pip suffered the consequences. For a time he boarded at The King’s School at Parramatta, his father’s old school, and spent much of his free time staying with his Dennis cousins, the children of his father’s sister. 
Pip at Kings, c 1928 (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
Pip eventually removed himself from both sets of parents and travelled to England aboard SS Ormonde in May 1939, which meant he was in England when the Second World War commenced. His Australian father likewise had happened to be in England 25 years beforehand, when the First World War broke out. After Germany’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, England and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. Pip knew that his doctor father obtained a private pilot’s licence in Australia during the 1920s and, having heard his father’s stories of the horrors of life in the trenches, it’s not surprising that both Pip and his younger brother opted to become pilots. 

By the end of October 1939, Pip had joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as Australian Pilot No 907098 (Note 1).  Pip was quickly assessed by the No 1 RAF Selection Board at Uxbridge, on 15 November. He gave his date of birth as 21 November 1914 at Parkstone, Poole in Dorset, advancing his age by two years, and his civil occupation was recorded as Consulting Engineer. That workforce experience must have been obtained through his stepfather, who was Municipal Engineer of Mosman Council in Sydney. Pip was described as 5’9” tall, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion, with several small marks and scars noted. The Board recommended him as suitable for pilot training and recommended him for a commission. His character at each of the annual reviews which followed was classified as ‘very good’. 

On 1 December he moved from No 1 RC (Recruit Centre) at Uxbridge to South Gosport. His experiences there are described below in a letter to his father. Five days later he relocated to St Leonards-on-Sea for further ground-based training and specific aptitude tests in No 5 Initial Training Wing (I.T.W.), a group of hundreds of men divided into numbered squadrons and lettered flights. 

The first letter summarizing these early days of his service, dated 16 December 1939 and posted from nearby Hastings, Sussex, reads: 
Dear Father
I’m afraid that this will reach you too late for Christmas, but nevertheless it brings my best wishes for a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year, etc.
Please excuse me not writing to you before, but things have been moving so swiftly that I never seemed to be able to get time etc, nor the money for that matter.
As you have no doubt guessed by now, I am a member of the Royal Air Force. My rank is Aircraftsman 2nd Class and my trade is Pilot under training. This I think should please you. Actually my rank should be Acting Sergeant with pay at 9/6 per day, however there are some hundreds of us in the same boat all AC2s with 2/- per day.
However our Commanding Officer told us the other day that he had got into touch with Air Ministry about our case and that we would receive our rightful rank and all our back pay, very shortly, this should be good as I will then be able to pay off a few debts that I contracted when I left Australia, on 2/- per day I just about manage to get cigarettes. I have been in the service for two months now and thoroughly enjoy everything.
I was first of all at No 1 R.A.F. Depot, Uxbridge, Middlesex, there I was fitted out and attested etc. From there I went to Gosport, Hampshire, here I did a little passenger flying and machine gun practice.
My stay at Gosport was most interesting as among other things it was an Experimental Aerodrome and many experimental types of planes and apparatus etc was tested out there. I would like to tell you lots about what I heard and saw there, but of course that is impossible. I am now stationed at St Leonards-on-Sea at No 5 Initial Training Wing. I will be here for eight weeks, till approx. Feb 6th, so you will be able to reply here up to that time.
We do mathematics, navigation, map-reading etc here, in fact all ground work. After leaving here we go to a Flying Training School, either somewhere-in-England, or Canada. In about four months now, if all goes well, I will have my wings, and after that my commission, I have already been recommended for the latter.
There are 250 of us in this building, which is very posh, being a commandeered hotel. There are 2 Australians and dozens of Canadians, Rhodesians, South Africans. So we ‘Colonials’ have a fine time.
The weather here is quite cold, we had a few flakes of snow yesterday, so expect that we will get plenty at Christmas. Actually this hotel is situated about 150 yds from the sea which is bounded by a long promenade, and the usual piers, St Leonards [must?] be a popular pleasure resort in summer.
It took quite a bit of wangling to get into the R.A.F. but I made it finally.
Would you please thank Mr Campbell for his letter which I received some weeks ago, owing to it being sent by ordinary mail and took so long to come. I will write to Mr Campbell probably next week if I can afford it, you might explain that I did not use his card of introduction as I was already in the R.A.F. All mail I sent home goes by air as the boat is hopeless taking anything up to 3 mths and sometimes not then. By the way my address is as follows:
No 907098
Boulton P. H. A.C.2
No 4 Squadron
No 5 I.T.W.
Adelphi Hotel
Warrior Square
St Leonards-on-sea
Will close now, please write soon.
Cheerio old man
Your affectionate son
P H Boulton, England, Winter 1939
(Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
The building in the background of Pip's picture appears to be the Adelphi Hotel at St Leonards, one of the seaside hotels empty in winter and requisitioned by the RAF in WW2 for accommodating large numbers of aircrew in training.

