Robert ‘Bert’ Hamilton was born in Dalby, Queensland, in 1889. He was a 25-year-old grazier working on his family’s pastoral station, Moura, near Rockhampton in Queensland, when war broke out. The family bought the property on the Dawson River in 1910. Hamilton went to work in northern Queensland to fulfil his dream to ‘see something of Australia’, but returned to the property when his father died in March 1914. Six months later, he enlisted in the AIF.
Hamilton completed a couple of weeks of military training at the Enoggera Camp, before departing Brisbane on 24 September 1914 aboard HMAT Omrah. Owing to fears the German cruiser squadron might be in the area, Omrah was initially diverted to Port Melbourne. After arriving on 28 September, the troops trained in Melbourne for three weeks, before departing for Albany to meet the rest of the First Convoy. Omrah arrived in King George Sound on the morning of 24 October.
The ship set sail with the First Convoy on 1 November. At Colombo, Omrah took on some of the German prisoners from the Emden, which had been destroyed at the Cocos–Keeling Islands by HMAS Sydney.
On 4 December, Omrah arrived at Alexandria, Egypt. The troops disembarked two days later and transferred to Mena Camp, where they trained for four months before embarking for Gallipoli.
On Gallipoli, Hamilton and the 9th Battalion’s task was to land on the right flank at Brighton Beach and capture both Gaba Tepe to the south and Anderson Knoll, inland on the dominating third ridge. C and D Company were in the battalion’s second wave, to land shortly after the first. They disembarked from the destroyer HMS Beagle into life boats and rowed ashore.
The first wave had been landed far to the north. The naval midshipman steered the flotilla even further north, parallel to Anzac Cove. The water became too shallow for the tows; they bunched and the boats had to be released. The men rowed furiously, under fire, for the steep hills of Anzac Cove ahead. 9th Battalion was the first ashore and landed around Ari Burnu shortly before 4.30 am. Confronted by precipitous slopes, under fire and mixed up with other battalions, there was confusion. However, eager to escape the fire and mindful of orders to press inland, most men dropped their packs, fixed bayonets and charged up the hills.
Around 5 am, Hamilton and the men of C and D Company in the second wave landed just north of Hell’s Spit at the southern end of Anzac Cove. The Ottomans, alerted by the first wave’s landing and still in possession of Plugge’s Plateau overlooking Anzac Cove, directed intense fire on the second wave, including deadly shrapnel fire. Numerous casualties were suffered among those coming ashore.
By daylight, Plugge’s Plateau was in Anzac hands. There, those present were sorted into their battalions and directed to attack their original objectives. Men from the 9th accordingly occupied 400 Plateau, its capture necessary for them to progress onto Anderson’s Knoll on the third ridge. Hamilton and D Company, after charging up little Ari Burnu, turned south down Shrapnel Gully and onto the top of McCay’s Hill. Fearful of a major counter-attack, the battalion commander, Colonel Sinclair-MacLaglan, ordered the men to dig in along a defensive line across the lip of 400 Plateau and along the ridge at the head of Monash Valley. These positions would change little over the coming seven months of the campaign. However, this order impeded the reinforcement of units forward of this line and allowed time for the Ottomans to bring up reinforcements.
At 9 am, Sinclair-MacLaglan decided that the 9th should face the Ottomans on the landward edge of Plateau 400. They were ordered forward towards Lonesome Pine ridge. The Ottomans met this advance with a hail of fire. Many of the 9th were killed but Hamilton survived. The survivors filled gaps in the firing line for other units on Plateau 400, repelling incessant Ottoman counter-attacks and suffering from intense shrapnel fire. This increased as the day wore on, the battle swinging in the Ottomans’ favour as their reinforcements entered the battle. Casualties were great and movement was impossible. Troops dug in, lying prone. They hung on until the evening. Reinforcements and slackening fire at dusk allowed some consolidation of the line. However, casualties continued. Hamilton, in the firing line continually for over 18 hours, was shot by machine-gun fire in the left foot late in the evening. The 9th were relieved over 27 and 28 April. A roll call on 30 April showed that they had suffered 515 casualties, about half the battalion.
