Monday, 22 March 2021

Remembering Ruth

Ruth van Aaken
6 Jun 1945 - 22 Mar 2011

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Great War Diary - Part 6

A deadly stalemate had developed at Gallipoli, with the Anzacs unable to break through to the Dardanelles and the Turks unable to push them back into the sea. The situation was taking its toll through illness and stress, but there was a 'big move' being planned by the Allies that gave hope to everyone at Anzac Cove including our Dr John Corbin. Those hopes were to be short-lived.

Thursday 22nd July

A heap of sick to be seen and many of them now are very sick men. The men who have had persistent diarrhoea look dreadfully ill and wasted. The number of shock cases is increasing and the strain of life in the trenches is tremendously apparent. The variety of nervous manifestations is extraordinary.

Friday 30th July

Everything is going on fast for the big move. Preparations getting well ahead but heaps still to do. If weather keeps good it should be a great success.

Left - 'Splinter Villa', a typical dugout.  Right - Turkish POWs
Sunday 1st August

The Taube - an early German warplane
There are great preparations - every night landing guns, men, ammunition, stores, etc. There are 400 mules to come in tonight and tomorrow and then I suppose more ammunition, food and water, timber, etc, and the day! The Taube visits us night and morning and evidently the Turk is beginning to realise that this will be 'some show'. I wish he would leave his bombs at home, one will catch the beach some day.

Monday 2nd, Tuesday 3rd August

The arrangements [for casualty units during the coming offensive] will seriously hamper the handling of the wounded on the beach. Birrell [surgeon-general responsible for evacuation of casualties] came over early after lunch, spent two minutes in our hospital, left insane orders for us and cleared out as fast as he could. There was shelling on the beach before he came and later in the evening, but as so often happens when GHQ come down none while they were here. Duty 8 pm to 2 am. Very depressed. The whole thing is badly organised. [The medical commanders] live at Imbros, eat and sleep in comfort and know absolutely nothing of the conditions here.

Thursday 5th August

Stores have been coming in all day and the fire on the beach is hellish. A picket boat got a hole in her and the crew tried to bolt. Cater went out to restore order and make the asses run the sinking boat ashore. Just as he had done this a burst of shrapnel got him. I rushed down and met him coming in. He was lying on a stretcher and I said 'Old chap where did you get it?' He replied 'I don't know, I want Corbin.' I said 'That's alright I'm here' and he groped for my hand and we rushed him along. He was unconscious in three minutes and dead in fifteen. One of the best, bravest and most efficient men I've ever met. His wife isn't 26 yet and lost her only brother in Flanders about 14 days ago.


The 'big move' was the last major attempt by the Allies to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula. It involved two points of attack - an attempt to break out of the Anzac area using Anzacs reinforced by additional Allied troops, and a separate British landing at Suvla Bay just to the north.

Friday 6th, Saturday 7th August

Awakened at 4.30 am by continuous rifle fire. Got up and found the landing of troops not nearly completed and bright early daylight.

The beach is getting loaded with wounded. All the pinnaces are being used and there is no transport set aside for the wounded alone. No special picket boats, no special barges, no nothing. Chaos as of yore. Wounded are lying in the sun on the beach, many dangerously wounded will die. It is calamitous, it is criminal neglect. I want [the officer in charge] to go to Keeble [the medical control officer] and if he does nothing then to go to [General] Birdwood and insist on boats and tows being provided. I come on at 4 am and if there is nothing better I shall do this. [He did!]

Cleared the beach before morning and it filled again as fast as it emptied. We soon loaded and overloaded the Hospital Ship.

Maps:  Left & centre - Gallipoli Peninsula overview.  Right - Anzac region.  (click on image to enlarge)

Sunday 8th August

We hear the 11th have taken Lone Pine Ridge. There has been heavy fighting at Quinn's, Pope's, Walker's. In all these situations the Australians have had to retire, even where they have taken trenches, to their own original line. It is apparently a demonstration to prevent Turks going to the left. The landing at Suvla Bay took place this morning. We can see all the ships and the fighting began before daylight. We hear the left [at Anzac] is doing well, the British and New Zealand troops have junctioned. Hill 971 has not been completely taken but they are close to the crest.

My fighting [for boats for the wounded] has led to a great improvement as regards our beach. We are getting many off now.

