Gilbert Leonard Holcomb, a carpenter from Gatton enlisted on 21st November 1914, aged 28. He was assigned to the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance unit commanded by Lieut. Col. Bean and Major Croll, and departed from Brisbane for Egypt on the transport ship Borda one month later.
Private Holcomb was detailed for “special duty” and trained as a medical orderly on the hospital ship Sicilia.
On the morning of 25th April 1915, the Sicilia sailed with a convoy of 23 ships to lie just off Anzac Cove, here they waited until the cover of evening to evacuate and treat wounded.
OM78-58/7 & OM79-64/12
Gilbert Holcomb’s legacy is his ‘Gallipoli diary’
His entry for 26 April 1915 describes the conditions the day after the landing.
“first lot of wounded – arrived at 12 oclock at – night, working till morning – 7am, more arrived … and all throughout – the day, some difficulty – in getting boats close up, – strong currents running”
They ferried wounded between the hospital bases on Lemnos, Malta and at Alexandria. His work on the hospital ship was physically and emotionally draining; conditions have been described as very inadequate, with little ventilation; wounded lying on floors, benches and tables; and a continuous stream of casualties adding to the already overcrowded situation.
The entry for 14 May 1915 reads – Steady fighting during day – heavy battle started at 6pm mostly artillery battleships … roar continuous all night – whole battlefield lit up by firing many Star Shells . . . “
His comments reflect the major operations in May against the Turkish army with Australian forces reinforced by the Light Horse operating as Infantry. Losses were so heavy on both sides that a truce was called to bury the dead and retrieve the wounded from no-man’s land.
Gilbert Holcomb’s entry for 28 June 1915:
That day Private Les Pountney of the 5th Light Horse Regiment was brought on board, badly wounded in action, with a bullet wound to the right shoulder and a fractured leg. He died as a result of his wounds, 10 days later. Private Holcomb wrote a letter to Pountney’s parents which was published in The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, 11 September 1915.
Private Holcomb contracted Rheumatic Fever in August 1915 and was invalided to King George’s Military Hospital, London & then the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, Bath. He was returned to Australia in May 1916 and resumed his carpentry profession in North Queensland where he lived for over 30 years.
Gilbert’s story has featured in the 2015 Distant Lines Exhibition, held here at the State Library. Now his collection has now been fully digitised and transcribed and is available online from the Library’s catalogue.
- Portrait of G. Holcomb. Queenslander Pictorial Supplement to The Queenslander, 23 Jan 1915, p.27
- NAA: B2455, HOLCOMB G 544
- OM78-58/7 Gilbert Holcomb Papers
- OM79-64/12 Gilbert L Holcomb Diary
- ‘A soldiers end’. Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, 11 Sep 1915, page 4
- ‘Our Gatton letter’. Queensland Times (Ipswich) 9 May 1916, page 6
- The Commonwealth. Eighty-Third casualty list. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 28 Sep 1915, page 5
- ‘A returned soldier welcomed’. Queensland Times (Ipswich), 9 May 1916, page 6
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State Library of Queensland