Home Page

3705 Private Jack Seabrook
(actual name John Bassitt Seabrook)
2
nd Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F.
by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2000.

PERSONAL DATA [1]

John ("Jack") Bassitt Seabrook was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in April of 1897. Jack was a natural born British subject and the son of Algernon Russel Seabrook, a resident at the Grand Hotel, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia.

At the time of his enlistment in the Army to fight in the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Jack Seabrook was 18 years and 5 months old and not married. He worked as a clerk in civilian life, but was not an apprentice. Jack had never been convicted of a crime by a civil court, he had never been discharged from military service for disciplinary reasons, nor had he ever previously been rejected as unfit for military service. He had served as a Senior Cadet for four years prior to his enlistment in the Army. Jack Seabrook was a member of the Church of England.

ENLISTMENT

Jack Seabrook enlisted as a Private in the 25th Battalion, A.I.F [2] at Brisbane, Queensland on the 22nd of September 1915. At the time of his enlistment, his parents were required to sign a consent form to give permission for him to "enlist in the Australian Imperial Force for service beyond the limits of the Commonwealth of Australia." The consent form was signed by Jack’s father, his mother being deceased by that time. It is only on this consent form that his full name "John Bassitt Seabrook" is ever shown in his military records. On all other documents he is simply listed as "Jack." The use of this sobriquet appears to have been by his own choice and was accepted by the Army without question.

Jack was given a medical examination on the same day as his enlistment. During this examination it was noted that he was 5 feet 2-1/2 inches tall and weighed 90 pounds. His chest measurements were 33 inches normally and 35 inches expanded. He had a fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. The photograph of Jack Seabrook taken in 1917, when he was about 20 years old, shows him to be a handsome lad with a clean-, boyish face. He was a very small young man in both height and weight; however, despite his diminutive size he was found fit for active service.

TRAINING AND EARLY SERVICE

Private Seabrook received his basic training as a soldier with the 25th Battalion, A.I.F. in preparation for deployment overseas as part of the 8th Reinforcement for the battalion. The 25th Battalion was part of the 7th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Australian Division then serving in Egypt on the Suez Canal Defences [3]. The 2nd Division had been formed in Egypt in July of 1915 and had already seen action at Gallipoli. Jack Seabrook was rather fortunate to have joined the division after its withdrawal from that rather ill planned operation.

The 8th Reinforcement for the 25th Battalion embarked for Egypt at Brisbane on the 3rd of January 1916 aboard H.M.A.T. Kyarra [4]. A short while after Seabrook’s arrival in Egypt, the 2nd Pioneer Battalion was formed on the 10th of March 1916. This battalion was assigned to the 2nd Division. Private Seabrook was transferred from the 25th Battalion to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion on this day at Moascar. In the photograph of Private Seabrook at the beginning of this narrative, he can be seen wearing the formation sign of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion (a purple diamond with white borders) on each shoulder.

Given Seabrook’s short height and light weight, one wonders why he was assigned to the Pioneer battalion. Mallett (1999) describes the functions of these units in the following way:

"Pioneer battalions performed construction tasks in the forward area not requiring the special equipment of engineers, such as constructing trenches and dugouts although they occasionally acted in the engineer role on tasks such as construction of bridges. They had a large proportion of tradesmen and were organised the same as an infantry battalion. In a pinch they could and did serve as infantry in the front line."

Jack Seabrook’s civilian trade of clerk certainly did little to recommend him for this type of unit. His small size would not have made him a prime candidate for assignment to a unit the main functions of which were digging and bridge construction [5].

FRANCE AND FLANDERS

Private Seabrook embarked with his unit at Alexandria on the 16th of March 1916 bound for France. The 2nd Pioneer Battalion disembarked at Marseilles on the 26th of March and moved into line in the British sector near Armentieres. The battalion began preparations for the planned British offensive on the Somme. Jack Seabrook had his first spot of trouble with military discipline on the 15th of May 1916 when he was absent without leave for a period of 5 hours. The next day he was charged and punished by loss of 4 days pay.

The great British offensive on the Somme commenced on the 1st of July 1916. The first phase of the offensive lasted until the 13th of July and on the 27th of July the 2nd Division relieved the 1st Australian Division at Pozieres. The 2nd Division then successfully attacked and captured Pozieres Heights.

