The story of a Norton Canes ANZAC

The Australian Imperial Force was (and still is, of course) a matter of great pride to Australians. A Norton lad was amongst their ranks. Image from Australian War Memorial.

I take huge pride today in being able to post the following article by noted and very much respected war historian Andrew Thornton, who’s done so much to record the life, times and service of som many servicemen, local and not so local.

Andrew recently sent me a couple of articles, and here I feature the first, about Norton lad James Bull, who had a remarkable career with the Australian Imperial Force, following his emigration to Australia in 1911 and was therefore an ANZAC.

James served at Polygon Wood, a truly horrific battle I was unaware of; you can read more about that on this account by the Australian Government War Memorial site here.

I thank Andrew for sharing his work with the blog and am hugely grateful to him. It’s always a pleasure and honour to feature material here about local servicemen, particularly when so well written and beautifully researched.

Any comments? Please add them here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

James Bull – a son of whom Norton and the whole country can be proud. Image supplied by Andrew Thornton.

A Norton Anzac – Lieutenant  James Bull M.C., 56th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force

Born at Norton Canes in 1890, James Bull was living on Norton East Road and working at No. 11 Pit of the Conduit Colliery as a miner when he attested for 2nd North Midland Field Company at Norton Hall on 1 June 1908. Giving his age at his enlistment as seventeen years and three months, he was posted to the Mounted Section of the Company as a Driver and issued with the regimental number 1084. Driver Bull was examined for his Certificate in Trade Efficiency on 27 July by George Wardle, and his skills were assessed as “good.” He went to the Annual Camp held at Towyn on 2 August, and attended the subsequent camps at Towyn (1909) and at Hindlow Camp, near Buxton (1910). While serving with the Company, James fell foul of the law when he was spotted cycling at 10.25 p.m. on 3 April 1909 on the Walsall Road in Rushall without a light, for which he was fined 6s.[1] In January 1911, at the annual prize-giving held at Norton Hall, Driver Bull was awarded first place for the best driving skill and all-round efficiency, for which he received a crowned crossed whips and spur badge, to be worn on his uniform, and 15s. prize money.[2]

Driver Bull was discharged, at his own request, from 2nd North Midland Company on 7 February 1911, by which time he had already sailed from Southampton, on board the S.S. Otway, for a new life in Australia.  James went to work as a farmer at Trangie in New South Wales.

On 15 January 1915, together with Josiah Cooper Birch, who had also emigrated to Australia from Norton Canes, he attested for the Australian Imperial Force at Liverpool in New South Wales. Both he and Birch were posted to the 4th Battalion, Bull being issued with the service number 1713, while Josiah Birch was given the number 1721. They both embarked on the H.M.A.T. A9 Shropshire, with the Fourth Reinforcement for the 4th Battalion, on 17 March, destined for Egypt. No doubt due to his previous military experience, Private Bull was appointed Lance-Corporal on 30 March.

Bull served with the 4th Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula from 31 May 1915 and took part in the Battle of Lone Pine between 6 and 10 August. The 4th Battalion was withdrawn to Lemnos on 13 September to refit, and while on the island Bull was again appointed a Lance-Corporal on 11 October. He returned to Gallipoli with the 4th Battalion on 30 October, and was appointed a Temporary Corporal on 2 November, being promoted to Corporal on 29 November. The Battalion was evacuated from Anzac Cove on 19 December and Corporal Bull and his comrades of the 4th Battalion landed at Alexandria on New Years’ Eve, and proceeded to a camp at Mustaphi, before moving to Tel-el-Kebir on 2 January 1916. On 20 January, Bull was appointed a Temporary Sergeant.

Norton Hall, now lost. A great image from Andrew Thornton.

On 16 February, the 56th Battalion was formed from a cadre provided by the 4th Battalion, under the command of Major Alan Humphrey Scott, and Bull was transferred to the new battalion. He was appointed an acting Company Sergeant-Major on 29 February, before reverting to Temporary Sergeant and being promoted to the rank of Sergeant on 7 March. Bull received further promotion on 30 May, when he was appointed Company Sergeant-Major, with the rank of Warrant Officer, Class II, but was admitted to No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Ismalia the following day suffering from tonscilitis. He was released a few days later and sailed with the 56th Battalion for France, disembarking at Marseilles on 30 June.

C.S.M. Bull was serving with the 56th Battalion during the failed attack at Fromelles on 19 July, where the battalion was fortunately deployed in reserve, and on 30 August was commissioned in the field as a Second-Lieutenant. News of his promotion was printed in The Birmingham Evening Despatch on 6 October:

A Norton Canes Anzac

“In February, 1911, James Bull, aged 25, nephew of Mr George Bull, of Norton Canes, went out to Australia and found employment in the farming industry. About 12 months ago he enlisted in a battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, and his uncle has just received news that he has been made a second-lieutenant.

