Service number 2124. One of the few Australian prisoners taken during the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign.
Brendan Calcutt was born at Williamstown in February 1896. His parents, Joseph and Joseph’s second wife, Lucinda were the proud parents of three sons who enlisted in the AIF, Brendan being the youngest. The family lived at 12 Victoria Street Williamstown, one street back from the Williamstown Beach. Brendan attended the Williamstown Primary School and did two years of secondary education at Melbourne Grammar, where he was a member of the cadet unit. He completed his education at Longerenong Agricultural College.
Brendan was working for the Victorian Railways in Echuca as a timekeeper when he enlisted in the AIF on the 7 April 1915. His father held a senior position with the Victorian Railways and no doubt helped his son get this job. He was 19 years old at the time and the consent for his enlistment was sent from his father in Melbourne by telegram, which read “Both consent to your enlistment, and are proud of you’’. Brendan was a fit young man, 5’8’’ tall and weighing 10 stone.
His eldest brother Gerald, born in January 1887, enlisted on the 15 August 1914 and was signed on by LT COL ‘Pompey’ Elliot, the Commanding Officer of the 7th Battalion. He was in the second wave of Australians to land at Anzac Cove on the 25 April 1915 and was reported missing in May 1916 after being sent out on scouting duty at Shrapnel Gully. A field court of enquiry held in May 1915 reported that he was missing in action. He was eventually reported KIA on the 24 May 1915 This was not formally confirmed until 1916 after extensive correspondence from his father to Australian, British, French and Turkish authorities.
The second eldest brother, Clare who was born on the 23 April 1893 enlisted initially on the 15th September 1914 and was an original member of 8thLight Horse Regiment. He served at Gallipoli and was invalided from Anzac Cove to England via Malta where he spent time in hospital. When discharged Clare was granted leave in Britain and continued searching for news of his brother Gerald. After being returned to Australia and being discharged as medically unfit, he tried to re enlist in 1917 and 1918. He suffered badly with mental problems after the war due to the loss of his two brothers.
Brendan was a private and formed part of the 6th Reinforcements for the 14th Battalion spending his first weeks in the AIF in camp at Broadmeadows. Training was considerably short and his reinforcement group embarked from Melbourne on A62 HMAT Wandilla on the 17June 1915 bound for Egypt. After a short stay at Alexandria from where he embarked on the 1 August 1915 for the fighting on Gallipoli.
Brendan’s time on Gallipoli was very short, he was reported missing in action on the 8 August 1915, after less than a week on the peninsula during the 4th Brigade’s costly and unsuccessful assault on Hill 971.On the 28 August he was reported by the American Ambassador in Constantinople [now Istanbul ] to be in hospital suffering gunshot wounds to his leg. On the 21 February 1916 he is reported again by the American Embassy to be a POW at Bazanti in the extremely remote and treacherous Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. He was in contact with his family and advised his brother that he was ok but suffering from ‘fever’ [Malaria]. This was the camp from which prisoners were used to help build the Bagdad railway. Despite the camps remoteness his correspondence during the last six months of his life show that he was receiving mail and food parcels from home. He reports that he was not well in late November 1916 and still suffering from fever and diarrhoea and his resistance to illness was slipping.
Brendan was one of 217 prisoners being held as a POW in the Taurus Mountain camps. As well as about 70 members of the AIF taken prisoner at Gallipoli, other Australian prisoners included 12 of the 32 crew of AE2 who were captured when their submarine was damaged and they abandoned ship, as well as two surviving members of the Australian Half Flight who survived a treacherous 1,100 km forced march across Anatolia from Kut in Mesopotamia after a five months siege of their base forced it’s surrender in April 1916.
In Dec 1916 Calcutt pricks his thumb with a pin and this small wound progressively became infected, he was put into hospital for treatment, lancing and wound cleaning, but due to his very low resistance this small wound gradually becomes worse. He was being looked after by Dr. C.E.M. Jones, a British doctor and captain in the RAMC. Over several weeks in late December 1916 Calcutt slowly deteriorated. On the 28 Dec 1916 he slipped into unconsciousness and dies on the 1 Jan 1917 as a result of severe blood poisoning.
Dr. C.E.M. Jones who looked after Brendan during his time in the hospital wrote a very moving letter to Brendan’s mother offering his deepest condolences and outlining in great detail Brendan’s last days of life. He died with no pain and surrounded by his few friends. He was held in high regard by his fellow POW mates for his cheerfulness and positive attitude even though he was not physically well. I have a copy of this very moving letter written by Dr. Jones on the 10 March 1918.
After his death Brendan was buried in his AIF tunic, at Haji Kir in Turkey, with a service conducted by Dr. Jones. His remains lay in rest for 5 years and in 1922 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reinterred them at the North Gate War Cemetery in Bagdad. This is where he lies at peace today.
The twist in the story of Brendan’s life is that early in 2015 when sorting a collection of WW1 memorabilia at the Camberwell City RSL I came across the Memorial Scroll presented to his mother back in 1922. The receipt for this scroll is in his service record duly signed for by his father. I wanted to know how this piece of family heritage ended up at the Camberwell City RSL hence the research that I have undertaken on his life. I haven’t solved the mystery of how the scroll turned up at the Camberwell RSL yet, however I was able to trace a living relative, Brendan’s niece, the daughter of Brendan’s older sister who has a great collection of letters and postcards written by Brendon from Gallipoli and Turkey. I was privileged to meet this relative and spend several hours talking and reading about the Calcutt family and Brendan’s military life. These papers will be eventually donated to the Australian War Memorial.
In a further twist, my son Colonel Marcus Fielding was serving in Bagdad on secondment to the US Forces in 2008/9. He was responsible for planning and arranging the first Anzac Day Dawn service to be held at the Bagdad North Gate War Cemetery. This service was attended by many USA, NZ, and Canadians along with most of the Australians in Bagdad at that time. Brendan Calcutt was mentioned in the Order of Service as one of the 42 Australian diggers buried at the Bagdad North Gate War Cemetery. This was in 2009, and in 2015 I find the memorial Scroll presented to Brendan’s parents – a remarkable coincidence!
Contact Peter Fielding about this article.