A gas shell exploded in the near vicinity of Private Jack Seabrook on the 29th of July 1916 while his unit was consolidating the Pozieres Heights position. Seabrook was gassed and his records show him as "wounded in action, first occasion." He was transported from the front line by 57th Field Ambulance, a British medical unit, and on the 31st of July he was transferred in the field to No. 2 Field Ambulance [6]. He was transported that same day to the 2nd Australian Field Hospital and then on to a Casualty Clearing Station. On the 3rd of August 1916, while he battalion was still in line in the Somme sector, Private Seabrook was admitted to No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen [7]. Seabrook was put aboard H.S. Panama at Le Havre on the 4th of August and transported to England for further treatment [8].

On the 7th of August 1916 Private Seabrook was admitted to the Royal Hospital at Netley in Hampshire, a town approximately 3 miles southeast of Southampton. It took until the 24th of August before his father was informed by telegram that he had been wounded by gas poisoning. Seabrook was subsequently moved to Delhi Hospital on the 2nd of September, and then on to Newcastle on Tyne Hospital at Brighton Grove on the 25th of September 1916.

In November of 1916 the 2nd Australian Division was still in line in the Somme sector. On the 14th of November the 2nd Pioneer Battalion was preparing trenches for the final Australian attack of the Somme offensive [9]. During this period, Seabrook was still in hospital at Newcastle of Tyne. He was finally released from hospital on the 7th of December 1917 and assigned to a Command Depot [10].

After about three weeks at the Command Depot, Seabrook embarked at Folkestone, Kent on the 31st of December 1916 and proceeded overseas to France on the Princess Victoria [11]. On New Years day 1917, Seabrook marched into the 2nd Australian Division Base Depot at Etaple. At the Depot he was temporarily admitted to hospital and then was sent on to a segregation camp in preparation for his return to his unit. Seabrook remained at the base depot for almost a month. It was not until the 19th of February 1917 that he was discharged from hospital and sent to rejoin the 2nd Pioneer Battalion in the field.

In March of 1917 the 2nd Division formed a flying column to pursue the Germans to the Hindenburg Line. Either by coincidence or by design Seabrook managed to get himself into trouble again, so it is known for certain that he was not with this flying column. On the 4th of March he was charged with neglect of duty in that he failed to repair at a certain road crossing in the field when ordered to do so. He was subsequently awarded 14 days field punishment Number 2 on the 18th of March 1917. The punishment was ordered by the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion, and Seabrook was marched out to the 1st ANZAC Field Punishment Compound [12].

His punishment complete, Private Seabrook rejoined his unit on the 29th of March 1917. On the 15th of April the 2nd Division was struck by a powerful German counterattack and on the 3rd of May the 2nd Pioneer Battalion was heavily engaged in the second battle at Bullecourt. Mc Nicoll (1979) gives the following description of the 2nd Pioneer Battalions work on that day:

"At about 2 p.m. the 2nd Pioneer Battalion began to dig a communication trench which would enable reinforcements and ammunition to reach the elements of the 6th Brigade holding out in the captured length of the Hindenburg Line. The trench, 1,350 yards long, was finished by 9 p.m., many of the pioneers being killed by shell fire in digging it."

On the 15th of June 1917 Private Seabrook reported sick, possibly from the lingering effects of gas poisoning. He was admitted to the 39th General Hospital at Le Havre, remained there for a week, and was discharged to the Australian Division Base Depot on the 28th of June. He rejoined the 2nd Pioneer Battalion on the 31st of July after a stay of over a month at the Depot.

The 2nd Pioneer Battalion took part in the heavy fighting at Menin Road during September of 1917 and in the battle of Broodseinde in October of 1917. Private Seabrook was wounded again during this battle. His second injury consisted of a gunshot wound to the right forearm [13]. He was immediately transported by 11th Field Ambulance [14] to a Casualty Clearing Station. On the 13th of October he was admitted to 2nd Australian General Hospital [15] at Rouen where he remained for about a week. He embarked for England on the 21st of October 1917 aboard H.S. Princess Elizabeth and upon arrival was admitted to East Leeds War Hospital.