Pip mentions that he and his fellow trainees all held the RAF’s lowest rank, Aircraftman Second Class or AC2, but he was soon upgraded, to Leading Aircraftman (LAC) on 24 January 1940, as his second letter indicates. Dated 5 February 1940, it gives his address as No 907098, LAC Boulton, P H, ‘C Flight’, 4 Squadron, No 5 I.T.W., RAF Hastings, Sussex. 
Dear Father
I was wondering whether you received my last letter OK, as I have not heard from you for quite a while.
Life in the R.A.F. is just about the same, getting slightly boring now as we are still held up at our Initial Training Wing and likely to be for quite some time yet. We are only supposed to be here for two months but so far have been for three and the prospect of another 4 or so to follow, Needless to say we are hard put by to fill in the time.
By the way I have been promoted since I last wrote, I am now Leading Aircraftsman or L.A.C. for short, with pay at 5/- per day, a little better than 2/- per day which is what I got before.
I have also changed quite considerably which I suppose is only natural, seeing that we have lectures on how to best kill and all the rest of the ugly paranefalia (paraphenalia) of war etc.
Here’s a little surprise for you, and I hope not too much of a shock. I was married on 30 January 1940. Her name was Eileen Sellars, and her father is an Electrical Engineer. I have known her for about six months, so it is not quite one of these wild fancies. I know that you will love her, she is very like me in character and outlook, the only snag is that her religion is R.C. but I married in the Presbyterian Church of England and if there are any kiddies they will be brought up Church of England and then allowed to choose any other religion they may fancy when they are old enough.
Perhaps that you think I should have waited, but with conditions over here as they are, I maintain that I am entitled to a little happiness while I can get it. Anyway old boy, I shall expect your blessing.
Well as you now have your first daughter I expect that you would like to know a little more about her.
She is 19 years old, 5’2” tall, brown hair, blue eyes, an attractive face and excellent figure. She is very athletic being a swimming and ice-skating fiend, and what is most important in this mad fast world, she is a good girl. She is well educated and spoken and really quite intelligent, although you think perhaps not because she consented to become my wife, however your son does have some good attributes.
Eileen Sellars (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
The main point is I think that we love each other very much and when such happens according to the laws of nature such parties naturally mate. This brings me to another point, we have decided that we will not attempt to have any children until this war is over, this I think you will agree is very sound policy.
I rather missed you not being here at this rather momentous happening in my life, as I would rather have liked to ask you many questions about all sorts of things which only a father can answer. However I am so far negotiating the many marital difficulties.
Eileen is also in the service of King and country. She is in the Auxiliary Territorial Service or ATS for short and of course wears uniform.so we were both in uniform when married.
Our financial side is practical, with our joint salaries we have just over £7 per week, so we should be able to manage OK. I will be living out as from Friday next, we have found a small flat [his service record lists his home address as 14 Wellington Square, Hastings] so I should be able to derive some home comforts for a little while anyway. After I am posted, well it will be a matter of seeing each other when on leave etc, however I expect you know as you went through the same thing during the last war.
So far I am still in good health although there is an epidemic of measles, flu and diphtheria here at the moment. I have of course the usual cold which I am afraid is only natural owing to the excessive damp prevalent here during winter.
We have had the biggest snowfall for over 100 years, so I am quite used to snow by now. I do not mind the cold so much, but the horrible damp and complete lack of sunshine rather gets me down. People very rarely laugh too, but that can be chalked down to lack of sunshine. The perpetual blackout is most depressing too.
How are things with you, I do hope they are OK, I would rather like to hear from you now and then, I do not think I have had a letter from you since joining the RAF.
Needless to say I am longing to start my flying training, as I hope to make a very good pilot, at any rate I hope to possess your air sense.
You may be interested to know that I passed the medical board with flying colours, so you father healthy sons old boy. Hope that you will be able to understand this awful scrawl, but temperature is about 30 degrees below freezing point at the moment and I am trying to finish this letter before my fingers get too stiff to move.
By the way any small advice on certain subjects would be welcome, especially from you, so there’s a hint.
My room mate, George Geering, a Canadian, is getting married too, on Saturday, so it must be catching. He was best man at my effort. The minister who performed the ceremony was a New Zealander, so that was rather a coincidence.
Well cheerio for now
Your loving son
The training delays frustrating Pip were a widespread problem:
In September 1939 trained pilots were urgently needed if the Royal Air Force (RAF) was to meet its operational commitments. The struggle and success in achieving the required number of pilots is one of the overlooked 'battles' of the war. Time was of the essence. Initial revisions to the training programme focused on shortening courses and increasing the capacity for pupils at the flying training schools. This did not work, however, and difficulties arose with the limited amount of equipment available and a shortage of flying instructors (Note 2). 
UK records indicate that George Geering married a Winifred M Harvey. 