Sunday 15th August

At night saw furious rifle fire beyond Suvla, evidently for possession of the distant range. It is well certain that these Kitchener troops are not up to standard. There is no doubt they have broken repeatedly in the face of the enemy. When one looks at their miserable physique and mindless faces one cannot be surprised. They will harden up with service but it has caused the partial failure of this show.

Monday 16th August

Went [with colleagues] out to the left [ie.northwards]. We went on for miles, had a good view of Hills 971 and 800, saw sadly enough scores of dead bodies on the sides of both. Were taken into the firing line and found ourselves within 800 yards of W Hill and got a good idea of the position. The landing at Suvla Bay has obviously been a failure. The troops arrived late, were held up by a small body [of enemy troops] and had no dash whatever. Instead of being right up to the base of 971 and threatening the Turkish right, they are now well away and can exert little pressure.

It has been one more example of incompetence on the part of Ian Hamilton [commander of the Gallipoli campaign] and his hopeless staff. Sit down, give the Turk time to dig in and then I suppose in 14 days time another insufficient number of men landing and another failure. Why he is not recalled I cannot conceive.

Thursday 19th August

Feeling rather off colour, turned in after lunch, found temperature 101.6 deg. Aching all over. Feeling absolutely rotten, poisonous taste in my mouth, pain in tummy and everywhere else.

Friday 20th August

Had pretty poisonous night, temp still 101.6. Feeling more rotten than ever, decided to go away on Giblin's and Gordon's advice. Went on to the 'Guildford Castle' which left one hour later.

Photo taken by John Corbin

John expected to recuperate on the island of Lemnos then return to Gallipoli but instead he was transferred further afield. He was 'terribly keen to get back to Anzac' but never returned. He was diagnosed with typhoid.

With Gallipoli at a stalemate again and with severe winter coming on, Field Marshall Kitchener visited the battlefield in November then advised the British government to abandon the campaign. On 20th December the last Australian troops left Anzac Cove.

John Corbin recovered from his illness and returned to service on the Western Front in France from May 1916 to April 1917. In July 1917 he gave evidence to the Dardanelles Commission, a British Government inquiry into the Gallipoli campaign. After the war he returned to medical practice in South Australia. He died in 1930.

[Photos - Imperial War Museum, Wikipedia, Britain At War,, Australian War Memorial]

This concludes my war diary series. Dr John Corbin's diary is a precious piece of family history and national history, hope you've enjoyed reading these extracts. Thanks again to Stephen & Jane Gow. In the future I will post some articles about the South Australian Corbins.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Great War Diary - Part 5

More extracts from Dr John Corbin's compelling diary from Anzac Cove:

Tuesday 25th May:
HMS Triumph

Off duty, went up hill and slept in sun. At about 12 o'clock returning saw great excitement in fleet. The [battleship] Triumph coming inshore listing steadily and at 12.30 she turned completely over and sank. We hear varying accounts of the casualties from 50 - 350. I shall not forget the feeling as the big ship rolled over and sank. The submarine got clear away.

Monday 31st May:

Sick to death of muddling over transport of wounded [to ships] which is still in chaotic condition - no better preparations today than the day we landed. Rather worse owing to submarine scare.

Tuesday 1st June:

Tremendous surprise this morning, a huge bag of mail. Three letters, many papers and birthday wishes. Simply splendid to get them. Have spent all morning reading them, the best birthday surprise I could get.

Monday 14th June:

We were shelled soundly from 5am to 6am. Bursting all around the hospital. Blew in a shelter 15 yards from my sleeping hut. Killed one man and wounded three badly. One shell burst just above me and smothered me in dust and debris. A further shelling in the evening. Perfectly hideous.

Wednesday 16th June:

While dressing a patient a man stopped on the beach to look over the canvas screen alongside me. He gave a grunt as a shell burst, and fell down. I looked over and found his chest blown in by the casing and quite dead.

It is amazing that none of our officers have been killed, but if we stay where we are we must be sooner or later.
Quinn's Post

Saturday 19th June:

Went for a walk with Downs up Shrapnel Gully to Pope's Hill, Courtney's Post, Quinn's Post and on over Walker's Ridge and so back to beach. It is a marvel how they can hold any of these positions.