Jack Seabrook’s father was informed by telegram of his second wound on the 14th of November and on the 16th of November he was informed that Jack was in hospital in Leeds. By then, Algernon Seabrook was concerned about his son’s health, having received notices of him having been wounded twice since arriving in France. On the 16th of November 1917 Mr. Seabrook wrote a letter to the Army authorities in Australia requesting permission to send a telegram to his son in England through official channels. On the 18th he received a reply telling him that he could only correspond with his son by mail or by commercial telegram. He was also informed that he could send three commercial telegrams free of charge; that is, telegrams for which the Army would pay. Private Seabrook’s service papers show that Mr. Seabrook did avail himself of this privilege.

On the 24th of December 1917 Jack Seabrook was transferred to the 1st Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield in the Greater London area [16]. Private Seabrook was granted a furlough on the 29th of December 1917. His furlough ended on the 12th of January 1918 and he reported to No. 1 Command Depot at Sutton Veny in Wiltshire to continue his convalescence. He apparently had used some of his time on furlough unwisely, as he was admitted to the 1st Australian Division Hospital at Bulford, Wiltshire on the 14th of January 1918 with a severe case of gonorrhea. According to his service records, this was the second occasion on which he was treated for this venereal disease, the first attack being some 18 months previously. There is no indication in his personnel records as to when this first case of venereal disease was treated, if indeed it was treated.

Seabrook continued to receive treatment for gonorrhea while at a Convalescent Training Depot. According to his Venereal Disease Case Card he needed extensive treatment for over two months. While he was being treated, his mates in the 2nd Pioneer Battalion were facing the onslaught of the great German spring offensive on the Somme in March of 1918.

Seabrook was discharged from the Convalescent Training Depot on the 25th of March 1918 after being treated for gonorrhea for 71 days. On the 5th of April he reported to No. 1 Command Depot at Perham Downs. On the 9th of April he was sent to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill in Wilsthire.

Disciplinary problems struck again when, on the 23rd of April 1918, Seabrook overstayed his leave while at Sandhill. On the 27th of April he was punished by Major W.M. Young by forfeiture of 6 days pay.

On the 8th of May 1918 Private Seabrook embarked at Folkestone for France once again. Upon arrival he reported to the Australian Infantry Base Depot at Le Havre and subsequently rejoined his unit in the field on the 18th of May. On the 24th of May 1918 he was wounded for the third time, this time a gun shot would to the right hand [17]. He was immediately evacuated to the 5th (British) Casualty Clearing Station and then to the 20th (British) Casualty Clearing Station. He was admitted to the Line of Communication (7th Canadian General) Hospital at Etaples from the field medical unit on the 27th of May 1918 and on the following day was invalided to England aboard H.S. Stad Antwerpen. Upon arrival in England he was admitted to Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington, Kent. Poor Mr. Seabrook received the third notification of his son being wounded on the 11th of June 1918 and was advised that he was in hospital by telegram on the 13th of June.

This wound not being so serious, Jack Seabrook was discharged from hospital to No. 3 Command Depot at Dartford in Kent for convalescence on the 17th of June 1918. While at Dartford, he went absent without leave on the 18th of July and remained away until the 22nd of July. On the 27th of July 1918 he was awarded 8 days forfeiture of pay by Lieutenant Colonel A. Jackson.

Again, while Seabrook is in hospital or convalescing in England, his pals in the 2nd Pioneer Battalion were in the thick of combat in France. In July 1918 they were fighting the battle of Hamel and in August they were engaged at Amiens. To further ensure his stay in England, Seabrook complained about an old gunshot would to his shoulder. His records do not indicate that he ever received a gun shot would to the shoulder, so this complaint presents somewhat of a mystery. Nevertheless, he was admitted to hospital at Fovant in Wiltshire for treatment of this "old wound" on the 12th of August 1918 [18].

The 2nd Australian Division was capturing Mont Saint Quentin in September of 1918 and the 2nd Pioneer Battalion was engaged with bridging the River Somme during these operations, while Seabrook was rather comfortably ensconced in England. The men of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion fought on to the Hindenburg Line and beyond [19], with the 2nd Australian Division being the last Australian division to be withdrawn from France and Flanders [20].

Jack Seabrook was discharged from the military hospital at Fovant on the 4th of September 1918 and assigned to No. 3 Command Depot at Hurdcott. On the 11th of September he was reassigned from No. 3 Command Depot to No. 1 Command Depot at Sutton Veny. He went absent without leave again on the 17th of September and remained missing until the 19th of September. His records indicate that he was to be charged with being absent but, for some unexplained reason, the award of punishment for this offense was dismissed. It may be that his unauthorized absence was due to a genuine misunderstanding on his part or an administrative error on the part of his superiors.

