The Aussies from Cardiff

ANZAC day on 25th April commemorates the sacrifices of the Australian and New Zealand servicemen and women killed in military operations. It was first marked in 25 April 1916, exactly one year after Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on the Gallipoli peninsular as part of an Allied offensive to open the Dardanelles to allied navies. Throughout this period the Australians and New Zealanders fought with great bravery. Australian casualties numbered 26,000 of which 8,000 were killed in action or died of wounds or disease. Gallipoli became a symbol of the courage and heroism of the ANZAC soldiers. However, it was also a grim reminder of the many servicemen and women killed and wounded during the First World War.

Many men from Wales fought with the Royal Navy and British Army during the 8 month campaign at Gallipoli. The heroism of those who took part in the landings at Cape Helles in April 1915 and Suvla Bay in August of the same year was recorded in the press at the time and has been detailed in subsequent accounts of the Gallipoli campaign. However, less is known about the Welshmen who fought and died with the Australian Army at Gallipoli and later in France. Records held at Glamorgan Archives provide an insight into the stories of young men from Cardiff who, having emigrated to Australia in the pre-war years, volunteered for military service with the Australian Army. ‘The Roath Road Roamer’, published from 1914-19 by the Roath Road Wesleyan Church tracked, through letters and photographs, the war service of 460 men and 19 women from Cardiff. It was produced monthly, distributed locally and sent overseas. ‘The Roamer’ identified and followed the fortunes of a number of young men from Cardiff who joined the Australian Army. They included Wilfred Shute, William Lydiard, Charles Richards and John Albert Guy from Cardiff who all fought in France. In addition, ‘The Roamer’ also tells us of two young men, William Poyner and Fred Salmoni, who fought and died with the Australian Army at Gallipoli.

Fred Salmoni was the son of William and Mary Salmoni of Elm Street, Cardiff. Although originally from Wells, the Salmoni family had lived in Cardiff for many years. William Salmoni was a self employed painter and decorator but his two sons worked at a local colliery  – the elder as a clerk and Fred as a “fitter’s helper”. William Poyner was born in Kidderminster and lived there for most of his life. Although most of his family worked as weavers in the carpet industry, William moved to Cardiff in 1911 and was employed, probably as a porter, at Cardiff railway station. While in Cardiff he attended the Roath Road Church and ‘The Roamer’ embraced him as ‘one of its own’. We know from ‘The Roamer’ that he received copies of the magazine while with the Australian Army in Egypt. In March 1915 ‘The Roamer’ included a photograph of William set against an outline of a map of Australia with the caption:

‘Private William Poyner emigrated to Australia from Mr H G Howell’s class two or three year ago. It is a great pleasure to us to know, that he is now in Egypt on his way to the Front to fight for the old Country, with the 1st Australian Division’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.5, p.8.

William Poyner

William Poyner had emigrated to Western Australia in 1912 and in the same year Fred Salmoni sailed for Brisbane in Queensland. Like many young men, at the time, they were no doubt attracted by the opportunities and adventure offered by a country that was growing rapidly and, in particular, the prospects for employment in mining and farming in western and northern Australia. However, within two years of their arrival war had been declared and, although conscription was not introduced in Australia, some 400,000 young Australians volunteered  for the armed forces – approximately 1 in 3 of those aged from 18-40 years. Fred Salmoni and William Poyner were amongst those who rushed to enlist once war was declared. In August 1914 both were single and aged 21. William was as a railway worker, living at Midland, a key railway junction on the outskirts of Perth. Fred was a labourer and working In Brisbane. Such was the rush to join the colours that the Australian Army was able to insist on rigorous standards and as single, fit and healthy young men, both would have fitted the bill perfectly. In particular, William’s previous military experience with the 7th Worcesters would have been seen as a bonus. Fred enlisted in Brisbane with the 15th Battalion of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade. William Poyner joined up at Blackboy Hill, the training camp in the foothills of the Darling Range outside Perth established as the base for the 11th Battalion of the Australian 3rd Infantry Brigade. After basic training they left Fremantle on board ship for Alexandria on 2 November 1915. The troops were in high spirits and had smuggled on board as mascots 4 kangaroos and a cockatoo for the journey to Alexandria. After 5 weeks at sea, that included a skirmish with the German cruiser, Emden, which ran aground after being shelled by one of their escorts, they landed in Egypt and set up camp close to Cairo. The official record of their time in Egypt includes a photograph of the 11th Battalion – 1000 strong – in front of a pyramid. However, unofficially, although they trained hard in the heat of the desert by day, the stories of the Australians ‘lighting up’ Cairo by night were legion and included tales of panic amongst the locals on their first sighting of the kangaroos.