This second letter of Pip’s mentions Eileen’s involvement with the ATS. This was the women’s branch of the British Army during World War Two, employing women in support roles such as cooks, clerks, storekeepers, telephonists, orderlies, drivers, postal workers and ammunition inspectors. The family on his father’s side believes that Philip's wife Eileen drove an ambulance during the London Blitz, which began in September 1940. 

On 10 June 1940 Pip was transferred to 50 GP (Group) Pool, part of Flying Training Command which appeared to be based at Shinfield Park, Reading in Berkshire at this time. From July for a short period this Group conducted flying operations on DH 82 Tiger Moths lent to them by the RAF’s No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School at Yatesbury in Wiltshire (Note 3). Pip was now training for his longed-for ‘wings’, and not before time. Conditions in England were becoming desperate, after the Dunkirk evacuation in late May and early June, 1940. 
Course 13, Squad 1, 24 July 1940 P H Boulton back row, second from right (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
The photo of Pip in Course 13, Squad 1, is dated 24 July 1940, the day he was transferred to College Cranwell in Lincolnshire, and marks the official start of his flying course. It’s confusing that the stamp on the back of the photo says Wembley Portraits of 29 Central Parade, Wembley, about 40 miles from Reading and many miles from Cranwell. How could Pip be in two places at once? The ways of the RAF are sometimes difficult to fathom. Perhaps the photographers had a branch office in Cranwell. 

The Battle of Britain was beginning. England needed help from other countries to train its RAF pilots during the Second World War, and by 1945 110,600 pilots had been trained under a number of agreements made with nine different countries (Note 4). However Pip was one of those who learned to fly in England, more than likely on a Hawker Hart Trainer according to the few clues located online. His file records his promotion to Flight Sergeant on 11 October 1940, the day he graduated as a pilot from his course with a score of 74.3%. 

Two weeks later, on 23 October, he began his training as a fighter pilot, with No 5 Operational Training Unit (OTU). This was part of No 12 Group Fighter Command at RAF Aston Down, near Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire (Note 5). The unit trained Hawker Hurricane and Bristol Blenheim pilots (Note 6). His fighter pilot training took Pip to many parts of England. After only a month at Aston Down he moved on 26 November to another training unit, No 56 OTU at RAF Sutton Bridge, but only for a few days while much-needed strategic reorganisation was underway in the RAF. 
P H Boulton’s RAF Postings, map prepared from GenMap UK
On 1 December 1940 he was selected to be part of the first unit established with the specific objective of training night fighter crews. This was No 54 OTU, at RAF Church Fenton (now East Leeds Airport). He spent the next five months learning to fly the Bristol Beaufighter 1F aircraft and operate the weaponry on this new long-range heavy night-fighter, which:
first reached Fighter Command in September 1940 (29 and 604 Squadrons), being fitted two months later with A.I. (Airborne Interception) radar for night fighting. With its high speed, 2816 km range and a firepower from its four 20 mm cannons and six 0.303 in machine guns, the Beaufighter was a most welcome arrival (Note 7). 
Bristol Beaufighter Source: http://www.aviation-history.com/bristol/beaufite.html
The aircraft carried a two-man crew, the pilot in a cockpit and the navigator-radar operator in the rear, sitting under a small Perspex bubble.
Both crew-members had their own hatch in the floor of the aircraft. The front hatch was behind the pilot's seat. As there was no room to climb around the seat-back, the back collapsed to allow the pilot to climb over and into the seat. In an emergency, the pilot could operate a lever that remotely released the hatch, grasp two steel overhead tubes and lift himself out of his seat, swing his legs over the open hatchway, then let go to drop through. Evacuating the aircraft was easier for the navigator, as the rear hatch was in front of him and without obstruction.
The Beaufighter's armaments were located in various positions on the lower fuselage and wings … a small bomb load could be carried externally. … This was one of the heavier, if not the heaviest, fighter armament of its time. … The recoil of the cannons and machine guns could reduce the speed of the aircraft by around 25 knots when they fired (Note 8). 
The Beaufighter had sufficient room in its fuselage to carry a secret weapon, early radar. The British tried to hide its existence from the Germans by spreading the word that RAF pilots could see exceptionally well at night because they ate so many carrots. Although it was in its infancy as a technology, A.I. radar helped the navigator issue adequate-enough instructions so that the pilot could get close enough to an enemy bomber to visually locate it and shoot it down.
Even loaded with a 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) payload, it remained fast enough to catch up to German bombers and, with its heavy armament, deal out considerable damage to them. While early radar sets suffered from restrictions in range and thus initially limiting the aircraft's usefulness, improved radars became available in January 1941, promptly making the Beaufighter one of the more effective night fighters of the era (Note 9). 
Replacement pilots were constantly required to offset the carnage in key squadrons like the night fighter squadrons, which had ‘20 aircraft and two reserves, plus 16 operational pilots, and would be expected to fly 12 aircraft, either as four flights of three or three flights of four’ (Note 10).