While Seabrook was still in England, his mates of the 2nd Pioneer Battalion attacked and captured Montbrehain on the 5th of October 1918 [21]. Seabrook’s days at the front were over. He would never return to France or to his unit. On the 17th of October Private Seabrook was reassigned from No. 1 Command Depot to the Overseas Training Brigade, possibly to be retrained in another military specialty. While with the Overseas Training Brigade he attended the Brigade Signal School. On the 1st of November 1918 he left the Brigade Signal School and reported to the Pioneer Training Battalion at Sutton Veny. On the 15th of January 1919 he was further assigned to the 2nd Training Brigade at Codford in Wiltshire.

Private Seabrook embarked on H.T. Kildonian Castle at Devonport on the 21st of March 1919 for the return trip to Australia. On the 11th of April 1919 his father received a telegram indicating that Jack was on his way home. Private Seabrook disembarked in Australia on the 15th of May 1919 and was discharged from the Army in Military District 1 on the 26th of June 1926.

For his service during the Great War, Private Jack Seabrook was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. During his almost four years with the Colours he was never promoted. His disciplinary record and his lost time as a result of non-combat related hospitalisation may have had some bearing on the reasons for his lack of promotion. His conduct and medical history are summarized below.

CONDUCT

The following table summarizes Private Seabrook’s disciplinary problems during his time in service:

Date of Offence

Nature of the Offence

Punishment

15 May 1916

Absent from duty for 5 hours Forfeiture of 4days pay

4 March 1917

Failure to repair to his appointed place of duty 14 days Field Punishment No. 2

23 April 1918

Overstayed leave Forfeiture of 6 days pay

18 July 1918

Absent without leave for 4 days Forfeiture of 8 days pay

17 September 1918

Absent without leave for 2 days Award of punishment dismissed

The most severe punishment Seabrook received was the 14 days Field Punishment No. 2 for failure to repair to his appointed place of duty. This infraction took place in the field in France and could have easily been considered to be desertion in the face of the enemy [22]. All other punishments for being absent without leave involved forfeiture of pay. Although the number of days of lost pay increased with each offense, the punishments still appear to be lenient.

MEDICAL HISTORY

Much of the war passed Private Seabrook by as a result of the wounds he received in action and as a result of illness. The following table summarizes his medical history while on active service:

Dates of Illness

or Injury

Description of Illness or Injury

Evacuation Chain

Date Returned

to Duty

Lost Time

29 July 1916

Gas poisoning

57th Field Ambulance; 2nd Field Ambulance; 2nd Australian Field Hospital; Casualty Clearing Station; No. 1 Australian General Hospital; Evacuation to England; Royal Hospital, Netley; Delhi Hospital; Newcastle on Tyne Hospital; Command Depot; 2nd Australian Division Base Depot Hospital

17 February 1917

197 days

15 June 1917

Sick (unknown illness)

39th General Hospital; Australian Division Base Depot

31 July 1917

45 days

11 October 1917

Gun shot wound to right forearm

11th Field Ambulance; Casualty Clearing Station; 2nd Australian General Hospital; Evacuation to England; East Leeds War Hospital; 1st Auxiliary Hospital; No. 1 Command Depot

12 January 1918

90 days

14 January 1918

Gonorrhea

1st Australian Division Hospital; Convalescent Training Depot; No. 1 Command Depot; Overseas Training Brigade; Australian Infantry Base Depot

18 May 1918

124 days

24 May 1918

Gun shot wound to right hand

5th Casualty Clearing Station; 20th Casualty Clearing Station; 7th Canadian General Hospital; Evacuation to England; Ontario Military Hospital; No. 3 Command Depot;

12 August 1918

78 days

12 August 1918

Treatment for old gun shot wound

Fovant Military Hospital; No. 3 Command Depot; No. 1 Command Depot

17 October 1918

65 days

Lost Time Due to Wounds: 365 days
Lost Time Due to Illness or Injury: 234 days
Total Lost Time: 599 days

Of the three and a half years spent in uniform, Private Seabrook spent almost one year and eight months away from his unit due to wounds or illness. This amounts to almost 48% of the time he spent in uniform.

