Bullecourt, 11 April 1917

James (Corrie) Wheeler, from Rockhampton, enlisted in Townsville 18 January 1915. Assigned to the 15th Infantry Battalion, he joined his company at Gallipoli in May 1915.

James Corrie Wheeler

He was seriously wounded in August 1915, at Lone Pine and evacuated by hospital ship to Alexandria, then England, where he was treated at King George’s Hospital. When he returned to Egypt he was hospitalised with mumps for several weeks.

June 1916 saw Wheeler reunited with the 15th now in France, where he was again severely wounded, this time at Mouquet Farm during the Battle of Pozieres, 9 August 1916.

He returned once again to his unit in March 1917 and just before the fight on April 11th 1917 his mate Arthur Dove asked him

“What are you going to do this time, Wheeler?”

On the eve of 10 April the Battalion prepared for an attack on the Hindenburg Line south of Riencourt, the next morning. The unit diary for the time states:

“Only four Officers who were in the assault were brought in, they were wounded before reaching [the] first wire. None of the Officers who reached objective returned and of the troops who took part in the assault only 52 have returned.”

The Company had been surrounded by the enemy, were short of ammunition and had to give up the fight.

Wheeler was reported missing after the battle, later he was found to be a prisoner of the German army, taken at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917.

Letter from Corrie to his Sister

His family – mother, father & sister all wrote separately to the Officer in Charge, Base Records Major Lean asking for information about Corrie, supplying a copy of one of the letters he had been able to send whilst he was in captivity.

Soltau POW Camp 1918

Image source: Gold Museum Ballarat

He was initially sent to the main POW camp at Limburg; hospitalised Kreigslazarette Lehrer Seminar Mons; interned Schneidemuhl Prison Camp, north western Poland; and finally due to his ill health transferred to hospital at Soltau Camp.

Wheeler Index Card

Mrs Annie Wheeler who was assisting North Queensland families locate their servicemen (no relation) wrote to authorities in Geneva to arrange a prisoner exchange but this was not successful.

James Corrie Wheeler survived his time in the German prison camps, and returned to Australia early 1919. He took up a selection north of Boulia on the Burke River, which he named “Corrie Downs”. One of the western-most homesteads in Queensland, he lived there as a grazier for the next 50 years, raising sheep for wool. He married Storm Murray in April 1950.

His collection of reminiscences are held at the State Library of Queensland

Further Reading:

Marg Powell  |  QANZAC 100 Content Technician  State Library of Queensland