It was quite a feather in Pip's cap when he was posted on 6 May 1941 to the key No 604 (County of Middlesex) Squadron based at Middle Wallop, inland from the Southampton docks. The crews of 604 Squadron ‘included that of John Cunningham and C.F. Rawnsley, one of the best British night fighter crews of the war. Between them they won nine British decorations, and Rawnsley went on to write an excellent book about his experiences’ (Note 11). The Squadron was very active defending London during the blitz and later defending other British cities against incoming German bombers, until around mid May 1941, ‘when most Luftwaffe bomber units departed for involvement in the invasion of Russia. By this time 50 air victories had been claimed by the squadron—fourteen by F/L John Cunningham’ (Note 12). 

Rawnsley’s book ‘Night Fighter’ makes for fascinating background reading on the day-to-day life of the crews of 604 Squadron but mentions Pip only as an unnamed ‘new Australian pilot’ because no-one had time to get to know him (Note 13).

That’s because Pip survived as a qualified, operational pilot for only 23 days. He was killed on active service on 29 May 1941, as an observer in another aircraft which crashed into the Purbeck Hills in Dorset.

The pilot, Peter Frederick Jackson, who had commenced training as a pilot in the RAF volunteer reserve around October 1937, had been flying with 604 Squadron since 13 September 1939 and had already performed well in a crash landing on 6 December, for which he was awarded the D.F.M. Newly commissioned as a Pilot Officer, on 29 May 1941:
he went on an air-sea firing exercise in Beaufighter IF R2073 to Chesil Beach, with Sgt. SN Hawke and a new Australian pilot, Sgt. PH Boulton. While the exercise was in progress clouds came in from the sea and blanketed the Dorset hills. Instead of climbing above them Jackson flew through and crashed into high ground near Swanage. All three men were killed. Jackson was 22. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. Hendon (Note 14). 
Flt Sgt Stanley Nelson Hawke, aged 25, is buried at Streatham Park Cemetery. Pip’s next of kin was his wife, at the time living very close to Middle Wallop at Bridge House, Broughton, Hants, her name incorrectly recorded on RAF files as Mrs C W Boulton. She must have been the one to decide where he would be buried, and she chose Alperton Cemetery in Greater London.

The Dorset hills form part of the Purbeck Ridge of the extensive chalk downs in southern England. Chesil Beach, on Dorset’s famous Jurassic Coast and UNESCO World Heritage site, is a little further to the west of Swanage and the Purbeck Heritage Coast.
Purbeck Hills Coastline Source http://www.world-guides.com/europe/england/dorset/swanage/swanage_landmarks.html
The map shows the nature of the terrain where the plane crashed, in hills so high that they provided a perfect vantage position for William the Conqueror's men to build a defensive castle, Corfe Castle, almost one thousand years ago. It is uncanny that the site is so close to Poole, indeed is just across the harbour from the place where Pip was born in 1916. The wheel of his life cycle turned a full revolution.
Map of Swanage & Poole Source: Google Maps
In the horrendously long list of casualties published regularly by the authorities, Pip’s rank was listed as Sergeant. It states that he was killed ‘on active service’ (Note 15). His mother told her local paper otherwise, that he was now a Pilot Officer who had been killed ‘in action’ (meaning ‘against the enemy’) and not ‘on active service’. These distinctions in military terminology were understandable mistakes, but she also got his age wrong, and his date of death. Her claim that Eileen was ferrying aircraft with the WAAF also does not fit easily with the facts of the times: 
PILOT-OFFICER BOULTON KILLED IN ACTION. Private advice has been received by Mrs. Mona Dee, of Manly, that her son, Pilot Officer Phillip ("Pip") Hugh Boulton, of the R.A.F, was killed in action on May 22. Pilot-Officer Boulton was born in London 23 years ago and, on coming to Australia, was educated at The King's School. Parramatta. He went to London in May 1939, and joined the R.A.F shortly after the outbreak of war. He was married in January, 1940, to Miss Eileen Seller, of London, who is now engaged as a pilot, ferrying planes for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in England. His father, Dr. Nigel Boulton, served with the British Armv Medical Corps during 1914-18 (Note 16). 
Pip was laid to rest in the Hero's Corner of Alperton Cemetery in London, in grave number 92 D.D. maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Note 17). His grave inscription reads ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’.

The mourning card sent by his mother spells his first given name incorrectly and states his age as 26 years, consistent with the two year’s advance on his age he gave when he enlisted but, his birth being on 21 November 1916, he was 24 years old. Pip's photo on the card was sticky-taped to it afterwards. The message on the left hand side reads:
Some day, some time, our eyes shall see
The face we keep in memory,
And God will link the broken chain
Still closer when we meet again.
Mourning Card (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
Three years later Pip's mate W/O George Geering was also killed when his aircraft crashed into a hill in bad weather. As part of No 59 Squadron, he and seven other crew members were returning from an antisubmarine patrol to Ballykelly Airfield in Ireland, but at 4.20am on 24 June 1944 their Liberator hit Ben Evenagh, across Loch Slough from their base, killing all on board (Note 18).