ENDNOTES:

[1] Unless otherwise note, details of Jack Seabrook’s life and military service have been taken from his Army personnel records obtained from the National Archives of Australia.

[2] This battalion was formed in Queensland in April of 1915. Ref: Mallett, R. Infantry, p. 24.

[3] At that time the Australian 2nd Division was commanded by Major General John Gordon Legge. Ref: Mallett, R. Second Division, p. 2.

[4] H.M.A.T Kyarra was a vessel of 6,953 tons owned by the AUSN Company Limited of London. This transport ship was manned by Australian officers and an Australian crew and was capable of a top speed of 14 knots. Commonwealth control of the vessel ended on the 4th of January 1918. The ship was subsequently torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine (UB 57) on the 26th of May 1918. When she was torpedoed, Kyarra was carry general cargo two miles off Anvil Point off the coast of Dorset. She was on a voyage from London to Sydney at the time. Six lives were lost when the ship sank. Ref: Mallett, R. Transports.

[5] The author recalls his own time in service in the U.S. Army Engineers when men classified as "Pioneers" where big and burly pick and shovel type soldiers.

[6] No. 2 Field Ambulance was an Australian medical unit of the 1st Australian Division. The unit had been formed in Victoria in August of 1914.

[7] This hospital was formed in Queensland in August of 1914.

[8] There is a conflicting entry in his service papers regarding his first wound. In most places in his records it indicates that he was gassed. There is one entry, however, that indicates that he had a shrapnel wound in the forehead. This same entry says that he embarked for England aboard H.S. Jan Breydel. The author believes the entries regarding his being gassed to be the correct ones.

[9] Mc NICOLL, p. 76.

[10] Command or Convalescent Depots were half way houses for casualties returning to the front. Men who no longer required hospitalisation were sent to these depots but were not yet fit to rejoin their units. These depots were also known as convalescent homes.

[11] Major General N.M. Smythe had assumed command of the Australian 2nd Division on the 28th of December 1916.

[12] Field Punishment No. 2 consisted of being kept in irons and being made to labour as if he were undergoing imprisonment with hard labour.

[13] The photograph at the beginning of this narrative shows Seabrook wearing two wound stripes. The photograph was taken by a photographer in Barnet, a borough of Greater London. The photograph was probably taken in December of 1917 when Seabrook was on furlough and visiting London.

[14] This unit was formed at Mitcham, South Australia on the 1st of March 1916 as a medical unit for the 3rd Australian Division.

[15] Formed in New South Wales in August of 1914.

[16] The Australian 1st Auxiliary Hospital opened at Harefield, England in 1916. It closed on the 31st of December 1918.

[17] Given the number of time the Seabrook had been wounded and the amount of time spent in hospital in England, one wonders whether this gun shot wound to the hand might not have seemed suspiciously like a self-inflicted wound to his superiors. There is no indication in his records that this was the case.

[18] In fairness the Seabrook it must be said that the entries in the military records during the Great War were not always precise. This "old gun shot would in the shoulder" could have been his second wound, although the shoulder is a long way from the forearm.

[19] The 2nd Pioneer Battalion suffered 132% casualties in France and Flanders from March of 1916 to November of 1918.

[20] At the end of the war the 2nd Australian Division was commanded by Major General Charles Rosenthal. Casualties in the division amounted to: 8,837 killed in action; 2,842 died of wounds; 936 other deaths; 477 prisoners of war; and 37,936 wounded, for a total of 51,028.

[21] Mc NICOLL, p. 154.

[22] In the British Army this probably would have been the case.

REFERENCES:

  1. National Archives of Australia. Personnel Records of 3705 Private Jack Seabrook, A.I.F., to include:

a. Australian Imperial Force Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad.
b. Parents Consent Form.
c. Statement of Services.
d. Army Form B103. Service and Casualty Form.
e. War Gratuity Schedule.
f. Venereal Disease Case Card.
g. Telegraphs to Next of Kin Advising of Wounds.
h. C.M. Form 500 (Q1). Recording all Clothing, Necessaries and Equipment Issued.

2. MALLETT, R. First AIF Order of Battle, 1914-1918. www.adfa.edu.au/~mallett/index.html

3. Mc NICOLL, R.R. The Royal Australian Engineers, 1902-1919: Making and Breaking. Corps Committee of the Royal Australian Engineers, Canberra, 1979.

4. British Field Service Pocket Book, 1914.