Evacuated to hospital in Malta, Hamilton described the landing and the first day’s fighting to his family:
Just a line to let you know that I am still numbered amongst the living … I will try to give you an idea of our landing though I do not suppose it will interest you much. … On the twenty fourth of April we sailed away for the Dardanelles we were told that night that we were to land next morning about two o’clock, that night we transferred on to a torpedo boat destroyer which was capable of holding about 300, just before daylight we came in sight of our destination and disembarked on to small rowing boats capable of holding about 30.
The shore was about 300 yards away. …I was picked for a rower and was in the first boat. [W]e got 50 yards …when the Turks opened a terrific fire on us, both rifle and machine guns. [H]owever, we kept on going and eventually landed with only three casualties out of our boat, about the same time as we were landing there were hundreds of small boats, from cruisers, gunboats and transports also landing. When we got ashore we fixed bayonets and charged their first line of trenches, but they would not stay [and] cleared back to their main body which was about two miles away…[W]e only got a few. [A]fter a short respite of about half an hour they opened fire again. [A]lso their artillery and land batteries and our gunboats, talk about an inferno, well I’m deaf yet from it. [T]hen shrapnel fell around us like hailstones, however, we kept at it all day fighting against fearful odds but being continually reinforced, thereby holding the ground that we had gained during the early part of the day, but at an awful cost which you will see when the casualty list comes out.
I am glad to say ... I was in the firing line all day with the exception of half an hour while I helped one of our wounded officers back to the dressing station. It was terrible to see your comrades shot down around you, shattered to pieces with shells and shrapnel, others shot or wounded with bullets. I had some very narrow escapes, once whilst digging a small embankment in front of me with my entrenching tool, a machine gun turned onto me. I had the tool right in front of my head and four or five bullets hit it in less than a second, but one missed and hit my puttee leaving a hole three or four inches in length and only grazed the skin. The machine gun then shifted to the next man and shot him instantly. I finished what I was doing and started shooting.
It was very late that evening when I did get hit. [T]hough our right flank had retired about half a mile, … we lined the top of a ridge and was told to hold it at all cost, the hail of bullets that were fired at us was terrific, another machine gun found me but I was behind a small bush, it stripped all the leaves off the bush and [a bullet] caught me in the foot, smashing the bone and going right through the bottom of the boot, I had to go back then and was eventually sent on to the boat about eleven o’clock that night. Well, I won’t tire you with any more news now, you will be bored before you get half through this, and there is no other news to tell you.
Quoted from: Robert ‘Bert’ Hamilton, Letter, Australian War Memorial AWM PR85/151
Hamilton rejoined the 9th on 24 August 1915, missing the desperate defence of the Anzac line against massive Ottoman counter-attacks in May and the costly August offensives. By this time, the battalion was largely unfit for front line service. Casualties, undernourishment, sickness and exhaustion were taking their toll. Nevertheless, they stoically rotated through the front in trenches behind Tasmania Post. The battalion was relieved and evacuated to Lemnos on 16–17 November. By this time, there were only 63 men from the battalion remaining who had served on Gallipoli continuously since the landing. On 25 November, while on Lemnos, Hamilton was taken sick with diarrhoea, and was later transferred to St Patrick’s Hospital, Malta with a ‘not yet determined’ illness. He was transferred to No. 3 Australian General Hospital in Cairo with ‘enteric fever’ (typhoid) on 27 March 1916.
After recovering from typhoid, Hamilton was granted leave in England and returned to the battalion in France on 25 August 1916. Possibly due to the heavy casualties suffered by the battalion at Pozières and Mouquet Farm before his return, on 30 August 1916 he was promoted ‘in the field’ to lance corporal. Two weeks later, the battalion was transferred for a rest to Hill 60 and the Château Belge at Ypres. There, Hamilton was promoted to sergeant.