Pip’s widow Eileen married again, early in 1945 to Ernest Saben, and their son Robert Daryl Saben was born in mid-1946. After the war ended Eileen sent the family in Australia several pictures of her tending Pip’s grave, accompanied by her son. Eileen died in England in 2007. 
Eileen and her Son (Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)
The Boulton family is a case study in the heavy price paid by many Australian families for defending freedoms on the other side of the world. Nigel Boulton lost his only brother Steve in action in France in the First World War and his only brother-in-law Engr Lt Cleon Dennis, RAN, died in 1932 of a war-related condition. The loss of his beloved elder son Pip in England in the Second World War was a great emotional blow for Nigel. His other son Peter also paid a heavy price. Peter suffered severe wartime injuries in a truck crash in the Middle East, was repatriated home for recovery, then severely injured again in a RAAF plane crash in Australia. Nigel’s fighter pilot nephew Stephen Dennis was shot down over France and badly burned and injured, became a prisoner of war and never recovered his pre-war health. 


1. Philip Hugh Boulton’s Service File, copy obtained from M.O.D., UK - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/request-information-held-on-the-raf-casualty-files:
2. From RAF Museum website, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/taking-flight/historical-periods/second-world-war-flying-training.aspx, accessed 28 July 2017
3. Chris Charland, 12 Nov 2003, on RAF Commands website http://www.rafcommands.com/archive/03670.php, accessed 28 July 2017
4. From RAF Museum website, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/taking-flight/historical-periods/second-world-war-flying-training.aspx, accessed 28 July 2017
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Royal_Air_Force_Operational_Training_Units, accessed 28 July 2017
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aston_Down, accessed 28 July 2017
7. http://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/uk/raf/beaufighter/, accessed 28 July 2017
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Beaufighter, accessed 28 July 2017
9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Beaufighter, accessed 28 July 2017
10. From John Armatys, 27 March 2005, http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=40568
11. http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/604_wwII.html, accessed 28 July 2017
12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._604_Squadron_RAF, accessed 28 July 2017
13. C. F. Rawnsley & Robert Wright, ‘Night fighter’, with foreword by John Cunningham, (Collins, London, 1957)
14. The Battle of Britain London Monument, http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/JacksonPF.htm , accessed 29 July 2017
15. Flight, Service Aviation, July 17th, 1941, p 40, online at http://www.skynet.ie/~dan/war/flightsa/Flight_AS1941-2.pdf , accessed 28 July 2017
16. Sydney Morning Herald, Wed 11 Jun 1941, p 11, col g
17. http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2433357/BOULTON,%20PHILIP%20HUGH , accessed 28 July 2017
18. http://number59squadron.com/roll/crew_html/lib_jenkins.html

The book Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F, about Pip's father and uncle is available in Australia via BookPOD  and internationally via the usual online outlets.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wicked Stepmother?

Dr Nigel Boulton's second wife Marie was the widow of James Clayton Tofield, late of Leura, and the daughter of one of his patients Madame Memory, who my family remembers as a very eccentric woman but as an excellent pianist.

At some stage Madame Memory was the caretaker of a mansion diagonally opposite the house of Nigel's sister Thea Dennis. From early 1933 Thea lived on the corner of St Vincent’s Rd and River Rd, Greenwich with her five children, one of whom was my mother Julia. In my childhood, when visiting my grandmother Thea, we knew that neighbouring mansion as the Pallister Church of England Girls Home but it was off-limits to us kids and always a bit mysterious. We never saw much sign of any activity happening there. Where were the girls?  It’s now the Greenwich Hospital, specialising in palliative care.

According to my mother, Marie Ellen Tofield née Memory had long red hair and bred red setter dogs. Nigel married her at the Registrar General’s Office in Sydney on 24 November 1927, when he was close to forty and his boys Philip (Pip) and Peter were about ten and seven years old respectively.[1] In her mid thirties at the time, Marie was inexperienced with children and their needs.
Dr Nigel Boulton & second wife Marie
In Nigel's divorce from his first wife Mona, custodial rights to the two boys reputedly involved them staying with their father until the age of 14, when they were allowed to choose which parent they wished to live with. At this point, in the early-mid 1930s, both boys were placed in an invidious position by their step mother Marie, who reportedly took them aside and said she would leave their father if they chose to stay with him. They were thus given little choice but to choose their mother, which broke Nigel's heart, especially as his second wife Marie left anyway, a few years later.

According to my mother, she ran off with a poet in the later 1930s. (Update, 3 June: I've now been informed by Kate O'Neill, a researcher at Woodford Academy in the Blue Mountains, that this was Raymond Hanson, younger than her and a musician, not a poet. In October 2017, Kate will present a paper on Marie to the Blue Mountains Historical Society.)

