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Bravery under fire: Private William Barling
Fascinated by the bravery shown every day, the extreme and difficult conditions faced by our soldiers, and the scale of the effort required, Churchill Captain Steven Barling relates what he knows of his grandfather’s experiences during the First World War.
Steven’s article, based on research he is undertaking to help his father, is part of a CFA News & Media series marking the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in the First World War. This is a story that has largely gone untold.
My grandfather, William John Herbert Barling, was a Private in the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 6th Battalion, 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF), joining on 19 August 1914 at the age of 21 years.
He was a letter carrier by trade and was used extensively as a runner, carrying messages back and forth between headquarters and those on the front line. His duties as a runner often meant he came under heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire.
My father John recollects one of the few tales told him by his father. Runners were dispatched in pairs, but the first two runners were shot and killed, with the second pair sent out to replace them meeting the same fate. William was one of the next pair, but unfortunately his partner too was mortally wounded. Knowing the dire situation his company was in, William carried on alone.
Along with twelve others Private Barling was "Mentioned in Orders" on 2 August 1916:
“These men never shirked danger but unhesitatingly took their turn and though desperately fatigued helped by their cheerfulness and prompt obedience of orders to ensure the smooth working of communications.”
William Barling was wounded and hospitalised on many occasions.On 11 May 1915, while serving in the Dardanelles, he received a bullet wound to the shoulder which saw him eventually admitted to hospital a few days later; and early in June he was transferred to the hospital ship Delta and sent to England to recover.
After his wounds healed he returned to duty, and after a one month voyage disembarked at Marseilles in France on 2 April 1916 where he undertook duties as a runner.
For a second time, Private Barling was wounded in action – this time with a gunshot wound to the foot on 23 December 1916 – but after a month of recovery was immediately back in action.
Given the difficulties of being on the front line, constantly in the wet and cold, and with an almost impossible task of keeping feet dry, it is unsurprising to discover that Private Barling was admitted to hospital on 24 February 1917 with "effects of cold feet" - a common malady for those serving in the trenches. December of that year saw him hospitalised for scabies, another common affliction. As before, Private Barling returned to the front line.
William Barling was awarded a Military Medal for bravery for his efforts during the Gastin Action, where he was severely gassed.
The commendation reads "For conspicuous gallantry on the 23rd day of August 1918 at HERLEVILLE wood. During the advance when all other Runners became casualties this man carried on alone. He made innumerable trips to Battalion Headquarters under very heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Though partially gassed he refused to be relieved of his duties knowing the weakness of his company. Later on in the day when the casualties became greater he acted as Runner for the flank company. His work was of very high standard and he was untiring in his efforts."
In November 1918, Private William Barling marched out from his station to be returned to England, and was demobilised to Australia on 13 December 1918. He arrived back in Melbourne after a month long voyage, and was eventually discharged from the Army on 28 March 1919.
This is a fascinating story which has largely gone untold. My grandfather passed away in 1956, the year before I was born. It has taken the upcoming Centenary of the Gallipoli landing to pique my father's interest, but having learnt a little more we are in awe of his efforts and the heroism displayed by so many under such trying conditions.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we Forget.
Pictured: Medals awarded to Private Barling - Military Medal, the 1914/1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, and the 1914/1915 Gallipoli Star.