On 20 October, the battalion returned to the Somme. They rotated in and out of the comparatively quiet but muddy front line at Bernafay Wood and Flers until 30 December. Many suffered from trench foot. They then marched out of the line to Dernancourt and Bresle for two months’ rest and training. Hamilton was promoted to second lieutenant on 24 January 1917. From 23 February, the battalion endured four days and nights of constant fighting with little food and no sleep in the line near Gueudecourt, capturing ‘The Maze’ at Le Barque. They then spent a long period out of the line training.
On 22 March 1917, Hamilton was repatriated to England and admitted to 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth with phlebitis (inflammation of the leg veins), thought to be a complication from an earlier mumps infection.
He was promoted to lieutenant on 16 May 1917 and rejoined the battalion on 21 July 1917, having missed their major engagements at Lagnicourt in April, and Bullecourt in early May. However, he was not long out of the fighting. He was wounded on the first day of the battalion’s successful major attack on Polygon Wood on 20 September 1917. He sustained severe shrapnel wounds above the left knee and was again evacuated to England, returning to 3rd London General Hospital for treatment. He was discharged to No. 1 Convalescent Depot in Sutton Veny, England on 18 November 1917, and appointed to the Overseas Training Battalion, Longbridge Deverill, a week later.
Hamilton rejoined his battalion in the front line at Klite-Hil, near Hazebrouck, on 1 June 1918. He was hospitalised briefly with influenza, which may have precluded him from participation in the unsuccessful and costly attack by the battalion on the town of Meteren. He rejoined the unit on 24 June for front-line rotation between Strazeele and Merris. From 19 July, Hamilton’s platoon supported a second, larger, three-day attack on Meteren, by mounting successful attacks on the German line at the small village of Le Waton near the River Becque. There, according to the official war historian, Charles Bean, Hamilton’s platoon ‘advanced along hedges and through the wheat until stopped by …[a] machine gun’. Bean describes how a Lewis gunner in Hamilton’s platoon, Lance Corporal Young, attacked and captured this gun. They were then held up by a further two guns. Under Young’s covering fire,
the platoon charged and captured guns and crews. This platoon had reached its objective but another machine gun beyond had to be rushed by some men under cover of two Lewis guns and bombers before the outpost could dig in.
In the company’s advance, the commanding officer was killed. Hamilton stepped in and directed the company’s consolidation of the position. The Meteren offensive was successful. The 9th, without the benefit of a preliminary bombardment, successfully captured Le Waton and 1.6 kilometres of the German line to the south. Hamilton’s feats are not included in Bean’s account, or either of the battalion histories. Nevertheless, for these actions he was awarded the Military Cross. The citation read:
For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his platoon in an attack with remarkable dash, and personally captured an enemy machine gun and its team, who were holding up our advance. When the objective was reached, he took command as the company commander was wounded, and completed the consolidation. His example was felt throughout the whole Company, and he materially contributed to the success of the operation.
London Gazette, 7 November 1918
Unfortunately, this success was later marred by mustard gas casualties caused by short falling allied fire.
On 9 August, the depleted battalion was called upon to support attacks in the battle of Amiens. With the 11th Battalion, they attacked, captured and defended Crepey Wood, and the next day Lihons, against strong German counter-attacks.
By late August the battalion numbered only 250 men. Nevertheless, they were ordered into the line near Morcourt, and on 23 August were ordered to attack Luc Wood near Chuignolles. In the advance, the battalion suffered heavily from a German bombardment of 8-inch and gas shells, but captured their objective. Then, together with 11th Battalion, under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, they attacked and captured the area's dominant feature, Froissy Beacon, overlooking the town of Cappy on the Canal of the Somme. They suffered 80 casualties in these attacks, including Hamilton, who was wounded in the left forearm. This was his last action. Despite the casualties, the attack was an overwhelming success. Within 24 hours, their division had captured 20 field guns, scores of machine-guns and almost 3,000 prisoners, the greatest number captured by a British division in 24 hours during the war. The end of the war was in sight.
