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Aussie Speerins on Western Front

Our grandfather, Henry Speerin b1892, his brother Alfred b 1895 and Henry's brother in law Tom Murnane b 1894 all enlisted in the AIF (Australian Imperial Forces) in 1915/16 and served on the Western Front.

Tom (service number 3140, 17th Battn) was severely wounded at the Front early in the war and repatriated. He received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He also received a personal letter from King George V.

Henry (service number 3884, 30th Battn) saw action along the Hindenburg Line throughout 1917-18 but was wounded several times requiring convalescence at the Canadian Hospital, Taplow Bucks, UK. He returned to the Front and participated in the taking of Bapaume in the 1918 offensive. He received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Alfred (service number 4644, 18th Battn) was engaged in 3 major battles in 1917 - Bullecourt, Menin Road on the Somme & Poelcappelle, Belgium. In the spring of 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive that the 18th helped to repel.

"After an attack on an enemy position N of Hangard at 4 am and onwards on 15 April 1918, stretcher bearer Pte. Alfred Speerin and another went out and carried in wounded under very heavy machine gun and shell fire, showing absolute disregard for personal safety in going within 10 yards of the enemy position in daylight and this despite the enemy sniping from 300 yards off." (citation)

For this bravery Alfred was awarded the Military Medal.

The 18th then participated in battles that pushed the German Army closer to defeat - Amiens on 8 August, Mont St Quentin on 31 August and Montbrehain on 3 October.

"Near Rainecourt, east of Amiens on 9 August 1918, the Company was compelled to withdraw 300 yards, leaving a number of wounded. The enemy were sniping at stretcher bearers. These two bearers went out in front of the forward posts under very heavy machine gun fire and in full view of the enemy cleared the wounded. They made 5 trips in daylight and 2 after dark, only stopping when all the wounded had been cleared." (citation)

For this display of conspicuous gallantry Alfred Speerin was awarded the Bar to Military Medal.

At that time Military Medals were the second highest decoration for non-commissioned rank as it was the practice to award VC's only to officers. According to the Australian War Museum rank soldiers carried out many acts of bravery worthy of VC's. Alfred also received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Alfred's service record shows numerous instances where he forfeited pay for being AWOL, missing parades etc. These infractions seem to indicate a disdain for rules and authority but when the real pressure was on he was there to deliver for his comrades. Are these his Irish qualities coming out?

Henry, Alfred & Tom seldom discussed their war experiences with family members (a band of silence typical of those veterans) and their descendants were generally left to piece things together. Henry was disdainful of the British commanders whom he felt were incompetent probably inferring a view also held by his comrades. Although he was not much of a reader, there was a copy of "All Quiet on the Western Front" at his home which we can now assume "said it all". 

There was no further participation by the descendants of these three veterans in WW2 or subsequently in any other conflict of our times.

Neil Speerin

June 2011

Frank, Alfred & Henry Speerin 1950



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Last update: April 2011

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