Prior to leaving Norton Canes he was a driver in the 2nd North Midland Field Co., R.E. (T.F.), and was employed at No. 11 pit of the Conduit Colliery.”

The story was also published by The Walsall Observer on 7 October:

Commission for Former Resident. – Mr James Bull, of the Australian Forces, has been promoted to Second Lieutenant. He is a nephew of Mr George Bull, of Norton Canes, and in February, 1911, went out to Australia, where he took up farming. He joined the 56th Battalion of the Australian Force, and took part in heavy fighting at Gallipoli, including that at Suvla Bay; and though he was unwounded, he afterwards had an illness and was for a time in hospital in Egypt. Later, with his regiment, he went to another theatre of war. He is 25 years of age, and prior to leaving Norton Canes was employed at the No. 11 Pit of the Conduit Colliery. He was also a driver in the 2nd North Midland Field Company of the Royal Engineers (T.F.).”

On 8 October, Second-Lieutenant Bull was sent on a Course of Instruction on the Lewis Gun, and returned to the 56th Battalion on 15 October, and attended a second course between 9 and 18 November. He was granted leave between 29 November and 13 December.

The ANZACs had a very rough time in both world wars. Aussie balladeer John Williamson has done much to publicise this in his work, as well as Australian involvement in Vietnam.

On 2 February 1917, Bull was wounded, receiving a gunshot wound to the buttock, and was admitted to 15th Field Ambulance before being sent to the South Midland Casualty Clearing Station, and was admitted to the 2nd Red Cross Hospital at Rouen on 7 February. He was then evacuated to England on board the H.M.H.S. St Patrick and admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital for treatment to his wound. Bull was discharged from hospital on 13 March. Posted to No. 1 Command Depot, A.I.F., at Perham Down, Second-Lieutenant Bull was passed fit for General Service by a Medical Board held on 30 March and was drafted back to France on 13 May, being posted to the 5th Division A.I.F. Base Depot at Etaples two days later. He rejoined the 56th Battalion on 20 May. Bull had also been promoted to Lieutenant on 6 March, and was appointed Lewis Gun Officer for the 56th Battalion on 29 July.

Lieutenant Bull distinguished himself during the fighting at Polygon Wood on 26 September, during which the 56th Battalion lost 255 killed, wounded and missing. The recommendation for the award of the Military Cross to Lieutenant James Bull, 56th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, written by his Commanding Officer on 21 December:

“This officer is my Lewis Gun Officer and was attached to Battalion Headquarters during the operations in POLYGON WOOD.

He was responsible for the laying out of the tapes and the guides for the Battalion prior to the attack – a work which he carried out with conspicuous coolness, ability and success – although under fire at the time. When the final objective of the Battalion was reached he was invaluable in assisting the few remaining officers to site and use their Lewis Guns to the best advantage and owing to the heavy casualties in Officers, he remained in the front line and helped reorganise the troops there.

The late Lieut-Colonel Scott spoke very highly indeed of his coolness and soldierly qualities throughout the operation. Lieut. Bull has been with the Battalion for two years and has always proved a thoroughly reliable and efficient Officer.

I recommend him very highly.

This Officer has not previously been awarded any military decorations.”

(Signed) A.F.G. Simpson, Lieut-Colonel

Commanding 56th Battalion, A.I.F.

Brigadier-General J. Hobkirk, commanding 14th Brigade, originally confirmed a recommendation for the award of a Mention in Despatches on 8 March 1918, for Lieutenant Bull’s gallantry during the period between 26 September 1917 and 25 February 1918, but instead supported the recommendation that Bull should receive the Military Cross.

The 56th were well known in Australia. This remarkable image from the Australian War Memorial site.

Lieutenant Bull’s Military Cross was announced in The London Gazette on 3 June 1918, and in The Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 9 November.

Lieutenant Bull was granted leave to England between 30 October and 18 November and on 25 November, Bull reported sick and was admitted to the 5th Division Rest Station for dental treatment, returning to the 56th Battalion on 16 December.

Lieutenant Bull was wounded for a second time on 18 April 1918 near Amiens, and was evacuated to No. 8 General Hospital suffering from gas poisoning. He was later sent back to England and admitted again to 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth. Lieutenant Bull’s arrival was reported in The Lichfield Mercury on 3 May:

“Mr Geo. Bull, senior, Norton East Road, Norton Canes, has received news that his nephew, Lieut. James Bull, Australian Forces, has been badly gassed and is now in a London hospital. Lieut. Bull went out to Australia about four years before the outbreak of the war.”