Friday 25th June:

Left at 8.30 with Cater in a trawler and went down to Helles on a joy ride. We went round on to the Dardanelles and then back to land at Helles. We went ashore and saw the ruined forts and village. Afterwards we went to the naval observation post, [they] showed us the positions of the various troops and the lines held by the English and French. The whole thing is enormous compared with our cramped positions. No cover at all and the men must need great courage to advance and take trenches in the open as they do.
Transport ship 'River Clyde' at site of bloody British landing at Cape Helles

Tuesday 6th July:

Walked up to Pope's Hill. Powell took me through the trenches and showed me dead Turks and the whole position of the fight.

Young Turnbull came to see me yesterday and got some medicine - went into the trenches last night and got his head blown off.

Had a swim in the night light, the phosphorescence is very pretty. Sleep in new dugout looking out to sea.

Wednesday 7th July:

After bathe Boddam and I with Jollett were trying to catch fish when a most poisonous burst of shrapnel took place over us. I saw the burst and had time to think this is the end of us before a hail of bullets made the sea boil round us and the barge deck rang with them. Not one of us touched! 

Sunday 11th July:

I feel confident that there is a big move contemplated and I am sure it will resolve itself into a rout of the Turk.

Monday 12th July:

It is extraordinary to sit in your dug-out and watch the peaceful life on the beach. It might be a port with busy loading and unloading going on. Suddenly a whirr followed by a bang and everyone running for cover [then] the whole beach is quiet not a man to be seen, no bathers, no movement. Several more shells then quiet from the enemy, and in 5 minutes all back at their jobs, bathing, working, laughing, talking as if war were a million miles away.

[Photos - Imperial War Museum, National Archives of Australia]

A final set of diary extracts will be posted next Anzac Day.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Great War Diary - Part 4

Dr John Corbin lived on the Gallipoli battlefield for four months, all the while recording his experiences in his diary. He also took photographs - since the previous article was posted we have discovered that one of the photos used in that article ('Clearing station 1 ACCS on the beach at Anzac Cove') was taken by him! A collection of John Corbin's photos is held by the Australian War Memorial. All the Gallipoli photos below were taken by him.
Views of Anzac Cove
Wednesday 5th May:

Plenty of sick in, just a few wounded. One man shot through the neck, jaw broken, facial bleeding. Sewed it up, stopped haemorrhage and sent on board.

I sent off my cable to Margaret yesterday, but found that letters were censored here and at HQ and that it would be held up for two weeks...farcical. They let the world know through the press what they have done and make it impossible for us to write to our people.

Thursday 6th May:

There will be an epidemic without doubt if we are here for long. Cholera, typhus and rabies are prevalent, a nice trio if you met them.

The battery at Gaba Tepe opened on the beach this afternoon and rained shrapnel on us...simply sang over us, through us and into us. Several of our men were hit. I got a glancing shot on my knee which did no harm. Three were killed in front of us.

Went to see Col.Giblin. He is off to Alexandria, having a temperature. I fell into the sea between two boats stepping from one to the other and felt pretty cold by the time I got to shore.
1 ACCS and dugouts above

Friday 7th May:

This battery at Gaba Tepe is the devil, they cannot place it out of action. We are at last to have a shrapnel proof shelter built. It is absurd that wounded men, doctors and dressers should be exposed to death when a few hours work would make it comparatively safe. Of course the engineers have been very busy and most of the timber and bags have been needed to protect men in the firing line.

Friday 14th, Saturday 15th May:
General Birdwood
Up and a swim, which certainly bucks one up greatly.

General Birdwood got a scratch on top of his scalp this evening. I shaved and dressed it. If it had been two inches lower it would have been nasty.

General Bridges
A hurried message that General Bridges had a wound of his artery. When he arrived found him greatly shocked but not much haemorrhage. A plugging had been put in and bandage applied. Kept him warm and gave brandy and comfort and sent him off to the Gascon...lucky not to be worse.

[But it was worse. Bridges' wound was infected, which Dr Corbin could not have known and for which antibiotics did not exist yet anyway. General Bridges died on the hospital ship Gascon three days later. He is the only known soldier killed in World War I to be returned and buried in Australia.]