The two Boulton boys sometimes found it difficult living in the home of their mother Mona and stepfather (Alphons James Dee) and, in his mid-teens, Peter (born in 1920) spent long periods living with his aunt Thea and his cousins (my mother Julia and her four brothers). His older brother Pip sailed off to Europe in May 1939.

During one of these periods, when Marie rented a holiday cottage at Patonga for 4-5 days, Peter came to stay with his father and step-mother, bringing a friend, and cousin Julia came too, with a friend. But the food was rationed out, even the biscuits were counted to make sure no-one ate anything additional to the rations. Cousins Peter and Julia long afterwards remembered how starved they felt and how they wished they could go home.

Nigel eventually divorced his long-absent wife Marie in 1950.[2] He found happiness with his third wife, another widow. Thelma Attwood née Robertson, a well-known antiques auctioneer, married Nigel at St Stephen's, Macquarie St in Sydney on 19 January 1951.[3]

Marie reverted to her maiden name and her death at Sydney Hospital on 24 May 1964 was registered as Marian Memory.[4] She would have been around 72 years old. Nigel died at his home in Ryde on 30 June 1969, aged 80.[5]

There is a street in Ryde named Memory St but I don’t know its history or possible connection to Nigel’s second wife and her family.

There's a great deal more about Nigel Boulton's life in my book 'Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. and Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F.'.

[1] SMH, Wed 21 Dec 1927, p 12, col a
[2] SMH, Sat 27 May 1950, p 7, col e; and Decree Nisi, N P Boulton v M E Boulton, SMH, Fri 17 Nov 1950, p 9, col c
[3] Marriage Certificate No C850225, Original Copy, in possession of author
[4] Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, NSW, https://familyhistory.bdm.nsw.gov.au/lifelink/familyhistory/search/result?3
[5] Nigel Philip Boulton, Certified Copy of Death Certificate, Issued 18 July 1969, NSW Registry of B, D & M, Sydney

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Commonwealth Bank's WW1 Honour Rolls

Commonwealth Bank's 'missing'
WW1 Honour Rolls, Sydney
Commonwealth Bank honours its World War 1 dead - or does it?
Back in those distant 60s when I worked in the Commonwealth Bank's old head office building in Sydney, I entered my office each day through the Pitt St entrance. The WW1 Honour Rolls graced the lift foyer. Aged 20, it never occurred to me that any of the names listed there were relevant to my family.
Recently, when writing my book 'Brothers in Arms' I realised my error. Margaret Flockton's nephew Stephen Boulton worked for this bank before enlisting in January 1915. He survived Gallipoli, Pozieres & more but not the final, final push. His amazing letters have been honoured by the Australian War Memorial's digitisation project and his name should be on the CBA's Honour Rolls ... so I went looking for them.
Aghast, I discovered that the building has been sold, that the magnificent old banking chamber is now a shopping place and the Rolls are 'missing in action'.
An email to the Commonwealth Bank Archives Dept and several emails to Dexus Property Group revealed the Honour Rolls had been relocated to another spot within the building ... somewhere! The photograph on the left was sent to me, as proof.
BUT - although they are on the Official Register of War Memorials in NSW these Honour Rolls are clearly no longer easily accessible to the public. I've visited the building three times on various visits to Sydney (from Melbourne) and haven't been able to find them, nor can anyone at reception tell me where they are. By Remembrance Day in 2017, will these Rolls onc again be honoured in some way?


Honour Rolls, May 2017
Photo Courtesy Catherine McKellar, Dexus Group
Catherine McKellar, General Manager for the Dexus & CBus Property co-owners of 5 Martin Place, contacted me on 18 May 2017 to explain that the Honour Rolls, in their new position inside the original building, will soon be accessible to the public. She said:
We are pleased to confirm that these Honour Rolls are in place and have not been relocated as part of the Development of 5 Martin Place finished in 2015.
They are located at each side of the main entrance doors off Pitt Street (on the inside) and are in their original condition.
The tenancy is locked at the moment as our new tenant is starting their fitout.
The Honour Rolls have been and will be preserved into the future. SP Boulton is on the Honour Roll.
The area will be opened to the public once our retail tenant opens in early September.
Stephen Philip Boulton was my great-uncle.
Photo Courtesy Catherine McKellar, Dexus Group
Thank you, Catherine, for clarifying the matter, providing the photos and kindly offering to give me a tour of the old Commonwealth Bank building next time I'm in Sydney. 


I didn't think I needed to bother Catherine when I happened to be in Pitt Street, Sydney during office hours in June 2018. I called in to have a look at the final setting for the Honour Rolls.

I was not impressed. Where is the respect? Who will remember in 50 years that these Honour Rolls for former staff are here because this building once housed the head office of the Commonwealth Bank? These rolls would be better off in their original position, in the outside foyer of this building, where they can be viewed out of hours, including on Anzac Day. What do you think?

