Courtesy of Pakenham Upper Community Church Hall
Private Frank Bertram Doyle +
Pakenham & District War Memorial, Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour & Pakenham Upper State School Honour Book
Born: 11 January 1896 - Elaine (Mt Doran), Victoria
Enlisted: 15 July 1915 aged 19
Unit: 6th Battalion, 13th Reinforcement (SERN: 4165)
Served: Egypt & Western Front
Died of wounds: 16 December 1916 - Southampton, England
Frank was one of John and Georgina Doyle’s eight children (1). In 1907, Frank’s older brother John settled at Pakenham Upper. and was later joined by Georgina and some of the other children. Frank attended Pakenham Upper State School before gaining employment as a packer. When he enlisted in July 1915, Frank was working at the Melbourne Sports Depot (2). Frank, who was just 19 years old years old, was assigned to the 6th Battalion 13th Reinforcement at Broadmeadows Army Camp north of Melbourne (2a). Frank was described in the local press as “very popular” and whilst he was on final leave before heading overseas, his friends at Upper Pakenham organised a special social evening to wish him “God Speed” (3). Frank departed Melbourne for Egypt just a few days after Christmas 1915. He was taken on strength with the 6th Battalion at Serapeum in March 1916. Frank recorded this in his diary as follows: “We arrived at Serapeum about 3:30. We made our way through soft sand with the pack - it was hard work .... The dust and sand are awful”. The next day, Frank’s unit was told it was being sent to France (4).
Crossing the Mediterranean took a week. Many of the men slept on deck as the portholes needed to be kept shut at night due to the possibility of submarine attack. The men were inoculated en-route and issued with gas masks. At one stage, they were each given a bottle of beer. Frank recorded the welcome the soldiers received at Marseille and then passing through the countryside on a train in railway cattle trucks: “passing through the city we cheered, they cheered, and we all cheered. We gradually got further out. Old Dad would raise his head from his work in the fields and wave his cap showing his white head and Mother would also wave her hand. Poor old people. God only knows what they are thinking of, perhaps they have lost a son or a brother. Passed Lyons ... We never tired of waving to people and shaking hands with French soldiers” (5).
The Australians were initially positioned around Fleurbaix, which was regarded as a quiet, “nursery” zone. Nonetheless, there was fighting nearby. As Frank recorded in his diary on 3 April, they were in “hearing” range of an intense bombardment: “the guns get louder, they shake the windows” he wrote (6). Initially Frank’s unit was engaged in erecting barbed wire entanglements, during which Frank had the experience of hearing “shells ... whistling through the air” (7). Frank also recorded going into the village with a mate and enjoying cocoa, cake and pineapple (8), no doubt welcome luxuries given the poor quality of army rations! In July, the 6th Battalion was shifted to Pozieres, where it took part in its first major battle on the Western Front. Frank described his experience of getting up to the front line there: “25 July. (Tue). Today we set off to join the battalion, part of whom we found on the way taking water and stew up to the trenches ... we were loaded up with rations and took them to the reserve trench. We left it there and took water to the front line. Lt Sutcliffe was in charge and we got lost in the wood, for three hours we rushed about under shrapnel and H.E [high explosives], dead all over the place. It was like a nightmare, eventually we were guided to the front line. Every ounce of my strength had been taxed. D Company worked under M.G. and rifle fire all day digging a trench - suffered big losses. We got to the line at midnight”... 26th July. (Wed). We worked deepening the trench during the dark hours of the morning and during the day. We were shelled without mercy the whole day long” (9). He later described having “had a very hot time out here” under shelling (shrapnel, high explosives and ‘whizz bangs’) and machine gun fire (10). On one occasion, he recorded: “We got pretty hot shelling. In the afternoon the parapet was blown in on five of us. In the evening we were again going to the front line, when Fritz [the Germans] spotted us on the sky line. He sent up three red flares. Then he instantly opened a terrific fire on us. We got into the shell holes while he poured the shell in, then we retired in twos and threes to strong points. All the night he shelled the supports to the ground. Charlie Young was killed and three others badly wounded, Sergt [sic] Farrelly got shrapnel in the neck while we were standing together” (11).
Although Frank survived Pozieres, some 23,000 other Australians were killed or wounded in just six weeks. Later, on the 12th November, Frank was wounded in the field, near Gueudecourt (not far from Bapaume), when the Australians attempted to capture a German position known as “Fritz’s Folly”. The Germans were entrenched and while the Australians got close to the objective, the Germans counter-attacked. Knee high in mud, the Australians could not counter the enemy attack and had to retreat (12). Doyle was badly wounded in the engagement, suffering a wound and compound fracture to the right thigh. With his wounds regarded as dangerous, Frank was sent from the casualty clearing station in the field to hospital in Rouen, then onto the University Hospital in Southampton, England. There, his right leg was amputated, but gangrene set in and he died on 16 December 1916 (13), just short of a year after he left Australia. Frank was buried at the Military Cemetery in Netley. His gravestone is inscribed with the famous words from the Gospels: “Greater love hath no man that he lay down his life for his friends”. Curiously, the headstone states that Frank was 19, although he was just short of 21 when he died (14).
In reporting Frank’s death, the Dandenong Advertiser said that Frank had been “a favourite everywhere on account of his funny, good tempered nature” and on behalf of Frank’s many friends, expressed their sympathy with his mother Georgina, who was living at her son John’s property “Hillview” in Pakenham Upper (15). Georgina was secretary of the local Pakenham Upper Red Cross at the time. Amongst Frank’s personal effects returned to Georgina were his identity disc, letters, postcards, testament, diary, keys, wallet and curios (16). Frank’s service and sacrifice was honoured by the Pakenham Upper community in 1917 when his name was included on the Pakenham Upper Roll of Honour at the local Hall (17). Later, in July 1918, his family was also presented with a special certificate in his honour (18). Frank’s name, photograph and details were also included in the Pakenham Upper State School Honour Book which was dedicated in 1920 (19).
The assistance of Frank’s relatives Wally Nye and Rod Appleton; & Joy Carberry of the Pakenham Upper Community Church Hall is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) The Age, 13/2/1947 p. 9
(2) & (15) Dandenong Advertiser 11/1/1917, p. 2
(2a) (13) & (16) NAA B2455 DOYLE F B
(3) Dandenong Advertiser 16/12/1915, p. 2
(4) Austin 1992 p. 174
(5) & (6) Ibid p. 147
(7) Ibid p. 149
(8) Ibid pp. 151-152.
(9) Ibid p. 167-8
(10) & (11) Ibid p. 174
(12) Ibid p. 184
(14) & (19) Pakenham Upper State School Honour Book
(17) Pakenham Gazette 28/9/1917, p.2
(18) Pakenham Gazette 5/7/1918, p.2