5) John Francis Coyle: 1919 – Home from The Western Front

The personal record for his time spent during 1919 are very sketchy and the War Diary only contributes a few details to confirm his whereabouts and actions. John Coyle appears to have enjoyed a Christmas (1818) and New Year in the UK – to then return to his unit on the 18th of January, 1919. He had been away for around three and a half months on training, reviews, qualification for officer status and then on leave.

Remnants of 7th-13th Reinforcements -45th Battn. 15th March 1918 (1)“Remnants of the 13th Reinforcements” (the men he sailed to Gallipoli with) – Meteren, France, March – 1919.

JFC was sent back to France, via the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre. He rejoined the 12th Machine Gun Company (“from the OTB” – Overseas Training Brigade) in Belgium at a town called Anseremme. This was a further distance inside of Belgium (to the east of Charleroi) than where the company had been used to fighting. John’s old company, the 45th Battalion (ex of the 13th , Reinforcements – see pic above) containing many of his cobbers from Gallipoli and Egypt were situated ‘just down the road’ at Hastiere-Lavaux.

During the month of January the company’s war diary notes that the men were occupied with lessons and lectures – language courses and work skills for their repatriation. We hope the men had some choice here as the lessons ranged from sheep grading to book-keeping to arithmetics and algebra. The diary also notes that after a snow-fall the men went tobogganing and “seemed to have some proficiency in this”. The official notes also state that the company had to be given the instruction that “civilians must not be snow-balled”.

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During these months the 12th MG Company was stationed alongside the 4th Machine Gun Battalion. In February and March the companies were amalgamated and plans made to move out to Gougnies on the west side of Charleroi, Belgium. On the 1st of February John Coyle was officially “taken on strength” (joined) to the 4th Machine Gun Battalion.

Again the daily life here consisted of cleaning the billets and equipment, dress parades and daily organized educational classes. There was it seemed ample time for many side trips to the U.K, Brussels and Paris. It would seem that JFC was still trying hard to behave himself or maybe he realised he should save every penny & pound he had earned to be comfortable back in Australia. For whatever reason he remained steady for over 3-4 months serving often as the Duty Captain in charge of assigning guards and sentries. He may have also had a hand in enforcing the repeated company commands; “do not shoot game” and avoid “killing fish with explosives”.

In April of 1919 John Francis Coyle was made a full Lieutenant (he often referred to himself as the “Loony Lieutenant”). His part in this gigantic war effort was coming to an end. The remaining companies made plans to evacuate to England to await their repatriation to Australia. Many men he had served with had already returned on their “quota”. There are no further War Diary entries for the 12th Machine Gunners or the 4th MG Battalion after April of 1919.

From Belgium the remainders of the force were processed at the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre. It had recently been expanded and modified to cope with the troops arriving there from France and Belgium. General Monash was now in charge of demobilisation and repatriation and had sporting fields, a theatre and a newspaper operating to occupy their time.

Monash was now responsible for the movement of 180,000 men; Fit men and the wounded and an estimated 15,400 dependants. Many of these soldiers had married and had children whilst stationed overseas. The ‘quota’ system (by the shipload) he devised accounted for the amount of available ships and priority. Unfortunately this did not always mean “first to come, first to go” and for JFC is meant that he had to wait until Quota No. 58 was ready.

John Francis Coyle left France for England, for the last time, on the 2nd of June, 1919. Lucky to have escaped death and major injury and fortunate to be healthy enough to have avoided the Spanish Influenza rampant at the time, he was to spend nearly another two months in England, on leave or at the camps at Salisbury Plains.

Longbridge Derverill – near the Salisbury Plains camps – 1919 “Officers of Quota No 58”

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John Coyle like all the other (non-attached) soldiers were pining for their country and their sweethearts at home.

Oh, London girls are sporty girls, and Cardiff girls are sweet,

And the dark eyed girls of Charleroi are dainty and petite,

But now I’m on the track for home the only girl for me

Is the homespun, all-wool dinkum girl who’s waiting on the Quay. 

I’ve had my fun, I must admit, and made the money go,

For the sheilahs know the Aussie hat, from France to Scapa Flow.

There was Maisie down at Margate, there was Maggie up at Frome,

But I’m forgetting all the lot, now that I’m bound for home.

P. Vance (on board a returning troopship)

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From England, John Coyle travelled as Returned Services aboard the HMV ‘Suevic”. He boarded on the 23 July but possible did not sail until the 1st of August, 1918.

He disembarked from the Suevic in Sydney (?) on the 10th of September, 1919. It is noted in his records that on the 8th of December, 1919 his commission with the Australian Infantry Forces was listed as “appointment terminated”.

For the purpose of this memoir, we assume that for his valiant, brave and resourceful efforts and for serving King and Country for nearly four long years, he was to be considered as honourably discharged.

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2 thoughts on “5) John Francis Coyle: 1919 – Home from The Western Front

  1. Allen says:

    Hello

    Thanks for posting the picture “Remnants of the 13th Reinforcements” (the men he sailed to Gallipoli with) – Meteren, France, March – 1919.

    My Grandfather is the big lad centre front. Robert Allan Walker MM. He returned to Australia in 1919 after service with the 13th and 45th Battalions AIF.

    My mother had never seen this photo of her father and it bought her great pleasure to see it.

    Thanks

    Allen Bates

    • jockok says:

      Hi Allen,
      I am so glad your mother was able to see this photo. They were tough in the 13th/45th.
      My Grandfather, John Francis, was pretty good at labelling his photos.
      So, most of his cobbers will get a nod if he had their picture with him.
      There may be more at ‘Discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au’ and on Trove online.
      I would very much appreciate any info on your grandfathers life after the war, if you would like to share that.
      All the very best,
      Jock

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