Tuesday 18th, Wednesday 19th May:

On duty 8pm, went to bed 1am. Got up at 3am to the sound of continuous fierce rifle fire. Wounded came pouring in. Had 130 cases from 6am to 10am. The cannonade was terrific. High explosive shells bursting everywhere. One huge shell whistled by just 20 yards from me, the force of the explosion nearly knocked me over. We hear there were 3 separate [Turkish] attacks and all repulsed. The wounded tell us that the slaughter of the Turks is appalling.
Turkish negotiator at Anzac 22/5/15

Thursday 20th May:

All the force were ordered to stand to arms as Turks were advancing under white flag. There was doubt whether it was a ruse, or demand for armistice or definitely surrender. Several Turks have surrendered during the day, some wounded and some not.

Monday 24th May:

Went to the lines to see the dead Turks buried during the armistice. Thousands of them just shovelled into pits and covered up. A depressing sight for their men.

[Photos - Australian War Memorial]

More to come from John Corbin's Gallipoli diary.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Great War diary - part 3

On a desperate first day (see previous article) Dr John Corbin, one of just five doctors in the casualty clearing unit, treated hundreds of wounded soldiers on the beach at Anzac Cove. He snatched three hours sleep that day, but none at all on day two, as we see in the diary extracts which continue below.


Monday 26th April (700 wounded):

Worked continuously to 8am dressing God knows how many. Then a cup of tea and one biscuit, on again till later on another biscuit, then all day until 5pm. Had a bathe under fire and came out refreshed and invigorated to work on to 12.30 hard at it.

Clearing station 1 ACCS on the beach at Anzac Cove

Tuesday 27th April (659 wounded):

As I write I am crouched against the edge of the hill, shrapnel is raining down, two stretcher bearers have been hit within two yards of me. Standing up on our small piece of ground on which our clearing station stands this morning I got smacked in the side by a shrapnel bullet. It didn't go through my pocket book, just gave me a stunning smack. No harm done.

[Re 'shrapnel', in John's diary there are numerous references to shrapnel and shrapnel bullets. These days we think of shrapnel as metal fragments thrown out in all directions by an explosion, but the original 'shrapnel shell', as used in WW1, was a projectile containing bullets. The casing was timed to release the shrapnel bullets before impact, allowing them to spread out and inflict maximum injury.]

Hectic early days at Anzac

Our soldiers are fighting like demons, most of the field ambulance covering themselves with glory. Heaps being shot. The Turks spare no one, do not recognise the Red Cross and kill our wounded. I think our men are doing the same.

The noise and concussion of the fleet firing 30 shots a minute is most deafening. The shock of the big 15 inch guns of the 'Queen Elizabeth' firing from 3 miles out is like a physical blow on one's body.

Worked on... hard at it all the time... Very serious wounds of head and abdomen, many must be caused by some form of expanding bullet.

Wednesday 28th April (398 wounded):

The continuous succession of hideous wounds, and the difficulty of doing as much for them as one would wish, makes the work distressing as well as arduous. We have handled roughly 3,300 casualties since landing on Sunday, not bad for 5 men.

The courage of the men is equalled by the bravery of the stretcher bearers. They go right into the firing line. One has to see this country to realise the difficulties they have to overcome.

MLI [Royal Marines] reinforcements landed about 3000 men.

Thursday 29th April:

MLI have an ambulance and are to start alongside us. Slack firing, men dug in well and fewer casualties. We were told to knock off and spell.

Went with O'Brien up to the front line and had a good look round. Through a gun embrasure saw the advanced line. Our men have driven the Turk back a good way and have only one more ridge to take to enable howitzer batteries to shell Chenak and make the work of Navy easy in the Dardanelles.

Snipers from opposing ridge fire if you put your helmet above the trench and the noise of the bullets is most eerie.

Down and lunched then collared a naval pinnace and went to HMS London, had a bath, shave and a ripping tea, off to shore again at 6.30.

Views of Anzac Cove - both showing 1 ACCS at right

After we landed one of our sergeants got a bullet in his knee about 5 yards from me. It didn't enter his flesh but scared him stiff and he fainted on the spot. After dinner strolled along the lines and talked to the men of the 3rd Brigade who have done the bulk of the fighting. They are real good soldiers now, quiet, reliant, determined fellows.

I am trying to get a cable to Margaret to say I am well and safe. I shudder to think of her anxiety if she knew the conditions I am working under. No chance of a letter for some time to me or from me.

Friday 30th April (134 wounded):

Surgery in progress at 1 ACCS

Persuaded BE to reorganise the stand, got it levelled up and the temporary operating table fixed. Had several depressed shell fractures. One wound of bladder sewn up, several small amputations and formed a regular staff with Woods as anaesthetist, helpful for the compound fractures of arms and legs.

