Wilfred George Gale
Wilfred George Gale, son of George Gale and Catherine Grace Fleming, was a 22 year old farm hand when he embarked with the 40th Battalion onboard the HMAT Berrima on 1 July 1916.
The 40th Battalion, seen in the image above, was recruited entirely from Tasmania including its officers. Lieutenant General John Monash later wrote, “The fact that it was composed wholly of the men of a small island state, gave it a special stimulus to the highest emulation of all other units. In no other unit was the pride of origin and sense of responsibility to the people it represented stronger than the 40th Battalion.”
The 40th Battalion arrived in England on 22 August 1916, whereafter the troops were sent to Larkhill for further training. The Larkhill camp was situated in the Salisbury Plains, not far from Stonehenge.
Wilfred did not proceed with the troops to Larkhill as he was taken to the Devonport Military Hospital as soon as he landed. He was in hospital nine days.
After his release on 1 September 1916, Wilfred reported for service at the No. 1 Command Depot where he was classified as Class A, presumably an abbreviation that he was medically fit for active service. He was attached to the 10th Training Battalion, and two weeks later, rejoined the 40th Battalion at Larkhill.
On 23 November 1916, Wilfred proceeded with the battalion to France via Southampton, arriving at the Western Front in December 1916. Several months later, on 2 February 1917, Wilfred was admitted to field ambulance suffering from impetigo. After seven days there, he rejoined the battalion.
The battalion’s first major action was at Messines, launched just after 3:00 am on the morning on 7 June 1917, when the battalion attacked the enemy position near Ploegsteert Wood. According to a war diary, in describing the preparations before the offensive:
“A hot meal was issued, and the men advised to snatch an hour’s sleep, but everyone seemed too excited to rest. In later operations it was unnecessary to advise anybody to get all the rest and sleep they could, but Messines was our first big battle and we had a lot to learn.
“The popular idea seems to be that soldiers were always eager to get into battle. That idea was certainly promulgated by English war correspondents and other people—no doubt in the interest of recruiting. It is admitted that if most men were offered a chance to stay out of a fight they would refuse, because it is a fundamental principle of the code of dinkum blokes to stick to friends and go through hell with them if they have to go.” 
It may well be that the men of the 40th Battalion were not only excited by also anxious and possibly sleep deprived in the lead up to Zero Hour. The same diary also describes the tasks that were to be fulfilled before the offensive could commence:
“There was a pleasant theory fostered by the Higher Command that there would be no working parties for a week before the attack, and that the last two days would be devoted to sleep and other religious exercises. As it happened, particularly heavy piece of assembly trench digging was our lot up to the last night, and final preparations had to take the place of sleep on the day before Zero Day.”
At 3:10 am on 7 June 1917 nineteen mines previously laid down by the tunnellers beneath the enemy trenches exploded simultaneously with earth shattering effect, in an impact some said were felt in London.  The detonation of the mines were followed by a barrage of firepower with waves of attacking British, Australian and New Zealand columns seeking to capitalise the shock of the explosion and the accompanying onslaught of artillery fire.
It should be mentioned here that some of the men participating in the offensive were already affected by gas in the lead up to Zero Hour. On the approach to Ploegsteert Wood, the 40th Battalion was met with high explosive and incendiary shells.
“Here and there officers and men were hit direct by gas-shells. Wherever the slow moving columns were locally dislocated by such incidents, and excitement or haste occurred, men tended to be gassed by the steady shower of shell, and fell out by the way, retching and collapsed.” 
Wilfred also collapsed, recovered, and then continued to support the battalion. He was one of three men, whose dogged determination to prove themselves among the men of the 40th Battalion, resulted in the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation is as follows:
“On 7 June 1917 during operations south of Messines for his courage and determination. During the approach march he was knocked down and badly shaken by shell, and was also gassed. He collapsed in the assembly trench, but went forward in the attacking waves at Zero Hour. He took an important despatch back from the Black Line on the evening of the 7th and returned with the reply through an intense artillery barrage. On his return he collapsed from exhaustion, and had to be carried to the rear.” 
Wilfred was in hospital for a month and after treatment for gas poisoning he rejoined the unit on 5 July 1917. The unit then marched into the recently captured trenches on the Messines Ridge where they spent the next two weeks under constant shellfire. During this time between July and August, it rained incessantly until the trenches became morasses of mud. Surrounding craters were just as hazardous as it was known for soldiers to slip into the craters and drown.
The next major offensive was the Battle of Passchendaele where one of the 40th Battalion’s main objectives was to capture the German pillboxes along the Broodseinde Ridge. The operation was successful with approximately 300 prisoners and 17 machine guns captured. Although not as severe as the Battle of Messines, the 40th Battalion suffered 248 casualties in the offensive.
By month end, on 26 October 1917, Wilfred was hospitalised again, this time with influenza. He was discharged three weeks later but was readmitted at the beginning of December with the same condition. After his release on 22 December 1917, Wilfred rejoined the battalion.
At the beginning of the new year, Wilfred was transferred to a Signal School where he remained until March 1918, whereafter he took a two week furlough in England. No sooner had he returned to the Western Front than he was hospitalised again with influenza. Wilfred was then sent back to England where he was admitted to the Ontario Military Hospital at Orpington on 28 May 1918. Although staffed by Canadians, men from all Commonwealth nations were treated at the hospital, including Wilfred who would soon be diagnosed with bronchitis and myalgia.
After his discharge from the Ontario Military Hospital on 4 June 1918, Wilfred was granted furlough for two weeks. When he reported for duty on his return, he was classified as Class B1 i.e. able to be made fit by medical treatment. He was then sent to Sutton Veny in Wiltshire.
Sutton Veny was a training and convalescent camp, which in its proximity were three cinemas, a YMCA and two village pubs. Situated at the camp was a large mansion containing 50 rooms, which accommodated war weary men on leave or recovering from wounds and illnesses. Nearby was a churchyard where one of Wilfred’s cousins would later be buried after succumbing to the Spanish Flu in 1919. 
Wilfred was at the camp two months and when he reported for duty on 27 August 1918, he was attached to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill while awaiting his return to France.
On 21 September 1918, Wilfred rejoined his battalion. He arrived just in time to see the last major offensive to break through the Hindenburg Line on 29 September 1918. The 40th Battalion’s involvement in the offensive lasted four days before it went into reserve in preparation for further advances. This was the 40th Battalion’s last attack before the signing of armistice on 11 November 1918.
On 15 April 1919, Wilfred returned to England to await repatriation to Australia, embarked on the Rio Padro on 27 May 1919 and arrived in Hobart on 21 July 1919.
Not much has been recorded of Wilfred’s immediate post-war life. He returned to Elliott and resumed work as a farmhand. In his early fifties he married Margaret Aileen Best. He passed away in 1969.
 The Fortieth: A Record of the 40th Battalion AIF by Frank Clifton Green with a foreword by Sir John Monash, published 1922
 The detonation of mines in the Battle of Messines has been aptly captured in an Australian feature film, Beneath Hill 60
 Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean (1879-1968), Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918
 Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 20 December 1917 page 3385 and London Gazette 25 August 1917 page 8845
 Alfred Edward Shepperd passed away at the camp on 9 January 1919
Thanks for checking in and welcome to my adventure
Follow in Facebook to receive the latest updates