Lt. R.S. Phelan downed over Passchendaele

Darragh Christie, 31 July 2017 · #

Australian gunners on a duckboard track in Château Wood near Hooge, 29 October 1917. Photo by Frank Hurley

The 3rd Ypres campaign began on July 31, 2017.

W J A “Allan” Allsop a clerk from Brierley Street, Mosman, served as a stretcher bearer with the 8th Australian Field Ambulance. His diary entry for the 29/09/2017 describes the state of the town of Ypres which he was passing through.

Ypres is a pitiful sight – smashed to the ground. It is one of those old fashioned towns surrounded by a wall and ditch, with gateways leading out on to the main roads. In peace time Ypres must have been a beautiful place, but now it is much more knocked about than Bapaume. There isn’t a building with a roof on it, and there are only a few walls of buildings left. It reminds one of acres of scattered bricks. The one time Church is now practically wiped out.

‘Brisfit’ down: Jasta 11’s 200th.

Over the horror of the battlefield, the air war raged. One pilot flying high above was Lt. R.S. Phelan.

Ronald Starr Phelan was born 8 December 1894. His early education was at Marist Brothers High School, Darlinghurst.

His enlistment records show he was a 22 y.o. undergraduate, living in Mosman.

Sergeant Phelan embarked with A Company, 35th Battalion, from Sydney, on board HMAT Benalla (01/05/16). He was commissioned in England on 28/08/16 and transferred to the R.F.C. on 23/10/16.

Phelan became a Flying Officer (on 16/04/17) with 22 Squadron in France. 22 Sqn. had begun replacing its outdated FE2’s with Bristol F.2b’s by the time of his arrival.

Bristol Fighter of 22 Squadron RAF in July 1918. Image: Monmouth Museum M1996

Despite the upgrade, Phelan and his observer were shot down in their ‘Brisfit’ A7201 on 17 August over Passchendaele. They fell to the guns of Leutnant Hans Georg van der Osten of Jasta 11 (it was the unit’s 200th claim1). Phelan’s observer Lt. J. L. Macfarlane was killed.

Phelan was captured wounded, at Lille, and became a P.O.W. He was interned at Holzminden and was repatriated back to England on 14/12/1918.

Jasta 11 Albatros DV. Jasta 11 was the highest scoring German Jasta of World War I, with 350 claims: the 200th on 17 August was Phelan’s F2b A7201.

Ronald Starr Phelan married Emily Frances Howard, of Newhaven, Surrey, in England on 30 May 1919. He died on the 1st November 1953.

Passchendaele recommended reading:

Paul Ham’s positively reviewed Passchendaele: Requiem for doomed youth re-paints a picture of the politics, pointlessness and tragedy of this battle.

A very readable and honest 1st hand account of the Ypres experience can be found in Lieutenant Joe Maxwell’s Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles. Joe Maxwell, VC, earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal fighting with the 18th Battalion, 5th Div. A.I.F for his brave acts.

Other recommended reading includes Passchendaele : the sacrificial ground. (2001) by Nigel Steel & Peter Hart and Passchendaele : the untold story (3rd. ed) by Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson.

Dead and wounded in the railway cutting, Broodseinde Ridge, 12 October 1917. [AWM E03864]

George Franki’s Their Name Liveth for Evermore, reveals that about 15% of Mosman’s dead in the Great War were at Passchendaele. The impact on the local community of this catastrophic event is remembered in the following roll call:

A.I.F. Volunteers associated with the local area who died during the Battle of Passchendaele.

Individual records can found in the People section of Doing our Bit, Mosman 1914-18 They include:

ANGLES, John Noel 23; KIA 4/10/1917; 8 Field Artillery Brigade; Passchendaele. Clerk. Born Mosman. Parents Jules and Mary, 4 Bardwell Road, Mosman

ARNOLD, Benjamin Samuel 26; DOW 31/10/1917; 14 Field Company; Passchendaele. Plumber. Educated Mosman Public School. Address, Georges Head. Mother Cecilia, 6 Gouldsbury Street, Mosman. Served five years in 37th Fortress Engineers. Eight killed by shell which killed Arnold.

BISHOP, Joseph Lewis 19; DOW 27/7/1917; 4th Field Artillery Brigade; Dickebusch, Belgium. Clerk. Parents Joseph & Alice, “Narbethong” Killarney Street, Mosman.

BLAKEMAN, Percival Albert 29; KIA 25/10/1917; 1st Pioneer Battalion; Passchendaele. Plumber. “Arcadia” Edward St, North Sydney. On 17 September 1920, Blakeman’s mother in a letter to Army Records wrote: “My late husband, the father of our son the late 3009 Sgt P A Blakeman 1st Pioneer Battalion is dead, he died of a broken heart through the loss of our son.”

BROPHY, James 20; KIA 4/10/1917; 36 Heavy Artillery Group; Passchendaele. Grocer and serving with 4th Royal Australian Garrison Artillery. Parents Patrick & Rachael, 77 Ourimbah Road, Mosman.

