Private Bert Eaton and Sergeant Tom Martin From Woodford
Private Herbert John Eaton and Sergeant Thomas Andrew Martin, from Woodford, Queensland, ca. 1915. Source: John Oxley Library, Negative No. 38152.
The photograph above of World War I soldiers, Bert Eaton and Tom Martin, was donated to the library in 1982 as part of a small collection of images relating to the Woodford area in Queensland. Other images relating to the war were also included, however it is this small image of two young friends, on the brink of what they imagined would be a great adventure, which conceals a tragic story.
Private Herbert John Eaton, known as Bert, (service no. 1828) was born in Pine Rivers, north of Brisbane, in 1889. He was the son of George Eaton and Hannah Isabella, nee Jenkinson, and one of nine children. The family moved to Woodford in the 1890s and selected land at Stoney Creek. There they established a property which they named Eaton Vale where they carried out dairying, pig-breeding, farming and grazing. The two eldest sons, Charlie and Bert, each owned a team of horses which were used to haul timber from their father's land to local mills.(Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 25 May 1912, p.3) At the time of his enlistment on the 16th December 1915 Bert was a 26 year old teamster.
Bert embarked from Brisbane on board the HMAT A42 Boorara on the 16th August 1916 as part of the 42nd Infantry Battalion, 2nd Reinforcement. He was hospitalised during the voyage suffering from mumps. After training in England at Codford Camp he proceeded to France in early February 1917. The winter of 1916-17 was particularly severe and Bert was hospitalised with chilblains shortly after his arrival, returning to his unit in March.
Australian troops on the Western Front during the severe winter of 1917. The soldier in the foreground has his legs encased in sandbags as protection against the mud and damp. Source: Australian War Memorial, Image ID E00233.
The 42nd Battalion was in the front lines in Belgium for most of this period, participating in the major battles at Messines on the 7th June and Warneton on the 31st July. On the 4th October 1917 the 42nd Battalion participated in a large operation at Broodseinde Ridge, Belgium, which began before dawn. The Australian troops were shelled heavily at their starting point and suffered many casualties before the attack began. Although they achieved all of their objectives the Australians paid a high price with the divisions suffering 6,500 casualties. Bert Eaton was one of this number. He sustained a gun shot wound to the abdomen and died later that day at a casualty clearing station. He is buried at the Nine Elms British Cemetery, Poperinghe, Flanders, Belgium.
A section of Nine Elms British Cemetery at Poperinghe, Belgium. Source: Australian War Memorial, Image ID H12646.
Bert enlisted with his friend, Thomas Andrew Martin (service no. 880), who was born in Cohuna, Victoria, but who had moved to Woodford with his parents and siblings prior to the outbreak of war. Tom Martin was the son of James Frederick Martin and Esther Fowler. The couple had 10 children, two of whom had died as infants. At the time of his enlistment on the 16th December 1915, Tom was a 25 year old farmer. He was appointed as a Lance Corporal to the 42nd Battalion, D Company.
Lance Corporal Thomas Andrew Martin. Source: John Oxley Library, "Queenslander" 22 July 1916.
He embarked from Sydney on the ship HMAT Borda A30 on the 5th June 1916, and after training in England, proceeded to France in late November of that year. He was wounded in action on the 7th June 1917 at the Battle of Messines with a gun shot wound to the right knee and was transferred to the 1st Southern General Hospital in Birmingham, England for treatment. He rejoined the 42nd Battalion on the Western Front on the 24th November and was promoted to sergeant in March 1918.
Martin was killed in action during an advance near Mont St. Quentin in France on the 1st September 1918. Sergeant J.E. Thompson of the 41st Battalion provided the following account.
I saw Sgt. Tom Martin shortly after he was killed by M.G. bullets in the back (I think at Chingnolles) about 6.a.m. He was just behind me and he saw one of our men back in the trench with a Lewis Gun get wounded and ran back to get the gun and got hit just as he reached the trench. Half an hour later I went back and he was dead so he must have been killed almost or quite instantly. Source: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War, 1DRL/0428.
Martin was buried in an isolated grave ½ mile north of Allaines and 2½ miles north of Peronne, France. His remains were later transferred to the Sailly-Saillisel British Cemetery in Peronne.
Twenty four men from the Woodford area died during the Great War. On Anzac Day 1920 a service was held in which 24 trees were planted in their memory.
Lynn Meyers, QANZAC100 Content Curator