Sydney Ernest Rhoades
Service number 1943

After Private Sydney Rhoades was wounded in action for the third time, losing part of his left hand, his brother-in-law, also serving on the Western Front, wrote home to deter other family members from enlisting.

In June 1918, Arthur Cavell, who was married to Syd’s sister Violet, wrote to his family at Boyland describing the fierce fighting on the Western Front and urging his younger brother, Lloyd, to stay at home.

I heard that Sid Rhoades is going home, if he is he is jolly lucky to get back now with only the loss of a thumb. If Lloyd begins to think about coming, tell him to see Sid and he might change his mind,” Arthur wrote.

With what was described in his service record as a “bomb wound to the left hand”, Syd had suffered the amputation of his left thumb in early April 1918 and arrived back in Australia at the end of July.

Born at Roma, Syd was 18 years old and working as a carpenter’s labourer in the Canungra district when he enlisted in January, 1916, with the consent of his parents, John and Mary Rhoades, of Lota near Manly.

Syd left Brisbane on the HMAT Clan McGillivray on May 1, bound for the Middle East, with the 3rd reinforcements of the 47th Battalion. Formed in Egypt in February 1916, the battalion would fight in some of the bloodiest battles of the first world war in some of its most costly campaigns.

On August 6, 1916, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, Syd left Alexandria in Egypt on the HT Megantic for England where he continued to train for the Western Front.

He left England on September 23 and was taken on strength of the 47th Battalion in the field on October 10, as France was entering its worst winter in decades.

Less than six weeks later, after continued exposure to wet and freezing conditions, Syd was hospitalised with trench feet on November 18.

“…jolly lucky to get back now with only the loss of a thumb.”

Witnessed one of the most momentous events of modern times.

He was being treated at the 26th General Hospital at Etaples, when he developed a fever, later diagnosed as spinal meningitis, the potentially deadly meningococcal disease.

Syd was seriously ill by December 3 and on January 14, 1917, was invalided back to England on the hospital ship St George. He had survived the illness but was severely weakened and was admitted to the 5th London General Hospital suffering debility.

It was April 29, 1917, before Syd returned to France, rejoining the 47th Battalion on May 4, as Belgium became the focus of operations on the Western Front.

At Messines, in June, Syd witnessed one of the most momentous events of modern times, when some 450 tonnes of explosives were detonated under the German lines, to dislodge the enemy from the high ground south of Ypres.

Then the largest man-made explosion in history – instantly killing 10,000 German soldiers in the early hours of June 7 – the blast from 19 enormous mines was reportedly heard as far away as London and Dublin.

Syd was wounded in action, suffering a gunshot wound to the scalp in the ensuing battle that day, when the battalion lost more than half its number.

He was treated in hospital in France, rejoining his comrades in Belgium on June 26.

A little more than two weeks later, on July 11 – the first day of the four-month campaign known as the Battle of Passchendaele – Syd was wounded in action for the second time.

Suffering a severe gunshot wound to the thigh as well as the arm and temple, Syd was evacuated to England on July 14. He had recovered from his wounds sufficiently to be discharged to the convalescent depot at Weymouth on September 29.

The peaceful pond known as “Lone Tree Crater” is a far cry from the devastation caused at Spanbroekmolen in 1917.

Wounded in action for a third time.

Syd arrived at the overseas training brigade at Longbridge Deverill on January 23, 1918 and on February 14 left Southampton for France and the front, rejoining his unit on February 21.

In the following weeks, the battalion played a key role in blunting the German Spring Offensive by defeating enemy attacks around Dernancourt in late March and early April, depicted in dioramas at the Australian War Memorial.

It was during the massive German onslaught at Dernancourt on April 5 – the largest attack against Australian troops of the war – that Syd was wounded in action for the third time, losing part of his left hand.

Describing the scene on battlefield at Dernancourt that day, Australia’s official war historian, Charles Bean wrote: “The dead and wounded of the 47th lay everywhere underfoot.”

Syd was evacuated to England from France for the last time on the hospital ship Ville de Liege on April 9. The high number of casualties in April forced the disbandment of the 47th Battalion on May 31, with its men being used to reinforce other depleted battalions.

However, with the amputation of his left thumb, Syd’s war was over and he was marked for return to Australia.

He embarked on the HT Barambah on June 6, arriving in Melbourne on July 31, and was discharged as medically unfit on August 8.

Syd returned to the Canungra district and on July 9, 1919, married Ada Elizabeth Johnston, some five years his senior.

The couple had seven children, Beryl, Mavis, Alwyn known as Johnnie, Enid, Eric, Page and Janet.

Despite the loss of a thumb, Syd continued to work as a carpenter. The family home he built on Rhoades Road and other homes he constructed in the Beechmont area still stand as a testament to his workmanship.

Ada pre-deceased her husband in 1976, but Syd lived on to the age of 93, passing away at Birkdale in Brisbane on May 10, 1991.

Dernancourt diorama at the Australian War Memorial.

(Image: Australian War Memorial)

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