BROWNLOW, Leonard Rockley 24; KIA 12/10/1917; 33rd Battalion; Passchendaele.Arts I and Divinity student, University of Sydney. Parents William & Fanny, 4 Bond Street, Mosman.

BULL, Rupert Clark 26; DOW 13/10/1917; 10th Field Ambulance; Passchendaele. Clerk. Parents Thomas & Sarah, “Carcoar” Bradleys Head Road, Mosman. A comrade wrote of him: “ a big fine man, fair, nicknamed Beau.”

CANNON, Reginald George 23; KIA 6/12/1917; 8th Machine Gun Company; Passchendaele. Clerk. Parents George & Eleanor, 76 Belmont Road, Mosman. Brother of William John Cannon 3rd Australian General Hospital.

CHIPPERFIELD, Sydney James 29; DOW 24/12/1917; 54th Siege Battery; Passchendaele. Serving soldier. RAGA. Artillery Barracks, Sydney. Wife, Kathleen, 24 Middle Head Road, Mosman.

CLARKE, Alfred Reginald 29; KIA 25/9/1917; 57th Battalion; Paschendaele. Insurance inspector. Wife Essie, 9 Price Albert Street, Mosman.

COWAN, Oliver Edward 20; KIA 8/10/1917; 19th Battalion; Poelcappelle, Passchendaele. Pastrycook. Sister Phoebe Miller, 293 Military Road Mosman.
“Was small and thin, he was called Ted. He came as a bugler.”

CREW, Joseph Edward 34; KIA 20/10/1917; 2nd Field Artillery Brigade; Passchendaele. Permanent Soldier. Name added to Mosman War Memorial in 2008. He went to France in July 1915 with an Ammuntion Park of the AIF, the first unit of the AIF to land in France. Brother of Eric John Crew, 1st Australian General Hospital.
“…very popular with all the men of the battery.”

CROSSMAN, William John Brown 30; KIA 27/10/1917; 2nd Battalion; Paschendaele. Mason. “Rougemont” Vincenz (later Awaba) Street, Mosman.

DAVIS, Royce 20; KIA 4/10/1917; 1st Battalion; Passchendaele. Labourer, North Shore Gas Company. Not positively identified.

DAVIDSON, William Robert MC MID 27; KIA 16/8/1917; 46th Battalion; Passchendaele. Grain salesman. Wife Enid, 8 Shadforth Street, Mosman.

DAVEY, Robert Samuel 24; KIA 13/10/1917; 45th Battalion; Passchendaele.
Bricklayer. Parents Stephen & Agnes, 11 Hale Road, Mosman.

DAVIE, James 31; DOW 6/10/1917; 1st Field Ambulance; Passchendaele. Medical practitioner. Wife Edith, “Beulah” Reginald Street, Mosman.

FERNANCE, Darcy Lyle 22; KIA 29/9/1917; 4th Field Artillery Brigade; Passchendaele. Farmer. “Eothen” Melaleuca Street, Mosman.

FISHER, Albert Victor 35; KIA 29/7/1917; Auckland Infantry Battalion. Labourer. Mother Sarah Jane Fisher, 107 Ourimbah Road, Mosman.

FORSYTH, Kenneth McQuarie served as Forsyth, Harry Kenneth 26; DOW 16/10/1917; 57th Battalion
Tramway guard, BHP. Mother Charlotte, “Avoca” 88 Avenue Road, Mosman.
“I heard him say ‘I’m alright’ but he was worse than he thought for I know he
died of wounds.”

HARDING, Harold John 29; KIA 2/10/1917; 9th Battalion; Passchendaele. Mercer. Father, Robert 26 Noble Street, Mosman. “He was about 30 years old, fair, medium build and had not been with us long.”

HARRISON, Arthur Gordon 32; Died of tuberculosis 19/7/1917; 4th Battalion. Bookkeeper. 41 Shadforth Street, Mosman.

HOGAN, Patrick Francis 31; KIA 21/9/1917; 19th Battalion; Passchendaele. Journalist. Parents Denis & Winifred “Avignon” Bradleys Head Road, Mosman. Served Gallipoli.

HOLTSBAUM, Thomas Richard 21; DOW 4/10/1917; 33rd Battalion; Passchendaele. Farmer. Parents Frederick & Annie 90 Belmont Road, Mosman.Brother, William 17th Battalion.
“He was a very big fellow, dark.” – “He was very popular in the Battalion and
always will do anything for anybody.”

HOLROYD, Leonard Parkes 29; KIA 12/10/1917; 36th Battalion; Passchendaele. Master plumber and sanitary inspector. Wife Lillie, “Ayesha” 36 Spit Road, Mosman; daughter Patricia.
“He was a popular chap – dark with a baldish head.”

HULM, Frederick Cornelius 27; KIA 2/9/1917; 20th Battalion. Cook. “Leawood” Military Road, Mosman.

