Royce Edward ARBON
Eyes blue, Hair black, Complexion dark
Royce (Roy) Edward Arbon was born in Bendigo, Victoria in August 1892, the second of three children. His parents were Edward and Mary Ann (nee O’Toole) Arbon and his brothers were Henry 1888, Leo 1902 and Michael 1903.
Roy attended school at Marist Brothers College, Bendigo, Victoria. After graduation he worked as a boot repairer & salesman for Mr. J. Colliers, a boot dealer on Mitchell Street.
Roy was well known in Bendigo, particularly in sporting circles. He played for the junior squad of the “Imps”, the Albion Imperial Australian Rules football team. While just 5 feet 5½ inches tall, Roy played in a “big” position in midfield. He had numerous citations in 1915 in the local paper, The Bendigo Independent - “a clever and resourceful rover”; “a reliable ruck man”; “a rover of merit”; “worked hard for the Imps” - and played up until the time he headed off to his Army training.
Enlistment and Training
By mid-1915, the recruitment programs for the War effort were in full swing, with thousands of men signing up. Roy answered the call and enlisted on 24 July in Bendigo, a month before his 23rd birthday. His military training began at the camp set up at the Epsom Racecourse in Bendigo.
There was one mishap during this training period. In late November, Roy was coming back to camp from a trip into town and the car he was in went off the road and crashed into a culvert. Luckily, Roy only received a cut over one eye and minor abrasions.
In December, Roy was assigned to the 14th reinforcements of 7th Battalion. His unit headed for Egypt, departing Melbourne on HMAT Themistocles (A32) on 28 January 1916. They disembarked in Suez on 28 February.
While Roy was enroute, major reorganizations had been going on in Egypt. This was necessary as the recruiting campaigns had essentially doubled the size of the AIF. The 57th Battalion was created on 18 February 1916 and this is where Roy was assigned and he joined them in Tel el Kebir on 29 February.
Half of the soldiers in the 57th were Gallipoli veterans from the 5th Battalion and the other half were the fresh reinforcements from Australia. Assignments to individual companies were based on a scheme by Victorian districts. Bendigo, Eaglehawk and Echuca soldiers were assigned to C Company. Lieutenant Richard Vivers Linton was in charge.
At the end of March they were moved to guard the Suez Canal at Ferry Post. Getting there took three 15+ mile marches in the Egyptian heat and many soldiers suffered.
Throughout April and May, they were engaged in digging trenches, laying wire and a number of training exercises against other Battalions.
Not all their time was work. They did get to swim in the Suez Canal and at other sites. The 5th Australian Division organised a sports competition that was held on 14 June. While the event was won by the 15th Battalion, there were several representatives from the 57th.
Just two days later, however, his battalion was getting organized to start their move to Alexandria and onto the Western Front. By 10:30p.m. on the 17th, they were on board the Transylvania and left the next day for Marseilles.
Into the Battle Zone
Roy arrived in France at 8.00a.m. on 23rd June and by 1.30p.m. was onboard a train headed for Steenbecque, 35 kilometres from the trenches at Fleurbaix. A three-day trip had the 57th arriving on the 26th. Shortly after settling in, they were reviewed by Prince Arthur of Connaught, a grandson of Queen Victoria. Battalion War Diaries show that training continued in Steenbecque with some additional ‘urgency’. This included gas mask use and how to handle an attack from ‘tear shell bombs’.
On the 9th of July, they were moved closer to the front - Estaires, 11 kilometres west of the trenches. The battle plan had the 15th Brigade located just to the left of the British Army. The 59th and 60th Battalions were to be the leads for the attack.
Directly across from the 15th Brigade was the “Sugar Loaf” salient, a heavily manned position with many machine guns. Fire from here could enfilade any troops advancing towards the front lines, giving the Germans a significant advantage.
The War Diaries say the 57th was in located in Estaires throughout July, which was well away from the front lines. But on 10 July the diaries also state that the 57th “commenced its march to the trenches” for relief of the 51st. By 4a.m. on the 11th, they had relieved the 51st and “during the day the companies settled down to the new surroundings”, certainly in the thick of things as there was heavy shelling.