WW1 & WW2 Honour Rolls, A-K, looking out towards Pitt St

WW1 & WW2 Honour Rolls, L-Z, looking out towards Pitt St
So my question at the start of this post has been answered. Yes, the Commonwealth Bank's staff who served in the Great War (and the Second World War too) will continue to be honoured - in a way. But Remembrance Day does seem to have lost its meaning.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Stephen Boulton, Anzac Day 1917

With Anzac Day coming up tomorow, my thoughts turn to my great uncle Stephen Boulton as I wonder - how did he spend Anzac Day on the Western Front one hundred years ago?

Corporal S P Boulton, 21st FAB, Jan 1917
His letters reveal that 1917 was a roller-coaster ride for him, with a series of UPs and DOWNs. He went on ten days’ leave  to England around 5 January 1917 (UP) but, being a victim of that year's extreme cold winter in France, he was already incubating the mumps (DOWN). He'd only been back in France for a day when the symptoms emerged and he went straight into a hospital isolation ward in Boulogne and then into a convalescent camp. He didn’t leave there for the Base Camp at Etaples until 24 February, when he underwent the required 10 days of training exercises before sick soldiers could rejoin their units.

Coincidentally, the 24 February was the day his mates in the 1st Division took part in casualty-laden action at Bapaume. So his stay in the hospital, the convalescent camp and the Base Camp was a high point on his 1917 ride, as being sick allowed him to stay relatively warm and dry through the worst of the winter weather and to escape some of the front-line horrors (UP).

After Bapaume, the 1st Division was rested from front-line service, and the authorities found it more convenient to leave Steve in the Base Camp, suffering the endless training regimes desiged to keep soldiers busy as he waited to go up the line. For strategic reasons the Germans had retreated in the Spring of 1917 to their well-fortified Hindenberg line of defence, which the Allied forces now determined to break through, as they had at Pozières in 1916. A veteran of the latter battle, and watching the comings and goings in the Base Camp, Steve was obviously well aware of the intended action, because he referred in a letter to censorship restricting his ability to mention what was going on at this time.

It was not until 29 March that Steve rejoined his old artillery mates, now relocated from 21st Field Artillery Brigade to the 1st FAB as part of a major reorganisation of the Allied forces prior to the fighting season of 1917. They were camped in the Béhencourt rest area north east of Amiens. The Arras offensive was about to commence, a definite trough in Steve's ride through 1917 (DOWN).

On 6 April the 1st FAB (except for one unspecified section) moved out of Béhencourt to a staging camp en route and next day moved into its position south-east of Arras and north-east of Bapaume where the Australian 1st Division was holding a lengthy (13,000 yard) section of the front line, running almost parallel to the German front-line with only a kilometre of No-Man's-Land between them. A few miles to the north, Australia’s 4th Division faced the Germans at Bullecourt, a French village which had been incorporated into the Hindenberg line, just like Pozières had been in 1916. The British General, Gough, ordered a poorly-planned attack on Bullecourt on 10-11 April, a battle which failed dismally and was very costly for the Australians.
Aerial view of Bullecourt, before the 1917 battles,
showing zig-zag lines of German trenches and, in front,
dark grey lines of barbed wire rolls
Source AWM J00276

With Allied defence of this section of the front line so thin, the German infantry saw their opportunity to pounce without warning. On 15 April they broke through a section of the front line held by the Australian 1st Division, at Lagnicourt. The Artillery had no rifles of their own to defend themselves and, while surviving unit war diaries do not specifically mention the 1st Battery in which Steve served, they did report that four 18 pounders of the 4th Battery and one Howitzer of the 102nd Battery were totally destroyed. The Germans were quickly pushed back, but this incident dented the otherwise proud record of the Australian forces in France. (DOWN)

Steve’s unit stayed in the line until 21 April, when the 1st FAB was withdrawn for a few days of rest in the wagon lines, where it seems that Steve and his mates spent Anzac Day in 1917.

Australian artillery in Second Battle of Bullecourt,
Source AWM E0600
Gough ordered a second Battle of Bullecourt, across the same ground as the first. It began on 3 May, and involved three Australian divisions, with some ground successfully recaptured from the Germans. The latter abandoned their efforts to regain their lost ground by 17 May and the Australians were withdrawn.

In the two battles the AIF suffered 10,000 casualties (killed and wounded) and many men were captured, for no important strategic advantage. Any residual Australian confidence in British command all but disappeared.

The 1st FAB was relieved in the line by a British artillery unit on the night of 19/20 May and moved back to reach the Béhencourt Camp by 22 May, for a rest spell before returning north to Flanders. If Steve ever wrote any letters during these busy two months of front-line action, they did not survive.

Corporal S P Boulton was selected for officer training in England and on 6 June 1917 he entered the Officer Cadet School for the Royal Field Artillery, run at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.  (UP) A four-month gap in Steve’s letters ended on 29 July 1917 with a letter addressed from London to his mother.  Its context suggests he'd written some letters home during his previous two months in England, but they too are missing.