KENNEDY, Malcolm Wallace 23; KIA 9/10/1917; 17th Battalion; Passchendaele. Ironmonger. Parents Alexander & Jane, 62 Cowles Road, Mosman. Served Gallipoli. Brother Aubrey Kennedy, 17th Battalion.

LE QUESNE, Claude Hamilton 20; KIA 9/10/1917; 2nd Machine Gun Battalion; Passchendaele. Warehouseman. Parents Winter & Jane, “Waipa” St Elmo Street, Mosman. Attended St Clement’s Church, Mosman. Great uncle of Suzanne Ploeg of Mosman.

McKERN, Stewart Hessle George MM 22; KIA 4/10/1917; 1st Field Company; Passchendaele. Licensed surveyor. 17 Redan Street, Mosman. Attended St Clement’s Curch, Mosman.

McLEOD, Daniel Baker 32; DOW 4/10/1917; 5th Machine Gun Company; Passchendaele. Electrical mechanic. Mother Alice, 24 Cabramatta Road, Mosman. Had served Royal Navy pre War.

MASSEY, Theodore Alfred 28; KIA 4/10/1917; 19th Battalion; Passchendaele. Manager picture theatre. Wife Jeannie, “Myee” Raglan Street, Mosman. Attended St Clement’s Church, Mosman.

PASCOE, Russell Keith 20; KIA 21/9/1917; 19th Battalion; Passchendaele. Photographer. Parents William & Susie, ‘Havilah’ Royalist Road, Mosman.

RITCHIE, Eric Cecil Howard 27; KIA 20/9/1917; 3rd Battalion; Passchendaele. Bank clerk, Bank of Australasia. “Demora” Clanalpine Street, Mosman. Served as sergeant on Gallipoli. Commissioned three weeks before his death. “Lieutenant Ritchie was looked upon as one of the finest men in the army.”

ROBBINS, William Reginald 30; KIA 31/10/1917; 2nd Field Ambulance; Passchendaele. Labourer. Wife Mary, Central Avenue, Mosman. Left five children.

ROWLANDS, Herbert Forsyth 33; KIA 10/10/1917; 19th Battalion; Passchendaele. Electrical engineer. Parents George & Annie, “Orita” Gouldsbury Street, Mosman. Brother Edgar Harold Rowlands 1st Battalion.
Pte J Gooderham wrote from Georges Heights Hospital to the Australian Red Cross: “ …he was well liked by his mates.”

SMITH, Charles 33; KIA 4/10/1917; 2nd Battalion; Passchendaele. Carrier. 118 Military Road, Mosman.

SMITH, Teesdale (Teasdale) Boake 26; KIA 4/10/1917; 2nd Battalion; Passchendaele. At Landing. Wounded twice.
Accountant. Mother, Florence Violette Smith, 63 Awaba Street and sister Mrs M
Mathers, “May Cottage” Lennox Street, Mosman. Brothers Barcroft Smith 14th
Battalion and Henry Boake Smith 1st LHR and 67 Squadron AFC.

SMITH, John Roy 20; KIA 24/7/1917; 1 Div. Signal Company; Passchendaele. Postal assistant. Bardwell Road, Mosman.

ST CLAIR, Percy Augustus 27; DOW 8/6/1917; 9th Machine Gun Company.Orchardist. Father John, 21 Dalton Road, Mosman. Attended St Clement’s Church, Mosman. Brother Gordon St Clair 1st Tunnelling Company.

VAUGHAN, Henry Joshua 29; DOW 12/11/1917; 9th Battalion; Polygon Wood, Passchendaele. Accountant, Colonial Sugar Refining Company. “Nara” Prince Street, Mosman.
Vaughan served in the AN&MEF and then on Gallipoli. Returned to Australia
with enteric fever, he rejoined his unit in France in 1916.
Pte R C Miller wrote: “He was a great mate of mine…killed in the Polygon Wood

WEEDING, Archibald Gilbert 26; KIA 4/10/1917; 3rd Battalion; Passchendaele Jeweller’s shop assistant. “Truro” Raglan Street. Mosman.“Weeding was killed by a shell. The ground was held.”

WESTBROOK, Alfred Rowland 22; KIA 27/8/1917; 2nd Field Artillery Brigade; Passchendaele. Parents Rowland & Matilda, “Cooringa” Harbour Street, Mosman.

WILSON, Oliver William 41; KIA 26/9/1917; 55th Battalion; Polygon Wood. Electric fitter. Mosman associations, 11 years in RN as a diver. “… a good comrade and was a great favourite.”

WILSON, William 38; KIA 27/9/1917; 50th Battalion; Passchendaele. Labourer. Mother Emily Jane Wilson, 2 Boyle Street, Mosman. Brother of Francis Wilson, 10th Battalion

A section of the Tyne Cot Cemetery in the 1920s before the placement of permanent War Graves