Good old First Brigade. Well done!

Good old First Brigade. Well done!

Among the many soldiers who distinguished themselves during the Gallipoli campaign, Alfred John Shout stands tall.

Alfred John Shout
Alfred John Shout
A posthumous painting by Harley Griffiths entitled Captain Alfred John Shout, VC, MC, 1921. Held in New Zealand in the National Collection of War Art. (Ref: AAAC 898 NCWA 530)

Among the many soldiers who distinguished themselves during the Gallipoli campaign, Alfred John Shout stands tall. Shout was wounded multiple times throughout the five months he spent on the Gallipoli peninsula, until he ultimately lost his life during the Battle of Lone Pine. The gallantry that led to his death saw him awarded the Victoria Cross.

Shout was born in Wellington New Zealand on 7 August 1881. He moved to Australia in 1905 along with his wife Rose and daughter Florence. The Shout family settled in Darlington in Sydney, with Alfred working as a carpenter and joiner. In his spare time he was a keen rifle shooter and was active in the militia, joining the 29th Infantry Regiment in 1907.  When the First World War commenced, Shout joined the AIF within weeks of the Australian declaration of war and two months later set sail to Egypt for training.

While Gallipoli was the first taste of conflict for many of the young Australians, Shout was a veteran of the Boer War. He would put this experience to good affect as a Lieutenant with the 1st Battalion, part of the 1st Brigade.

Shout’s unit landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. Immediately following the landing, Shout, despite having no rest for three days, sought to lead his men by example. Of his many brave acts, the most notable occurred at Gaba Tepe where he carried at least twelve wounded men out of the firing line and back to safety despite suffering several gun shot wounds himself. It was only after a further gun shot wound left him barely able to stand that he was finally evacuated from the battlefield. He was carried away protesting that he wanted to stay. For this act he was awarded a Military Cross.

His heroism continued several months later at the Battle of Lone Pine, part of the larger August Offensives. For three days Shout rallied his men as they heavily engaged the enemy. After capturing an enemy trench still containing many Turks, Shout resolved to clear it. Working with Captain Cecil Sasse and eight others, the party moved along the trench; Shout throwing bombs, Sasse firing a rifle, and the eight other men carrying sandbags to barricade their gains. In one particular section of the trench, Shout singlehandedly killed eight enemies and sent the remainder fleeing.

Continuing this approach throughout the day, the small party of Australians gradually secured the trench and had almost reached a suitable location to place the last barricade. In preparation for the final assault, Shout lit three bombs ready to throw in quick succession. Before he had an opportunity, the third bomb blew up while he was still holding it. The force of the explosion blew off his right arm and left eye, ripped open his cheek and left his body punctured with shrapnel. Despite the severity of his wounds, Shout remained conscious, and asked for a drink of tea. As he was stretchered away from the frontline he promised the diggers he would return and was heard to say, ‘Good old First Brigade. Well done!’

Despite Shout’s positivity, he succumbed to his wounds on the hospital ship Euralia and was buried at sea.

Following Shout’s death, a simple but silly clerical error caused great distress to his widow Rose. Originally notified that her husband had died in battle, Rose received a second telegram that informed her that her husband had survived and had left Egypt on a ship called Themistocles bound for Australia. In fact, it was a soldier from the same unit by the similar sounding name of A.J. Shirt who was a passenger on the Themistocles, a glaring mistake that was only detected when Australian newspapers published stories declaring that Shout was alive and would soon arrive back in Australia. A third telegram was then sent to Rose confirming Alfred’s death, and apologising for the mistake.

Understandably, Rose found it extremely difficult to deal with her husband’s death. Not only did she have to cope with the emotional pain, but she also had the added burden of having lost the family’s sole income earner. As public attention was brought to her plight, a letter Rose wrote to a journalist asking that her privacy be respected conveyed the depth of her grief:

'Don't, for Heaven's sake, put anything in the paper…! I am only just getting over my trouble, and every time I am reminded of it, I go through it all again, as I did when they brought me the first awful news. People are very kind - at least, they mean to be, but if they only knew. I can't bear to be consoled with words. Nobody knows the feelings of a woman who has lost her man - that way.'

Thankfully, with the assistance of the Returned Soldier’s Association, a fundraiser was held to collect money to purchase a cottage for Rose and Florence to live in. Alfred Shout VC remains one of the nation’s finest fighting men, with contemporary newspapers declaring his name was synonymous with bravery. He was enthusiastic and well-liked, and admired by all who knew him, including Charles Bean, who described him as ‘one of the gamest officers who ever lived’.

By Nicholas Anderson. Australian Army History Unit