45th Battalion, AIF
Date/Place of Birth: 1896 St Marys NSW
Date/Place of Death: 28 March 1918, France
Biographical details: Athol Garner was born at St Marys in 1896, the son of William and Mary (nee Healey) Garner. After attending St Marys Public School, Garner worked at Bales Tannery at Botany as a tanner. Two brothers, William and Harold also enlisted. William was killed on 11 August 1918 on the Western Front.
Service Details: Garner enlisted on 13 March 1916 and undertook training at the Bathurst Depot Camp before being allocated to the 4th Reinforcements, 45th Battalion AIF. Garner departed Sydney aboard A18 HMAT Wiltshire, disembarked at Plymouth England on 13 October 1916 and was sent to No 3 Command Depot at Bovington Camp Wool, Dorset the same day. On 1 November 1916, Garner was Absent Without Leave from Midnight to 5 pm and on the following day was admonished and forfeited one day’s pay. On 17 November 1916, Garner marched out to 12 Training Battalion at Codford. After a period of training, Garner embarked for the war front aboard the Princess Henrietta and marched into No 4 Australian Divisional Base Depot at Etaples on 8 January 1917. On 18 January 1917, Garner joined the 45th Battalion in the field who, until March 1917 alternated between duty in the trenches and training and rest behind the lines, first around Ypres in Belgium, and then in the Somme Valley in France. The 45th Battalion were held in reserve for the Battle of Bullecourt in April 1917, but were not deployed. The 45th Battalion took part in the Battle for Messines from 7- 14 June 1917. Garner suffered gundshort wounds to the back on the first day of the battle and the following day, was admitted to the 77th Field Ambulance before being transferred to the 55th Casualty Clearing Station. Garner was admitted to the 5th General Hospital at Rouen two days later before being transferred to England on the HS Aberdonian on 16 June 1917. Garner was admitted to the 1st General Hospital London and was later transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Harefield on 21 August 1917. After a brief furlough, Garner reported to the Depot at Weymouth. On 24 November 1917, Garner marched into No 4 Command Depot at Hurdcott. On 17 December 1917, Garner was convicted of being absent from parade and sentenced to 7 days Field Punishment No 2. On 19 December 1917, Garner marched out to the Overseas Training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill before returning to France on 10 January 1918. After a brief time at the Australian Infantry Base Depot at Havre, Garner rejoined his unit on 29 January 1918. At the time the 54th Battalion were rotating in and out of the front line. Garner was killed in action on 28 March 1918 during the Battle of Dernancourt.
Garner’s mother was awarded a pension of £1 15shillings per fortnight. Garner’s personal effects were lost en route to Australia when the Barunga was sunk by enemy action.
Memorial Details : Garner was buried in Plot III, Row C Grave 16, Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres France, and is commemorated on the St Marys Honor Roll in Victorial Park.
Australian War Memorial First World War Nominal Roll
Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour
NAA: B2455, GARNER, A
Nepean Times 17 June 1916
Valedictory Soiree to Pte Athol Garner: On Saturday last, a soiree was given by the family of Pte Athol Garner to commemorate his departure for the Front, was held at the Protestant Hall, St Marys, and was attended by 200 friends and well wishers.
Mrs Garner (Senior) and Mr Mark Garner received the visitors, and extended that warm-hearted welcome which is so characteristic of the Garner family, and ushered them into the body of the hall, which was tastefully decorated with flags and bunting, each guest being presented with a small flag.
Athol received a wrist watch and other presents, among which were sets of brushes and combs, six pairs of knitted socks, balaclava camps, a smoker’s companion, a wallet and diary, spirit glass, soap, razor, cigarette case, a combination spoon and fork, and handkerchiefs.
Pte Garner thanked all present for their attendance, kind words and good wishes, and hoped that good luck would stand by him and that he would return safe and sound and end his days in “dear old St Marys”. Pte Garner sang “Boys of the Dardenelles” and everyone joined hands, singing “Auld Lang Syne” with Athol in the centre of the circle.
