It was not long after the declaration of war, that the Dingwall boys of Toowoomba decided to join the army. The stirring recruitment campaigns in Queensland, as in all other states of Australia, had their desired outcome, an increase in enlistment of soldiers in the Australian Imperial Forces. News of the war was all over the news in the newspapers in Toowoomba – it was hard to resist the call to arms. The Dingwall family, sent their sons Douglas, Alexander and Gordon to fight for victory over the enemy abroad and bravely endured the horrors of war from a distance through the letters sent from the front.
Gordon Monroe Dingwall signed up as a Private for the 5th Divisional Signal Company of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment on the 4 September 1914. His rank at the time of enlistment, was that of a Sapper. This role was well suited to a young, fit boilermaker from Toowoomba, Queensland.
(Alexander Findlay Dingwall enlisted on 31st August 1914 and Douglas Duncan Dingwall enlisted on 9th September 1914.)
A sapper, also called pioneer or combat engineer, is a combatant or soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defenses, as well as working on road and airfield construction and repair.
HMAT Star of England (A15), at Pinkenbar, Queensland, with the 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment aboard. This vessel was part of a convoy carrying the first contingent to Egypt.
On the 24th September 1914, just 3 weeks after enlisting, Gordon embarked from Brisbane aboard the ‘Star of England‘. Pinkenbar Wharf was the point of embarkation for many World War 1 soldiers.
Gordon and thousands of other soldiers were stationed at Heliopolis in Egypt for their training – these locations were known as the ‘nursery’and much of the day to day activities of the soldiers during the training can be collated from their letters home.
Gordon wrote often to his mother, Catherine Minnie Dingwall, and his sister Helen Doris (Nell). Many of these early letters were written on special letterhead paper provided by The Cairo Young Man’s Christian Association, British and Colonial Forces in Egypt.
His letters always began with encouraging news of his health:
“Dear Mother, just a few lines to let you know that I am well.”
Soldiers letters were heavily censored for military knowledge that could get into the wrong hands, so most letters would not identify their locations or their movements. In these first letters however, it was clear that Gordon was writing from the various ‘training camps’ in Egypt; the location being listed at the top right of most of his letters.
In this letter to Nell on 5th February 1915, from Heliopolis, Gordon reveals a little about his movements (… shifted camp to Heliopolis …) and possible embarkation to the front (… Queenslanders, one regiment of the N.L.Light Horse are going to the canal on Monday …).
Letters often included phrases to downplay the severity of the battles raging around the soldiers to cushion the impact of war on their loved ones. This was typical of the style of writing encouraged by the commanding officers. In the letter above Gordon describes the battles in the canal as …”they are having a bit of a scrap on the Canal” … The ‘scrap’ he was referring to was the Turkish and German offensive on the Suez Canal
The Turkish Minister of Marine, Djemal Pasha, together with his German Chief of Staff Kress von Kressenstein, led an expedition on 14 January 1915 across the Sinai Peninsula from Beersheba – the Suez Expeditionary Force of 25,000 men – aimed at surprising the British and seizing control of the canal. Chief responsibility in both planning and execution lay with Kressenstein with Djemal as the expedition’s figurehead.
Gordon also mentions in passing the outbreak of measles among the soldiers and research shows that some soldiers died from measles and the complications of pneumonia whilst at sea.
Gordon’s letters home ….. January to April 1915 ….
The service record does not give any evidence that Gordon was part of ANZAC on 25 April 1915, but later in the record he is listed as evacuated from Gallipoli. One can only assume that Gordon saw action at ANZAC but perhaps a month after the first landing.
Gordon’s war service 1915 – much is missing from the digitised records available at the Australian War Memorial. – more research here:
The Casualty Form – Active Service record shows that Gordon joined M.E.F. Gallipolli at Alexandria on 9th May 1915.
The Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) was part of the British Army during World War I, that commanded all Allied forces at Gallipoli and Salonika. This included the initial naval operation to force the straits of the Dardanelles.
According to the Service record, Gordon was attached to the Signal Troop stationed at Gallipoli on the 10th October 1915 and was later evacuated sick on the 19th December 1915. On the 20th December he was disembarked from the front at Alexandria aboard the HMAT A10 Karoo.
Soldiers from the Western Australian 8th Battery had boarded HMAT A10 Karoo and sailed for an unknown destination. at 1:30am on 25 Apr 1915.
The letters sent home during this time were written on any scraps of paper that could be found, and often written in pencil – fading now with extreme age. In his letter to his Mother written on July 28th, 1915, he talks about his experiences in the ‘dug out’ as more of an adventure than an endurance test. He includes some snippets of what is happening around him …” there are millions of flies here … no phone have to run messages instead … went for a swim and washed clothes in the sea … only thing we are uncertain of is when shrapnel will begin to fall… the boats look well at night with searchlights on and guns firing … a few aeroplanes flying over us which drop an occasional bomb … the enemy’s planes very seldom come over, frightened of our airmen I think.”
Just a few months later, Gordon was evacuated sick on the 19th December 1915 and on the 20th December, he disembarked from the front at Alexandria aboard the HMAT A10 Karoo. Gordon was later sent to the front-line trenches near Armentières, in an area dubbed “the nursery” of the Western Front along with four divisions of the AIF on the Belgian border.
Gordon Monroe Dingwall continued to write letters home whilst stationed in France, Belgium, Egypt and England. His story is like many of the soldiers who served in the Light Horse Infantry brigades and saw action after long periods of training and hardship in desert sands. During those times his letters read more like those of a son on holiday abroad.
Minnie Dingwall kept his many letters, some still in envelopes, and all tied up with string and kept in a box. His communications to her gave a brief glimpse into the life of a World War 1 Signalman – a hero in her eyes.
 Private Records of Gordon Monroe Dingwall – Letters from the Front