No.4087 Lance-Corporal John Henry Chamberlain
John Henry Chamberlain was born in the central Victorian town of Heathcote – around 40 kilometres south east of Bendigo – in 1897.
When he enlisted in Melbourne in December 1915, he was just 18. His parents, John and Wilhelmina Chamberlain, were living in Park Street, Werribee. John Chamberlain was assigned to the 10th Reinforcements, 24th Battalion, AIF. He had some knowledge of the military having served as a senior cadet for nine months in Werribee.
His brother, Charles George Chamberlain (1895-1963) also enlisted in the AIF.
The 24th Battalion was relatively new. It had been raised at the Broadmeadows Camp in May 1915 and sailed within a week to the Mediterranean. It served with distinction at Gallipoli and then in France at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm as part of the Somme offensive in 1916. In May 1917, it participated in the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt in northern France. The battalion’s involvement was just one day, and while it was adjudged successful, it cost the 24th Battalion an astonishing 80 per cent casualties. Although still very weak at the beginning of 1918, it was to play its part in stemming the German advance during the spring offensive.
After basic training, Private John Henry Chamberlain boarded HMAT Wiltshire and sailed for the Western Front. Following more training in England, he was taken on strength by the 24th Battalion on 23 September 1916 in Belgium somewhere in the Ypres sector. His first taste of life in the trenches of 'Flanders Field' was brief. He was evacuated to hospital in November for the treatment of trench foot, caused by constant immersion in water. In extreme cases, men had their toes and feet amputated. He rejoined his battalion at the end of December.
The 24th Battalion served in the Somme during the cold winter of 1916-17 alternating between the front line and providing labouring parties. They also demonstrated some Aussie ingenuity donning large white nighties bought in Amiens to use as camouflage in the snow while out on patrol! On May 3, 1917 the 24th Battalion found itself at Bullecourt. As mentioned previously, it suffered 80 per cent casualties, although its participation lasted just one day. In fact, Australian casualties for the battle which lasted for around two weeks totalled more than 7,000. It was during this period that Private John Chamberlain, barely 20 years of age, was wounded.
On 12 May, he received severe gunshot wounds to his legs and thigh. After initial treatment at Rouen, he was evacuated a week later to England to the Devonport Military Hospital in Plymouth. He didn’t return to his battalion until mid-September 1917. It’s not known in which action Private Chamberlain was wounded. On the day in question, the war diary says that the battalion was at Mametz, some 40 kilometres south-west of Bullecourt. It was to be visited by the 'architect' of the Bullecourt fiasco, British General Hubert Gough…..presumably to thank them for their effort and sacrifice. On his return to the 24th Battalion, John Chamberlain was promoted to Lance-Corporal.
By now, the Battalion was in Belgium ready to participate in the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October. The attack began badly when the Australians were shelled on their start line, losing a seventh of their number before the attack even began. As they advanced, they met oncoming German soldiers who had also decided to launch an attack on the same day. Although once again the attack was deemed a success with the Australians achieving their objectives, it came at a terrible price. Australian battalions suffered around 6,500 casualties. In early 1918, the now-weakened 24th Battalion was in the front line some 11 kilometres south west of Ypres.
In February the battalion moved into a training camp at Lottingen, 36 kilometres due south of Calais. In early March, it was on the move again – this time to Steenwerck – just a few kilometres from the Belgian border. During March 1918, the battalion seems to have spent most of its time in the trench system close to the site which became the Berks Cemetery Extension near Ploegsteert, Belgium.
On the day that Lance-Corporal John Henry Chamberlain was killed on 27 March 1918 – a few months shy of his 21st birthday – the war diary reports a quiet time in the front line. There is no mention of casualties. He was first buried in the Chateau Rusenberg Military Cemetery near Ploegsteert. After the war, his remains were moved to the Berks Cemetery Extension (Plot 2, Row A, Grave 50).
Medals & Entitlements;
[received by his family in Werribee]
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
- Commemorative scroll and plaque
Service record citation: NAA: B2455, CHAMBERLAIN JOHN HENRY
24th Battalion history and war references - Australian War Memorial