Artillery officers in WW1 required certain character traits to be demonstrated, as well as an aptitude for highly technical training, so their training was of much longer duration than officer training in the infantry, with a number of exams to be passed (DOWN). The training regime kept Steve away from the front line for five months, an absence which proved in hindsight to be another high point on his roller-coaster ride of 1917, because he escaped the bloodbath of the Battle of Passchendaele in Flanders in the second half of that year (UP), when many of his artillery mates were killed.

For more details, see Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, RAMC, & Lieut Stephen Boulton, AIF, available from a number of online outlets and several military bookshops.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ammunition Carriers at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

On Anzac Day next week there will be much talk of Gallipoli. Some commentators might mention the dangerous daily work of the ammunition carriers and might even refer to the July 1965 issue of the Journal of Limbless Soldier's Association, when William H S Kerr wrote on p 83:
I refer to those gallant and resourceful men, Bill McDonald and Lieut McHattie, of Newcastle, who, from the crack of dawn as the saying goes, were in charge of those pack mules - sometimes two and three. They scrambled up those hills and valleys of thorny scrub and steep ridges, without roads or tracks, hour after hour and day after day, to be sniped at from everywhere and shelled from all directions and had to supply the troops with food and ammunition.
(Note: I'm not sure of Bill McDonald's fate but McHattie died of wounds on the Western Front in 1917.)

Here's another description of this very high risk task, from Stephen Boulton, who enlisted in January 1915 as an Artillery Gunner in the 1st Division of the AIF and also carried ammunition to the troops at Gallipoli. He outlines his duties in a letter to his mother back in Sydney, a letter written on 19 Nov 1915 from his hospital in Malta, to where he was evacuated from Anzac Cove with severe dysentery:
You ask what work I was doing on the Peninsula. For the first fortnight or 3 weeks I was attached to the Brigade Amm. Column and had my dugout amongst the rest of the Column in Shrapnel Gully and generally started work at 8 o'clock at night, just about dark. Then proceeded down to the Ammunition Park on the beach from where we carried shell to the different batteries round Anzac. Each shell with cartridge case etc. for the 18 pounder field gun weighs about 25 lbs each, so we only carry two at a time, one on each shoulder. This is not a great weight but having to climb gullies and steep hills covered with big boulders and rocks it fairly pumps the wind out of you and numerous rests are taken.
All this is done during the night, some nights we would only get one or two trips, but others, where a lot of firing and heavy bombardment had taken place, we would be kept going till the small hours in getting the required number of rounds up. This sort of work is always done at night when possible as there is a good deal of risk attached to it and the Turk snipers are always on the look out to stop ammunition from getting up, and the brass cartridge cases of shells make an easy target to pick up. Of course we use all the saps communications trenches and firing line for cover and you are always told to keep off the sky line even at night time.
For the first week my shoulders got terribly sore with carrying the shell. Other shell of course was carried heavier than these, but we only took one at a time then. The 4.7 gun, one that was used at Ladysmith in the Boer war, went nearly 100 lbs weight and meant a walk of nearly 2 miles from the beach. Then there was the 6 inch howitzer which shells went over 100 lbs. without their charge. This work of course was rather uninteresting, but being fairly out in the open all the time, there was a fair amount of risk attached to it and the infantry chaps in the trenches used to tell us when we rested alongside them in the firing line they would sooner have their job. Some nights we wouldn't get any shell to carry at all, but about a dozen of us would be told off with pick and shovel to dig a gun pit for a new gun to be in a new position and be concealed. This was always done at night so as to keep its position utterly unknown to the enemy.
After leaving the B.A.C. to be lent to the D.A. Park I moved as you know my dug out down to the hill rising off the beach and quite close to my work which was done on the beach alone, amongst all the Ammunition. In this case we generally worked throughout the day, stacking ammunition unloaded off the punts and barges on the beach. Also loading ammunition of all kinds on to mules to go to the trenches and batteries where they could get to.
These mules with their Indian drivers are wonderful animals and adored by the Indian Johnnies as they are called. A mule could carry as much shell on specially made saddles as 4 or 6 men, so you can imagine how valuable and useful they were. They indeed saved the situation for us and did wonderful work with their transport of stores munitions etc. The Indians take the greatest care of them and after getting his cart loaded should anything in the way of a case of jam or bag of sugar fall off the Indian will never stop to pick it up as the load is made all the lighter for his mule who is all he thinks about. They suffered fairly heavily from shrapnel fire, but the Indians used to say "plenty mule get killed" but "plenty more mule."
This work on the beach came pretty heavy as the lifting of the big shells and boxes of 18 pounders and .303 small arm, am sure affected my insides and never gave me a chance of getting well over there, as if I had a rest for a day I would be better, but as soon as I returned to the lifting the whole recurrence would occur as bad as ever.
Excerpt from Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, R.A.M.C. & Lieut Stephen Boulton, A.I.F., available online. For more details, see Louise Wilson's  website