Name: John Rolson Beattie
Date of birth: 1893
Place of birth: Tocumwal, NSW
Link to Wagga: Hometown - Uranquinty
Date of enlistment: September 14, 1915
Age at enlistment: 22 years 3 months
Occupation: Shop assistant
Next of kin: Father, John Beattie, Cowra
Battalion or Regiment: 18th Battalion, 9th Reinforcement 20th Battalion
Outcome: Killed in action, August 3, 1916, Pozières (France)
JOHN Rolston Beattie known by his family as ‘Rol’, was one of seven children born to John and Frances ‘Fanny’ (née Heydon).
John (Senior) was a teacher, which accounts for the varied birthplaces of his children: Richard (b. 1887, Bega), George (b. 1889, Wagga), John (b. 1893, Tocumwal), Arnold (b. 1895, Tocumwal), Frances (b. 1897, Gosford), Roy (b. 1899, Gosford) and Beryl (b. 1903, Nowra).
John (Senior) was a popular teacher, who was in charge of Tarcutta Public School from 1889 until 1892, at which time he relocated to Tocumwal, where he took up the position of head teacher.
He was for many years in charge of the Public School at Pyree (Shoalhaven) before moving on to Chiverton Public School in Cowra, where he was based for the duration of World War I.
Richard, Rol’s oldest brother, operated the Uranquinty Stores, which is presumably where Rol was employed as a shop assistant before joining the AIF.
Rol left Uranquinty for the last time in April, 1915, bound for Sydney.
Of his departure, the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express wrote:
Mr Beattie has the good wishes of everyone for good luck and a safe return, as he was very popular and took a prominent position in the cricket club and other social matters.
Within his attestation papers, there is no evidence of Rol’s parents having given permission for him to enlist, being well under the legal age of 21 years.
However, there is a form dated April 24, 1915, which shows that Rol had been admitted to the A.A.M.C. Field Hospital at the Liverpool Camp.
Having spent eight days in camp ( April 16 – April 23), Rol was discharged “At mother’s request” and was paid the £2 pay that was owed to him.
Whatever happened between April, 1915, and January, 1916, is not known, but on January 20, 1916, Rol embarked from Sydney aboard HMAT A54 ‘Runic’.
He spent the night of February 26 in Alexandria, before proceeding to join the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Forces) on their way to Marseilles.
On June 1, Rol was taken on strength into the 20th Battalion.
On July 28, 1916, the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express reported that Richard had received a letter from his brother Rol, fighting in the trenches of France:
Having been there some time he has been very lucky, being free from any illness, etc.
The 20th Battalion took part in its first major offensive around Pozières between late July and the end of August ,1916.
The Battle of Pozières (July 23 – September 3) took place around the small village of Pozières, situated in the Somme Valley (France).
The Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions (including the 20th Battalion) captured Pozieres village and Pozieres Heights.
The Germans reacted to this seizure by concentrating the bulk of their artillery on the Australians.
Of this battle, the Australian War Memorial wrote:
Constant barrages were directed onto the village and the narrow approaches creating a nightmarish situation for troops forming up and attacking in the dark.
By the end of the 7 weeks of fighting around Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, the three Australian Divisions (1st, 2nd and 4th) had suffered 23,000 casualties. Of these, 6,800 men were killed outright or had succumbed to their injuries. It was a loss comparable with all the casualties sustained by the Australians over the 8 months at Gallipoli in 1915.
Rol’s luck, expressed so joyously by the local papers in July, was not to last.
On August 5, in the midst of the fighting at Pozieres, he was killed in action.
When interviewed the following year, G.C. Tully (3273) of the 20th Battalion, ‘a careful reliable witness’, said:
He had jet-black hair, dark eyes, rosy cheeks, was short and thickset, and his initials were J.R…
He was killed by a shell beyond Pozieres… He had been killed outright.
Another eyewitness, Pte. Irwin (2164), interviewed in March 1917 recalled:
I was alongside him in the front line trench at Pozieres when he was killed by a shell. He lived for a little while after he was hit but was dead when we left.
In August, 1917 Rol’s father John received his personal effects including a cap, comforter, scarf, holdall, comb, brush, housewife, mirror (damaged), birthday book and shaving brush.
Rol’s younger brother, Arnold Locke Beattie, enlisted with the AIF in September, 1915, and also served with the 20th Battalion.
He was injured on the same day as his brother, during the Battle of Pozières.
Badly wounded by a shell blast, he lay on the battlefield and as he was carried away on a stretcher, was conscious and asking for his brother.
The stretcher bearers knew that Rol had been killed but “we would not tell him so”.
Arnold was mortally wounded.
His left leg was severed at the knee and he had a compound fracture of the tibia of his right leg.
He died on August 8 and was buried with full military honours.
To perpetuate the memory of the two sons he had lost, John (Senior) named his final home in Kogarah ‘Rol-Arno’ in their honour.