Saturday 1st May (304 wounded):

Wakened just after 5am by terrific firing of enemy's shrapnel pinging on the beach for an hour making the unloading of supplies impossible. The field guns and ships' guns replied and there was the deuce of a row.

Atkins got hit on the hand in the operating tent, not serious. It is extraordinary how phlegmatic one becomes, the risk of being hit becomes such a usual thing that you cease to regard it.

Hear there is to be a general advance today.

Sunday 2nd May (304 wounded):

Quiet all morning and early afternoon... At about 7pm the ships began firing all their broadsides at Hill 971. They blazed away for over 40 minutes, the noise was deafening. Later the 4th Brigade attacked the Hill... About 8pm the first wounded began to come in and they kept on coming just like the first day. Dreadfully wounded and mangled, arms and legs shattered, heads crushed in, chests and abdomens, a most hateful procession.

The courage of the troops is marvellous. They don't groan or complain and bear the biggest dressings with equanimity and cheerfulness. No chance of giving anaesthetics and one end in view, to get them to the ships without delay.

[Photos - Australian War Memorial, National Archives of Australia,, Commonwealth War Graves]

This is the last of my war diary series for the moment, but as there are plenty more of these terrific accounts in John's diary, recorded over a long four months at Anzac, I will return to it at a later date.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Great War diary - part 2

One hundred years ago today Allied troops began their invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula with the aim of knocking the Turks out of the war and re-opening the Dardanelles Strait for Russia. As part of the multi-national Allied force, the Anzacs landed on the western side of the peninsula at what became known as Anzac Cove. Major John Corbin, a surgeon in the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, was witness to the dawn landing and by mid-morning was on the beach and operating on wounded soldiers in extreme conditions. Here are extracts from his diary for that day, April 25th 1915. The photos, all taken on the day, are from the online collection of the Australian War Memorial.


Could not sleep. Stayed up, had breakfast at 2.30am. Gradually stole in towards the Gallipoli Peninsula. Sighted it at 3.30 in dim hazy light. First big gun heard at 4.30, followed by several others and then rattle of musketry as the 3rd Brigade landed and started on their job of taking the first line of hills. The firing became almost continuous, the shore batteries firing shrapnel on the landing parties from point and the ships trying to silence them. We were stationary about 2 miles out and as the sun rose could see well the whole front and estimate the terrors of the landing.

At about 5.30 a naval pinnace [ship's boat] came with a badly wounded man and a slight case. Got them up and the first, ABJ Hodgson, died in five minutes... Later a boat with one dead and 5 more or less seriously wounded came alongside and were treated by us. We cannot get a tow to land us yet, they are hurrying all the troops ashore as fast as destroyers, trawlers and boats towed by pinnaces can land them.

We just hear, 7.40, that the worst battery enfilading the beach has been silenced.

There will be hundreds of wounded and dead. We shall be busy. I hear the first attack by the 3rd Brigade has been successful. Certainly there is less opposition at the landing place. Itching to get ashore and get to more work.

This has been a truly marvellous experience and one's feelings are interesting. The first shots made one wince, and each explosion sounded as if it were aimed at our ship. Soon as I had something to do the fact of a battle being in progress completely passed out of my mind and I can assure anyone that I did not consciously hear the shells.

Landed at 10.30am, found as expected heaps of work - the beach a tangled mass of men heaving and straining to get more men, guns and ammunition ashore. Shrapnel firing all the while we were landing, and it was no pleasure to sit idly in a boat rowing that last 50 yards under fire.

The first men landed did splendidly, gained two ridges but are (now) losing heavily and praying for reinforcements.

Wounded pouring in, no chance of getting them off... They are being dressed and put on the beach, hundreds and hundreds of them dying, dead and wounded. All hands to work at a temporary station over which shrapnel is singing constantly. The ships are bombarding from the sea and the noise is deafening. The infantry on the ridges are firing continuously, maxims and rifles at it all the time. We hear the losses are terrific, no time for fear, much too busy.

Began to evacuate at 5.30pm and got about 600 off before 8pm moonlight, and more later there must have been 1500 come for treatment. God knows how many dead and how many dressed and gone on fighting. The 12th are getting hell, also the 9th. The 10th have lost most of their officers.