It was anticipated that their next destination would be England, with the opportunity for those born in Britain, almost a third of the 11th Battalion, to catch up with friends and family. So it would have been with surprise that Fred and William would have discovered on leaving Egypt that they were bound for the Greek island of Lemnos in preparation for the assault on the Dardanelles. The attempt to use the guns of the British and French fleets to subdue the Turkish defences had failed and it was decided landings would be made at two points on the peninsula. Fred and William were both in the early waves of the landings at ANZAC Cove on 25th April. Against enormous odds they secured the beachhead and made some progress inland before being held by the Turkish defences. However, the progress made was at enormous cost. Fred Salmoni died on the second day of the landings on 26 April at what came to be known as “Shrapnel Valley”.  William Poyner was reported as killed in action on 2 May. It is likely that his body was never recovered although his death is now marked at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Lone Pine. An indication of the ferocity of the fighting and the numbers of those killed and wounded was given by the head count taken of William Poyner’s Battalion on 5 May while still under heavy fire. Of the 1000 men that had landed on 25 April, 435 were dead, wounded or missing.

‘The Roamer’ reported:

Poyner and Salmoni

‘Two of our brave fellows have fallen. By a strange coincidence both left Cardiff, three or four years ago for Australia, both joined Australian contingents when war broke out and hastened back at the call of the Motherland. Both were sent to the Dardanelles and both have fallen on the field of battle. Private Will Poyner of Mr H G Howell’s class and Lance Corporal Fred S Salmoni an old member of the 14th Cardiff Company of the Boys’ Brigade. May God comfort those who mourn their loss today. The last time we heard from our old friend Will Poyner was on the 2nd June when he asked us to forward the Roamer containing his photo to his mother who lives in Kidderminster. She had it the next day. He wrote how pleased he was with the photo that he was ‘going on very well and in the best of health, so that’s everything’. And today he is in the presence of the King’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.10, p.8.

The letter received by ‘The Roamer’ on 2nd June was probably written while William Poyner was en route to Gallipoli. His personal effects, passed to his mother in Kidderminster, were limited to cards, a match box, handkerchief and a stone. However, although he had left some years ago, he had kept up his links with friends in Cardiff . In his will, of the £40 that he asked his mother to disperse, £30 was passed to Mabel Major of Broadway, Roath. ‘The Roamer’ did not provide any clues as to the connection with the Major family. Possibly William lodged with the family while working in Cardiff or he may have met Mable though the Roath Road Church. If anyone can help in adding to this story we would be interested to hear.

‘The Roamer’ did, however, provide further insight into the fighting at Gallipoli through the letters from the many Cardiff men who fought with the Royal Navy and British regiments during the course of the campaign. The experience of Arthur James, a Cardiff docker before the war and fighting with the Hawke Battalion of the 1st Royal Naval Brigade was typical:

‘I have had a terrible time. All my chums killed and wounded …. Nearly three months of fighting has knocked me up’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.10, p.6.

In a similar tone Archie McKinnon, of the Royal Engineers wrote to ‘The Roamer’ about the conditions in Gallipoli:

‘…when our lads are relieved from the trenches they only have dugouts to rest in. No billets of any sort are available and the whole of the land we occupy is subjected to shell fire’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.12, p.6.

John Hunt of the Royal Army Medical Corps wrote:

‘Collecting the wounded in a rough country like this is not exactly a picnic. All our transport is drawn by mules, they stand the hot climate better than horses. Very little Ambulance transport is done owing to the hills and that there are no roads. This means a lot of stretcher work for bearers’.  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.14, p.5.

Despite the ferocity of the fighting there was a great deal of respect for the Turkish defenders – both for their fighting qualities and their humanity. Will Dance of the 2nd Welsh Field Ambulance, RAMC wrote:

‘We have been under fire about 19 days now….The Turks do not wilfully fire on the Red Cross and I can honestly tell you that… they are out and out gentlemen… We are expecting the War in the Dardanelles to finish anytime now they are whacked to the world, so it is only a matter of time’  Roath Road Roamer, Vol.12, p.6.

Will Dance’s optimism was not well placed for at the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated. The plans to open the Dardanelles to the Allied navies were abandoned and the campaign, despite the heroism of the troops, was seen as an expensive failure. Perhaps the last word should go to one of the many Aussies who arrived in Cardiff to receive treatment for their wounds at the 3rd Western Hospital, Howard Gardens, Cardiff.  Many, including Harry Sketcher-Baker, had fought at Gallipoli in 1915. In an autograph book kept by Emily Connell, a Nursing Sister at the Hospital (held at the Glamorgan Archives) he added a poem that would have been well known amongst troops and especially the Australians who went into action for the first time at Gallipoli in 1915:


‘The lad stood on the troop ship And gazed across the sea And wondered what his home would be Ruled under Germany. Now everything went lovely While out upon the sea Till we were brought to anchor Out off Gallipoli’.  Autograph Book of Nurse Emily Connell, p.24

‘The Roath Road Roamer’ went on to record of the experiences of many more Aussies from Roath during the First World War who fought in France with the Australian Army. If you want to know more about the experiences of men and women from the Roath area of Cardiff who fought in the First World War Glamorgan Archives holds copies of the 57 editions of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ produced from November 1914 to October 1919 (DAWES6).

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer