Alan Garden gave up law to go to war

Name: Alan Garden
Date: 1916-1918
Unit: 8th Field Artillery
Location: Europe

Alan Garden abandoned his law degree at Melbourne University to sign up for World War I. He joined with his mates, Bill Woodfull (who later captained the Australian cricket team), and Bill Leggatt (who became Sir William Leggatt, Agent-General for Victoria in London) and Norm (no other details are known).

They all felt it was the right thing to do, the Mother Country needed them, and they barely thought about the danger they would face.

Alan and Norm joined the 8th Field Artillery and were sent to England for training and then on to France.

Alan wrote regularly to his parents, his letters full of descriptions of places he'd been and events that had taken place - but rarely did he describe the war. He appeared to be determined to save his parents from worrying too much about him. Every letter had phrases such as "I am well and safe and not in any danger", even when he was in the thick of things.

As a young wide-eyed Aussie kid, he found quaint old England a new experience. He wrote in his first letter home,

"I'm here! We arrived in Plymouth on Sunday. We left the old ship about midday Sunday on tenders and were brought into the docks and from there we entrained immediately."

"The trip was a magnificent one - we came through Devon & Somerset - and you have heard of the beauties of Devon. It was one of the prettiest journeys I have ever taken."

He was fascinated by the towns they passed through, writing of the rousing reception they received, especially from the women and girls. In Devonport

"the streets wind about in all manner of ways and are uncommonly narrow. Seldom did I notice a straight lane - it seems that they must wind and bend about."

Once in the barracks at Fovant in Wiltshire, they settled into huts where they had beds that were four inches off the ground.

"The huts are grand, much ahead of tents. They are made of tin, lighted by electric light and give ample room for all. The beds are the best we have had up to date. They are raised about four inches from the floor - just fancy, up in the air four inches - and we sleep on a straw mattress & in addition have a straw pillow."

In a letter written about two months later in January 1917, he is still wondering when they will go to France.

"As you see, I am still in England and we know nothing definite as to when we shall be sent over to finish our training in South France. We have had some bad weather lately including a fairly heavy snow storm last Friday. However we have had a few grand days when the sun shines nearly all day. Quite remarkable.

"We get no leave at all here and have to work Saturdays & Sundays since the horses must be attended to. We have a rough lot here - mostly from Argentine. There are a few real first class horses, but as a rule they are not a first class lot. I have never seen a mob of horses that kick so much.

"Over here we have the English pattern horse rug, which is about the worst patent I have ever seen. The bad fitting rug is continually slipping and soon aggravates the horse until he kicks. They all know the trumpet calls especially the feeding up whistle.

"Stable picket is no easy time, since four men have to feed 80 horses and they go mad as soon as they hear the feed buckets rattle. In the day time, of course each driver attends to his own horse and the horses are all fed at the same time.

"These horses frighten some of the lads who have come over as drivers and have had little to do with horses. I have seen a quivering driver stand feed bin in hand as far from the kicking horse as possible, and when the order to feed is given, he takes a long run into the stall, tips up the feed bin and runs out 'hell for leather' and then gets his bin kicked out of his hands.

"The horses put an end to all the good times we used to have. It is bitterly cold doing the stables these mornings and I wish the horses to a warmer place.

"A Canadian battery have been firing all week and are about due to leave. I do not like Canadians taking them generally. I have met so few real decent chaps among them and they wish they were home as much as we do. They wear a uniform much the same as an English Tommy and are covered with bright brass buttons and elaborate brass badges. They are much smaller men than Australians and have the ruddy cheeks, blue eyes and fair hair of the Tommy.

"Generally they speak through their noses and say 'sure' and 'guess'. I suppose their language depends on where they live in Canada - whether they are near the United States or not. They tell me that it is 'hell' in Canada unless you are in khaki. The women and recruiting sergeants give the young men no peace at all.

"There is a Tommy battery over the road from us. They have just arrived from Ireland where they have been training. My word they are small, weedy men and not a very intelligent lot. They are mostly Grimsby men and look as if they seldom have a bath. They have good capable sergeants."

Alan Garden eventually got his wish and went to the front. Some months later he was badly gassed and was sent back to England for convalescence. On his return to France he received a severe wound in the leg and was again gassed which affected him for the rest of his life.

But he survived the war and returned to Australia where he completed his interrupted law degree. He established a successful practice in Swan Hill in Victoria and became interested in local government, serving four separate terms as Mayor of Swan Hill and becoming a leading figure in Rotary. He died in 1959 aged 64.

Original material for this article was supplied by Mrs Joan Pullen of Victoria

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Alan Garden gave up law to go to war, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 18 May 2024,
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