Worked on until 9pm then slept until 12 (midnight) in spite of continuous rifle and shrapnel fire. Up then and more wounded...

Then Admiral sent boats ashore with order for general retreat. No one seemed to know why. We packed all our wounded off and stood by, losing most of our personal gear in the business. Later... order countermanded by [General] Birdwood and we stayed.

John Corbin was at Anzac Cove for four months, keeping a diary the whole time, then illness forced him to leave. I will post another article or two in the near future of his experiences at Anzac.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Great War diary of Dr John Corbin

John Corbin

The centenary of Gallipoli is here but many of us would not know that there was a Corbin among the Australians who landed at Anzac Cove on April 25th 1915.

He was Dr John Corbin, one of the South Australian Corbins. He was a son of Thomas Wilson Corbin who migrated to Australia in 1865. John was born in 1878 in Adelaide. At the time of the Great War, at the age of 36, he left his practice as a surgeon in Adelaide to serve as a major in the Australian Army Medical Corps.


Dec 4th - SS Kyarra in Melbourne,
day before departure
Like many servicemen, John recorded his experiences in a personal diary. The first entry was dated December 5th 1914, noting his departure from Australia - 'Left Melbourne 6pm, SS Kyarra'. The Kyarra was a hospital ship used to transport medical units to the war. The battlefield destination, presumed to be in Europe, had not yet been decided. After passing through the Suez Canal, on January 14th 1915 they 'entered into Alexandria [in Egypt]. An enormous harbour packed with interned German vessels'.

While encamped in various parts of Egypt, the troops drilled and the medical units prepared, but their first assignment was still unknown - 'We are stuck here waiting... London does not seem in any hurry to direct us'. With no wounded soldiers to worry about yet, the medical preparations sometimes seemed bizarre - 'The place fairly reeks of hospitals, permanent and temporary... they don't know what to do with them. Saw the Indian hospital today - 500 beds, no patients'.
Officers of the First Australian Stationary Hospital
Major John Corbin at far right
It seems that John was initially with the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital, a unit that would operate well back from the front line. He wanted a more forward position - 'Wish to goodness I could transfer to the clearing hospital. Giblin [the officer commanding] is so keen and smart and active'. He got his wish and was transferred to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, now he was to be working close to the troops and the battleground, wherever that may be.

Eventually, late in February, the picture began to clarify. February 24th - 'The First Division at Mena have orders to move on Saturday. No one knows where to, but it seems either Syria or Europe'. February 26th - 'Rumours of work for us all in Syria or Dardanelles'. March 1st - 'Orders to prepare to leave at a minute's notice. Packed all night, took down all available tents'. March 3rd - 'Steamed off in SS Malda. We are told we are going to Lemnos (then) to Gallipoli on the main land and from there I suppose follow the troops... we are going to be useful at last'.

At Lemnos, a Greek island less than 100km off the Gallipoli coast, the gravity of the situation started to hit home:
Warships at Lemnos
Foreground - towed landing-craft training exercise

March 7th - 'Saw marines who tried to land on the peninsula at Gallipoli. They got cut up horribly'. March 8th - 'Went to the battleship Lord Nelson that came from the Dardanelles this morning. She has been hit in several places by the guns from the Turkish fort'. March 10th - 'We shall probably need 100,000 men to be safe at all'.

On April 7th John and his unit transferred to the troopship 'Ionian' which was to take them to Gallipoli. With several days on board before they left Lemnos, John's high standards and self-confidence came to the fore:
Got on board late in evening and found men housed in a sort of stinking black hole of Calcutta on lower deck... Ordered to act as ship's sanitary officer... made formal report to (officer commanding) saying that the whole ship was dirty and unsanitary, and making recommendations.
Had a strenuous day instilling enthusiasm and thoroughness into boy officers and men. Finally got some cleanliness into troop decks. Young Owen Smyth says the password on the ship now is 'Look out here comes Major Corbin'.
I became very unpopular at first but now it is nearly finished, and the men appreciate the difference, I am not regarded so fiercely.
And so the big event approached. April 17th:
Today we received orders that we are to land 5 officers [doctors] and all our men in a day or two in the immediate wake of the landing... We shall have no tents and no accommodation to start with. We may be shelled all the way from the boats to the beach. If the troops make good their position, we shall land the rest of our men and stuff, and establish a proper clearing hospital. The whole job looks like being extremely dangerous and quite unlike any of our expectations... It is a strange feeling - all this waiting and preparation and apparent waste of time is to come to an end, and with a dramatic suddenness.
April 18th:
I have the operation tent and sorting of cases committed to my care - a responsible job and one that will keep me so busy.
April 24th - battleship Queen Elizabeth departing
 Lemnos to support troop landings on Gallipoli 