The next three days were quiet, but on 15 July, the War Diaries detail a significant step up in activity:
0630 – Enemy commences shelling our position. This was continued until 1230. The shelling was mostly high explosive and did considerable damage to our parapets.
2030 – The Battalion on our right made a gas attack which started the enemy shelling. About 2115 the fire shifted on to our B & C Coys and we suffered severe shelling till about 2330. Our communication trenches and firing line were damaged.
Casualties for the day were 1 Officer (2Lt A. E. Keys) wounded, 9 other ranks killed, 1 died of wounds and 18 other ranks wounded.
Source: AWM 23/74/6 57th Infantry Battalion July 1916
We believe that Roy was one of those ‘18 other ranks wounded’.
Roy – what happened?
Roy was a stretcher bearer for the Battalion. Stretcher bearers were subject to the same risks as other soldiers, BUT they were unarmed, upright and often had their backs to the enemy in performing this essential role.
Roy was critically injured during the fighting on the night of the 15th while carrying a fellow soldier back for medical treatment. He was hit hard - eight gunshot wounds to his back near his spine, lower body, legs, and arms.
The Bendigonian newspaper published a letter dated France, 22nd September 1916 from the 57th Battalion’s Corporal John W.L. Rodgers (3140) and Private William Williams (5467) who wrote:
Seeing by The Bendigonian dated 3rd August the account of the death of our mate, Private Roy E. Arbon, whilst in action in France, the cause of death being unknown, we should like you and all our friends over there to know that it was while taking a wounded comrade to the dressing station that he sustained his injuries. His mate was killed outright, and he himself was wounded in eight different places. This happened during one of the severest bombardments that we have yet had. Stretcher bearing is one of the toughest jobs in the line, but whenever wanted Private Arbon was always ready and waiting to do his best
Roy was immediately taken to the 15th Field Ambulance, located well behind the lines. He was then transferred to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station where transport for further treatment could be arranged.
On 16 July he was moved to the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital at Outreau, on the coast of the English Channel, 110 kilometres from the battle site. On the 18th, he was put aboard the Hospital Ship Jan Breydel and transported to the Bagthorpe Military Hospital in Nottingham, England. He was admitted at 4a.m. on the 19th.
While he was being treated in hospital, his wounds and internal haemorrhaging were so severe that he suddenly seized and passed away at 11.30p.m. on Wednesday, 19th July 1916.
Lieut.-Colonel Herbert G. Ashwell, Royal Army Medical Corps, was medical superintendent of the Bagthorpe Military Hospital and took the time to write to Roy’s mother to provide his condolences and offer details of Roy’s death. Roy was buried at 1p.m on Monday 24th July 1916 in the General Cemetery, Nottingham, grave number 2-03345. The Roman Catholic priest, the Very Rev. Canon McIIroy of Hyson Green, Nottingham, conducted the ceremony. There were 38 Australian patients in the hospital able to attend his funeral, along with a number of Australian nurses. Ashwell also described the coffin moving to the cemetery on a gun carriage covered with a Union Jack and the inclusion of a military band and a firing party.
Family Notification and Burial
The Army cabled the family about Roy’s death and further details were provided within a week. This was captured in the Bendigo newspapers and it was evident that Roy was loved and missed by his family and friends in both the Army and in the Bendigo community.
Roy’s remains were re-buried in Nottingham General Cemetery, with the family’s consent, on 22nd January 1917 at grave number 01555, Section B. His mother, Mary requested a photo of his grave which the Army sent to her shortly after the burial.
Gone but not forgotten
Roy was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. A Memorial Scroll and Memorial Plaque were also sent to family.
Roy is commemorated on Panel 145, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, the Soldiers Memorial Institute, Pall Mall, Bendigo, Victoria and on the Marist Brothers' College Roll of Honour, RSL Museum, Bendigo.
Lee Gavin, an Australian living in the UK, posted the photo above on the virtual war memorial Australia website:
"I live in the UK these days and I was walking through a local cemetery in Nottingham. I came upon a grave of a young Australian soldier. He fought in a foreign land, died in a foreign land and was buried in a foreign land.
All in all he has been forgotten. Let's remember him. He was just a lad aged 22. Give him a thumbs up. When its time to plant Daffodil bulbs I will plant some on his grave to come up every year."
May Private Roy Arbon rest in peace.
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