Hamilton was hospitalised in England at the 3rd London General Hospital prior to being granted special 1914 veterans leave, embarking for Australia on 20 October 1918. He was discharged on 21 February 1919, having been wounded three times and admitted to hospital with serious illness five times over the length of his service. Interestingly, not knowing the war’s end was imminent, despite his long service and many wounds and illnesses, the medical authorities had him listed as fit to return to the front when his leave finished. Fortunately the war’s end made this unnecessary.
Hamilton had sent letters, postcards and photos to his mother and sisters while away at war. In August 1916, his sister, Irene, married a grazier named Hastings Donaldson from nearby Medway Station at Bogantungan in the Central Queensland highlands. A newspaper article stated that ‘Maltese lace worn on the [bride’s] gown was sent from Malta by the bride’s brother, Sergeant R. G. Hamilton of 9th Battalion’. In August 1917, his only brother Malcolm was shot and killed by a sniper during action at Messines, Belgium.
Family stories tell of a Mrs Wheeler living in London during the war who took the ‘Central District Boys’ from Queensland under her wing. She passed on news, parcels and letters to the soldiers so that they knew where others were and what was happening to them. She also kept the families in Queensland informed with news. Hamilton’s sister Irene formed a ‘Mrs Wheeler Fund’, which took generous donations from local landowners and raised enough money for Mrs Wheeler to buy a car. Mrs Wheeler’s connection with these men continued back home in Queensland after the war.
After the war ended, Hamilton returned to his family home at Moura Station, Banana, in central Queensland and to his work as a grazier. With both his father and brother gone, he was the head of the family.
In 1920 he started a trading company, ‘Moura Estates’, with eight people in it, six of them family members. They bought May Downs Station, and this property was sold by auction just a year later, stocked, and ‘for a very satisfactory price’.
In 1919, Hamilton promoted and donated prizes for an amateur boxing tournament at Moura to raise funds for the repatriation of soldiers. In May 1920, Moura Station hosted the annual two day event, the Dawson Annual Picnic Race Club, for the first time since 1915. The main horse race event, the Memorial Cup, had been instituted in memory of the members of the club who had given their lives in the Great War. The event was well-attended and very successful. They held the event there again with similar success each year after.
In February 1924, Hamilton was taken by ambulance from his cotton holding, Calluingal Station, to Rockhampton hospital, in great pain from internal bleeding from old war wounds. Three months later, he sold Moura Station to the owners of a neighbouring property. Next it was Calluingal Station that was up for sale, as Hamilton left for Nebo, near Mackay, for a cattle property he had secured.
On 20 August 1924, he married Louisa Dempsey. Their daughter, Kathleen Mary, was born the following year. But the war had taken its toll on Hamilton, and he died on 25 May 1927, aged just 37. The exact cause of death is unknown. Sadly, Kathleen died almost a year later.
Australian War Memorial, Embarkation, Honour and Nominal Rolls, http://www.awm.gov.au/
Bean, CEW 1942, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 -18, Vol. VI, The AIF in France, Angus and Robertson, Sydney
Donaldson, Irene, unpublished memoirs, My Many Homes
Harvey, N c. 2009 (1941), From Anzac to the Hindenburg Line: The History of the 9th Battalion A.I.F., The Naval and Military Press, Uckford, & the Imperial War Museum, London
Lowndes, C 2011, Ordinary Men Extraordinary Service: The World War One Experiences of the 9th Battalion (Queensland) AIF Reflections on the Gallipoli Campaign, Boolarong Press, Brisbane
National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Robert George Mort Hamilton’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; HAMILTON, R G M, 1914-1920