April 24th:

Left (Lemnos) at 11am. Steamed out with pipers band playing cheerily at my suggestion, through the remaining ships and round to a rendezvous... We are to be fed (tomorrow) at 3.30am, start landing at 5am and should all be ashore or sunk by 8 o'clock... We are on the verge of a very big undertaking, how big no one can estimate. Messages have been read [to the troops] from the King and Kitchener... saying that the eyes of the world are upon their doings and that they are asked to take positions claimed by the enemy to be impregnable.

It is strange and interesting to be in the midst of it and to notice the bearing of the officers and men. The latter do not for a minute grasp fully the desperate work ahead of them. They are for the most part as unconcerned as if on a pleasure trip... the officers for the most part the same, the senior ones a little quieter perhaps.

My thanks to Stephen & Jane Gow of Armidale NSW for contacting me through my website and for providing much of the material in this article, especially the diary. The original diary was donated to the Australian War Memorial, however there is no digital copy online at this stage. Jane Gow (nee Bromley) is a granddaughter of Dr John Corbin.

Tomorrow, the 100th Anzac Day, I will post some more quotes from the diary.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

150 Years in Australia

The year 2014 nearly passed without anyone noticing that it is a Corbin anniversary. As we discovered not long ago, James Bentley Corbin landed in Sydney on the ship Aerolite in 1864 - that makes 2014 the 150th anniversary of his arrival and therefore of the arrival of the Corbin family in Australia. (The other Corbin patriarch, James' cousin Thomas Wilson Corbin who settled in South Australia, is thought to have landed in Adelaide in 1865, the year after James' arrival in Sydney.)

To mark the anniversary year, I have just registered James for the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. The wall records the names of people who have migrated to Australia at any time in our history. James' name will go up on the wall sometime in the new year, I'll post an update here when it happens. There will also be an entry on the Welcome Wall website where James' story can be briefly told.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Opening of the Victoria Arcade

As mentioned in the first item on this page, we now have the opening date for Corbin & Nicolle's Victoria Arcade, after finding newspaper reports of the time. These finds are thanks to the wonderful National Library online resource Trove. The arcade was opened on 28 November 1887.

Earlier that year (23 March), under the heading PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS, the Sydney Morning Herald published a lengthy article describing the project, beginning with...
VICTORIA ARCADE. Nearly opposite Wentworth Court in Elizabeth St, and extending through to Castlereagh St, a large block of land has been cleared of the tumble-down offices and rickety workshops, etc, which used to disfigure it. ... On this fine site a grand arcade, to be called the 'Victoria Arcade', is being erected.
The day after the opening (29 November) the Herald reported glowingly...
Extract from
the Sydney Morning Herald,
29 Nov 1887, p4
The Victoria Arcade, a structure which displays much architectural skill and should prove very popular, was inaugurated last evening. The arcade... contributes to the establishment of an almost direct thoroughfare, running from George St via the northern front of the General Post Office into Elizabeth St. 
One of the main features of the arcade is the fine internal oval, which is reached from each street by a lofty entrance [and] is surrounded by 15 shops. ... Richly foliated imposts and panels help to give a very imposing appearance. The most attractive feature of the oval is the glass dome. ... The upper floors contain 80 large airy rooms, well adapted for offices. 
The arcade is the property of Messrs J.B.Corbin, P.W.Nicolle and J.H.Goodlet. Messrs Corbin and Nicolle were the contractors. ... The arcade was opened to the public last evening, and many hundreds of people were attracted by an excellent promenade concert given by the Centennial Band.

