Here was a man – a born leader, with wonderful control. I first saw him when we lay behind a ridge with bullets cutting the leaves and twigs off the bushes just above our heads … A brave leader who sensed the position, he rushed us over the skyline into a better possie; gave fire orders, and passed on, unhurt. This was my first experience of individual courage – that stuff we call ‘guts’ – and I’ve never forgotten Shout.
Captain CK Millar, 2nd Battalion, 1936
Alfred John Shout was born to John and Agnes Shout (née McGovern) on 7 August 1881 in Wellington, New Zealand. His military career began at age 18 when, after migrating to South Africa, he signed up to fight in the Boer War. He enlisted on 17 February 1900 and joined the Border Horse. Within a year he was Mentioned in Despatches for courageous actions at Thabaksberg and promoted to sergeant. Shout was wounded on at least one occasion but served until 1902 (potentially through to the end of the war), earning both the Queen’s South Africa medal and King’s South Africa medal.
After the end of hostilities, Shout remained in South Africa and served in the Cape Field Artillery. In 1905 he married Rose Alice Howe in Cape Town. Soon after, their daughter, Florence Agnes Maud, was born and the family migrated to Sydney. Shout worked there as a carpenter until joining the 29th Infantry Regiment in 1907; he obtained a commission in June 1914. On 27 August 1914, he enlisted in the AIF and was appointed a second lieutenant with F Company, 1st Battalion.
Shout and the 1st Battalion embarked from Sydney on HMAT Afric on 18 October. Just under a week later they reached Albany, where they set sail with the First Convoy on 1 November. The Afric reached Port Said, Egypt, on 2 December, before disembarking the troops at Alexandria a week later. Shout and the 1st proceeded to Mena Camp, where they trained for several months. On 1 February 1915, Shout was promoted to lieutenant.
The 1st Battalion participated in the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915, reaching Anzac Cove by 8 am. Advancing beyond the shore, they were able to hold the left flank of Baby 700 for nearly the entire day, until an intense Ottoman attack forced them to withdraw at 4.30 pm. Shout, in charge of a small group guarding slopes at the left rear, held on until the end and was one of the last officers still surviving on the seaward side of Baby 700. He retreated to the shore across the feature later known as The Nek and encountered Lieutenant Colonel George Braund, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, who asked Shout to send a message to headquarters for reinforcements.
Shout later returned with advice to dig in, as two battalions were on their way. Though he was able to gather about 200 stray men from various battalions on his own, the other reinforcements never arrived. That night, Shout organised a post at Walker’s Ridge, and troops dug in as much as possible amid repeated Ottoman attacks.
On 27 April, after two days of fierce, relentless fighting, Shout led a bold bayonet charge near Gaba Tepe. He was soon wounded, but with almost all other officers in the area either killed or wounded, he remained in the field. A fellow soldier recounted:
He was the bravest of many brave men that revealed themselves that day. I saw him first on Tuesday morning after the landing. There were only two officers left, Lieutenants Shout and Harrison, and our position was desperate. The gallantry of both was remarkable, but Lieutenant Shout was a hero. Wounded himself several times, he kept picking up wounded men and carrying them out of the firing lines. I saw him carry fully a dozen men away. Then another bullet struck him in the arm, and it fell useless by his side. Still he would not go to the rear. ‘I am with you boys to the finish’, was the only reply he would make. We all thought, too, that it was to be a finish for us. The Turks were attacking us in thousands. We were not properly entrenched, and we were hopelessly outnumbered. A little later Lieutenant Shout was wounded again, and fell down. It was cruel to see him. He struggled and struggled until he got to his feet, refusing all entreaties to go to the rear. Then he staggered and fell, and tried to rise again. At last some men seized him and carried him away, still protesting.
After just four days of fighting on Gallipoli, the 1st Battalion had suffered 366 casualties. Shout was Mentioned in Despatches for his work in these initial days. For his actions on 27 April, in particular, he was awarded the Military Cross. The citation read (in part):
On 27th April, 1915, during operations near Gaba Tepe, for showing conspicuous courage and ability in organising and leading his men in a thick, bushy country, under very heavy fire. He frequently had to expose himself to locate the enemy, and led a bayonet charge at a critical moment.
Shout was again wounded in early May and spent a month in hospital before rejoining his unit. On 29 July he was promoted to captain. A week later, he and the 1st spearheaded the attack at Lone Pine. Beginning in the late afternoon on 6 August, within hours they were suffering heavy counter-attacking and bombing from the Ottomans. Vicious trench fighting continued for days. A unit war diary entry made at 5.30 am on 8 August read:
Enemy shelling, rifle fire and bombing continuous. Bombs are very severe and our stream of wounded is constant … Men extremely tired but determined to hold on.
Though relieved that evening by the 7th Battalion, the 1st returned early the following morning to the centre of the fighting. At 7.30 am they received an urgent message to recapture Sasse’s Sap, an area named after Captain Cecil Sasse when taken on 6 August. Driving the enemy back with grenades, Shout led the charge alongside Sasse, who was armed with a rifle. Aided by three other men barricading with sandbags, they cleared about 20 metres of trench and killed 20 Ottoman soldiers. That afternoon they staged another advance using the same method. After a successful push, Shout attempted to fortify their position by lighting several bombs at once. However, one exploded prematurely, taking off his hand and causing horrendous wounds to his face and body. He remained cheerful while carried to the rear, but on 11 August died of his wounds aboard the hospital ship Neuralia. Shout was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, becoming the most highly decorated Australian soldier on Gallipoli. His citation read (in part):
For most conspicuous bravery at Lone Pine trenches, in the Gallipoli Peninsula. On the morning of the 9th August, 1915, with a very small party, Captain Shout charged down trenches strongly occupied by the enemy, and personally threw four bombs among them, killing eight and routing the remainder. In the afternoon of the same day, from the position gained in the morning, he captured a further length of trench under similar conditions, and continued personally to bomb the enemy at close range under very heavy fire until he was severely wounded, losing his right hand and left eye. This most gallant officer has since succumbed to his injuries.
On 20 November 1915 a tablet commemorating Shout was unveiled in Darlington Town Hall by the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson. The following year his widow was presented with the Tivoli Theatre gold life pass given to all Victoria Cross recipients. Shout is honoured on the Lone Pine Memorial on Gallipoli.
Australian War Memorial, Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-1918 War, AWM4 Subclass 23/18 - 1st Infantry Battalion
Australian War Memorial, First World War Embarkation Rolls – Alfred John Shout
Australian War Memorial, Honours and Awards – Alfred John Shout
Bean, CEW 1936, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. Vol. I: The Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915, 5th edn, Angus and Robertson, Sydney
Bean, CEW 1939, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. Vol. II: The Story of ANZAC from 4 May, 1915, to the Evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula, 8th edn, Angus and Robertson, Sydney
National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Alfred John Shout’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; SHOUT ALFRED JOHN, 1914-1920