Nepean Times 3 February 1917 p4 c1-2
For Australia and Empire: That St Marys has gloriously responded to the call of the Empire in its hour of need has been already abundantly attested by the scores of valiant young solders – not a few of them almost veterans – it has contributed to the ranks of the defenders of Liberty, Right and Civilization; and members of no family have more patriotically proven their devotion to our ideals and manifested their determination to defend our liberties, to the death if needs be, more ardently than the gallant sons of the Garner family of old St Marys. The first of the Garners to enlist (Private Athol Garner) sailed for the front on 22nd August 1916, and in October last was followed by his brother Will, who with his brother (Athol) is going through rigorous military training at Salisbury Camp, England and ere this may have been despatched to the fighting sectors on the Western Front. Private Harold Garner (married) , the third member of the Garner clan to enlist, sailed for the seat of war on 24th January last, so it will be seen that in proportion to their numerical strength the Garners form one of the, relatively, biggest family battalions of the war. Writing to his parents on 29/11/1916 from England, Pte Athol Garner says “I dare say you will be surprised to learn that brother William is here in England. He only landed last Tuesday. I am going to see him this week, and I believe he had some send-off at St Marys. I am applying for a transfer into his company. Only, fancy the two of us going into the trenches together, and I sincerely hope we’ll give the ‘Huns’ something to remember us by, and have sufficient luck to get back to the dear homeland again, of which I am always living in hope of doing soon, but we have a very big hurdle in front of us, and my opinion is we’ll want all the man we can get from the homeland to keep our end up, and help to settle the pretensions of the enemy…the weather is beastly cold here, and it takes a fellow a while to get acclimatised after the sunny atmosphere of Australia. We’ll be shortly leaving for the trenches and I hope the cold and slush is not as bard as we are told it is over there. But we must stick it out, however bad it is and get the better of ‘Fritz’ at all hazards…the soldier’s life is a very strenuous one I can tell you Dad, and I’m proud to be here,as an Australian soldier, doing his duty by his country, think what tales I’ll be able to tell you when I get back – enough to make you laugh for twelve months without stopping. You and mother will feel a bit lonely I expect, but I know you’ll keep a good heart as usual, don’t believe that either of us are killed, not even if you see a report in the papers, for I feel that by this time next year, we’ll be safely home again – just think how proud you’ll feel when your ‘soldier boys’ will be carrying you shoulder high through Main Street, St Marys, in the latter part of 1917. This letter concludes with characteristic affectionate regards to parents and members of family and friends.
Nepean Times 27 April 1918 p2 c1
Roll of Honor: Quite a gloom was cast over the town on Saturday last, when the sad news spread that Pte Athol Garner, a son of Mr and Mrs William Garner, had been killed in action on the Western Front. The late heroic soldier, who was 22 years of age, enlisted in May 1916, and sailed for the seat of war on August 18th, the same year. After a severe course of training in England, he proceeded with his Company to France, where he saw heavy fighting at Pozieres, Bullicourt, Bapaume and elsewhere, and was severely wounded in the engagement at Messines. After being wounded, Pte Garner lay in no man’s land , from 7 o’clock at night, until noon the following day, when he was picked up by members’ of his Company, who had recovered some lost ground on the previous day. By a strange coincidence, he was wounded on the anniversary of his send-off from St Marys on 10 June, 1916. Pte Luke Hughes, of Penrith, a great pal of Garner’s was killed by his side, on the day that he was wounded. After receiving attention at the dressing station, etc, Pte Garner was transferred to No 1 General Hospital, London and from there to Weymouth. After seven months treatment, he was classed as “unfit for service abroad”, and his family had great hopes of his returning home, but in his last letter to his father, Pte Garner says “owing to the shortage of re-inforcements to Australian Divisions, we wounded who can get about at all, are expected to go on fighting, so I being returned to Belgium”. This letter was dated 18/2/1918. He realised the Empire was shaking under great pressure, and said if he were called upon to make the great sacrifice, he would rather go to his Country’s call, than be looked upon as a “shirker” and thus, Pte Garner returned to the firing line, because there was no stronger man to take his place, and thus, he passed on. There was no braver soldier and on more than one occasion, when charging the enemy, he was heard singing popular airs such as “So Long Letty”.
Pte Garner’s letters were always written in a most happy and patriotic strain, and he never once regretted having answered the call. Prior to enlisting, Pte Garner was employed at Bales Tannery at Botany.