Click on the press clipping to read the full article.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Fr Eric Corbin

If Fr Eric Corbin, or Uncle Eric as he was known to so many of us, was still alive he would have turned 100 yesterday. Eric John Corbin was born on 16 April 1913, youngest of the five children of Percy & Catherine Corbin. He grew up in the NSW irrigation towns of Leeton and Griffith. He entered the Catholic seminary in 1932 and was ordained a priest in 1940 at St Marys Cathedral. He served in many parishes around Sydney over the years, finally as parish priest, Clemton Park, for 30 years. Fr Eric retired in 1996 and passed away in 2005 at the age of 92. He is remembered across many branches of the family because of the baptisms, marriages and funerals he performed. Fr Eric did a lot of research into the Corbin family history and in 1966 was the first to put together a written account of the Corbins in Australia.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Two Anniversaries

I can't let this month pass without mentioning two March anniversaries.

Five years ago, 8 March 2008, the Corbin Family Gathering was held in Canberra. Ruth organised it and about 100 Corbins attended, a great success.

Two years ago, 22 March 2011, Ruth van Aaken passed away suddenly. She was creator of the original family website Australian Corbin Trees, organiser of the Gathering in 2008, and family historian par excellence.

Friday, 22 March 2013

William Corbin & Mary Bentley

Here is another of the updates from 2010. This one gives details of the marriage of William Corbin and Mary Bentley in London in 1810. The update was sent out to mark the 200th anniversary of their marriage. William & Mary were the grandparents of James Bentley Corbin and are our earliest known Corbin ancestors.

We were lucky to be able to celebrate the bicentenary. Ruth, working online with two fellow researchers in England, had 'discovered' Mary Bentley just a year or two earlier. Cath Corbin, reading through some of Ruth's research material early in 2010, noticed the date of the marriage and realised a major anniversary was upon us. And Ray Corbin, who happened to be living in London at the time, joined in with some on-the-spot investigations which revealed exactly where the marriage took place. When the day of the anniversary arrived he was able to stand on the spot where, exactly 200 years earlier, his great-great-great grandparents had been married.

23 JUNE 1810
William Corbin of Hampshire married Mary Bentley of London at the church of St Michael, Crooked Lane, Candlewick Ward, London on 23 June 1810. See marriage record below. (The previous idea that the wedding took place at Cripplegate was incorrect.) William was 'of this parish', i.e. a local resident, at the time of the wedding. The celebrant was a William Ireson. There is nothing familiar about the names of the witnesses - no Corbins - with the family being based out of London perhaps few of them attended.

Record of marriage of William & Mary, 23 June 1810

Church of St Michael
(Extreme right: Crooked Lane)
(Right background: London Monument)

The church of St Michael Crooked Lane was, like St Paul's Cathedral, built by the famous English architect Christopher Wren. Sadly, St Michael's was demolished in 1831 to make way for a new road, King William St, on the approaches to a new version of London Bridge.

St Michael's viewed from Crooked Lane
St Michael's in the path of
new London Bridge

Ray at the site of St Michael's (yellow outline)
on William & Mary's 200th anniversary, 23 June 2010

Nice that our Corbin story now has a London connection.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

James Bentley Corbin's ship to Australia

As with the previous item, the information here was emailed out by Ruth with other updates in 2010. Relevant sections of The Story will be rewritten when time permits.


The biggest of the family mysteries which remained unsolved at the time of the reunion in 2008 was 'when did James arrive in Australia and what ship did he come in?'  It has long been thought that he came out sometime in 1861, name of ship unknown. The question has been answered thanks to persistent research by Ruth.
Shipping record for the arrival of 'James Corbin'
on the 'Aerolite', April 1864
(see first column, second last name)

A shipping record has been found which shows that James arrived in Sydney on the ship Aerolite on 26 April 1864.

The age, 19, is consistent with James' known birth date, and the position of Assistant Cook tends to support the family story that he worked his passage to Australia.

These revelations change the story somewhat, not just in the year of travel and the age of James when he emigrated, but also in the fact that when James' father (James senior) died in February 1863 James was still in England.

We speculated in the story pages that a factor driving him to leave England (assuming it was 1861 and therefore that his father was alive) could have been James not getting along with his stepmother. Now we have a different picture - his father had died, both parents were now gone, it was time to move on.

The Aerolite, English-built for 'the Australian and China trades' was promoted as 'the celebrated China clipper and favourite passenger ship ... one of the fastest ships afloat'.  The unusual name Aerolite has its origins in the science of astronomy - an aerolite is a type of meteorite.

If I had known at the time, the name of James' ship could have been added to the title of my 2008 booklet:
Alresford to Australia on the Aerolite !