After being released from hospital and a period of covalesence, Lieutenant Bull returned to France on 12 August and rejoined the 56th Battalion on 22 August. He was posted to the Australian Corps School on 4 October and did not return to his unit, which had amalgamated with the 54th Battalion on 11 October to become the 54th/56th Battalion, until 11 November, the day that the Armistice came into effect. Lieutenant Bull was granted leave to Paris in December but was admitted to No. 39 General Hospital at Le Havre on 15 January 1919, before being transferred by hospital ship to England, and was admitted to 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital at Bulford for treatment. He was discharged from hospital on 16 March but was re-admitted the following day. He assumed duties as Assistant Adjutant at the A.I.F. Depot at Park House in Tidworth on 27 June, and served in the post until 1 August. Bull was posted to the Agricultural Depot at Sutton Veny on 30 August, before being admitted again to 1st Australian Dematological Hospital on 10 September, suffering from venereal disease. He was discharged from hospital on 23 October and returned to Sutton Veny before sailing for Austrailia on 1 November on board the troop transport Nestor. He was demobilised on his return home and returned to farming, marrying Annie Beatrice Dyke, who also came from Norton Canes and had emigrated to Australia to join him, in 1921. James and Annie lived at Trangie and later moved to Dubbo, and together they had four children.

Dubbo Cemetery, final resting place of James, a son of Norton. Image from Findagrave.

In 1967, James made an application for Anzac Commemorative Medallion, which had been instituted in that year, and his letter outlined his service:

“82 Blandford Street
Collaroy Plateau

March 20th 1967

To, Secretary of the Army.

Dear Sir,

I hereby wish to make application for the Gallipoli Medal (sic) now ready for issue. Details of Service as follows.

I joined the 4th Battalion as a reinforcement on Gallipoli in June 1915 & continued on Service with the 4th Batt. until the evacuation taking part in Lone Pine and all other actions after which we were evacuated back into Egypt where the 1st Brigade was split up & the 14th Brigade formed.

I was then posted to the 56th Batt. I went to France continuing to serve with the 56th Batt. until the armistice. I held various ranks & was commissioned on the Field. I was also awarded the Military Cross.

No. 1713 James Bull, Lieut. M.C.
4th & 56th Battallion (sic)

James Bull M.C. died at Dubbo in New South Wales on 27 July 1974 and is buried at Dubbo General Cemetery. His name can also be found on the Roll of Honour of the former scholars of Norton Canes Boys’ School, which is now located at Norton Canes Primary Academy.

[1] Walsall Advertiser, 24 April 1909.
[2] Lichfield Mercury, 13 January 1911.

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6 Responses to The story of a Norton Canes ANZAC

  1. Such a distinguished career, and so beautifully written. In Australia we honour the ANZAC’s every year on ANZAC day especially the dreadful battle on the Gallipoli peninsular.

  2. David Evans says:

    excellent work, Andrew
    . Polygon Wood, along with Hooge and Bellewaerd area near Ypres were awful scenes of the conflict for Allies and Germans alike, where seemingly every conceivable kind of munitions were deployed. The Menin Gate in Ypres town bears awful witness to this for all who stand a while to quietly read the names inscribed on the monument.
    Thank you Andrew for this fine Remembrance
    kind regards

  3. peter burns says:

    Will be attending the early morning service on the 25 Anzac day in Adelaide i will give him a thought.

  4. Paul Gough says:

    I am from Norton Canes,I live a great life here in Western Australia thanks to the sacrifices people like James were prepared to make. Last month i spent a day at the National Anzac Centre in Albany .These Men and Women are definitely not forgotten!

  5. Pingback: Hundreds of years of immense bravery and unbelievable political folly | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  6. Martin Littler says:

    Reading this wonderful piece of History of Anzac the name Josiah Cooper Birch caught my eye ,looking further into that name I find he was my Grandmother Edith Marie Birch Brother my Grandmother then married a Cooper before Marry My Granddad John Dennis, Josiah Cooper Birch was Born1886 in Norton Canes he emigrated to Australia when a young Man ,he Enlisted 15-1-1915 Liverpool ,New South Wales, 4th Battalion Australian Infantry No 1721, Killed in Action 6-11-1916 France age 30, Rank, Sergeant, Resting Place Bulls Road Cemetery , Flers, Picardie, France ,Australian War Memorial , if it ha not been for this write up I would not have know thank you to all concern.

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