In Love and War

James Urquhart to Violet Wilkinson

Private James Henry Urqhart, 9th and 49th Infantry Battalions.

When Jim Urqhuart volunteered to serve with the first AIF in June 1915, allied troops were still fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula. One of 10 children born to Henry James Urquhart and Isabella Fraser, his mother had died in 1901 when he was only nine, leaving his father a ‘lengthsman’ to raise the large family on his own.

Jim Urquhart was assigned to the 8th Reinforcements for the 9th Infantry Battalion and trained at Frasers Hill Camp, Enoggera just outside Brisbane.

Jim wrote to his girl back in north Queensland – Violet Wilkinson, eight of his postcards have recently been donated to the State Library, and they will be added to the collection already held, which is a Souvenir he had sent to Violet from Cairo.

Jim also sent a photograph of the troopship ‘Kyarra‘ that he departed Queensland on, bound for Egypt in August 1915. On board was a fellow recruit from his home town, Louis Ghensi.

Private James Urquhart

Like many soldiers Jim contracted influenza soon after arriving and was admitted to the 1st Auxiliary Hospital at Heliopolis, and sent a a card heavily decorated in violets, and signed with best love, Jim.

In November 1915 Jim joined his battalion via the ‘Royal George‘ on the island of Mudros where they had been transferred, out of the front lines of Gallipoli. The weather was reported as bitterly cold, and the men were put to work arranging the camp, training and participating in route marches.

The 9th Battalion never returned to the trenches of Gallipoli, all allied troops were withdrawn by 20 December and the 9th Battalion spent the Christmas of 1915 on the island.

Transport ship the Royal George

Troopship, the Royal George

The Battalion returned to Egypt on board the ‘Grampian’ in January 1916 and troops were reorganised to form Battalions that were to serve in France and Belgium. In February Jim joined the newly formed 49th Battalion composed predominantly of Queensland men. He was shipped to France via the port of Marseilles in June on board the ‘Arcadian’.

A first hand account of the move is recorded by Sergeant MARCH

“A nasty day for a big move. A dust storm was blowing badly in the morning & was still in effect when the Btn moved off in the cool of the evening.”

Before he left Violet had written to Jim – most likely a ‘dear John letter’ and he wrote a card in return ‘wishing her the best of luck’.

[Violet later married Robert Ninnes, also from Macknade who had returned from the war in 1915 having been medically discharged.]

Postcard from Jim Urquhart to Violet Wilkinson

The men were taken by train from Serapeum to Alexandria, then sailed through the night to Marseilles, where they camped for the day before travelling north again by train to Strazeele and their first billets.

The battalion fought their first major battle at Mouquet Farm in August 1916 and suffered many casualties. On the evening of 13 August they were in the front line, at Pozieres, deepening the trenches under heavy shell fire from the enemy. Each man going into the firing line took 4 [sand] bags to shore up the lines.

Private Jim Urquhart was killed during this action, his body was never recovered.

Private Louis Ghensi

On the last day of this offensive at Mouquet Farm, Jim’s mate Louis Ghensi was also killed in action on 3 September 1916.

Jim’s Urquhart’s name appears on the wall of the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, along with his mate Louis Ghensi and over 10,000 Australian servicemen whose place of burial could not be identified.

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Marg Powell | QANZAC100 Content Technician  State Library of Queensland