No. 5684 Private John Henry Goodwin
John Henry Goodwin was born in 1886 at Heathcote in Central Victoria, around 40 kilometres south east of Bendigo. He was married to Esther Jane Thompson and while his attestation papers declared his trade as a labourer, in the 1914 Electoral Roll he was described as a farm manager living at Werribee.
John enlisted in Melbourne on 5 February 1916. He had just turned 30. He was assigned to the 18th Reinforcements, 7th Australian Infantry Battalion that had been formed at the outbreak of the war in Melbourne and was commanded by the legendary Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Edward Elliot – known universally as ‘Pompey’ Elliot.
The 7th Battalion had suffered badly at Gallipoli – Elliot himself was wounded and evacuated on the first day. They lost more than a third of their strength during the eight-month campaign. Following evacuation from the Dardanelles, the battalion was sent to Egypt where its strength was supplemented by new volunteers from Australia.
The reconstituted Battalion was sent to the Western Front in March 1916. It suffered again at Pozieres in the Somme before moving to the Ypres Salient in Belgium. By year-end, the battalion was back in the Somme as Europe was blanketed by the worst winter in more than 30 years. Frontline casualties increased dramatically – trench foot, frostbite, influenza, respiratory diseases and rheumatism all taking their toll.
In 1917, as the Germans withdrew to the Hindenburg Line, the 7th Battalion was in pursuit, but came to an abrupt halt at Bullecourt on 11 April when in yet another poorly planned assault, the Australian 4th Division suffered 3,300 casualties. A further 1,100 Australian soldiers were taken prisoner.
Australia's official historian, Charles Bean, wrote of the battle:
“Bullecourt, more than any other battle, shook the confidence of Australian soldiers in the capacity of the British command; the errors, especially on April 10th and 11th, were obvious to almost everyone”.
Withdrawn from the frontline in May 1917 for training, the 7th saw little action until September when it became part of the renewed push in Belgium at the battles of Menin Road and Broodseinde.
During 1918, the 7th Battalion helped stop the German Spring Offensive that, at one stage, looked like it might reach the outskirts of Paris. The battalion then participated in the allied summer offensive that began on 8 August. It was still in the frontline until late September as the Germans were gradually pushed back.
Meanwhile, back in Australia in early 1916, Private John Henry Goodwin was experiencing the joys of basic training. He was sent to the huge Broadmeadows Camp, north of Melbourne. Just getting to the camp was an experience – no bus, truck or train travel for these new recruits, but a 30 kilometre hike from Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road.
On 3 July 1916, while the Battle of the Somme had been in progress for just a few days in France, Private Goodwin and his mates boarded the HMAT Ayrshire in Melbourne.
It berthed in Plymouth, England in early September and John became part of the 2nd Training Battalion based at Perham Downs on the edge of the Salisbury Plains in Wiltshire. It could house 4,000 soldiers at any one time.
Many of those who made the long voyage from Australia arrived with a variety of medical conditions – from childhood diseases such as mumps and measles to influenza, pneumonia and meningitis. The Perham Downs camp was designed to toughen up the convalescing men so that they could face the rigours of the Western Front, while also providing additional training for what were still fairly raw recruits.
Private Goodwin was sent to France at the end of October and taken on strength with the 7th Battalion in November – just in time for the winter of 1916/17.
He was taken ill on a number of occasions before being hospitalised with influenza. It would appear that following treatment and recuperation in France, he didn’t return to his unit until May 1917, which coincided with the 7th's withdrawal from the field for further training.
By early September, the 7th Battalion was in Belgium. On 20 September, it participated in the battle of Menin Road, which heralded the next stage in the Third Battle of Ypres. The 7th's war diary notes that "...the barrage commenced at 0540 hours."
The assault took place across a 15 kilometres front with the clear objective of extending the allied lines by just 1,500 yards (1,371 metres). This meant that allied artillery could cover the entire battlefield in support of its troops.
It was a textbook assault and the 7th Battalion achieved its objectives, but still at a cost. Three officers and 29 other ranks were killed, two officers and 11 other ranks died of their wounds, five officers and 155 other ranks were wounded, and five were listed as missing. The post-battle reports within the battalion’s war diary estimated they had killed around 500 enemy and captured a further 100.
One of the Australian wounded was 5684 Private John Henry Goodwin from D Company who received a severe gunshot wound to his back and chest.
One of the dead was his company commander, Major Frederick Tubb VC – a Victorian from Longwood, about 50 kilometres north of Melbourne. He had won his Victoria Cross in the savage fighting at Lone Pine on Gallipoli.
His luck ran out the day before Private Goodwin was wounded. Tubb was wounded by enemy sniper fire and as he was being transferred for treatment, he was killed by friendly artillery fire.
John Goodwin was evacuated to England for treatment and recuperation. The severity of his wound can be judged by the fact that he didn't return to his unit until mid-May 1918.
Life on the home front was also tough. In Private Goodwin’s file, there’s a letter from his wife, Esther, dated April 1918, requesting a form from the army so that she could seek some financial assistance from her local lodge: "Winter is coming on and I and my children is (sic) wanting blankets and different things."
By mid-May, Private Goodwin was back with his unit, Barely a month later, he was wounded again – this time shot in the knee on June 11 near Hazebrouk in France. The bullet fractured his kneecap and Private Goodwin was immediately evacuated to England for treatment.
However, it wasn’t only flying bullets and shrapnel that John and his mates from the 7th Battalion had to face in France in June 1918. A note in the war diary says that ‘dog fever – a particular species of influenza’ was affecting the battalion.
5684 Private John Henry Goodwin was in hospital until mid-August and returned to Australia the following month. He received a medical discharge from the army in January 1919.
It is thought that John and Esther Goodwin had two children. Not much of the family's post-war lives is known. In the late 1920s, the Electoral Roll says that they were living at Wattle Park, Werribee and John was still working as a farm manager.
Medals and Entitlements:
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
Lest we forget
NAA: B2455 GOODWIN HENRY JOHN
7th Battalion History and War Diary
Australian War Memorial
Western Front campaign notes
Australian War Memorial