A member of the Sorrento Family
Charles Albert Trenwith was born on 28th August 1899 in Carlton to Ada Eliza Skelton aged 21 of Sorrento, who was the daughter of William and Maria Skelton (nee Morce). Whilst the father is listed as ‘unknown’ Ada would, in January 1900, marry William Arthur Trenwith a farmer in Swan Hill and have a further two boys and three girls. The youngest of who was born at Sorrento, where William had moved to work as a bootmaker. His father’s trade. William was the eldest son of Senator William “Billy” Trenwith a former bootmaker from Tasmania and Senator for Victoria (1903-10).
In November 1908 William’s half brother Arthur William Trenwith would marry Ada’s younger sister Ethel May “Dolly” Skelton at Sorrento. One of their two sons, Reginald would be killed at El Alamein.
Charles is described on his enlistment as a labourer.
Charles enlisted on 19th September 1916 into the 39th Infantry Battalion, 4th Reinforcements. He was not quite 17 years and one month old, yet managed to be 18 years and 2 months on his enrollment!
At the other end of the age spectrum at 43 years and 7 months of age, William Trenwith would enlist on the 20th of February 1917.
The 39th Infantry Battalion, 4th Reinforcements embarked from Melbourne on H.M.A.T. A17 “Port Lincoln” on the 20th October 1916.
Charles was transferred to A30 “Borda” at Sierra Leone on 2nd December 1916 and arrived at Plymouth on 9th January 1917.
In England, after a spell in hospital with bronchitis, on 22nd May 1917 Charles was transferred to 8th Australian Infantry Battalion in France.
8th Australian Infantry Battalion
The 8th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War. Like the 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions, it was recruited from Victoria and, together with these battalions, formed the 2nd Brigade.
The battalion was raised from rural Victoria by Lieutenant Colonel William Bolton within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked just two months later. After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December. It later took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, as part of the second wave. Ten days after the landing, the 2nd Brigade was transferred from ANZAC to Cape Helles to help in the attack on the village of Krithia. The attack captured little ground but cost the brigade almost a third of its strength. The Victorian battalions returned to ANZAC to help defend the beachhead, and in August the 2nd Brigade fought at the battle of Lone Pine. The battalion served at ANZAC until the evacuation in December.
After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the battalion returned to Egypt. In March 1916, it sailed for France and the Western Front. From then until 1918 the battalion was heavily involved in operations against the German Army. The battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozieres in the Somme valley in July 1916. Private Thomas Cooke, one of 81 members of the battalion killed at Pozieres, earned a posthumous Victoria Cross during the action. After Pozieres, the battalion fought at Ypres, in Flanders, returning to the Somme for winter. In 1917, the battalion participated in the operations that followed-up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, and then returned to Belgium to join the great offensive launched to the east of Ypres.
Source: AWM Unit Histories. for more go HERE
Broodseinde was a large operation, involving twelve divisions attacking simultaneously along a 10 kilometre front. In the centre, I and II Anzac Corps, composed of three Australian divisions and the New Zealand Division, went forward side by side capturing the village of Broodseinde. The attack was executed in the same manner as Menin Road and Polygon Wood; The troops’ objectives were only one or two kilometres from the start line and the advance was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment. The infantry then followed a creeping barrage, which was timed to arrive at the German trenches just before the infantry did. Once again concrete pillboxes, such as those captured by the Tasmanian 40th Battalion at Tyne Cot and still visible in the cemetery there, delayed, but did not stop the advance.
Source: Australians on the western front HERE
The 8th Infantry Battalion
The 8th Battalion were positioned on the centre of the 1st Division as part of 2nd Brigade shown on this message map. (Click map to see larger)
“Thus in the early hours of October 4th the whole attacking force of I and II Anzac lay crowded about the front line, the foremost waves just ahead of it, the rearmost just behind. On the right the troops borne down were very close to the enemy. As usual
the possibility of detection added to the tension, but the night was quiet until shortly before dawn.
The difficulties began before zero hour. The German barrage heard by observers at 5.27 fell, as they feared, directly upon the waiting line of I Anzac, hitting the 1st Division more severely than the 2nd, but descending intensely upon both. The most forward battalions suffered least; where there was room, some of the rear lines edged forward to escape the worst of the storm. Most of the men, lying in their shellholes with their waterproof capes drawn over their heads against the rain, simply had to endure it. When a shell burst in an unoccupied shell-hole, it usually did little damage; when it burst in an occupied one, the men there were killed.
So severe was the strain upon the I Anzac line that more than one officer in it wondered how his men would act upon the signal to advance. But on the moment when, at 6 o’clock, the tremendous British barrage crashed down, the German barrage stopped as if by clockwork. The troops, as they straightened themselves above their shell-holes, were, as if by a miracle, spared the explosion of German shells in their midst. With the casual manner that marked them in every battle, they lit cigarettes and moved forward.
Most of the right and centre of I Anzac had to cross a slight open dip before reaching the up-slope to Broodseinde Ridge, It was at once noticeable that the great barrage,
despite its roar, was not comparable in density to those of September 20th and 26th. The ground was wet and the shells raised no dust-cloud, but only smoke and steam.
In contrast with the experience of September 20th, on a considerable part of the I Anzac front the Germans fought at most of the pillboxes. Immediately after rolling over the enemy’s foremost wave, the 1st Division received fire from the Molenaarelsthoek pillboxes and from ruins (“Retaliation Farm”) in the centre, as well as a considerable amount of shell-fire. In the 8th Battalion every officer in the left company was hit. Germans were found everywhere, but their pillboxes were quickly outflanked and captured, and the line moved through the stumps of “ Romulus ” and “ Remus ’’ Woods, and the open crater-field, to the line of the first halt, half-way up the slope.
from CEW Bean’s history HERE
For more details on the day’s actions the 8th Battalion Unit Diary for the period is available on the AWM Site HERE – go to Appendix 2 on p.6.
The 8th Battalion was relieved on the afternoon of the 5th October having reached their objectives.
The 8th Battalion would have 268 losses (14 Officers, 254 ORs).
C.E.W. Bean stated:
“The importance of the Battle of Broodseinde, the third consecutive step in this series, has never been fully recognised except by the commanders and forces that took part. For the general public, accustomed to over- or under-emphasis in the press, there was little in the published news to indicate that this blow counted for more than others. But on the actual field both British and Germans were aware that the events of the 4th of October, 1917, were big with possibilities of decision.
In the air was the unmistakable feeling, not to be experienced again by the A.I.F. until the 8th of August, 1918, that the British leaders now had the game in hand and, if conditions remained favourable, might in a few more moves secure a victory which would have its influence on the issue of the war.”
What happened to Charles Trenwith?
As we’ve seen earlier the 8th Battalion, as part of 1st Brigade, came under heavy bombardment prior to the attack. Charles was reported ‘Missing’ at the end of the day.
At the later inquiry the following witness report was made:
Charles is believed to have been buried somewhere a “few hundred yards SE of Zonnebeke” he has no known grave. In the middle of the 8th Battalion lines. He is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.
Back at home
ps.William Trenwith would survive the war, but would be discharged as mentally unfit and return to Australia in mid 1918.
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