Driven by prayer and courage

Frank Meachem had something of an independent and adventurous spirit, walking out of his job in a hardware store in Birmingham, England, and boarding the SS Medic for a new life in a new land.

It was 1910 and Frank, 24, disembarked in Albany.

The first years of his new life were hard. But he worked hard cutting fence posts, building fences, sinking dams and milling timber.

After a time he saw no great future in what he was doing and so journeyed to Perth. There he changed direction.

He took a job at the Midland Railway Workshops and at the same time studied to gain entry to the State public service.

He did well enough to start work as a junior clerk in the then Charities Department, later the Child Welfare Department.

In 1913, Frank met Elsie Nankivell. They were engaged to be married when Frank enlisted at the outbreak of war in 1914.

He was already a member of the Citizens Military Forces in the Medical Corps, after getting his St John Ambulance Medal while working in the slums of Birmingham.

Frank went into training at Blackboy Hill and before long was headed overseas as a stretcher bearer in the 3rd Field Ambulance. He travelled on the same ship he had arrived in WA on, the Medic, which sailed from Fremantle as a troop transport on October 31, 1914. Unbeknown to Frank, he was bound for Egypt, and then Gallipoli, as part of the first group to land.

Frank kept two detailed diaries should he not survive the war, one for his father and one for Elsie. In one of the diaries, he recorded that in early March 1915 he learnt they were heading for Lemnos Island, a "naval base" close to the entry to the Dardanelles.

On the imminent landing on Gallipoli which was ahead, he recorded the following:

Saturday April 24, 1915: "Left Lemnos Island at 2.00pm, sailed until 8.45pm where we dropped anchor at Imbruss Island. Head of line of 3rd Brigade transports. Had a feed of meat and biscuits at 9.30pm. Disembarked on to torpedo-destroyer Ribble at 12.00 midnight. Hurray! We are going to be amongst the first that land. A great honour for us Australians.

"Pray God our venture will be a success. We land only a few hundred yards from a fort and not very far from the Turkish trenches. Well, we must hope for the best. I hope I shall not be a coward. I have said my prayers to God and am trusting in him to bring me safely though this."

There on that first fateful morning he went ashore on a naval pinnace, one of the first boats to land. An oarsman near him was hit, so Frank stepped in to row, only to take a Turkish bullet through the shoulder as the boat approached the beach.

From his diary: (Sunday April 25, 1915) "Landed this morning 5.00am, under heavy rifle fire. I was hit while in the boat. About 30 casualties on the Riddle before we left. 14 out of 28 (of) 3rd Field Ambulance in my boat hit before we reached cover on shore. One of my squad killed and three wounded (including himself).

"Lay on shore all day until 8.00pm when I was put on board the City of Benares and my wounds dressed again. Heavy casualties amongst our Australian troops. Many officers killed and wounded."

Returning to Anzac Cove some six weeks later as he moved to rejoin his unit, Frank walked along and up a gulch past the graves of many of his comrades, including that of John Simpson, "the man with the donkey", with whom he had trained at Blackboy Hill.

During this time at Gallipoli, field ambulance stretcher bearers, generally regarded by regular soldiers as "soft soldiers" avoiding the front-line fighting, came to be highly regarded for their heroic efforts to bring wounded soldiers back to safety and medical treatment. Many lost their lives saving others on the exposed fields of battle.

In December, the Australian forces were evacuated from Gallipoli and were relocated to France.

Frank, on the strength of his limited clerical training, found himself as secretary to Gen. Sturdee, head of the Australian Medical Corps.

Frank's rose to the rank of warrant officer, and when the war ended he was on leave returning to Australia.

After four long years of waiting, Frank and Elsie were married in St George's Cathedral, Perth, in December 1918.

Frank returned to work for the Child Welfare Department, eventually retiring in 1946 as officer-in-charge.

Away from his public service career, Frank had a passion for scouting and became Chief Scout of WA from 1945-47.

Frank died in 1970.

Submitted by Greg Meachem, a grandson of Frank Meachem, using extracts from the memoirs of Frank's son, John Meachem, and Frank Meachem's diaries

We are going to be amongst the first that land. A great honour for us Australians." Frank Meachem

The West Australian

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